Mini tablets buying advice

A couple of years ago it was easy to choose which tablet to buy. There was very little choice, and the iPad was pretty much the only sensible option.

See Group test: what's the best mini tablet PC?

Now, though, there are hundreds of tablets on the market, and it’s particularly tricky to decide which 7- to 8in model is right for you. Here, we explain what you should look for in a tablet. See Apple iPad mini review.

The first step is to work out what will be your primary use for the tablet. This will help you to choose a model based on such factors as weight, physical size, storage capacity, screen resolution and quality, features such as GPS receivers and more. Take a look at the Barnes & Noble Nook HD review.

Mini tablets buying advice: Operating system

A tablet’s operating system is important: it determines which apps are available, as well as whether the tablet can handle your existing documents and multimedia files. Visit Acer Iconia Tab A110 review.

Buy a ‘vanilla’ Android tablet such as the Nexus 7, and you’ll have a versatile piece of hardware that has access to the well-stocked Google Play app store. However, unlike Apple’s App Store, Google Play is not a curated environment. The quality of the apps it offers can vary wildly, and some may even contain malware. It’s important to keep your wits about you when downloading apps, checking out the Permissions requested and reading user reviews. For a selection of apps verified by our own PC Advisor editors, head to our Best Android Apps Advisor at See also Google Nexus 7 review.

Conversely, unlike Apple’s locked-down system, you’re free to drag-and-drop files on to an Android tablet from any computer, which is more convenient than using iTunes. That’s not to say everything you upload to your tablet will be in a format it supports, and it won’t always ‘just work’ as it would with an iPad or iPad mini.

Apple doesn’t support Flash, so an iPad won’t play the videos on the BBC’s news website, for example. Neither do some Android tablets – notably those running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. While websites are slowly moving to HTML5, many still rely on Flash. In many cases, though, a workaround is available in the form of an app.

Other tablets, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, run a custom version of Android and don’t allow you to access Google Play. The Fire HD offers Amazon’s app store, from which you can buy books and magazines, and Amazon-owned Lovefilm for video streaming.

Mini tablets buying advice: Storage

Some tablets have a memory card slot that allows you to add capacity when their storage starts to run low. If such a facility isn’t available, as is the case with the iPad and iPad mini, you will need to work out how much storage space you’re likely to need and purchase a suitable model. If you think you’ve done this and still run into storage-capacity problems, workarounds are offered by Wi-Fi-enabled hard drives, such as Kingston’s Wi-Drive, and cloud storage, but it’s far more convenient to have all your files in one place and not be reliant on an active internet connection.

In general terms, 16GB is a sensible minimum, but for those who want are likely to install lots of apps and keep a movie collection on their device, 32GB or more is better.

Mini tablets buying advice: Connectivity

All tablets have Wi-Fi and most have Bluetooth connectivity, but 3G/4G access is usually available as an optional extra (or not at all).

If you need to get online on the move, a 3G- or 4G-capable tablet makes sense; if you’ll only ever use the tablet in your home or office, it’s probably a waste of money – the cellular version of the iPad mini is £100 more expensive than the Wi-Fi version, for example.

If you later change your mind, you can always tether the tablet to your smartphone and utilise its internet connection, or connect to a 3G/4G hotspot (often known as MiFi) that has a data SIM inside.

Look for Bluetooth 4.0 for backward compatibility and lower power consumption with the latest supported devices.

Mini tablets buying advice: Performance

Just about any tablet can cope with firing off the odd email and chatting on Facebook, but some cheaper tablets skimp on processing power and can be frustrating in use. Apps take longer to load and some demanding websites, such as Google Maps, or those that make heavy use of Flash, can bring an underpowered tablet to its knees.