Take one tablet now, and another when the new model is launched

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Technology is an infuriating thing. Whatever it does, no matter how much it costs it will never provide all the functions which you consider essential. Indeed, as the price goes up the ratio of useful to superfluous functions decreases alarmingly. This is most obviously true with smartphones and their slightly less glamorous relative, the tablet. Or, as The Register has dubbed them, fondleslabs.

Honestly, who in their right mind would try to edit a document on a smartphone? Read an ebook on that tiny screen? Use instant messaging with a virtual keyboard? Well, OK, a standard phone keypad is even more useless for that, but it’s no excuse.

I recently acquired a bargain bin Android tablet. Even with my limited income, €69 didn’t seem like too much of a risk. I’m not going to review the thing here, since it’s an end-of-line model, but after playing with it for a bit I’ve got a clearer idea of what the ideal basic tablet should be like. Although I’ve only played with an Android slab, similar criteria apply to iPads. Forget Windows tablets: despite being the first to try the format, Microsoft are non-runners here. Yes, I know that’s ironic, considering it’s the only bit of 100% genuine innovation that can be imputed to the company, but that’s life.

First of all, unless you have huge hands or real trouble with accurate tapping, a 7″ screen is actually a pretty good size. It’s small and light enough to be easily carried around, and the screen is big enough to be readable. Don’t feel obliged to opt for a 10″ screen on the erroneous assumption that if it’s more expensive it must be better.

Here we go: my list of absolute necessities when making/choosing a tablet. It goes without saying that there should be enough memory and processing power to do all this smoothly:

  • It needs to have a fairly responsive screen, so that time isn’t wasted repeating the same movements until they ‘take’
  • A scroll button, similar to those found on BlackBerry phones. Screen dragging sucks, you keep selecting the wrong options by accident
  • USB connector for PC sync
  • Slot for some kind of removable storage (e.g. microSD card), can be USB slot
  • Access to the Android Market app store (don’t laugh, not all Android devices have this)
  • WiFi, maybe Bluetooth
  • Localisation functions that allow use of route-planning software
  • Connectors for a headset, including microphone
  • VOIP (e.g. Skype)
  • Browser, email, calendar (I rely on my online calendar, it has to be available everywhere)
  • Basic office software (including document editing and sharing, e.g. via Google docs)
  • Printing
  • A camera and photo gallery software
  • Music & video players. TV would be nice, if your ISP supports it
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Go on, bother me. You know you want to.

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