Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 31 years


Cheapskate's Guide: Tablets

November 23, 2014

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, The Post-Standard

Welcome to the Cheapskate's Guide for 2014. This is the 20th year I've taken on the Cheapskate's persona for holiday gift buying. Times have changed, but we're still looking for the best buys in computers and their related gifts.

Speaking of computers, they're an endangered species this year as tablets continue to take over. If you're still on the tablet fence, this week's installment should help you choose between an Apple iPad -- they come in different guises at varying costs -- and competing tablets from Amazon, Google and others.

Let's start with the general idea of a tablet. Everybody seems to wonder if a tablet can replace a laptop. Sure it can -- if the main use of a laptop is web browsing, Facebook, Wikipedia lookups, email and multimedia (movies, videos, music and so on). And guess what? That's what just about everybody uses their personal laptops for. (Name another use for a non-business laptop. Quick. Oops, you're out.)

So you bet a tablet can do all those things. Probably a lot easier and better than a laptop -- as long as you have a halfway decent tablet. So lets figure out what makes a halfway decent tablet.

First, a good tablet is large enough for easy reading. A small tablet is easy to carry, but it won't do well for the web. (If that's not important, a small tablet is fine.) A medium size tablet such as Apple's iPad mini should be fine for most purposes. Large tablets include regular iPads and many alternatives.

Apple makes very good tablets. Google has good ones, too. And companies that make tablets using the Google-funded operating system called Android make good ones. Here's how to choose:

-- If you want a tablet that's as easy to use as possible regardless of the cost, get an iPad. My recommendation: a 64GB iPad Air 2. Skip the cellular option. You'll find it easy to connect to free Wi-Fi instead. (You might already have a W-Fi connection at home anyway.)

-- If you want a tablet that's not as easy to use but costs less (sometimes, a LOT less) than an iPad, get an Android tablet. Again, skip the cellular option, which adds a monthly charge and isn't needed in most cases.

-- If you've had an iPad in the past and were burned by the lack of expandable storage -- the way Apple designed the iPad, you literally have to buy a more expensive one if you need more space -- get an Android tablet that has a memory card slot. (Not all of them do. See below.)

As noted, the 64GB iPad Air is an excellent choice, but costs rise quickly as you add options. Get the 128GB version for even more storage. iPad price ranges: iPad mini, $399 to $729; iPad Air 2, $499 to $829.

Android tablets range from less than $100 to $400 or so. The safest buy for newcomers to Android is a Google tablet, either the Nexus 10 or, if it's not too small, the Nexus 7. The 10-inch version with only 16GB of storage starts at $365 at Amazon. Check local stores, too. The Nexus 7 with 32GB was about $250 at Amazon a few weeks ago.

The Nexus tablets are very well built with displays rivaling those of the iPad. But they have no way to add external storage (no memory card slot, in other words). If that is important, look for the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, with a gorgeous iPad-beating 10.1-inch screen. It even comes with a keyboard docking station, and is my personal choice among large tablets. Amazon has the 64GB version for about $370.

Next: How to save a lot of money on a laptop computer.