Tablets are growing in popularity. Lightweight, ultra-portable and with a user-friendly and immersive touch-screen, it's no wonder that more people are pondering whether a tablet could replace or supplement their PC. Last week, I answered a reader's inquiry about choosing a tablet for email, Internet, Facebook, and reading books and magazines. Now I'll explore getting and storing content on a tablet, as well as offline functionality.
A tablet's operating system and manufacturer determines where content originates. This should factor into your decision if you plan to purchase games, movies, books or magazines. Make sure there's a huge selection of apps and media, and then compare pricing by reviewing a few games, books or movies you're likely to purchase. A dollar or two on an item won't break the bank, unless you spend an extra dollar or two a few times a week.
While Amazon, Google Play and iTunes all have huge libraries of books, music and movies, iTunes tends to be the most expensive. For example, Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel, Gone Girl, costs $10.99 through Amazon and Google Play and $12.99 through the iTunes store.
The iPad's front-runner status ensures a massive selection of apps from which to choose. This can come in handy if you're looking to integrate your tablet with other programs or things in your home, such as remote-controlled thermostats or lighting systems. Most app writers know that many of their likely consumers own an iPhone, iPad or iPod. However, most app stores will offer a wide selection of more common games and programs.
Storage capacity will determine how many apps you can install and how much data you can store on the device. Books take up little space: 2G can store about 1,000 e-books. Magazines, with their color graphics and interactive features, eat up more space. Games can take up a lot of space: If they're detailed and image-rich, they can take up 1GB each. The true space hog is video content. If you buy a high-definition movie and want to watch it offline, downloading it to your device will require 2GB to 4GB of available storage.
Many tablet fans will point you toward cloud-storage solutions. Typically, you'll get a free account to store additional content on the manufacturer's cloud server, but you'll need to have access to the Internet to access your cloud "data locker." If you expect to store a lot on the device itself, consider a tablet that supports expanding memory via a removable secure digital (SD) memory card such as Microsoft's Surface or the Barnes & Noble Nook. A 32GB micro SD memory card will set you back about $20 to $25. Note that iPads do not support expanding memory with SD memory cards.
Tablets lose some functionality when they can't get online. With a Wi-Fi-only device, you won't have access to new emails or Facebook when you're out of range of a Wi-Fi signal. While books and magazines typically are downloaded to your tablet over Wi-Fi so that they're later available offline, if you finish your book and want to download another when you're not in Wi-Fi range, you're out of luck. Many games and applications rely on Internet access as well, though plenty retain full functionality offline.
While your tablet will be less useful offline, it won't be a paperweight. Before you spend more on a tablet that supports cell signal and commit to the cost of a data-plan subscription, try to determine how much time you'll be away from Wi-Fi and whether you'll still get enough use out of your device when offline.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif., that offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Contact her at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)