Tablet buying guide (2020): how to choose the ideal model and 11 proposals for all pockets and needs
There is no such thing as the perfect tablet, only the one that best suits our needs, expectations, and budget. If you're thinking of buying one, in this 2020 tablet buying guide, we try to guide what factors to consider and what models are available on the market.
What to consider when choosing a tablet
Display: size, resolution, and type of panel
The screen of a tablet inevitably conditions our experience with this device. In this sense, it is essential to be clear about what we want to do with it and how long we will be in front of its screen.
Thus, we will not look for the same if we are going to use it to resolve specific doubts and navigate while we are on the couch as a work tool or if it will be our device to consume. In this sense, we will pay attention mainly to the size, resolution, and type of panel.
In the market, we find alternatives that go from 8 to more than 12 inches. However, the bulk of models are usually found around 10 inches as they offer an exciting balance between the lightness and comfort (in hand) provided by a contained panel versus the versatility and support (for the eye) of more substantial screens.
The constant use, the use in mobility, and the limitation of the budget make us go to the most compact models while the intensive use, so much playful as productive, and the consumption of content leads us to the most prominent tablets. If we are not clear about it, the ten-inch in the off-road option.
As for the panel technology, as in TV and smartphones, we are again faced with the dilemma of LCD vs. OLED, in this case, in LCD IPS format vs. AMOLED. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses applied to tablets, so we insist again on the importance of being clear about their destination.
In general, OLED panels offer images with purer blacks of high brightness and contrast that attract more attention on large screens. However, the manufacturer's calibration has its importance in the final result of the image. Also, OLEDs are more energy-efficient and, because of their shape, allow the dimensions of the tablet to be exploited to the full.
But they are not perfect. The type of sub-pixel pattern that an OLED panel incorporates to compensate for the different RGB pixel performance of the most current OLED technology is Samsung's Pentile, precisely the one found in the SuperAMOLED. This mesh causes a loss of sharpness if the screen does not have enough resolution, which can end up being appreciated if we compare it to a panel with the same resolution but LCD technology.
Also, OLED screens are more expensive to manufacture; they degrade more quickly than LCDs and, something fundamental in this type of device, OLED screens produce a more or less marked change in tone depending on the quality of the panel when the viewing angle varies, something that is more noticeable on white backgrounds and that we do not experience on quality LCDs.
It is not by chance that in the high range of tablets, we find models with both OLED panels and LCD, so we recommend that before buying a tablet, experience lives how is the display of content.
Resolution is a critical parameter in tablets because of how close we place the screen to our eyes. However, rather than considering it alone, we will have to look at the relationship between resolution and screen size: the density of dots per inch.
A good starting point for a moderate use is the 300 dpi. Although our eyes can perceive higher densities, it is from this point that the level of detail will be sufficient, and our experience will be positive.
To see it clearly with tangible examples, if we look for a tablet to spend hours in front of it or for multimedia consumption, a model with an 8-inch screen and a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 (QXGA) have a density of 326 dpi is a good starting point. And if we stick to tablets around 10 inches, we need the resolution to be 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA) or higher to get close to 300 dpi.
Very diverse hardware where the software has the last word
The tablet market is particular. With a renewal rate lower than that of smartphones, the spectrum of alternatives proposed by the leading manufacturers in the sector is so heterogeneous at the hardware level that we can find devices that integrate elements of a mid-range smartphone as opposed to usual laptop components. Once again, their future use is on the list.
A sporadic use oriented destination and navigation without much fanfare can make a simple processor like a MediaTek quad-core sufficient. If you're looking to run more applications smoothly or multitask, more processor cores designed by Huawei, Qualcomm, and Apple are coming to the forefront and prevalent in their high-end smartphones. We also find the Intel Pentium Gold and, already framed within the convertible category, the computer processors such as the latest generation of cores.
The other key component that will make the difference in terms of whether we require a tablet for straightforward, one-time use versus multitasking or running more demanding programs and applications is RAM. Here we can make straightforward choices from 1.5GB like the Amazon Fire HD 8 to others that reach 8GB, like the more demanding version of the Surface Go. More RAM opens the door to productivity and multitasking.
Betting on powerful hardware will help us to make use of multitasking, play demanding titles for this format, heavy apps like photo editors, and also for photo and video processing. However, we must be clear that in hardware, the weakest component will be the bottleneck.
How much space do I need? Unless their use is for offline multimedia consumption - by introducing series, movies, albums on the device, or the offline functions of services such as Spotify or Netflix - tablets are devices aimed at online use: cloud services, streaming audiovisual content, online productivity apps... However, except in rare cases, the starting point should be 32 GB.
In any case, the software is ultimately responsible for optimizing its features, so the raw specification figures should not mislead us: on a tablet, mobile device hardware can perform better with a mobile operating system than classic laptop hardware on a desktop operating system.
Aspirationally, many manufacturers "dream" of making the tablet the replacement for the laptop, but to make this goal a reality requires not only solvent hardware but also software adapted to the computer and the inherent characteristics.
Android, iOS or Windows: a matter of tastes, apps, and updates
As for tablet operating systems - we leave out the convertibles - in the market, we find iPad OS (the iOS layer adapted to Apple tablets) for the iPad, Windows in some models such as Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Yoga and the rest, a sea of models and manufacturers with Android.
iOS 13, Android Pie, and Windows 10 offer a stable and robust experience in tablet format, so it will be a matter of taste and user experience to choose between them.
However, even though the Android offer is superior, its heterogeneity plays against it in this section, since depending on the model chosen, we can find unadjusted interfaces, more or less attractive/functional layers, and updates that take time to or that directly, do not arrive. And updates are essential, providing security patches, troubleshooting, additional features, and greater energy efficiency.
LTE or not LTE?
Choosing the right tablet model with connectivity in mind means being clear about where you want to use it - at home or in the office, or on the move.
The most uncomplicated connectivity we find in a tablet is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. However, even in these technologies, the standards are different: the most ambitious and current offer Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi type 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, with more excellent range and data transfers. Also, in the case of Wi-Fi AC, we will be able to use the 5 GHz bands of the router, which are less saturated.
And if we are going to use the tablet on the move, some versions of tablets offer the option of LTE connectivity that supports 4G, allowing us to access the Internet from anywhere, as long as we have our data rate.
Design and materials
Even though the rate of renewal and innovation of tablets is lower than that of smartphones, the trend towards reduced edges seems to have reached tablets, something that we see in the iPad Pro or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Regardless of the subjectivity of their appeal, it is undeniable that the use of their dimensions is superior.
The material used in the chassis has a significant impact on both the durability of the tablet and the cooling of the internal components. It is common to find aluminum in the most premium tablets and polycarbonate in the medium and low ranges.
Although at first glance aluminum gives it a luxurious finish, it is properties such as lightness, rigidity, and its high coefficient of thermal conductivity - which favors heat dissipation - that make this material one of the most widely used in consumer electronics.
Do I only need the tablet, or will I use accessories?
While the more affordable models still focus on navigation and content consumption, the higher-end tablets have been finding their market as professional tools, an application for which accessories are essential.
In this respect, the keyboard and stylus are two of the essential accessories. The former obviously for fast and accurate text input, while the latter allows for sketching, editing, and digitizing in creative and technical areas.
Professionally designed tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, Microsoft Surface, or the iPad Pro, come directly with official accessories, as well as a wide range of compatible fixtures from other manufacturers. However, Apple has been adding support for its keyboards and pencils to its latest releases, whether "Pro" or not.
What about optics?
Although tablet optics have historically been secondary, used primarily for video conferencing and casual photo/video - aside from the anecdotal use of some people, usually older people, as a device for everything...including sightseeing and photography - the more premium models continue to add features such as 4K recording and the dual-lens, distance-gauging capability of the new iPad Pro.
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