Tablet Buying Guide: How to Pick the Perfect Slate

Camera, Ports, and Special features

A tablet isn’t just for viewing media. It can also be used to create and share content. Although it will never replace a dedicated point-and-shoot, many tablets now feature cameras on the front (for video chats) and back (for capturing photos and videos). The Motorola Xoom, for example, features a 2-megapixel webcam and a 5-MP camera on the back for snapping pictures and recording 720p video. The BlackBerry PlayBook sports a 3-MP front-facing HD camera and a 5-MP rear shooter.

The iPad 2 has cameras on the front (VGA) and back (3-MP) as well, but the quality for still photos isn’t nearly as high when capturing video. You also don’t get a flash, which the Xoom and other slates have.

When it comes to sharing content, an HDMI port makes it easy to output photos, videos, and even games (depending on the underlying software) to the nearest HDTV. But this port isn’t the only way to share media. Apple’s AirPlay makes it a cinch to stream what you’re watching on the iPad to the nearest Apple TV, and other tablets use DLNA technology to wirelessly share content over Wi-Fi to TVs, Blu-ray players, and other home entertainment gear that supports this standard. However, DNLA isn’t as easy to use.

If you’re not getting the iPad, which uses a proprietary dock connector for charging, syncing, and accessories, look for a tablet that uses a microUSB port. This feature will enable you to sync your tablet with a PC.

Lastly, you’ll want to think about accessories. No on one can touch Apple in terms of add-ons, but you should be able to find cases and docks for the highest profile iPad competitors. Just be prepared for slim pickings.

Recent Tablet Reviews

Apple iPad 2
With its ultra-slim design, faster dual-core performance, FaceTime camera, and gobs of compelling apps, the iPad 2 is the tablet to beat.

Read Full Review

Motorola Xoom
The first Android 3.0 tablet features innovative software and 4G capability, but buggy performance and a limited number of compelling apps at launch hold this slate back.

Read Full Review

Samsung Galaxy Tab
The first bona fide iPad alternative features a compact design, dual cameras, snappy performance, and a small but growing number of tablet-friendly apps.

Read Full Review

Archos 101
A low price and sleek design make this Android tablet a tempting iPad alternative for those on a budget.

Read Full Review

Tablet Buying Guide

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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Submit Comments

  1. Craig Says:

    Why don’t you ever comment on the limitations of the ipad? I have the apple IPAD and no one ever comments on the fact that one cannot open any websites that have incorporated Adobe flashplayer. (There are more websites that utilize this than one would think). Apple’s continued reluctance to allow total access to its products (citing, adobe flash is not a good program and causes crashes) is unacceptable. I already have a father. If I want to use add-ons to the electronic devices I purchased, then why not allow it, understanding that the machine could crash?
    I do not know much about the competitive devices, but I am assuming that there are no restrictions.

    My 2 cents

  2. charles Says:

    Since when did apps come to mean something different from program? “Microsoft doesn’t have it’s own app store” Last time I checked, it had literally thousands of programs able to run on Windows. Even if Windows isn’t the best software (right now at least) for tablets to run, please don’t sound ignorant in saying that Windows based tablets have no apps available.

  3. mirekk Says:

    There’s no such thing as perfect tablet, or perfect anything for that matter. It’s simply a matter of individual preference. Anyhoo the tablets of today are still relatively simple (media consumption) and require some more work (more interfaces, more storage space, etc.).

  4. Mark Says:

    Tabs are fun if you get the right one. Number one priority inputs. If so it doesn’t matter how much onboard storage is if you can pop in a flash drive or sdcard. Two GUI must be 3D capable. Three not locked in, to a carrier, or proprietary anything especially inputs and app store. Android tabs meet all those criterions. Ipad is more of a 20th century 1D device. Great for kids and the elderly. No frills, no thrills. Also, there selling points buying apps and garage band, be serious. I’m not buying a tab to continuously line apple’s pockets with my money, plus, the connectivity issues they hope no one notices.

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