If you’re the kind of person who finds that technology moves faster than you can keep up, then you may be feeling slightly in the dark when it comes to tablets. To bring you up to speed, it all began in 2010 when Apple’s iPad came along and lit the touch-paper that lead to the explosion of the tablet market.
What are tablets?
The idea of tablets as mobile computers; lighter and more versatile than laptops, has been around for a while, but early tablets were relatively unsuccessful. They were primarily business focussed, and operated only in a niche area of the computer market. In short, they weren’t very much fun.
In early 2010, Steve Jobs unveiled the product that would revolutionise the tablet world – the iPad. Jobs’ genius stroke was to make the iPad more media focussed than its predecessors, as well taking into account weight, battery life, and ease of use. It differed by offering a totally touchscreen desktop, and ran on Apple’s mobile operating system. Most importantly, it remembered to bring the fun.
Fast-forward back to the present, and the variety of tablets on the market today very much follow this trend. From the iPad2, to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, to the HP Touchpad (to name but a few), they’re light, versatile, and occupy the space halfway between a mobile phone and a laptop, offering the benefits of both mediums. They’re not only practical, they’re also enjoyable.
One of the main selling points of tablets is their portability and ease of use. Compared to laptops, which incorporate a keyboard and mousepad setup, the touchscreen of a tablet offers the advantage of one-handed browsing. You can surf the web while standing on a train, lying in bed, or even while sitting on the proverbial throne. Physical keys are replaced with a virtual keyboard on the screen so you can still type away when necessary. Handwriting recognition software (where available) can also convert letters and characters traced by either your fingers, or a stylus pen.
When it comes to web browsing, there are two ways of getting your tablet connected. The two options available are a stand-alone tablet or pay monthly tablet. A stand-alone tablet is free of SIM and contract, and will connect to the web via WiFi, meaning you can get online through your home WiFi hub, or free public hotspot. A contract tablet comes with a data bundle on a pay-monthly contract, and connects via 3G. Connection capabilities come built in, so unlike laptops, you’ll never have to worry about losing your dongle.
Similar to mobiles, tablets have access to the various app stores (check out our 2011 App market review) across the operating systems available. The continued media focus of the tablet means you can download all your favourite apps and games, then while away long journeys playing (the-most-addictive-game-in-the-world) Angry Birds. The media capabilities don’t stop there, as most app stores also offer a range of music, movies, and also books. Similar to e-readers such as the kindle, you can download a wide selection of titles including both classics and the current bestsellers. Tablets have also enabled your favourite magazines to go multimedia, with many monthly publications taking advantage of the format and realising iPad editions alongside the more traditional tree-based release. This is not only more environmentally friendly,it means that articles which are normally accompanied by static images can come alive with video and audio.
Tablets are also great social tools. Contract tablets often come with minute and text allowances (as well as data), and with easy access to all social network sites, it’s never been easier to stay in touch. Chose a tablet with an inbuilt cam and you can also use Skype to videocall your nearest and dearest.
Now that you’re up to speed, there’s no need to feel daunted by the huge range of tablets available. The desirability of the tablet has led to a wealth of choice available, and although Apple, the pioneers and trendsetters of the tablet world, still lead the market, there are many other options available in terms of size, spec, and affordability. The iPad 2 refined the existing Apple iPad to create probably the most desirable tablet on the market, although the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 offers a similar quality, alongside a more affordable pricetag. Asus tablets offer impressive cameras, and the Blackberry Playbook boasts a sleek and compact design.
Whatever your needs, there’s a tablet to meet them, and we hope our beginner’s guide has made the tablet world a lot easier to swallow.
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