It's the middle of summer, but it's already time to start thinking of the tech you're going to need to take to school, college or university. Here we explain what to look for in a tablet, as well as whether you really need an iPad.

Tablets are marvellous for many reasons, one being that they're so versatile. They're great for browsing the web (that's research, right?), and reading books (text books, of course).

You can also use a tablet for making notes, or even type long essays by pairing it up with a Bluetooth keyboard. Their batteries last longer than most laptops, and they're lightweight and easy to carry everywhere.

They're great value for students because they double up as an entertainment device for catch-up TV, videos, music, YouTube and games.

How do you choose a tablet then? The obvious question for most people is: "do I need to buy an iPad?" and the short answer is no. If you can afford one, you won't regret it - iOS is a slick system which also happens to offer the best range of apps because developers make their apps for iPhone and iPad first.

Tablets which run Google Android can be just as good, though, and are often better value. The cheapest new iPad costs £319 (the iPad mini with Retina display), although you'll save money thanks to Apple's student discount scheme which gives around a 10 percent saving. Plus, if you buy an iPad before September 9th 2014, you'll get a £30 Apple Store gift card. Apple still sells the original iPad mini for £249, but that's relatively poor value compared to some of the more recent Android tablets, such as the LG G Pad 8.3 which costs £189.

How to choose the best tablet for students

Things to look for when buying a tablet include battery life, screen size and resolution, features such as Bluetooth, GPS and cameras, and the ports and connections on offer.

As with laptops, you'll learn only so much about a tablet from its list of specs. You'll need to read our reviews to find out whether it has a good- or poor-quality screen, and exactly how long its battery lasted in our tests. Some, but not all, manufacturers exaggerate their battery life figures, and we've seen tablets last anywhere between three and 12 hours.

It's unlikely that a GPS receiver will be an essential feature, but bear in mind that only 3G/4G iPads have these. Wi-Fi only models don't have GPS.

You might also think you'll never use a tablet's camera, but it's worth knowing if it's capable of taking good-quality photos and videos or not. Our reviews will tell you this.

A front camera isn't always a given - some of Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets omit one - but you'll need one if you plan to use Skype or another app for video calls.

Generally speaking, you're wasting your money if you spend less than around £120 on a tablet, but there are exceptions. One in particular is the Nook HD which can be found for £90 or less. Like the Kindle Fire, it runs a highly customised version of Android but now offers access to the Google Play store. It's always worth checking that the Play store is included on an Android tablet because you don't want to be stuck with an inferior app store.

Finally, if you want a tablet primarily to take notes, consider a Samsung Galaxy Note (see our Galaxy Note 10.1 review). These tablets - there are several models in the range - come with a stylus, which Samsung calls an S-Pen. These are far better than using a generic stylus on any old tablet, since they're pressure sensitive.

Also, Samsung's software makes it easy to write notes and annotations. Plus, you can make clippings by drawing around what you see on screen. Possibly the biggest advantage is for artists or design students as it's possible to accurately draw and sketch with an S-Pen - you won't get nearly the precision with an iPad and a standard stylus for capacitive touchscreens.

Before you spend any money, don't forget to check out our best tablets chart.