It’s official: tablets are taking over the world. What was once an accessory for the super-nerd, then an accoutrement for the wealthy and techie is now a must-have for pretty much everyone. That’s not to say that all tablets are created equal.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite, as the market for tablets has broken down into a number of different segments.
This means you’ll have to make a choice—we no longer live in the “iPad or nothing” world of 2010. You may be in the market for something special, or just something to play Angry Birds on.
We’ll walk you through the wide world of touchscreen slabs in ascending order of fanciness.
1. The Basics
This category is currently dominated by bookstore offerings, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color.
The Kindle Fire just got a makeover that makes it somewhat competitive with other 7” tabs, like Google’s Nexus, but devices in this category still tend to be targeted toward people who aren’t looking to spend too much and want lots of pre-installed software and features.
Additionally, the Kindle Fire HD has a polarizing filter to make book-reading easy on the eyes.
2. The Next Steps
Above the very basic tablets out there, it’s giant, messy battleground of sizes, shapes, prices, and manufacturers. The Google Nexus 7 looks to be large, or rather small, and in charge here, and is starting to own the market segment of “tablets that aren’t iPads, but aren’t e-book readers either.”
It’s a 7” device, like Nook and Kindle, but it’s built on a standard version of Android, which offers more customizability for savvy users. Some great bargains might lurk in this segment for people willing to scour the e-commerce sites. You never know what you’ll find.
3. iPad and Competitors
The most ubiquitous tablet by far is Apple’s iconic iPad, which is pretty, fast, and works out of the box, but is also a bit on the pricey end. This has not deterred too many tablet buyers, as there’s so much to be said for Apple’s software and hardware.
The retina display (which has nearly microscopic pixels) is hard to look away from. Apple does have competitors in this market, but they haven’t made much of a dent.
4. Future tech and laptop replacements
The Microsoft Surface appears to be marketed to people looking to make a transition from laptop to tablet—its keyboard features prominently in current teaser ads. We don’t know what it will cost precisely, but it will likely cost more than iPad, and run Windows 8.
There are other possible entries in this category that are still coming down the pipe, so keep watching the tech news.
The trick to buying tablets or tablet accessories, just like any other purchase, is knowing what you want before you walk into the store (or click “Checkout”). If you’re interested in a product, be sure to read the professional and user-generated reviews, because the last thing you want is a tablet you’ll never use.
About Author: Luke Clum is a Seattle based designer and writer who specializes in web development. He’s an avid hiker and climber and loves spending time in the great outdoors. You can follow him on Twitter @lukeclum