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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Do not buy the "best" tablet

Tablet sales are falling.  Some question whether the class is even sustainable.  In my view, the class has become hopelessly muddled which leads to consumer confusion.

Tablets first really captured the attention of the public with the release of the iPad in 2010, followed quickly by Android tablets.  These early tablets were essentially smart phones without the phone, and larger screens.  One could use WiFi or cell technologies to access the Internet and use various apps for limited purposes.

Others had tried to release tablets long before this.  Microsoft announced a Windows XP tablet edition in 2001.  There were some very real hardware limitations that kept these from taking off.  But the real limitation was that manufacturers were trying to jam an entire PC into a much smaller device.

Doing so is possible, but it comes with real limitations.  A full size processor generates more heat and uses up battery power much faster.  Cutting back on processing power makes the OS run much slower and creates a frustrating experience for the user.  No one wants to wait two minutes (or more) for their tablet to boot up, like we tolerate on desktop or laptop.

As a result, tablets come with real limitations with regard to processing power, ram, drive capacity, etc.  This limits what they can do well.  You can still do quite a bit with a well designed low end tablet.  Those limitations are not debilitating.  A low to mid-range tablet probably has better computing specs than a Windows XP PC from a decade ago.  You can read and create documents and spreadsheets, watch movies, look at photos, play music, play video games, etc.  Maybe the highest end high 3-D graphics games would not play well.  Maybe you might experience problems using just the computing power in your tablet.  But then again, you can either do those limited tasks on a real PC, or use a cloud based tablet solution where the computing power is done on a server.  In short, you don't need to have a supercomputer in your tablet.

Microsoft has been an abject failure in mobility despite multiple attempts to break into the market. Microsoft has either tried to jam all of the large and clunky Windows OS into a tablet, or it has created a "lite" version of Windows that it tries to convince users is just as good as Windows (it is not).

For years, I have railed that tablets should be easier to upgrade.  That  has not happened.  I have accepted that tablets, like smart phones, need to be considered cheap devices that are probably going to be replaced every few years.  I break my tablet screens on a regular enough basis that I have become convinced that regular replacement is inevitable

That said, I never buy the most expensive tablets.  If I were to spend $800 on a top of the line iPad or Galaxy Tab, I would be much more upset when I smashed the screen.  Those higher end devices do very little more than the $150 I paid for a 10" Acer Iconia Android tablet.  If I would have been happy with an 8" screen, I probably could have paid half that amount.  But screen size is important to me, so I paid the extra money.

I have used the tablet for six months now and am not at all disappointed.  I don't play many games on it, and those I do are not graphics intensive.  I mostly use it to access my email and Google drive, or read articles.  Sometimes I use it to remote desktop into other computers, control my Chromecast to watch Netflix, or read e-books.  It has done everything I've demanded of it with no problems.  I am so glad I did not spend another $600 or more for a top of the line device.  I just don't see the point.

Microsoft has tried to break into the tablet market with various versions of Windows, or by making laptops that are creeping ever closer to tablets.  When I need a whole computer, I don't want a tiny tablet with a detachable keyboard.  I want my full size keyboard and mouse.  I want a decent sized screen.  I want a whole computer.  I don't mind lugging around my 15" laptop on the occasions when I need to have the whole computer.  I can then use my much smaller and cheaper tablet for the 95% of functions that do not require that full functionality.  When I want to play video games, I don't want mobile at all.  I want a console connected to a 50" TV with surround sound.  Same with movies: I don't want to watch an epic saga on a 10" screen.  I want the large screen experience.

Getting a tablet that is capable of high end gaming or providing some minor improvement in video (no, I don't need 4k video on a 10" screen) seems pointless to me.  I'm much better off with the cheap tablet, and using price difference to by a 50" HD TV.  I'll also feel far less guilty when I want to replace that tablet a couple of years from now.

Granted, there are some really cheap tablets that are not worth the savings.  You can buy some new tablets for under $50.  But even I would be frustrated with the 8 GB drive, small screen, and overall poor performance.  There is some value in spending more than the bottom of the barrel to get something better. But in the $100-$200 range, there is an amazing variety of quality Android tablets that will not disappoint most users.  For most people, paying any more than that is a waste of money.

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