Need help on buying a tablet? Read.

Five years back, no one could have imagined the rise of the tablet. Previous incarnations were frankly prehistoric, being clunky and stark. Steve Jobs’ visionary genius transformed the tablet into a sexy, hassle-free computer that you operated with your fingers alone. The iPad has since thrown the market into active competition, and accelerated the evolution of the tablet. So, what exactly makes a tablet great?

Size and weight

No one likes to lug a rock around (not unless you were looking to smash someone’s car window). For the user to operate a tablet effectively, he has to be able to hold it for sustained periods of time. You can tell weight is pretty important.

Tablets typically come in 7 inch and 9 inch models. It is best to get hold of a sample, have a feel and decide on your preferred size. Failing that, make your own sample! Have a paper cut out to the same dimensions, or find an object that is about the same weight.

Operating system (OS)

Apple’s iOS has proven to be a game winner with its seamless touch interface. The caveat however, is the minimal customisation allowed. This allows for a uniform user experience but it ends up with Apple deciding what is best for you, rather than the other way round.

Android’s latest version Jelly Bean however promises to level the performance factor with ample customisation and a silky smooth touch interface, so watch out for it.

Microsoft is moving from Windows 7 to 8, so we would wait until the dust settles. Initial Windows 8 previews however promise customisation of beautiful interfaces, just the way you like it.

You can see this is a choice between customisability over a clearly defined user experience, or vice versa.
(Tip: older folks generally prefer ease of use over customisation.)

Wi-Fi or 3G?

This is straightforward: if you use it on the road, get 3G. Otherwise, go with Wi-Fi. (3G tablets are Wi-Fi capable.) Getting a 3G tablet also means increased ongoing and upfront costs due to the mobile data consumed.

If you plan to use a fair bit of mobile data, get a post-paid contract which offers the tablet at a lower price.

Price

To many, this is the one and only factor. The old adage however holds true: you get what you pay for. That $99 tablet sounds like a good deal, but it could be using older hardware. User experience is the key, and you do not want to go el cheapo, only to scream in frustration later.

Battery life and activity pattern

Your tablet should be able to last an average of eight hours. Battery life however depends on your usage. Expect the battery to drain quickly if you watch movies, while activities like internet browsing or checking Facebook consume less power.

Apps

Popular apps are often found on the iTunes Store first, due to the huge user base the iPhone enjoys. This in turn benefits iPad users, though you should know that not all iPhone apps are iPad compatible. Android is catching up on the apps race, but there is still a marked preference for companies to launch iOS apps first over an Android (or Windows) app.

Storage

Some users prefer larger storage to watch movies with; this increases the tablet’s price tag. Others prefer SD card slots for expanded capacity, an optional feature on most tablets. Decide on what you need; this affects the price.

Recommendations

Choosing a lightweight tablet with excellent performance is not as hard as it looks. Should you already be an iPhone user, it is recommended you purchase an Apple iPad, so that the learning curve is minimised.

The New iPad is moderately light, weighing 652g (Wi-Fi model). It is supported by an excellent app store, offers an intuitive touch interface and is rated at ten hours of battery life for video and internet usage. It is a well-designed product many other tablets fall short of. The iPad however, is more expensive.

Should you prefer Android and/or have a limited budget, read on.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (Wi-Fi) weighs 581g, runs on Ice Cream Sandwich (second latest version of Android), and offers a microSD external storage option. Battery life is rated at a decent nine hours (via Engadget).

If you prefer a smaller tablet, the Google (also known as Asus) Nexus 7 might be the one for you. This 7 inch tablet weighs 340g, runs on Jelly Bean, and is benchmarked with ten hours of video playback (via Anandtech).

The 8GB Nexus 7 is currently sold at $249 on Google, a great steal and definitely my weapon of choice.

If you are looking to get a Windows tablet, it is suggested that you wait for Windows 8.

What do you think of the tablet market, and what would you recommend as your preferred tablet?

*This was originally a draft for another site which was turned down but I thought hell, why waste it? So here it is.

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