Tablet or smartphone? Especially when upgrading an existing mobile phone, this is the first question many customers ask themselves. Key to deciding between a tablet or smartphone are questions like - How will it be used? Do you have a current mobile contract? How big a screen size do you require? What is your budget?
There's no doubt that phablets (large screen smartphones) have blurred the distinction between phone and tablet, with the largest screen size phones cannabilising sales from small screen tablets.
If your daily usage consists mainly of making calls, messaging services (both text and email), listening to music and occasional surfing - then the portability of a smartphone phone wins hands down (versus a cheap tablet). What's more, if you plan to take selfies, doubling-up you mobile device as a handy digital camera, then smartphones have the advantage - with superiod quality built-in cameras than tablets.
However, thanks to a variety of apps, higher-spec tablets can be turned into phones, or be used for video-chatting through services such as Skype and Vonage Mobile. In addition, Android apps are available that let users text and receive phone calls on their tablets (by pairing an Android phone with a tablet using the same OS).
If you plan to use movie services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime for watching movies - or for more intensive browsing of the web - then the larger screen of a tablet is more comfortable from a visual perspective. Tablets are also becoming ever more portable so, depending upon the size you choose, using a tablet on the go is a realistic proposition.
First question - basic mobile or feature phone vs. fully fledged smartphone?
If you have no interest in surfing the web and require a handset that's primarily used for making calls, then a basic mobile is your best bet. Typically, they are smaller in size than smartphones, with physical keypads and require few (if any) firmware updates during normal usage.
Smartphones on the other hand, are basically portable computers, with powerful mobile processors, Wi-Fi, high-image resolution cameras, pixel rich screens and sizeable memory capacity for storing video and music. As our section on choosing a tablet OS (below) explains, smartphones run mobile versions of popular operating systems; namely Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile and BlackBerry 10.
Smartphones also support downloadable applications through popular storefronts such as Google Play for Android devices.
Generally, we advise buying the best device you can afford. Smartphones with faster processors, more memory and better quality cameras will reduce your need to upgrade frequently, while a high-end smartphone will still have (some) resale value when it comes to trading in for a new handset.
Among our favourite smartphones at present are the Samsung Galaxy 6 - with top-notch specifications and a decluttered, stylised version of Android 5.0 (Lollipop) together with the LG G3 - a handset that's more phablet than phone, but which features a great screen and high-quality camera, all pitched at a wallet friendly price point.
As with smartphones, Google's Android operating system features a wide-range of tablets from brands such as Acer, Asus, and Samsung. From budget 8 inch offerings, through to top-of-the-line devices with designer styling, they offer seamless integration with Google applications like Gmail and Google maps.
Opting for the most recent versions of Android (Lollipop 5.1. and Marshmallow 6.0) can avoid problems affecting battery life and applications management. In addition, larger manufacturers often adapt Android's standard user interface, adding their own features, media libraries and app stores.
Being feature-packed, Android allows users to tweak and change basic settings, making it more complex to use initially. However, a benefit of this OS is the inclusion of support for multiple user logins so you can share your tablet with friends or family. In short, Android is arguably the most configurable OS, serving also as a staging platform for many of the newest hardware features in the market.
Apple's own operating system has, until now, set the standard for usability, with the iOS providing a flexible, clean and intuitive platform that spans its range of iPad Air and iPad mini tablets. Seamlessly integrating with hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimised apps, its user interface is among the easiest to use. This makes it a great choice for anyone new to computing who wishes to enjoy their product without a steep learning curve.
Not to be outdone, Windows 10 full x86 support for all of your Windows desktop software, including full versions of Microsoft Office on their latest Surface Pro tablet range. For business, the Surface family enjoys all of the familiarity and functionality of a full Windows laptop combined with the sleekness and portability you would expect from this world-leading brand.
Even the least expensive new generation tablets offer adequate performance -although for multitasking and intensive apps, a dual-or quad-core processor is highly recommended. Typically, processor speeds for budget models range from 1.3 ghz, all the way through to 2.2 ghz and 2.4ghz models (such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 - 12.3" )
Lesser known brands may also lack the software support and hardware quality control offered by market leading products, not to mention long-term durability and the choice of apps associated with the stores of larger vendors.
So if daily (rather than occasional) use is intended, a faster processor and higher storage capacity is recommended.
Typically, battery Life, display size (and resolution) coupled with wireless connectivity and 3G/4G network options are the other main factors that influence a buyers' final decision.
For smaller sized tablets, an 8inch screen 720p display, whereas for anyone intending to watch movies or be productive on the go, 10" tablets with a 1080p, 1280p or higher screen resolution are now the minimum.
Even then, the display technology used varies with IPS LCD and AMOLED displays offering the best contrast, viewing angles and colour depth.
Internal memory on tablet devices ranges from 1 GB to 8 GB RAM with as much as 256 and 512 GB storage (usually in the form of SSD drives).
Of course, the more apps a user installs, including photos, music and video media files, the faster overall storage capacity will be reduced. To offset this issue, some tablet PCs now even come with cloud storage, such as iCloud, Amazon's Cloud Drive or OneDrive from Microsoft.
With portability being the main attraction of a tablet, battery efficiency is of key importance. Depending upon its configuration, battery life can typically range from around 5hrs 30 minutes to over 9 hrs - although it's important to note that with heavy Wi-Fi / 3G / 4G usage, a battery will deplete more quickly than through simple use of productivity applications such as Word or by watching (an already downloaded) movie.
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