When deciding what tablet to get, you first need to decide what operating system you'd prefer. There are four options, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Below you'll find a summary of these for all possibilities.
But whether you realize it or not, you may have already made this decision -- if you have a smartphone and you like it, you might be better off getting a tablet that runs the same operating system. There are many advanateges to having an iPhone and an iPad, for example, as these two can share data and apps.
The iPad is the most popular tablet, and it runs Apple's own iOS. This is easy to learn and use, and there is a truly massive selection of third-party software for it -- 375,000 titles to be exact -- from productivity apps to games.
There are just two screen sizes to choose from, however. The full-size iPad has a 9.7-inch display, while the iPad mini has a 7.9-inch one.
The iOS is somewhat limited when compared to a desktop operating system. For example, there is no universal file browser. Rather than a central repository of files, each application has its own collection.
It is well suited for personal use, and can be used by business people who need a light-duty mobile computer. It is not a good option for people who need to do heavy-duty computing tasks when on the go.
Android is also a fairly easy to learn operating system, but it's not as polished as iOS, nor is it quite as easy to use.
Quite a few companies make tablets that run Google's Android OS, including Samsung, Sony, Motorola, and many more. This gives shoppers a wide array of devices to choose from, with screen sizes ranging from 6 inches to 12 inches.
Several companies offer 7-inch Android-based models that are around $200 or less, making them the most affordable tablets on the market.
Like the iOS, Android was first created for smartphones. This means it is a bit more limited than a desktop operating system, but it is still more flexible than Apple's offering.
While there is a good selection of Android apps, less than 1,000 of these have been formatted to run on large, high-resolution screens. Still, these smartphone apps look fine on smaller tablets.
Someone who is looking for a tablet to access the Web or their email on the road would be satisfied with an Android model. It's also somewhat suitable for light business users, but those needing a powerful mobile computer should look elsewhere.
Microsoft Windows 8
This is far and away the most powerful operating system available for tablets today. This is the full version of Windows that people have been using on PCs for decades, but the latest version was modified by Microsoft for touchscreen-based devices. The change to the "Metro" user interface has been controversial, but the UI is well suited for tablets.
This is the only operating system for tablets that can run the full version of Microsoft Office. In addition, it can run all the legacy software that was created for Windows 7 and earlier versions. However, much of this hasn't been modified to be touch-friendly, so a stylus or a mouse is sometimes necessary.
A number of well-known companies offer tablets with Windows 8, giving shoppers a range of options. But buyers should be aware, Windows tablets with fast enough processors to offer very good performance are among the most expensive on the market. Smaller, more affordable tablets with slower Atom processors are starting to reach the market, however.
This is really the only option for those who want to do heavy-duty computing on a tablet, but it's probably overkill for just about everyone else except those who want to play high-end games. Still, the smaller, less expensive Windows 8 models that will be hitting the market soon might appeal to more consumers.
Microsoft Windows RT
Microsoft created Windows RT as an alternate version of Windows 8. It doesn't use x86 processors but rather ARM-based ones, which are less expensive and use less power. But this means that devices that run Windows RT can not run legacy Windows software -- it is limited to the extemelly limited selection of apps that appear in Microsoft's Windows Store.
This version looks identical to Windows 8 and functions in almost the same way. It comes with a stripped down version of Microsoft Office 2013 Student and Home, but not Outlook.
There are a handful of models running this OS available from companies like Dell and Microsoft itself, but so far, sales are anemic. Still, Microsoft is prepping an update that should fix some of the limitations.
As it stands now, Windows RT is not well suited for business users. It is a reasonable otion for those who just want a tablet for Internet access, email, and light Office use.
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