Posted by Chris Martin 31 July 2013
What is an Android tablet? A beginners' guide
If you're not a technology journalist and aren't sure then we'll explain what an Android tablet is.
In in it's simplest form, an Android tablet is a mobile computing device, sometimes referred to as a 'slate', which runs on Google's operating system. For context, the iPad runs on Apple's iOS and other tablets use Microsoft's Windows 8.
Android tablets come in many forms with different screen sizes, designs and features such as built-in cameras and even keyboard docking stations. Android also runs on smartphones and some other devices.
They also come from various manufacturers – Acer, Archos, Toshiba and Sony to name a few. Google allows them to make devices which run on Android because the software is open-source (or free to use).
If you want a tablet straight from Google then look for the Nexus range, although these are currently made by Asus and Samsung.
Android has many features but here are some of the main ones which you should be aware of.
Homescreens and widgets – Like the iPhone and iPad, Android has multiple homescreen panels but you can place more than just app shortcuts on them. Widgets are effectively interactive mini apps which show you information without opening an app.
Google Play – This is where you can download apps, games, films, music, book and magazines to your Android tablet.
Notification bar – Android's notification bar will show tell you when you get an email and other notifications. It also typically has settings controls for things like Wi-Fi and screen brightness.
Google Now – The most recent versions of Android include Google Now which provided information before you search for it related to travel, weather, local attractions and more.
As with most software, there are different versions of Android. A newer version will be more stable and contain better features.
The most recent version is Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and previous iterations include 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 3.0 Honeycomb and 2.3 Gingerbread. The next version is rumoured to be 5.0 Key Lime Pie.
If you're looking for a new Android tablet check to see if it has the latest version and if you already have one then check for any available updates.
Note: it's up to the manufacturer to roll-out a new version, not Google. Not all devices will be updated when new versions of Android are launched.
Android overlays (aka skins, user interfaces)
While many manufacturers stick to 'stock' or 'vanilla' Android (the operating system as Google has built it) others tweak the software and add their own styling, features and apps since they are free to do so.
The main two are Samsung with TouchWiz and HTC with Sense. They look very different and each has pros and cons. If you're unsure then we suggest you try them out in your local phone shop to see which you prefer.
If you have any more questions about Android then fire away in the comments section below and we'll do our best to answer them.