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Reality Check

 Reality Check

As excited as we are to see the tablet category flourish, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new technology and lose sight of practical concerns. In this section of CNET's tablet buying guide, we'll expose the unflattering aspects of using a tablet.

It's true that tablets can offer richer experiences than smartphones and improved portability over laptops. Unfortunately, it's equally true that tablets are like smartphones that don't fit in your pocket, or laptops without the horsepower.

In many cases, an inexpensive Netbook is a better value than a tablet. At their best, tablets deliver an appealing compromise between a smartphone and a laptop. Strip away the hype, and it can be tough to rationalize purchasing a tablet over more tried and true options.

Specifically, keep your illusions of using a tablet for productivity in check. It's not impossible, but a laptop arguably offers a more practical solution for those looking to get work done.

In terms of price, great laptops, smartphones, and tablets can all be had for around the same $400-$800 price range (factoring in phone carrier subsidies and plans). So, putting price aside, take some time to ask yourself what you hope to get out of a tablet. A smartphone or Netbook might be a better fit for you, and possibly a better value.

Some common complaints against tablets include:

  • Smudgy screens
  • Nonreplaceable battery
  • Adobe Flash incompatibility
  • Limited printing support
  • Awkward to type on
  • Lack of multiple user accounts
  • Poor business software support
  • Carrier contracts

 

So take a look at CNET's best smartphones and budget laptops, do your homework, and if you still feel that a tablet is the right product for you, then by all means take the plunge.

 

What to avoid

Cheap Android-based tablets seem to be popping up in unconventional tech retail outlets more and more. Whether they're branded as color e-book readers or iPad alternatives, tablets in the $100-$200 range are often disappointing. You go in expecting the app-devouring, lightning-fast Android interface seen on TV, but often end up with a slow, clunky slab, running a hobbled app store filled with junk.

Still, even the most tech-savvy among us can be fooled. All it takes is an eye-popping spec sheet, a suspiciously low price, and a moment of weakness, and suddenly you're ordering the Maylong M-150 from Walgreens. We should know, because we did the same thing.

Fortunately, you can learn from our mistakes and painful lessons learned. Using the infamous $99 Walgreens tablet as our example, here's a slideshow that walks you through many of the telltale signs of an Android tablet disaster.

What to avoid

 

When a tablet recommends a stylus for onscreen navigation, that's a red flag.
Click for more tips on spotting lousy tablets.

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