Updated: May 23, 2015
Tablet Reviews:Unless you have fallen off the face of the Earth, you are well aware that the latest "tablet computers" are shaping up to give consumers some really good choices. Who needs a tablet? Well, the answer isn't so easy as we slowly mesh our daily lives between computers, laptops, cell phones, e-readers, and now tablets. Tablets have become quite popular as the Apple iPads seem to draw most of the attention these days. My wife purchased the Amazon Kindle a few years back for reading ebooks and now we just bought the latest iPad - for what we are not exactly sure. The kids and I think it will come in handy while we are on trips (no having to take a laptop) - browsing the web, playing games, watching movies, etc. My wife plans on ditching her Kindle since you can get the Kindle App on the iPad and read your e-books that way. E-Readers are a dying breed as tablets take over that market and add so much more to your possibilities. Amazon has made the switch with their Kindle Fire and the latest Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet got excellent reviews from Consumer Reports.
Choosing a Tablet - The terms you will hear are things like screen size, display, portability, weight, storage, operating system, apps, data plans, and price. Let's start with the screen size. The standard has been set with the iPad 2 which boasts a screen size of 9.7 inches. Nine to 10 inch screen tablets are the priciest and most likely screen size will not get much bigger as tablets try to stay smaller and lighter than laptops. The 7 and 8 inch screen sizes are seen in the Kindle Fire, Nook, Samsung Galazy, and HTC Evo View. If watching videos and movies is something you plan on doing with the device, go with the larger screen sizes. Display - Amazon still offers the black and white Kindle Reader but almost all others are offered with full color displays that will amaze you. The picture quality is really impressive on the iPad whether you are just viewing web pages, pictures, or watching movies. Portability - We will mention 'weight' in this category as both features are related. The larger screen sizes push the weight to 1.3 LBS (for the iPad) while the smaller screens like the Kindle Fire allow for the weight to be less than a pound. We've traveled with our iPad tablet to Hawaii and it's easy to carry and hold. This summer we will be taking a 2 week trip in our car, so that will be the real test to see how the tablet holds up. Storage - This is where many of us get confused and I was no different. Unlike laptops that run all the basic programs like Word, Excel, Adobe, etc, the tablets aren't necessarily designed for those purposes. Just how much internal storage do you need? The iPad currently offers 16, 32, and 64 gigabyte models and we took the 32 GB just in case the space goes fast. It can if you store things like movies or videos on the device. The Kindle Fire only has 8 GB of space but it's capable of streaming any content you might have stored on the Amazon Cloud Drive. With 'cloud computing' becoming more mainstream, perhaps storage space won't be so critical on future tablets. Operating Systems - There are really only 2 choices and if you don't own an iPad (runs on the Apple OS), then all the rest are pretty much on the Google Android OS. Apps - The buzz word for tablets is 'apps'. With over 150,000 available for the iPad, you will probably never run out and there are literally 1000's hitting the market each month. Many are free to download (or ad supported) and some will cost as little as $.99. Amazon doesn't offer as many apps for their line of tablets, so keep that in mind. Data Plans and Price - All the tablets use at least wi-fi service (where it's available) and some offer data plans. The problem with data plans are that you are looking at $30/month. Great if your company pays for it, but certainly not another expense I want to take on each month. We went with the Wi-Fi version that has no 3G service. Price will go up for the 3G option on the iPad even if you don't use it at all but want that feature just in case. With coffee shops, homes, restaurants, hotels, and some airports offering wi-fi the 3G is probably not that important for casual users. The HTC JetStream had the highest retail price at almost $850 while the Kindle Fire goes for about $200. I'm sure these models will all get cheaper in the next year, so if you can wait, deals are sure to come along. Tablet Reviews - Everyone under the sun has done a review on tablets including CNET, PC World, and Techradar.com, but we find the best information (unbiased at least) from Consumer Reports. They do a great job of rating the tablets based on screen size and many of the features we have listed above. You can view the top selling tablets online here - all except for the Apple iPad which is not available through the Amazon website. You can find Apple products at the Apple Stores, on their website or in certain electronics sections of some stores.