Many homes in the UK are now choosing to dump their laptop or desktop PC in favour of an ultra-portable and lightweight touchscreen tablet.
These sleek models allow users to perform most computing tasks without being chained to a desk or having a heavy laptop on the knee. Plus they’re versatile and fun gadgets to have around, offering endless entertainment options.
However, buying your first tablet can be quite intimidating thanks to the sheer amount of choice available. You can get a basic tablet for under £100, but you can also spend upwards of £600 on top-of-the-range models.
The key is to find the one that best suits your needs without paying over the odds. Here are some of the questions you should ask before splashing out:
Can it replace my laptop?
You can do almost all of the things you do on your PC on a tablet. There are apps that allow you to create documents, post to social networks, chat with friends, edit and share photos and videos, browse the internet, listen to music and watch movies.
However, if you’re looking for powerful and precise productivity and creative tools such as photo and video editing, you may still need a laptop or desktop.
Can I still use an actual keyboard and mouse?
Typing out long emails or documents on a touchscreen isn’t fun or efficient, so if you plan to use your tablet for either of these things, you could buy separate keyboard and mouse accessories to use when you need them. These can be connected to the tablet wirelessly via Bluetooth technology. They’re quite affordable too, starting at around £13 on Amazon.
There are also hybrid tablets such as Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 4 device which works like a laptop when you attach a Type Cover keyboard.
What size should I get?
Tablets typically range from 7 inches up to 10 inches in size – measured across the diagonal. A bigger screen means more comfortable browsing and a better movie-watching experience, but smaller tablets are more portable and easier to carry around.
Think about how you’ll use the tablet – if it’s just at home, a larger device may suit you better whereas a smaller tablet is ideal for taking in your bag daily.
Can I print from my tablet?
Most tablets don’t have a USB port to connect a printer like PCs and Macs do, but tablets running iOS, Android and Windows all have wi-fi printing capabilities. This means that if your printer is connected to the internet you’ll be able to print pages directly from your tablet.
Check out our article on how to print your smartphone and tablet photos.
How much storage is there?
If you want to store lots of apps, games, photos, music and movies on a tablet you’ll need one with a lot of on-board memory. We’d advise at least a 32GB tablet if all of those memory-intensive files are to be stored on your device.
If you prefer to stream content over the internet through services like Netflix and Spotify, then you can probably get away with a 16GB model.
The amount of memory advertised sometimes differs from what you can actually use. For instance the Amazon Fire HD6 is advertised with 8GB storage, but only 5GB of that is usable.
Many tablets have an SD card slot, which allows you to insert a card for up to 128GB of extra storage space.
But even if you get a low capacity tablet, you’ve always got cloud storage services such as BT Cloud which let you store photos, videos and more online – of course, these will only be accessible when you’re online though.
Can I use the tablet for video chatting?
Almost all tablets now have a front-facing camera for the purpose of video chatting with friends, colleagues and family for free using dedicated video calling apps – but don’t expect the images to be pristine. Apps such as Skype can be used for free via an internet connection to chat on every platform available.
Can I connect to the internet everywhere I go?
Every tablet on the market is wi-fi enabled, but not everywhere has wi-fi coverage. For example, if you’re at the beach and want to download a book, you may not find a wi-fi connection to hand.
If you want a tablet that you can really use everywhere, buy one with an option for 3G or 4G mobile data, just like your smartphone. Not all tablets let you insert a SIM card and those that do will be a little more expensive. You’ll also need to sign up to a mobile data plan with a network, but in this case you can often get the tablet itself a lot cheaper.
If you choose the wi-fi only option, BT has 12 million wi-fi hotspots worldwide for customers to use for free. Check out our guide on how to use the BT Wi-fi app on your tablet to find out more.
Can I take photos with it?
It’s rare that tablets these days aren’t fitted with some kind of rear-facing camera, although the resulting image quality can vary. If you do plan to take photos, ask whether your tablet of choice possesses a camera that’ll do the job. Usually, it’s better to just rely on your smartphone for photographs.
What software is it based on?
Not all tablets use the same system software, and like smartphones they mainly come in three flavours.
Apple’s iPad range runs iOS software, which you can find out about here. The majority of others including those made by Samsung run Google’s Android operating system, while a few run Microsoft’s Windows software, the latest being Windows 10.
Each operating system looks and functions differently, but all allow you to customise your home screen with the apps and shortcuts you want. Windows borrows from the desktop version, integrating familiar apps such as Office.
You may want to stick with the same operating system as your smartphone, you’ll be able to log in to your account and download all the apps you’ve already bought at no extra cost.
Will I get the latest software updates?
If you buy a newer Apple iPad or a Windows-based tablet like the Microsoft Surface range then you will get the latest software updates as soon as they become available.
This can mean exciting new features, fixes for software bugs and a brand new look. You’ll be able to download these updates over wi-fi and access all of the newest features.
If you buy an Android tablet, the situation is a little more complicated as system updates can take longer depending on the manufacturer, unless you buy a Nexus branded tablet developed by Google in conjunction with a tablet manufacturer.
What am I using it for?
If you love playing games on your phone, most of those are going to be available on your tablet too. Hits like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds and Candy Crush are available to download for tablets on multiple software platforms.
However, some games may be limited to one platform so check your favourites are available.
If you want to play some of the really high-end games, then make sure you buy a tablet with a powerful processor, lots of memory (a minimum 2GB) and a good graphics card for the optimum experience.
But if you’re not interested in games at all and want it for casual surfing, checking emails and looking on social media, you don’t need such a powerful tablet.
How much should I pay for a tablet?
As we mentioned above, perfectly serviceable tablets like the Amazon Fire Tablet which costs just £50. The well-reviewed Tesco Hudl 2 has been discontinued so you may have to track one down from eBay. The Google Pixel C is well reviewed and costs £379.99 Meanwhile, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 will set you back at least £749.
A lot will depend on your needs. If you only expect to perform basic tasks like reading and writing email, reading books, web browsing and messaging friends, an affordable tablet will suit you perfectly.
If you want to play high-powered games, use multiple powerful apps at once, play high-definition movies and stream media, you should opt for a higher end tablet.
If you care about having the sleekest design and build on the block – metal rather than plastic - this may also cost you a little more.
Is there any question you wish you'd asked before you bought your tablet? Let us know in the Comments below.