Tablet PCs

Buying guide - Tablet PCs

The tablet PC

The tablet PC concept is a pretty simple one - rather than using a keyboard, mouse or touchpad to navigate your computer, you use a touch-screen. A tablet PC is held in the hand rather than placed on a desk, and is used in a manner similar to a clipboard.

tablet pcYou might think that the tablet PC is a new platform that arrived with the launch of Apple's iPad last year, but you'd be wrong. The truth is that Windows tablet PCs have been around for a very long time, but they never really took off in the way that Microsoft and the hardware vendors would have liked.

Although the tablet PC was initially pitched as a hand-held Windows device, the Windows tablet soon developed into a hybrid notebook / tablet PC form factor. Even today you can buy notebooks with screens that swivel around, thus becoming a Windows tablet PC device.

But the tablet PC as we know it today is a slim, light and portable computer with an operating system and user interface that's designed to make the most of the form factor.

The iPad

It's hard to believe that the tablet PC was pretty much dead in the water just over a year ago. But when Apple launched the iPad everything changed. Suddenly people who had never considered a tablet PC wanted one, and the tablet PC renaissance began.

ipadOne of the main reasons that the iPad succeeded where Windows tablet PCs had failed was the user interface. Rather than trying to squeeze a desktop computer operating system into a tablet PC, Apple adapted its iPhone OS instead. The result was a tablet PC that was simple and familiar to use.

With a large, multi-touch glass screen, the iPad is ideally suited to finger navigation, whereas traditional Windows tablet PCs used resistive screens and often required the use of a stylus.

The iPad uses iTunes as a conduit for all its media, whether that be music, video or even books. With integrated Wi-Fi and 3G, you can always be connected with an iPad too, making it a truly useful tool if you're always on the move.

There's no doubt that the iPad is the tablet PC to beat, but competition is getting stiffer every day.

Android tablet

Following the unparalleled success of the iPad tablet PC, we're somewhat spoiled for choice with tablet PCs now. Like Apple's iOS that runs on the iPad tablet computer, Google's Android provides an intuitive and easy to use interface for a tablet PC. As such, many android tablets have appeared, building on the success that Android has seen as a smartphone platform.

Like the iPad, an Android tablet PC like the Samsung Galaxy Tab will also sport a glass, multi-touch screen, with all the finger friendly navigation that goes with it. Another thing that makes an Android tablet PC attractive, is that you get a choice of screen sizes, rather than the one size fits all mentality of the iPad tablet computer.

Expect even more Android tablet computers to appear over the coming months as Android version 3.0 launches. This new version of Android, codenamed Honeycomb, has been developed with tablet PCs in mind, and will mean even more feature packed Android tablet PCs.

As with the iPad tablet computer, Android tablet PCs benefit from an extensive app store, so you'll be able to download all sorts of programs to your Android tablet computer.

More tablets

Although Android tablet PCs and iPad tablet computers clearly make up the majority of the tablet PC market, there are other alternatives to consider. RIM, the company behind BlackBerry smartphones also has a tablet computer that's ready to hit the market.

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet PC will be taking the fight to Apple and the plethora of Android tablet computers. With the PlayBook tablet PC built on BlackBerry's own operating system, it could appeal to you if you're a long term BlackBerry smartphone user already.

There's still life left in the Windows tablet PC platform too, especially if you're keen to run the same programs that you run on your desktop or notebook on your tablet computer platform. Having access to the likes of Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop on your tablet computer is quite compelling after all.

The problem with a Windows tablet PC is that the operating system was never designed specifically for a tablet computer, and although Windows 7 does support tablet PCs, the experience will never be as slick and intuitive as it is on an Android tablet or Apple iPad.

Accessories

Given that a tablet PC is something that you'll want to carry with you everywhere, the most important accessory is a case to keep your tablet computer safe. You'll generally find two types of cases, either a hard backed shell with a corresponding screen protector, or a book-type case, that will flip open and fold back to give you access to your tablet PC. Obviously the more protection a case provides, the more bulky it makes your tablet computer - it's a balancing act.

While Apple will never let you copy anything to your iPad without using iTunes, other tablet PC manufacturers are far more flexible. Most Android tablet PCs, or even Windows tablet computers sport some kind of memory card slot. This means that you can easily augment the storage on your tablet PC by simply inserting an SD card.

A memory card slot also means that it's easy to get media such as music or video onto your tablet device, without having to worry about hooking it up to a computer of some kind. So, a high capacity SD card would be a useful accessory for your tablet PC