The Best Tablet Out There (Q4 2012)

Which tablet should I buy?
Which tablet should I buy?

I rarely blog, but nowadays when I do, it’s to write down an answer to a question that people tend to ask me, so that I don’t have to keep re-typing my answer, and can point people to this post instead. It’s amazing how much effort a lazy person can put into getting out of tedious work.

Anyways, I’ve got a few friends and relatives asking me which tablet should they get. As always, I never like to give a straight answer for this, as a proper answer would involve many factors, such as their budget, usage patterns etc. I’ve listed some of the key points below that will hopefully help whoever is reading this can purchase the right tablet. I strongly disagree with people who like to recommend someone product X without asking how they intend to use it. How comfortable would you be if you went to your doctor and asked (without being examined) if you should take medication, and his answer is that you should take 2 aspirins every hour?

So let’s get started. Here are a few factors that I think you should consider before purchasing your tablet:

  • Price
  • Usage pattern and purpose
  • Operating system
  • Your mobile phone and computer
  • Your apps
  • Support

Disclaimer:
1. I’m writing this article based on the Malaysian market, and only for products sold through official channels. I’m going to skip grey market imports because it usually involves more work/risk.
2. Caveat emptor. If you aren’t satisfied with the tablet you buy after reading this, it isn’t my fault. If you do like your tablet, you’re welcome to buy me a drink.
3. I’m not fond of Samsung devices. If you’re wondering why, I’ve answered that here.
4. I haven’t owned an Android device personally before. So whatever experience I have with Android is based on fiddling with stuff I’ve borrowed.
5. The Nexus 7 is the only Android tablet I’m willing to recommend to people at the moment, so this article is going to feel a little like an “iPad vs Nexus 7” article, but that’s mainly due to the lack of good Android tablets.
6. The price of the tablets I’ve listed here are more or less accurate at time of posting. The prices of these things generally drop over time.

Price:
To most tablet buyers, this would be the most obvious thing to compare. The cheapest things on the market are those unbranded tablets from China. They’re available in most IT shops for around RM250 and above. Stay away from these things, unless you’re planning on giving them as a gift to someone you don’t like. The price is attractive, but they’re so terrible to use that they usually end up in drawers as paperweights.

The good news is that the iPad 2 is going for as low as RM1,199 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. If you’re looking for a reasonably cheap tablet that is well built, this is a pretty interesting deal. If you have a little extra cash to spare, you might want to go for the 3rd generation iPad, which has dropped in price to start from RM1,379. The 4th generation iPad (which is pretty similar to the 3rd generation iPad) should be arriving in Malaysia in the next few months and will go on sale from RM1,499.

A budget friendly tablet in Malaysia that I tend to recommend (mainly based on price) would be the Google Nexus 7, which is a 7-inch Android tablet. The 16GB version of this retails at RM999.

Samsung is offering the 10-inch Galaxy Note 10.1 for around RM1,700, as well as the Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1-inch), Galaxy Tab 2 (7-inches), and some others. Yes, Samsung has a lot of models, and I honestly can’t remember all of them, or the differences, so I’m not going to try.

To summarise:
iPad 2 – from RM1,199
iPad 3rd generation – from RM1,379
iPad 4th generation – from RM1,499 (should be released in Malaysia in the next few months)
iPad mini – probably from RM1,099 (should be released in Malaysia in the next few months)
Google Nexus 7 – RM999

Usage pattern and purpose:

This to me is the most important thing to consider when searching for a tablet. After all, you’re buying the tablet for a certain purpose. It could be to do certain work-related things while on the move; showcase your photos/products to a client; entertainment; emails; Excel/PowerPoint etc. If a tablet can’t meet your purpose, then that’s not the tablet for you, regardless of how cheap it is.

Size/weight: If you’re planning on carrying it around with you most of the time, the Nexus 7 is pretty light, and the iPad is pretty heavy. I haven’t tested the iPad mini, but it’s bulkier than the Nexus 7. If you’re looking at something to hold with one hand and read, the Nexus 7 is probably better, as the iPad is pretty heavy, though the iPad mini should be pretty good for one-handed use too.

Bags: Will you be keeping it in your backpack most of the time, or do you carry a handbag around, or do you go around without any bags (like me). This matters because if you don’t carry a bag with you most of the time, then there is a high chance that you won’t have your tablet around with you most of the time, because it’s inconvenient. If you’re carrying a normal-sized ladies handbag, you’ll probably be able to fit in the Nexus 7 comfortably, and maybe the iPad mini, but rarely the iPad.

Display: I’m not an expert on display quality, so I’d say that the iPad 2 and the Nexus 7 both have pretty good displays. The iPad (3rd and 4th gen) has a Retina Display that is extremely good, though. More important is the size. If you’re going to be showing documents/pictures to your client, a bigger tablet is better, since it’s easier for them to see. It’s also worth noting that tablets with a bigger screen have a bigger keyboard, which kind of makes it easier to type on.

Document editing: Regardless of what companies would like to think, if you want to be doing things like typing out (or editing) a proper proposal in Microsoft Word, or preparing a PowerPoint presentation, a tablet isn’t a good choice. They can do it, but it’s not easy, so I really wouldn’t recommend you do it. The upcoming Microsoft Surface tablet should be the best tablet for this, but I’ve no idea when (if ever) it’ll be officially launched in Malaysia. That being said, if you insist on doing large amounts of typing on your tablet, you’ll probably want a keyboard, and in this area, the iPad excels due to the large number of third-party accessories.

Specific tasks: If you’re an insurance agent, or the type of person that has something that your computer *must* be able to do, you’d better make sure your tablet can do it. So if you need to submit your proposals online to a company website, you’d better make sure the tablet can do it, or if you need it to run a special program from the company, it better work on the tablet, if not, don’t get it.

3G or not: Some tablets such as the iPad (that supports cellular data, most people call it the iPad 3G) and some other Android tablets that don’t come to mind, support SIM cards, so that you’ll have an “always-on” Internet connection on the tablet. Whether you need a tablet that needs 3G or not again depends on your usage pattern. Does your work require you to check the Internet all the time? Are you always in an area that has a Wi-Fi connection? If you’re on the road a lot (such as a business development manager), you’ll want the 3G version, since hunting for a cafe that offers free Wi-Fi can get tedious. Mobile data from U Mobile (my preferred choice for my iPad) only costs RM28/month (before tax), which is a pretty good deal.

Operating System:

Do you have a preference for (or aversion to) any specific operating system? Some folks like Android, some hate it; some love iOS, and some hate it. Whatever your reasons, you’ll need to decide which operating system you want to use. I find iOS (and therefore the iPad) the easiest to use. I’m not going to go into detail about the differences between the two in this article.

Your mobile phone and computer:

What phone are you currently using? If you’re using an iPhone (with iCloud) and a Mac, the iPad is going to work wonderfully well with those as your contacts and photos etc can be automatically kept in sync. If you’re currently using an Android phone, it might be easier for you to go with an Android-powered tablet. This will really depend on the user, but it’s something to think about.

Your apps:

This is a pretty big subject. If you like adding new functionalities to your device, then an iPad is the way to go. The iPad has an app for almost anything you can think of, while tablet-specific Android apps aren’t plentiful. It’s also worth thinking if you’ve purchased any apps on either platform too. I’ve already purchased a lot of apps for my iPad, so when the time comes for me to buy a new tablet, there is a very high chance that I’ll buy a new iPad, so that I can re-use all the apps that I’ve already purchased and am used to, rather than buying the same app for another platform.

If the task you’re buying the tablet for has an app that supports it, that’s a big plus point too. So if you need to do a lot of mobile banking on Maybank, the Maybank2U iOS app is very useful. If you need to buy movie tickets, the GSC app for Android and iOS are very useful. Again, this depends on what you want to do with the tablet, so check out the apps.

Support:

There is a high chance that you’ll need some support for your tablet further down the road, maybe due to a software error, or advice on how to do something with your tablet. To be very candid, the iPad wins hands down in this category. If you need help when you’re running a Nexus 7, you’ll have to try your luck with various computer stores, though the Asus service center might be able to help on certain things. If you’re using a Samsung tablet, you might get some support from a Samsung speciality store. If you’re using an iPad, there are Apple stores (technically they’re resellers, but I’ll call them Apple stores for simplicity) everywhere, and they’re generally able to give reasonable advice.

Of course, I’m very familiar with the iPad, so I can help quite a bit when it comes to the iPad. If it’s an Android related problem, I’m going to have a hard time helping, as I lack experience on that platform and don’t have one to test with.

Conclusion:

So there you have it. The long-winded conversation that I’d have with you if you asked me this question over coffee. If you still want a simple blind recommendation as to which tablet to purchase, you can probably read between the lines and figure out which tablet I’d tell you to buy. If you have any additional questions, or if I missed anything out, please feel free to post a comment below, email me, or (for those of you who have my number) call me.

Published by matt

A tech enthusiast who spent his first paycheck ever on a mobile phone. Over a decade later, he's still throwing all his money at mobile technology, much to the chagrin of his wife.

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