Next to smart phones, tablets cause the greatest excitement and confusion in the electronics world. This reader query embodies that:
"I'm curious. I was exploring tablets last week. Can't figure out why anyone would want one of the basic tablets when most of what they do is available on a smartphone. Love the higher-end tablets, though, especially the Windows Pro tablet, which is just a mini-computer. Wanna do a story on this? I value your opinions on this stuff."
Take two tablets and call me in the morning. That might sound facetious, but no one tablet incorporates all of the most desirable features and user interface.
I own a third-generation Apple iPad. On alternate mornings I awaken wishing it was an Android tablet, although I'm never certain as to which manufacturer using that operating system. The recent so-called "upgrade" to iOS 7 on the iPad actually made it more difficult to use. Then again, Google updates its Android operating system on an irregular basis ranging from minor tweaks to great leaps forward.
Unlike Apple's monolithic proprietary operating system, every manufacturer using Android modifies Android to suit its own purposes and goals. Google names each iteration of Android after some sweet treat. I'm awaiting Android insulin.
Then, of course, there are Microsoft's Windows tablets with two different, incompatible operating systems with similar names designed to confuse everyone.
Addressing the reader's initial question, there are very definite advantages of tablets over smartphones for many functions. Watching a movie or reading an e-book on a cellphone screen feels claustrophobic. Tablets, even the 7-inch screen variety, offer desirable real estate, even on the more basic tablets. Basic refers to a brand-name entry-level tablet, rather than a bargain no-name tablet.
Similarly, sharing photos is more impressive on the "big" tablet display than the tiny smartphone display. For those with fat fingers, typing on a tablet's on-screen keyboard might be easier than typing on a smartphone, although your mileage may vary.
Conversely, you'll never even cram a small tablet into your pocket, and depending on your accessories, even into a purse. A smartphone weighs a few ounces; the lightest tablets weigh about a pound.
The new iPad Air weighs in at about 1 pound, an amazing accomplishment for a full-size display.
Using a tablet as a camera is awkward. While you can pay a premium to connect a tablet to a cellular carrier, it's still not a telephone. It's far easier to scan a smartphone at the airport boarding pass scanner than a tablet.
Nearly all quality tablets from major companies delivery bright, clear text and video from high-definition screens. Most operate rapidly enough you won't notice speed differences among the various microprocessors that power them. Depending on age, most include the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
Choosing between a smartphone and tablet depends on the functions most important to you and the degree of portability you desire. Many people own both. While most applications work on smartphones and tablets using the same operating system, software developers optimize some apps for one or the other.
Choosing between tablets also depends on apps, which determine the usefulness and productivity of the hardware. Apple boasts a million apps, about a half of which are optimized for the iPad. About 850,000 apps exist for Android devices.
Be aware that Apple screens and regulates app offerings more carefully than the Google Play store. In contrast, the Windows Store offers fewer than 150,000 apps. Obviously, the majority of users will find what they need among those 150,000, but if you perform unusual tasks or seek unique functions, you'll more likely find them among the million choices at iTunes.
A tablet's most important aspect is how it feels in your hands, how easy and comfortable it is to operate and that it meets your needs. The rest is marketing hype.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.