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 is made by the same company. There are many advantages to having an iPhone and an iPad, as these two can share data and apps. The same is true for Samsung, LG, Microsoft, and others.
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 — over a million apps, in fact — in categories from productivity to games.
There are just two screen sizes to choose from, however. Full-size iPads have a 9.7-inch display, while the iPad mini models have 7.9-inch ones.
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.
The release of Microsoft Office for iPad made this tablet a good option for businesspeople who need a light-duty mobile computer, and many use it as a laptop alternative. It is not a good option for people who need specialized applications not available for this OS, however.
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, Lenovo, and many more. This gives shoppers a wide array of devices to choose from, with screen sizes ranging from 6 inches to 13 inches.
Several companies offer 7-inch Android-based models that are around $200 or less, and there are even some super-cheap models that sell for under $100.
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 huge selection of Android apps, only a small percentage of these have been formatted to run on large, high-resolution screens. Still, these smartphone apps look fine on smaller tablets.
This OS a good choice for someone who is looking for a tablet to access the Web or their email on the road, and the release of Microsoft Office for Android tablets helped make it suitable for light business users, but those needing a very 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.
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. There are 8-inch models with Atom processors and decent performance available for under $400, but Windows tablets with the best performance are among the most expensive on the market.
This is really the only option for those who want to do heavy-duty computing on a tablet, but it could be overkill for everyone else.
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 WinRT can not run legacy Windows software — it is limited to the software that comes on the device plus the extremely limited selection of apps that appear in Microsoft’s Windows Store.
Microsoft’s experiment with this OS does not appear to have been a success. No new models running it have been released in many months, but the older models can still be found in stores at low prices.
WinRT can be a decent OS for light duty use, but considering that this OS is quickly becoming obsolete there are better options for this.