So many cheap #Android tablets to choose from but which one is right for you? Buying guide

With so many Android tablets for sale, and some very cheap indeed, it can seem confusing about how to compare them. This should help. One way to understand the difference is that if price is not a factor for you I recommend you get something from the top of the range, from a good manufacturer such as Samsung. If I were doing that I would choose one with an SPen (more about that later). If you want a cheap tablet, thought a top of the range tablet should have all of features currently available, a cheap tablet will only have some of them, or out of date ones – that is how they can produce them so cheaply. So if you know you will only use it for certain things you can save cash by getting one that is perfect for you without paying for features that are unimportant to you. The problem for this sort of buyer is knowing what the different features are and how they fit with the buyer’s needs.

First we look at features. If you want to buy a cheap tablet will have to choose from some of the following. A cheap one will not have all:

High resolution screen – often referred to as HD (High Definition). This means the dots (properly called pixels) that make up the picture will be extremely fine which is great if you want to use it for watching TV or movies. Many cheap tablets have inferior screens, but not a problem if you are only going to check Facebook, do a bit of internet browsing, write documents and check emails.

Screen size. 7 inch has become a popular size. Too large and, though it may suit you, many find the larger size more a bit of luggage to carry about than a compact tool. The 7 inch is good to hold for long periods if you are using yours as an ereader. Many android tablets have 10 inch screens. Before choosing you need to have an idea what you will use your tablet for.

Internal memory. This is so you can load lots of applications, or ‘apps’. If you intend to use your tablet for very few things you may get away (at time of writing this) with a memory of 8GB but it would struggle to work with many apps and not many of the up to date ones. At time of writing 16GB is an okay minimum.

Memory expansion. This is the ability to add a memory card such as the small micro SD. Some people want this as they can load on even more apps (as many of them can work from an SD card instead of loading them onto the tablet’s memory), and can store lots of music and photos. Some people are not too bothered if they have most of their stuff in the ‘cloud’.

Webcam. This is a camera that faces you as you look at the screen. This is so you can talk to people and see them at the same time when using Google Hangouts or Skype. If you know you don’t need it you can save by getting tablet without one. The Nook HD is without one.

Camera. By this I mean a camera on the back. You will probably have seen people using their table or ipad as a camera. Don’t be too quick to dismiss this as a useless feature if you do not intend to use it that way, a camera is an important feature for business use at it allows the tablet to be used as a scanner to scan and either store, or email, documents. The Google Nexus doesn’t have this feature.

Charging socket. Yes they all have one, but is it a type unique to this manufacturer? Most use the micro USB format which is the same as most mobile phones. Good if you travel. It means you only need to take one charger, and is more likely to be compatible when you want to borrow a charger from a friend or charge in a car. This is worth checking on the specification list.

HDMI socket. This is so the tablet can by connected to a TV with an HDMI cable for listening to music, showing off your photos and videos, or watching movies you have downloaded. An HDMI connection also allows the tablet to be connected to a computer monitor, and with the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard can be used as a desktop computer.

Bluetooth. A type of wireless connectivity so you can connect it to host of possible devices such as cordless headphones, computer or music keyboards, etc. 3G. Most tablets are for use with WiFi on your computer router at home or out and about at work or when you find a hotspot. Some tablets can also take a mobile phone SIM card which means you have mobile internet even without being near a WiFi point. Sounds good? It is for some people, but think about this before buying. You would need a SIM card in addition to the one in your phone, and you either end up paying for an additional contract or you get a pay as you go one which still costs you. If you already have a decent mobile phone with a data allowance on it you can wirelessly connect your tablet to your phone and get the same 3G feature that way. It is called ‘tethering’. My mobile provider called me the other day offering me a deal on an out of date, but cheap, tablet so they could sell me a second SIM to use in it. I would get a better deal paying the same price for a better quality tablet without 3G, add a greater data allowance to my phone SIM, and then tether the table to my phone. Your choice – it is all about knowing your lifestyle and how you would use your tablet.

Processor. This is the ‘brain’ of the tablet computer that does all the work. Some cheap tablets use old, slow processors. Some adverts even avoid telling you the speed of the processor in their specs. Top of the range processors are combinations of more than one. Dual-core means two processors are harnessed together, that work together at the same time, which increases the speed of everything such as when you move from one app to another. Quad-core is four processors working together such as on the Google Nexus. The speed of the processor is measured in a number of Ghz such as 1.3Ghz or 1.5Ghz. Before you buy a cheap tablet compare the Ghz number in the advert with what is currently in the top of the range tablets. At the time of writing I think 1Ghz single-core is probably going to work at its limit to cope with up to date apps.

Headphone socket. For when you want to want a movie or listen to music or an audio book, etc without disturbing other people.

Speakers. Many tablets, including top of the range ones, do not have great speakers. That is because they are intended to be used either with earphones or external speakers.

Removable battery. A well used battery can start to lose a few hours of its staying power after a while. If you travel a lot you may like to carry a spare battery to swap over when needed. Many tablets have sealed backs preventing access to the battery. If your tablet has a removable/replaceable battery it is advisable to buy your spares before it becomes obsolete. Put the model and battery details into Ebay and see what you can find.

Exceptions Nearly all Android tablets can get their apps from the Google store. A huge number of them are available and many of them are free of charge. However there are exceptions on some tablets.

  • Amazon tablet. Like Apple, they want you to use only what you can get from their store, so their tablet has limitations. If you want to use a tablet like a colour Kindle you can add the Kindle app to an ordinary Android tablet from the Google store. I am not sure why anyone would like to live with limitations of the Amazon tablet.
  • Nook by the huge USA book shop, Barnes and Noble. These tablets were a little like the Amazon one in that they were tailored to what the store provided and with similar restrictions This has now changes as the Nook can now install the Google Store app which gives access installing all the ordinary Android apps.
  • Unbranded Chinese tablets. Some, but very few of these, which are available to buy on the internet do not have access to the Google store. I wouldn’t bother with any that can not access the Google store.

The SPen All tablets are designed to be used by swiping or touching with a finger. There are pens available quite cheaply that have a fat, soft, tip that can be used for handwriting. I don’t know why, but I tend to see ipad users with them?! Some of the top of the range Samsung tablets come with a pen that slides into a slot when not in use. They call it an SPen and has a fine point so it can be used with great accuracy. It has a button on the side of it that, when pressed, gives the pen extra powers. It is the same SPen that comes with their Galaxy Note mobile phone. Some apps are designed to work best with an SPen.

In my opinion, if you have the dosh, a tablet with an SPen is the finest option, and the Samsung 8 with quad-core is currently the winner.

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