Which tablet should you buy?
If you're thinking of buying a new large tablet PC, take a moment to read our comprehensive guide. The latest models have all been rigorously roadtested - and the results are in
Buying a tablet PC is a big investment, particularly when it comes to choosing one of the larger and more expensive versions.
With that in mind, we've road-tested a selection of models with screens of 8.5in or larger. New tablet models were put through rigorous tests to assess general performance, screen quality and ease of use, among other things, and once again, Samsung has edged Apple out of the top spot in our findings (see pages 17&18). Here are the main factors to consider when buying a tablet that suits you and your family's needs.
For a device that only emerged in 2010 with the launch of the Apple iPad, tablet pc growth has been phenomenal. Reports have indicated that over half of all US households own at least one tablet and Ireland is not far behind, with estimates suggesting tablet penetration here has reached 40pc.
However, analysts have noted that tablet growth is slowing worldwide. One likely reason for this is the rise of the large smartphone, which may be reducing the appetite for tablets - particularly for smaller tablet devices. In addition, given that the tablet market is less than five years old, there is not enough evidence on what consumer behaviour around this market will be. Whereas phones have an estimated life cycle of two years - with consumers upgrading regularly to take advantage of faster speeds, greater power and design developments - it may well be that tablets have a longer-than-expected lifespan.
They are not carried around as much, so they may physically last longer, but also users may not feel the upgrades are sufficiently compelling to constantly update their devices. Moreover, many may feel that although tablets are 'nice-to-have' devices, their smartphone and desktop pc are sufficient for their needs. It remains to be seen how this market will evolve in the future.
Choosing a tablet
The two first decisions you will need to make when choosing a tablet are the size of display you want and what operating system you would prefer the device to run on. Larger tablets have an advantage over smaller tablets when it comes to watching movies or typing emails thanks to the greater screen size, though inevitably they are a little heavier to hold for long periods and less portable. In our current batch of large tablets, screen sizes measured diagonally range from 8.9in to 12.2in.
In terms of operating systems, the options are essentially Apple, Android or Windows, with Amazon tablets running a version of Android that restricts access to the Google Play Store to tie you to Amazon-based apps and solutions.
Another key factor is the amount of storage you need on your device. Tablets generally do not offer the generous storage capacity you would find on a laptop or desktop pc. If you plan to use the tablet mainly for browsing online or streaming media, a lower level of storage - such as 16GB - might suffice, whereas if you are planning to carry around music, videos and lots of heavyweight apps on your tablet, your storage needs will be much greater. You also may be surprised at how much space the operating system and built-in apps can take up before you add any of your own data.
If your tablet has a memory card slot, storage space can be easily expanded, but some devices, including the Apple and Google products, do not offer this option so you may need to buy a greater-capacity - and inevitably pricier - version.
The range of locations where you can access free Wi-Fi is increasing all the time to include buses, trains, cafes and restaurants, but some tablets offer 3G/4G versions for those who want constant access to the internet. Again, these models are more expensive than Wi-Fi-only devices, and given the ability to create a personal hotspot using your smartphone to enable your tablet to go online, this may be a feature that is not worth paying extra for.
Putting tablets to work
Some look for more from their tablet and want to use it for getting some work done as well as for entertainment purposes.
Manufacturers have been trying to create the perfect laptop/tablet hybrid that delivers the productivity and work ethic of a laptop but retains the easy-to-use, ready-to-go, fun elements of a tablet.
Although the first of these devices emerged several years ago, this subcategory received a boost in 2012 when Microsoft introduced its Surface tablet computer with detachable keyboard and also launched the Windows 8 operating system, which runs on desktops, laptops and tablets.
Microsoft is still the manufacturer that comes closest to resolving the challenges of marrying the virtues of the laptop and tablet, with its latest offering, the Surface Pro 3, scoring very well in our tests and only narrowly missing out on Choice Buy status.
Running Windows 8.1 Pro, which provides support for desktop office, video and image-editing programmes, this device delivers fast processing and comes with decent screen and an improved stylus that acts as a handy selection tool. However, battery life failed to impress, with just six hours of video playback and five hours and 40 minutes of web browsing on Wi-Fi on a full charge. In addition, the detachable keyboard will need to be bought separately for around €135, adding to the already very hefty purchase price.
These product tests are carried out by the independent consumer organsitation International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT), in association with the Consumers' Association of Ireland.
1. Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 €500
The Choice Buy Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 tops our tablet pc table with its slimline and lightweight frame, stunning 1600 x 2560 display and super-speedy 1.9GHz processor. Images are extremely sharp, bright and clear on the 10.59in screen, which copes very well in strong sunlight where many other tablet screens struggle. The touchscreen is highly responsive and everything moves swiftly and smoothly on this device, with even graphics-intensive games presenting no problems. Of the 16GB of memory, 10.08GB is available to users but this can be expanded via the micro SD card slot. Battery life is somewhat uneven in that a full battery charge will deliver an impressive 13 and half hours of video playback but just under seven hours of web browsing - and a quick 30 minute charge yields only 54 minutes of power. This tablet offers many appealing features including a fingerprint scanner for added security and the ability to display two apps side by side and to create multiple user accounts. Running Android 4.4.2, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is priced similarly to the Apple iPad Air 2 and presents a worthy Android alternative.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 €320
The cheapest of our Choice Buys by a significant margin, the Choice Buy Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 scored extremely well in our tests, offering all the speed and features of the Samsung Galaxy Pro12.2 in a lighter, slimmer and smaller package. With an impressive resolution of 1600 x 2560, the display is sharp, crisp and bright, making viewing a pleasure even in strong sunlight. This powerful device is also easy to set up and use and the eight-core Samsung processor means that everything runs very swiftly indeed. The Android 4.4.2 operating system on this device is enhanced with Samsung's Magazine user interface and multi-window features. Battery life is very good, with a full charge providing enough power for over 10 hours of video playback or web browsing and, if you only have time for a brief 30 minute charge, this will yield almost an hour and a half of use. Compared to the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, the smaller, more portable size of the 10.1in version may well be a more practical option for many as well as being more affordable.
3. Apple iPad Air 2 €509
The Choice Buy Apple iPad Air 2 is a stylish device that is slimmer and lighter than ever and just as fast and responsive. Sporting the same excellent Retina display that we have become accustomed to on Apple iPads, images are wonderfully clear and vibrant on the 9.7-inch screen and the already extremely fast speeds of the iPad Air are surpassed on the iPad Air 2 thanks to the new A8X 1.5GHz processor. Improvements over the earlier model have been incremental rather than seismic, including slightly improved cameras on the front and rear - though one notable new addition is the fingerprint scanner for swifter access and added security. At 440g and 6.3mm thick, the new iPad is both lighter and slimmer than its predecessor, though this has meant a trade-off in terms of battery life. A full charge will deliver eight hours and 45 minutes of video playback and a little over eight hours of web browsing - which, although decent, falls short of the almost 11 hours of web browsing and nearly 13 hours of video playback managed by the iPad Air. The iPad Air 2 will deliver a great tablet experience but so will the older iPad Air, currently selling at around €100 less.
5. Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 €780
The Choice Buy Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 has all the great features and specifications of our previous Choice Buy, the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, with the added bonus of the S-Pen stylus that is handy for note-taking, doodling apps and as a selection tool. The 12.2in, high resolution display produces bright and sharp images that make viewing a pleasure and is also excellent for multitasking as there is plenty of space to take advantage of the Samsung software enhancements that allow you to have four apps open on the screen at the one time. Everything is kept running swiftly and smoothly thanks to the powerful eight-core processor. Big screens and fast processors can use up a lot of battery power but the battery life on this tablet is surprisingly good, with more than 10 and a half hours of video playback and web browsing delivered on a full charge. At 746g, this tablet is the heaviest of our Choice Buys but is still not massively cumbersome. Nonetheless, it may be hard to hold one-handed for long periods and can be awkward to balance. If you can do without the stylus, you can save €180 by opting for the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.
4. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 €600
The Choice Buy Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 is a powerful device that can be used both for work and entertainment purposes thanks to the super-fast processor, huge screen and Samsung enhancements and apps added to the Android 4.4.2 operating system. With 1600 x 2560 resolution, the 12.2in display delivers vibrant and crisp images and the extra size is great for viewing HD videos and photos, and reading text and also for multitasking, particularly given this device's ability to have four apps open on the screen at the same time. The eight-core processor means that such high levels of multitasking are not a problem for this tablet, which handles graphics-heavy games and office apps with ease. Despite the big screen and powerful processor, battery life is very good indeed, providing 11 hours of video playback and 10 and a half hours of web browsing on a full charge. At 739g, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 is not overly heavy and it is only 8mm thick - however, some may find it hard to hold in one hand. The 10.1in version offers the same great features in a more compact and less pricey package.
6. Google Nexus 9 €400
The Choice Buy Google Nexus 9 with its 8.9in screen is the smallest of our current batch of tablets and weighs just 427g, but it packs a lot into its slimline and compact frame. With the same resolution as on the iPad Air 2, the 2048 x 1536 screen on the Nexus 9 provides images that are clear and sharp, and sound quality - an area where tablets often struggle - is reasonably good. The 2.3GHz processor does a good job of keeping everything moving fast and this tablet runs Google's latest operating system, Android 5.0, dubbed Lollipop. Battery life is decent if not overly impressive, with a full charge producing sufficient power for eight hours of video playback and almost seven and a half hours of web browsing. We tested the 16GB version and found that just 8.98GB of storage was available to users after the operating system and built-in apps are taken into account. Given that there is no memory card slot on this tablet to enable you to expand storage, you will need to consider your memory capacity needs before you buy and may want to opt for the more expensive 32GB version, priced at around €100 more.