Tablet PCs and iPads
Like a cross between a smartphone and a laptop, Apples iPad generated a storm of attention when it launched in 2010.
In many ways it looks like an oversized iPhone, with a self-righting screen, downloadable 'apps (applications) and a touch-sensitive screen. But the iPad has grown in popularity and has now been joined by tablet devices from Samsung, Motorola and other leading names.
One of the major factors when choosing which tablet to buy may well be the brand name, but there are other important points to consider before making a purchase.
Tablets vary greatly in price range and spec. Business users who need a tablet to run multiple office programs on their morning commute will need a powerful tablet, but casual internet surfers could have their needs met by a more basic device.
Apples iPad runs its own iOS 4.3 operating system, complete with all the familiar icons and programs like Safari and iTunes that you would expect with an Apple product. iPhone and iPod Touch owners will be met with a familiar layout, while more programs and games can always be downloaded from the App Store.
Many of the iPads competitors, like the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, run Googles Android operating system. The latest version is 3.0, known as Honeycomb, but some tablets will still run the 2.2 (Froyo) system. Android is fast growing in popularity and more apps can be downloaded from the App Market.
Windows 7 has arrived relatively late to the tablet scene. Nevertheless, it should prove popular with fans of the Windows 7 operating system on laptops and desktops, offering Outlook, Word and a host of other familiar programs.
RIM has developed its own operating system for the BlackBerry PlayBook which will run its own PlayBook apps as well as Android ones.
There are two different versions of the iPad one which can connect to the internet through WiFi only and another which offers both WiFi and 3G connectivity. If you choose a 3G version of the iPad, or any other tablet, then you will usually need to sign up to a tariff with a data provider. WiFi-only will not require a subscription.
WiFionly tablets should meet the needs of most users who want to surf from their sofa at home or by using WiFi hotspots in coffee shops and hotels. But if you are intent on using the internet on the move when you may not be near wireless internet reception, then a 3G tablet is probably right for you.
As with laptops, the storage space on a tablet is measured in gigabytes (GB). If youre hoping to carry around architectural plans to show a client, or the latest music tracks youve been mixing, then you will need a sizeable amount of space. 32GB or 64GB versions of tablets would do the job, but you can always carry around a portable hard disk drive if you need even more space.
If youre just using your tablet to surf the web, then the entrylevel tablets with about 2GB of storage space should be sufficient.
Screen sizes on the tablet market range from 5″ on the smallest models to 12″ on the largest examples. Tablets with a smaller screen are ideal for keeping in your pocket for times when you need to check your email on the go. Yet if youre hoping to use your tablet to display a presentation then a larger screen would probably be best.
Tablets with larger screens may look impressive but owners will sacrifice a bit of portability. If youre looking to play it safe then a middle-of-the-road 10″ tablet should do the trick.
Many tablets have multi-touch technology, which recognises when you are touching the screen in more than one place. This makes it easy to zoom in by pulling your fingers apart or zooming in by moving them closer together.
The Asus Eee Slate EP121 is among the tablets which give you the option of using a stylus, a digital pen which can be used to touch the screen. However, you are also free to just use your fingers.
Basically an MP3-player-for-books, eReaders are growing in popularity. They allow users to store multiple books at any one time and they have interactive features, enabling a user to increase or decrease text size or change to a more readable font, for example. Many eReaders are linked to online book stores.