With Christmas coming up, no doubt tablet PC’s are making their way onto Santa’s list.
And with a wider range of devices, and new releases coming all the time, making a decision on what to get may feel complicated.
Having owned an Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab for the past two years, it’s time to summarise the user experience.
At the moment, the iPad, iPod, and iPhone are the key touchscreen products running iOS, though there is an iPad mini rumoured for release next week.
Apple devices cost more, but you’re not just getting a piece of hardware, but instead a full ecosystem with established software tools to make these work easily with your other computing devices, not least desktops (even Windows ones!).
Additionally, iOS is a pretty safe walled-garden. Apple are infamous in their dedication to protecting users against malicious apps.
However, it is a walled garden, which means if there’s something not offered, it may be impossible to add it. This isn’t normally too much of an issue as Apple’s apps market is still the largest and most comprehensive.
Another point about Apple devices is one word: integrated. Everything you already need is probably there, and what you do want to add as apps is usually cheap.
Apple hardware is also renown for quality and reliability. You are never left questioning audio or graphic quality. And the iPhone’s 8MP camera is repeatedly shown to be superior to similar or larger MP cameras on Android phones.
There are a few areas where Apple could improve.
For example, the differentiation between iPad apps and iPhone apps is becoming increasingly artificial. If I buy Angry Birds on my iPad, I also want it to show on my iPhone.
The iTunes store could also do with allowing preview samples of music, as Amazon do with their MP3 downloads.
And if you’re used to using a large screen Android phone, such as from HTC or Samsung, even the iPhone 5’s new wider screen will still feel decidedly small.
For the most part, though, Apple’s iOS is focused on delivering a strong user experience.
Overall: iOS devices are solid, dependable, and provide pretty much everything you need - what isn’t already installed is usually a click away. The trade-off for this is price: these products are more expensive than Android devices, but it’s a case of getting what you pay for.
Google Android is free, which translates as a wide range of cheap tablet PCs and smartphones running Android.
However, it becomes clear using Android that it’s still playing catch up with iOS.
For example, the iPad switches on an off instantly. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, running Android, takes about 30 seconds to start.
The constant game of catch up has resulted in a whole slew of new Android releases. This should be a good thing, but a key problem here is that Android devices are only rarely updated to the latest software version.
Because many Android manufacturers customise the look of Android for their own devices, it means they have to recode for new Android releases - and this does not commonly happen, except when a tablet or phone has been fairly recently released.
The result is that many Android users are left running older versions of the software.
On the one hand, this can be just a slight annoyance. Our Samsung Galaxy Tab still shows the icon for the Android Market, even though it has now become Google Play. Which means the old icon doesn’t work and you manually have to surf to Google Play.
Should be simple, but loading up Google.co.uk and it doesn’t even seem to recognise that you’re using Android: the Google Play option is hidden under the “More” option menu. And when you do click it, the Galaxy then wants to know if you want to access Google Play via the browser, or the app you don’t appear to have installed.
Simple issues like this make what should be simple tasks become over-complicated - not least because neither Google or the hardware manufacturers care to support their own software properly.
Even worse though, if you’re left running an older version of Android, it means you have potential security holes.
Which brings about one of the worst features of Android: lack of trust. Google do not police their apps, so malicious ones are routinely promoted in Google Play.
Adobe no longer support Flash. That’s not a problem - you can download a Flash app from the Android market. Oops, it’s loaded with malware.
Where apps are free and safe, the trade-off is ads. Lots of ads. Which slow down whatever app you’re trying to use. Fire up Angry Birds and watch with annoyance as your attempt to fire a bird goes askew because the app started to freeze, waiting the for a mobile ad to load. The ads aren’t even relevant, but some idiot seems to be paying for these.
Another problem with Android is that it’s far less stable. Our iPad has yet to crash - the Galaxy Tab crashes routinely.
Overall, Android offers a good entry-level route to smartphones and tablet PC’s. But if you’re looking for quality and durability, you may be hard pressed to find it. Even the latest smartphone handsets seem designed to last only through the typical 2 year mobile contracts that are offered. After this time, expect the device to increasingly look obsolete.
You also might be concerned about privacy issues: every Android device requires you to sign into Google, thus giving a billion-dollar multinational advertising agency the ability to harvest your data and use it for advertising purposes. So far, though, few people seem concerned with electronic privacy, though you may want to think carefully about Android if buying for your kids, to ensure tracking is turned off.
The basic difference between an Android tablet and the iPad, or a Samsung Galaxy SIII and an iPhone 5, is not price. The difference is that Apple devices are simply better built for the user experience, with a focus on quality hardware and software to emphasis that point.
The irony is that Apple devices aren’t necessarily more expensive - if you buy an Android smartphone on a two year mobile contract, you will almost certainly pay well in excess of the highest spec iPhone on PAYG.
Android in general offers a cheap and accessible entry point into the world of smartphones and tablet computing, and that should be commendable.
However, Android devices can feel out dated relatively quickly, and if you’re moving between Android devices, the different manufacturer GUI’s can make the experience feel unfamiliar.
Apple iOS devices are generally better in terms of hardware and software and built to last, so if you’re longer to buy a device with a degree of longevity, or are desperately concerned as to whether your mobile camera is currently rated the best on the market, then an iOS device may be for you.
While iOS devices generally cost more as standalone’s, it’s simply because they are better products, in terms of hardware build and software support.
One way or another, it’s hard to go wrong with any choice of tablet or smartphone - Android is accessible, Apple is durable. Perhaps the simplest way to make the buying decision is to ask yourself if you need to be running this device after two years: yes means Apple, no means Android.