Best tablets of October 2017

Top 10 tablets

How to choose the best tablet

More and more people these days prefer to work or play on the go. Finishing up that paper due next day or having an entertaining commute playing games are just two ways of making good use of your mobile device. But a phone might be too small and carrying around a laptop might not be that pleaseant. This is where tablets enter the scene. Smaller, thinner, and much lighter than a laptop, yet still providing a respectable display size compared to a smartphone, tablet computers offer both computing power and portability. Some models also come with physical keyboards or stylus pens, like the latest iPad Pro or the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, two of the best tablets for designers. If you looking for the best tablet for gaming, a tablet with a powerful processor, like the Nvidia Shield, might be a better choice. With so many options available, finding the best tablet of 2017 is a difficult task. However, there are some key aspects you should take into account when buying a tablet.

Design and Build

Tablets should offer a balance between portability and utility. All else equal, a tablet with high screen-to-body ratio is always a good choice, maximizing the viewing area while minimizing the bezels, thus saving precious space. Most tablets have screens sized at around 9 inches when measured diagonally, which seems to be the best balance between portability and utility for most. 

One important aspect of the tablet’s body are the materials used. The materials used in a tablet depend on the price tag of the device:

  • Plastic: Usually in the form of polycarbonate, most tablets in the lower price range are made out of plastic. This is not to discredit plastic - though inexpensive, it has some advantages, like being lightweight and having a relatively good heat resistance.
  • Metal: For the more expensive devices, metals are widely used to encase the components. Metals used in the production of tablets, usually in the form of aluminium alloy, can sometimes be even thinner and lighter than their plastic counterparts. Another advantage of metal is that it can also be used to disperse the heat produced by the tablet's components, thus making it possible for manufacturers to use more powerful processors. Aesthetics-wise, metals are of course much pleasing.
  • Glass: While glass is widely used on top of the displays, some have it as casing as well in combination with metal. It provides a sleek look and is also the most scratch-resistant among the three materials mentioned. The key disadvantage is that dropping a tablet with glass panels can lead to completely shattered panels and they are expensive to replace.

Types of tablets

There are two main types of tablets. Stand-alone tablets, which are also called slates or booklets, and 2-in-1s, which can be convertibles or hybrids. 

  • Stand-alone tablets are made up of just a single slate, like an enlarged smartphone. It has an on-screen keyboard and navigation buttons. Stand-alone tablets are best for those who don’t use their tablets a lot for typing, since on-screen keyboards have never been the best for this job. An on-screen keyboard also takes up around 50% of the display, which means a substantial decrease of your view while typing.
  • 2-in-1 tablets are made up of two slates held together on one edge, one of the slates being the tablet itself, the other a keyboard. The keyboard is either detachable or attached permanently by a hinge, which can then be folded to the back of the tablet when not in use, like in the case of the Yoga Tab 3 tablets. 2-in-1 tablets look very similar to laptop computers but they are usually smaller. Convertibles have one major advantage over stand-alone tablets: the physical keyboard. Some keyboards may also have an additional battery, like in the case of the Dell Venue 11 Pro, or an additional storage drive which comes in handy if the internal storage is not enough.

Display

The display is probably one of the most important aspects of a tablet. There are two main types of displays being used in today’s tablets: LCDs and OLED / AMOLED displays.

LCDs (liquid crystal displays) adjust the amount of light that passes through each liquid crystal layer. LCDs are thin and light and have a low refresh-rate flicker. The downside is that the viewing quality is not that good compared to OLED displays, especially in direct sunlight and in high temperature environments.

OLED (organic light emitting diode displays) and AMOLEDs (active-matrix light emitting diode displays) emit light directly, therefore the contrast ratios are very high. The display's response time is also much faster than in the case of LCDs. However, because OLED and AMOLED displays use organic materials, the viewing quality tends to decrease faster in time.

The size of the display is a matter of personal preference. A larger display means a larger viewing area but it also increases the overall size of the device, making it less portable. Samsung Galaxy View, for example, has a 18.4 inches display and it's one of the largest tablets available. A smaller display is definitely a plus if you are looking for portability. The average screen size for tablets is 9.1 inches.

Other important factors are resolution and pixel density. The screen resolution determines the clarity and sharpness of images. Pixel density refers to the number of pixels per inch displayed on the screen and it depends on the screen resolution and screen size. The higher the resolution, the higher the pixel density will be if the screen size is constant.

Battery

Battery life is very important if you want to be able to use your device without worrying that it might shut down. This is important particularly for people on the go. Finding a socket while travelling is nothing short of a miracle. Even if you’re at home most of the time, with sockets everywhere, would it be really okay for you to be stuck in one place? Battery power is measured in milliampere-hour (mAh) and determines how long your device can last on one charge. However, this also depends on how energy efficient the tablet is. Typically, tablets can last from around 4 to 10 hours if used continously under moderate load.

Processor

There are numerous options when it comes to processors. The most important mobile processor manufacturers are Qualcomm, MediaTek and Intel. A processor’s performance can be loosely determined by the total clock speed. More cores combined with higher clock speeds would mean better performance, although it would still depend on the particular circuit design of the processor, process size and other many other factors. So the best way to test the performance of a certain tablet is to run the most demanding applications on it, such as 3D games or video editing. Simple web browsing cannot push the processor to its limits, so be sure to test the tablet using the most processor-intensive applications that you intend to run in the future and make your decision based on that.

Operating System

There are three operating systems (OS) being used in tablets. Android, iOS and Windows. Android is by far the most popular OS worldwide, just like in the case of smartphones. 

Android is a mobile OS developed by Google. It is open-source and, in principle, anyone with the proper knowledge and skills to modify the system can do so. Samsung for example, is well known in installing heavily-modified Android systems on their devices. Android is best known for its customizability and flexibility.

iOS was developed by Apple for their iPhones and iPads. Unlike Android, the source code cannot be modified, so the system is more unitary. Some common pros for iOS are the enchnaced security features and ease of use.

Windows is the least common OS on tablets, though there are still many devices running on Windows. Take note though that there are two kinds of Windows OS, Windows for ARM devices and Windows for x86 devices. Windows for x86 allows the installation of third-party desktop applications, those that are normally installed on laptops and desktops. With Windows for ARM on the other hand, users are limited when it comes to installing applications, as they have to choose only apps from the Windows Store. There is a limited number of applications in the store, although Microsoft is partnering with app developers to catch up with Android and iOS. Most processors used in tablets are made using the ARM architecture. Consequently, most tablets use Windows for ARM.

By Xhander Franco

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