2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 1

Windows
Windows tablets are new to this space; and quite honestly, are difficult to classify.   Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro tablets are really ultrabooks and not tablets.   At best, they are convertibles, and Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets are more tablet-essque; but the ecosystem – or lack thereof – makes them very difficult to recommend; and the three main points in my introduction to this section come directly into play.   The Pro tablets are also about twice as expensive, coming in closer to the $900 – $1100 range after you buy a keyboard.

Further, software from the Windows Phone Store will NOT work on Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets, so committing to a Windows smartphone doesn’t necessarily mean you can or should commit to a Windows tablet. In fact, you’ll bump into the same issues in the Windows ecosystem as you would mixing Android and iOS devices because you truly are mixing software ecosystems when you try to pair a Windows Phone with a Windows tablet.   They have completely different software stores and completely different development tools. You can’t share anything between devices as you can on Android or iOS.

If you feel you must go with a Windows tablet, then my recommendation would be to do so with an open mind and understanding both the limitations and the prices involved.

 iOS
There’s no hiding the fact that I like Apple products a great deal. I’ve got an iPad 1, an iPhone 5 and a MacBook Pro. Unfortunately (for many other OEM’s), Apple did a LOT that’s been very right over the past 7 or so years to build their customer base; and much of that can be traced to their design and high product quality levels.   Their products look very good, retain their resale value and they last a long, long time.   In short, they look good, are high priced, but hold value and maintain their usability; and that’s in no small part because they last a lot longer than their Windows-based counterparts.

Unfortunately, this high quality, high resale value and sought after design makes for high prices.   This is especially seen in the prices of Apple’s flagship portable computers – the MacBook Pro Retina. The PC’s aren’t user upgradable at all.   You must buy the computer in the configuration that you want it in…forever; or be faced with a complete repurchase just to get a RAM upgrade from 8 to 16GB, for example.   Everything – from the RAM to the onboard SSD – is hard soldered to the logic board.   The same can be said for iDevices.   Neither iPads nor iPhones come with any kind of expansion slot.   If you want more storage, you have to buy a new iDevice.

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As far as a recommendation goes, I’m going to split it by budget.   If you’re looking for an Apple tablet this year then you can go one of two ways – iPad Air or iPad 2.   The iPad Air is Apple’s 5th generation iPad; and has had the latest screen and processor technology placed into it. Its thinner than a standard wood pencil; and Apple’s A7 processor has the graphics punch to get through just about any multimedia or game app thrown at it.   However, given the economy, its standard, starting $499 price tag may be a bit much for most this Holiday Season.

To that end, Apple is still selling the iPad 2.   At $299 and running iOS 7.x, the iPad 2 has most modern accessories available to it, though it is using the Apple 30-pin connector and not its new Lighting connector.   It also has enough processing power to get through just about any multimedia, productivity or game challenge you can throw at it.   The iPad 2, with, say a Logitech keyboard is perfect for those high school or college students that need basic computing hardware to help them get school work done or whose parents want them to have basic computing ability to cover both work and play needs.

Conclusion – Part 1
Finding the right tablet for your loved ones this Holiday Season won’t be an easy job.  There are a lot of factors to consider, including ecosystem, their current computing hardware and expertise as well as cost and availability. Matching all of these up to find the right tablet for your needs, will be challenging.

Depending on what kind of device you use for your main computing experience, buying a tablet as a gift for someone may or may not be a good idea. It depends on what you are looking to accomplish and how, as those new work habits may conflict with what you’re used to and create productivity issues.  Data sync software for things like iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive should make keeping data in sync between devices easy.  If your phone is your main computing device, or if you’re adding a tablet to your work gear, there are a couple things to note. If your phone is your main computing device, adding a tablet is going to be easy, provided it uses the same ecosystem and/or the same software is available for both device OS’. If you’re adding a tablet to your gear, you likely have a set use or uses in mind, and you’ll just need to work out HOW to do those things with that device. This will help you get the most use out of it. Just think it all through.

Once all of that is worked out, picking a tablet will be much easier.  Android offers a great deal of choice, and likely the best economic choices.  You can find many no-name or off brand Android tablets, running just about any and every version of Android 4.x at No More Rack or Rakuten (formerly Buy.com) in the $100 price range. For the younger recipients on your gift list, this may be the best way to go.

For those with an Android (or even iOS) smartphone, pairing it with a tablet from the same ecosystem makes good sense.  Since that device likely uses the same software store, many of the resources that you’ve purchased for one will likely work and play on the other.  This means that the same music, videos, ringtones, apps, etc., will play and work on both devices.  This helps your gift recipient save money. It’s the gift that keeps on giving…

Stick around. Over the next couple days, I’m going to have two more entries for this series – one on smartphones and one on accessories that may help you find last minute gifts for your loved ones before Santa is scheduled to make his annual visit.   Stay close to Soft32 for the additional updates.

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