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Not only is there an explosion of tablet devices, but so too is there a rapid growth in tablet accessories too.

Additional items and software products can greatly extend the use and value you get from your tablet.

 
 
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A Buying Guide to iPad and other Tablet Devices :  Part 9

Other Issues to Consider in Choosing the Best Tablet/iPad for Your Needs

One potentially valuable and not necessarily expensive accessory to add to your tablet device might be a free standing Bluetooth keyboard, but note that not all tablets will necessarily support Bluetooth keyboards.

 

 

So, after applying the matters discussed in the preceding eight parts of this series, you might think you've now identified the ideal tablet for your needs.

But, wait - there's more!  Other accessories and addons, supported by some tablets but not others, can extend still further the value and use you get from your new device.

Whether it is the best way of synching your tablet to your other computers, being able to print out from the tablet (surprisingly, not always an easy thing to do), or wishing to type into it more quickly and conveniently, there are still many more issues to factor into your buying decision.

What Else to Consider

Phew!  Have we left anything out?  Well, maybe a couple of other things might also be worth commenting quickly on.

Synchronizing/Sharing with a Computer

The chances are that you'll want to share and synchronize data between your tablet and your main computer - things like contact lists with phone numbers and email addresses, website favorites, appointment calendars, account logins and passwords, and who knows what else.

There are various ways this can be done, and increasingly Google (and other companies too) offer cloud based ways of doing it more or less automatically without any need for formal synchronization between devices.  This is usually the best solution, although beware that sometimes these programs (including Apple's over-priced and under-supported 'MobileMe') may 'eat your data'; incorrectly synchronizing older data over the top of newer data, or may start creating multiple copies of the same thing (such as I suffered with Sugar Sync), filling all your storage up with repeating copies of the same data.

Manually synchronizing seems to be the most robust, albeit least convenient, way of ensuring such things don't erupt out of control.

Some tablet devices might support synching wirelessly via Wi-Fi.  Others (notably iPads) require an old fashioned and surely these days unnecessary physical cable connection.

Flash Support

Apple has famously declined to support the Adobe Flash animation software in its web browsers on the iPhone and iPad.

Most people know nothing about Flash, but that doesn't mean it is unimportant.  It simply means that Flash animations are played seamlessly and automatically by most web browsers - and when I refer to a Flash 'animation' I don't mean some sort of cartoon (although it certainly could be).  I am referring more to some of the more clever and interactive things you see on web pages such as maps and tables and charts that change as you move your cursor over them - things that greatly extend and enhance your web browsing experience.

Although it would be good practice to code all web pages with a non-Flash alternate version, the reality is because just about every web browser does support Flash, and because it becomes so difficult to create some sort of weak fallback interface if Flash isn't supported, most web sites that use Flash don't bother, and only provide a Flash based interface.

Estimates vary as to how many websites use Flash, and happily such is the growing importance of iPhone and iPad web browsing that some websites are slowly moving away from using Flash, but for sure, from time to time (and inevitably on pages you most want to access) you'll find an ugly icon telling you that the web page can't display the information you want because your browser doesn't support Flash.

So what is the practical impact on having a Tablet device that doesn't support Flash?  It really depends on the type of websites you visit.  In particular, if you visit sites with 'clever' animated pages, and websites that show video, there's a good chance that they are using Flash.  If you want to, you could disable Flash support in your regular computer's browser and then check if the websites you visit the most use Flash or not.

To disable Flash in Internet Explorer, go to Tools -> Internet Options -> Programs -> Manage Add Ons.  In the window that opens, in the Toolbars and Extensions, highlight Adobe Flash and disable it.

The lack of Flash support is a definite disadvantage for the iPad, and assuming that the other tablet devices you are considering do support Flash, it is a factor to be considered in your final decision.

External Devices

No tablet has a decent keyboard.  The onscreen keyboards are small and their 'keys' are unyielding, and usually the keyboard only has letters, you have to flip to a different screen to use numbers, and possibly a third screen for symbols.

If you want to use a tablet for more intensive and more efficient keyboarding, you really need an external keyboard, connected in some way to the tablet.  A Bluetooth connection would be the most convenient, but not all tablets will have the necessary Bluetooth profile to support a keyboard, and some tablets might not support Bluetooth at all.

Another issue is how do you print from your tablet.  Maybe you want to print a boarding pass, a web page, an email, or who knows what else.  Ideally you'd want your tablet to be able to connect, via its Wi-Fi connection, to a network aware printer on your LAN.

Surprisingly, it is currently very difficult to print from an iPad.  This is promised to be addressed in an upcoming new release of the iOS software, but it shows that you shouldn't assume or take for granted functionalities which you might think would of course be included.

Your Special Needs

Last, but absolutely not least, maybe you have a special purpose in mind for the tablet.  In that case, you need to confirm the software you need is available for the tablet you wish, and that the tablet has the capabilities to perform as expected/needed in that special environment.

Maybe your special need isn't so much 'special' as it is simply defining.  For example, in my case, the most valuable purpose I've put my tablets to have been as a repository of electronic notes when traveling, for which I needed software able to display Word documents, pdf files, and other various things, and as an entertainment device for my daughter when flying internationally, for which I needed some 'nice' games, plenty of storage for video, and really long battery life.

Decide what your own special needs may be and make those factors higher on your selection list.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line can be found at the bottom of the spreadsheet, if you chose to do the scoring calculation.  This will of course be only an approximation, but it will give you a quick heads-up for which the best choice for you may be.

We continue to believe that due to the rapid evolution of tablet technology at present, the best choice of all is to buy nothing and wait a few more months.  With something over 23 different manufacturers all racing to get tablet devices to the market, you know there is going to be a pricing blood-bath just as soon as there's a good range of tablet choices open to you.

Not only are prices bound to drop.  We expect a very fast escalation of features and capabilities to occur concurrently, both in operating system capabilities (because both iOS and Android were originally designed for the much more limited capabilities of cell phones), in terms of hardware, and in terms of ultimate application software (we're all still searching for the 'killer app' that makes tablets into a 'must have' product).

But if you really do want to treat yourself or someone else to a tablet sometime soon, please use this massive buying guide and associated spreadsheet to help you in your decision.

The good news is that by the time you've worked through the 10,000 plus words in this series, you'll not only make a better choice, but you'll probably also have uncovered new uses and ways to enjoy and get value from your new tablet.

Part of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.  Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the top right.
 

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Originally published 29 Sep 2010, last update 28 May 2011

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
iPad and Tablet Buying Guide 1 - Basic Issues
2 - Screen Issues
3 - Operating System & Applications
4 - Battery Life and Extensions
5 - Audio & video - recording, storing and replaying
6 - GPS and other LBS type sensors
7 - Data Connectivity, Wi-Fi and 3G
8 - Online and offline memory/storage, CPU
9 - Everything else
Bonus :  Excel Spreadsheet
 
 
 

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