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Redirected from: how to select a smartphone vs. tablet

Definition: how to select a mobile device

The mobile world is full of choices as summarized in the following platforms.

 Smartphone Platforms
 1. iPhone  (Apple only)
 2. Android  (numerous vendors)

 Tablet Platforms
 1. iPad  (Apple only)
 2. Android  (numerous vendors)
 3. Windows 11  (numerous vendors)

 Laptop Platforms
 1. Windows  (numerous vendors)
 2. Mac  (Apple only)
 3. Chromebook  (numerous vendors)

Smartphones are a combination cellphone and handheld computer, which makes them an extremely unique appliance. Apple's iPhone and Google's Android make up the smartphone market. Android is the market leader worldwide, but in the U.S., they are about even (see iPhone vs. Android). See smartphone features and smartphone operating system.

Tablets do virtually everything a smartphone does except make voice calls via a cellular phone number. However, Skype and FaceTime apps make voice calls over the Internet. See tablet, Windows tablet, Skype and FaceTime.

Figure Out Your Storage Requirement
One of the best things about smartphones and tablets is their use as a portable media album, holding thousands of songs and photos as well as numerous videos. Although they all have built-in storage, many devices have an SD Card slot for more. See SD Card.

Wi-Fi vs. Cellular
All mobile devices have Wi-Fi, which requires a hotspot for Internet access. Since smartphones are cellphones, they can access the Internet in any location a cellphone call can be made. For data access (email, Web, etc.), users typically use Wi-Fi at home or in a free hotspot and employ the cellular network when a hotspot is not available (switching is automatic).

For tablet users who need Internet access for data no matter where they are, models are available with built-in cellular capability, in which case a carrier data plan is required. However, for Wi-Fi-only tablets, there are ways to generate a hotspot wherever a cellular signal is available (see cellular hotspot).

Tablets vs. Laptops
The differences are weight, battery and keyboard. Tablets weigh one to two pounds; laptops two to six. Models vary greatly but the battery in a tablet usually lasts longer than a laptop. See Ultrabook and laptop.

Tablets are also less convenient for multitasking than laptops, which operate like desktop computers. However, the exception is Windows. Windows tablets operate exactly like Windows laptops because they both use the same OS.

In 2017, Apple made its iPad tablet work more like a laptop/desktop. Drag and drop and other changes made it easier to switch apps and copy data between them (see iOS 11 in iOS versions). In 2019, the iPad's OS became even more like a laptop (see iPadOS).

Keyboards Differ
For touch typists, nothing beats typing on a high-quality keyboard. Tablets offer an on-screen touch keyboard that can become tiresome, and the physical keyboards integrated into the tablet's cover vary greatly in quality. Tablet keyboards connect via Bluetooth, while laptop keyboards are built in. A variety of external keyboards for both tablets and laptops is available.

Windows vs. Mac
For decades, the personal computer world has been Windows versus Mac. The single advantage of Windows is the huge variety of desktop and laptop models over a wide price range. Software is usually written for Windows first and Mac second. In addition, Windows applications work the same on Windows desktops, laptops and tablets.

The Mac advantage is the consistency of its user interface without dramatic changes in each new version. In addition, utilities such as routine backup and migrating an old Mac to a new one are built in and easy to use. The Mac is also more resistant to viruses than Windows. However, no platform is impenetrable; as the Mac gained market share, it also became a target. See Windows vs. Mac.

The Chromebook Laptop
The Chromebook is a low cost laptop computer ($249 and up) that uses the Internet for almost everything. Essentially a Web browser that stores all data on Google servers, the Chromebook requires an online connection. For casual users, the Chromebook is a viable choice and is a leader in the school market (see Chromebook). In 2017, Microsoft introduced a Chromebook alternative (see Windows 10 S).

When you purchase a mobile device, you have chosen a specific platform that determines which apps you can run and which online app store you go to for free and paid downloads (see online app store). You cannot run an Apple app (iOS app) in an Android device and vice versa. However, some apps are made for competing devices; for example, you can download Google Maps from the Apple store onto your iPhone and Apple Music from the Google store onto your Android. While most apps are developed for both platforms, there may be an app that runs on one and not the other.

Windows Tablets
Windows tablets run all the programs that work in Windows PCs. However, they generally do not have the battery life of Apple and Android tablets. Earlier Windows RT tablets had long battery life but did not run legacy programs and are now obsolete. Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft popularized the detachable laptop with a screen that becomes a tablet (see hybrid laptop). Another variant is the 2-in-1: a laptop that folds into a tablet (see convertible laptop). In contrast, Apple tablets (iPads) do not run the same programs as Mac computers; however, that will change (see Apple M series). See mobile compatibility.

What to Buy and How Much
Low-end smartphones can be free with a data plan contract, but high-end phones sell outright from $250 to well more than $1,000. Monthly fees range from $25 to $75 and more. For people who want an emergency-only phone, pay-as-you-go plans are based on prepaid voice minutes and gigabytes of data transfer.

Tablets come in various sizes and a wide range of prices from $50 to $1,000 and more. If the tablet has cellular capability built in, a cellular data plan starts around $16 per month, including taxes.

For the novice, the iPhone and iPad are very consistent and friendly. Apple support by phone and in the store is usually excellent. See iPhone and iPad.

Android phones and tablets are very popular and come in a huge variety of models from numerous vendors, and there are slight differences between the myriad models on the market. Nevertheless, the variety of devices and features has made Android the best-selling smartphone worldwide. See Android and Android fragmentation.

For the user who works exclusively with Windows applications and needs portability, a Windows laptop or tablet is a no brainer. Windows smartphones are long gone (see Windows Phone). See Surface tablet, Surface Laptop, hybrid laptop and convertible laptop.