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Dissecting the tablet PC

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be it Apple iPad, Blackberry Playbook, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, tablet computers are hot right now and every one wants to own one. But what is a tablet PC? How does one select a suitable tablet? Which are the best ones and which are the most economic? Chandragupta Amritkar dissects the tablet PC for our readers

The fastest commodity in the computer world is tablets – growing nearly three times as fast as those of laptops. According to research firm Gartner Inc worldwide manufacturers are expected to sell 50 million tablets this year, up from 19 million in 2010. In 2012, that number is projected to top 100 million. At Consumer Electronics Show 2011, over 80 new tablets were announced to compete with the iPad.

So what is a tablet? No exact definition is available as the few products in the same frame are blurring those lines. Traditionally the categories of mobile computing devices break down in terms of size: smartphones have 3 to 5-inch screens, MIDs (mobile Internet devices) range between 5 and 7 inches, and tablets are between 7 and 10 inches.

In a layman’s words we can put it as ‘A tablet PC is essentially a wireless and portable personal computer in the form of a notebook or a slate that allows users to interact just with their fingers or with a stylus or digital pen on a touchscreen.’ Other characteristics are tablet shape and size, wireless connection to Internet and local area networks. They are powered by variety of operating systems. Some are proprietary ones like Apple iPad iOS or HP webOS, but majority of tablets are running on various Windows 7 editions and Android operating system.

History of tablets
A project that started in Apple laboratories in 1989 resulted in first tablet PC named Newton launched on market in 1993. Revolutionary idea and product were way ahead of its time and Newton sank into history. Next major step was introduction of special Microsoft XP windows OS named Windows XP Tablet PC edition in 2001. This edition incorporated support for pen-sensitive screen and handwriting. Microsoft’s contribution is also the name “Tablet PC” as this was the first time it was used. Various attempts from different companies were made since then. But final breakthrough came again from part of Apple in form of iPad in 2010. As of August 2011, the iPad and iPad 2 have dominated sales, outselling Android and other rival OS tablets by a ratio of eight to one. As per some reports, Apple's iPad held 66 per cent of the global tablet market in Q1 of 2011, but the share is predicted to drop to 58 per cent by the end of the year due to the influx of new products, mostly Android tablets.

The + and -

Advantages of tablets PC compared to notebooks are their size and weight. Due to their portability, they are very practical and can be used while sitting in sofa, lying in bed or walking around. With a size of a book and special e-reader application they can replace the traditional reading source. The tablet is becoming an all-in-one reading device, with access to digital versions of thousands of books, newspapers and magazines.

On the negative side, especially the screen which is prone to damage as they are carried around and used in various situations and environments. Compared to other personal computers as notebooks and PC's they have weaker capabilities. Tablets, with their limited screen size and lack of a keyboard, are not yet as effective for tasks that involve a great deal of typing or creative work. Traditional keyboard with wrist rest is much more comfortable. Many computer users still prefer the laptop's physical keyboard for writing. And unlike PCs, tablets don't yet allow users to burn CDs or DVDs, play more graphics-intensive video games or store large music and photo collections.

But tablet is a revolution and there are no two doubts about it. How many times have you thought I have to check an urgent e-mail but there’s a lengthy procedure - got to log on to the computer and wait for Windows to kickoff? With the tablet it’s simple - I push the button and it starts.

Choosing the Tablet

There are at least 350+ versions of tablet PC in the global market and the number is rapidly increasing as many different companies trying to get in on the action by manufacturing their own makes and models in all different price ranges. With all of the competing products coming on the market consumers have a lot of options to choose from but with so many options available, choosing the best one for the money can be difficult.

If vitamin M is a problem and you don’t want to flaunt your tablet PC then you are surely looking for an economical tablet PC but you’ll also want it to have all necessary features and which ones you are willing to compromise on in exchange for a lower price.

Processor, RAM and Hard Drive
Processor speed, RAM and hard drive are important considerations no matter what type of computer you’re buying whether it’s a desktop, laptop, netbook or tablet. With a faster processor you will have a faster computer. With more RAM you will be able to have more programs running or complete multiple tasks at the same time. A larger hard drive gives you more storage space for data, photos, videos, music etc. The faster your processor is and the more RAM and hard drive space you have, the more expensive any computer will be including a tablet PC.

However, it is not necessary for most people to get the fastest processor and the most RAM available in order to have a tablet PC that will meet their needs. If you opt for an expensive tablet then find one that has a dual core processor with a speed of 1 GHz or more. If you generally download a lot of music or movies on your tablet you will need a large hard drive as this will really start to eat up your storage level. The storage capacities commonly found in tablet PC are - 8GB, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB

Type of Screen
The type of screen that your tablet PC has will also affect the price. Remember tablets PCs use a touchscreen instead of a keyboard. A keyboard and a mouse can be attached to a tablet if you don’t like using your fingers or a stylus. There are two types of touchscreens; one is a capacitive touchscreen and the other is a resistive touchscreen. Resistive touchscreens are considerably less expensive and visibility in sunlight is not as good. The screens on tablet are usually between 7 and 12 inches long.

Video resolution

Indians love to watch HD videos, movies, serials, songs HD Youtube videos etc. For this ideally the HD video resolution should be 1920x1080p and 1280x720p. Lesser cost tablets comes with lower screen resolution. So please check the resolution.

Camera, Battery Life etc

There are a number of other factors too. Having a better quality built-in camera is very useful if you intend to do video conferencing or take photos. This may add to the cost of the tablet PC. Many tablet computers now come with either 1 or 2 built-in cameras. The purpose of the front facing camera is generally for video calling, whereas the rear facing camera is designed for you to take photographs and record videos.
If you will be using your Tablet PC when you are on the go you will want to make sure it has enough battery life to do whatever you need it to do, especially if you fly a lot. Most tablet PCs will have a battery life that lasts between six and 10 hours. Overall build quality will also be a factor. Cheaper models will use a lot of plastic while more expensive models will use materials that are durable and recyclable like aluminum and mercury free glass.

Operating Systems (OS)

But naturally the iPad operating system (iOS) is most popular and easy to use. Apple iOS also provides direct access to the Apple App Store which is the largest app store available in the field of tablet PCs today. Apple iOS does not support Adobe Flash videos and games. The Android OS is fast catching up. The Android tablets that are currently being manufactured come with a lot of different options. Most of this cheap tablets are available with Android OS 1.5 or 1.6 which is way old than the latest version which is 3.0. These cheap Android tablets tend to have drawbacks such as slower speed. But this doesn’t mean one can’t browse the internet, listen to music, watch videos and read eBooks. Since it is open-source, the operating system can be customized as well as modified or tweaked by manufacturers. The biggest drawback of Android is the app store is still not as huge as Apple's. Older versions of Android, which some tablet PCs are still using it, were initially developed for smartphones, not tablet PCs, though Android 3.0 is now specifically optimised for tablet PCs. Apart from this there’s the Windows operating system, BlackBerry products have their own BlackBerry operating system and HP tablets are using the webOS operating system.

Connectivity
Most tablets that are manufactured today have easy connectivity to the Internet including the lower-priced tablets. Some of the different types of connectivity available are Wi-Fi i.e. use the wireless capability at home or at various Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe; Bluetooth; 3G – offered mainly by high end tablets as this type of connection can work even if one is not close to a Wi-Fi hotspot. Generally there is an additional monthly payment involved to the service provider; GPS – mainly for map functions and not a necessity in India.

A standard or mini USB sockets are included in most tablet computers and are very beneficial as  you can connect many different external devices, such as storage or keyboard, without being limited to your tablet pc manufacturer's range of products. Also you can check if the tablet pc has card reader slots (in case one needs to add extra memory); SIM card slot (meant for 3G or 4G tablets); HDMI output (for connecting to a television).

Most tablet PCs will connect with your computer or Mac using a USB cable. The iPad comes with its own connector while some tablets have a mini or standard USB socket. Tablets will also be equipped with a headphone jack for connecting external speakers or headphones.

With competition heating up you can certainly get a good functional tablet for under Rs.10,000/-. Though not comparable with the iPad or the XOOM or Samsung galaxy, invariably they will get the basic necessities done.

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