Tech Talk: Tempted by a tablet?

Tablets like the Google Nexus can do virtually everything a PC does.
Tablets like the Google Nexus can do virtually everything a PC does.
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NOT for the first time, the most requested gift two weeks from now will be a tablet. Sales of these wafer-thin computers have long since outstripped those of conventional PCs, and even Microsoft, something of a digital dinosaur now, has decided that if can’t beat them it might as well join in and market its own.

Own-brand models from the likes of Argos and Tesco now start from around £100, but with so much choice and so many systems, which tablets deserve to be under your tree? Whether you’re hoping for one in your own stocking or planning to plant one in someone else’s, here are the questions to ask…

Can it replace a proper PC?

That depends on what you want to use it for, but for most everyday purposes it not only replaces but surpasses your old desk-bound machine. Tablets are inherently faster, they start instantly and can run variations of nearly all the software you’re used to. A fold-away keyboard accessory makes typing long documents as easy on a tablet as it is on a PC.

Does size matter?

Most tablets have either seven or 10in screens; the smaller the cheaper. If eye strain isn’t an issue, you’ll find the extra portability of seven-inch models useful – but if you plan to watch a lot of movies, the bigger models will serve you better.

Are iPads better than other makes?

No. iPads are great but so are Android tablets from Google and Samsung. The problem with non-Apple models is that specifications vary tremendously so it’s harder to know what sort of performance you’ll get. As a rule of thumb, go for an HD screen and avoid anything less than £99. And think carefully before choosing anything other than an Android or Apple tablet – the others can’t touch them for the range of apps available.

Can I run Microsoft Office on a tablet?

Yes, sort of. Microsoft’s own Surface tablet has it built-in, and for Apple and Android there’s an app called CloudOn, which gives you access to online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But many iPad users have found that they’re less attached to Office than they thought, and that free services like Google Drive give them all the editing and sharing functionality they need. The same goes for most other PC-based tasks, and unless you’re in the habit of using your desktop for heavyweight applications like video editing or computer-aided design, you’ll adapt easily.

Is it any good for homework?

Some schools are now using iPads as their computers of choice, but interactive educational sites don’t always behave as expected on tablet screens, so if you need access to one, try it out in a shop first.

Finally, will it run Angry Birds? Yes.