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Two, Or New?
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Tablet Or Notebook?
The first is whether to buy a tablet at all. With tablets and smartphones, there's often a chicken-and-egg going on because these devices only become indispensible once you start using them thoroughly. Many people who buy them but don't use them thoroughly just can't understand what the fuss is about. The truth is that unless you dive right in and explore the apps that bring smart mobile device alive, you'll never see the point of them. And once you do, you will be amazed at the many ways they can enable the everyday things you do or the new capabilities they bring for you. But minus curiosity and worse still, with resistance, you will end up not discovering these new capabilities. It isn't difficult or as time-consuming as people think: just involving.
So before people get into buying an expensive product like a tablet, they try to justify the cost by thinking it will replace their laptops. Read slim books, netbooks, etc as well. At this point, I would say no. Inputting data into tablets has improved in many ways and is possible with many workarounds such as a good external keyboard, but the overall experience and the things you are used to are still not the same as on PCs and laptops. A simple task like quickly dragging and dropping a piece of text from one file to another isn't possible, for example. Simple tasks you don't think about on PCs take many workarounds to achieve.
So, a tablet isn't yet a replacement, but it is a fantastic second or third device. Only if your work involves "consuming" content rather than creating any, can you get away with just a tablet.
On the other hand, there are now things you can do on the tablet that you can't on a laptop, not only because of the innovative apps, but because of the touch interface.
iPad Or Non-iPad?
Many alternatives to the iPad have come up since Apple started and defined the category in 2010, but the truth is the others are not quite there yet. This isn't because of poor hardware or features, but because Apple has had a long headstart and has a vast ecosystem of applications that just keeps growing. Without the apps, the tablet is just a slate. And the best apps still go to the iPad first. The popular photo-sharing app and social network Instagram is a case in point. Although many are impatient with the photo filters that make images look old or as if they were shot with a toy camera, the truth is that 40 million people thoroughly enjoy the interaction of sharing with their circle of contacts. The Instagram app only came to Android phones recently, after a year and a half of its existence on the iPhone.
Despite alternatives, some of which may have better features, the momentum gained by Instagram couldn't be matched by anything else.
And so it is with many other apps across different categories. They are developed for iOS and sometimes never make it to other platforms at all. That's one of the reasons the Pad remains dominant. Of course, its cult design and the experience don't play a small role either.
The Android ecosystem of apps is growing too, but is neither as polished or as secure. The number of fake and malicious apps doing the rounds is lamentable. These are some of the reasons for recommending the iPad over other tablets, if you want a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Why Not A Low Cost Tab?
There is, of course, no reason why you should rule out a low-cost tablet — and there are so many of them — if you don't currently have the budget for an iPad. Just as long as you don't expect the same experience and are interested in the basics, such as mail, browsing, etc. It's still enabling to be able to read on the go, watch videos when you need to, clear out a batch of email, and of course explore apps. The hardware will be scaled down and the difference will show up immediately, but you could be paying less than Rs 10,000, so why not? It's not the iPad, but it is a mobile device with new capabilities. The smoothness of the touch interface, the camera, graphics, speed browsing experience, gaming, etc all will be diminished, but it can still be a useful device.
Should One Upgrade?
If you're already using an iPad 2, you need very little introduction to tablethood. But you may well feel you're missing out on something if you don't have the new iPad. Well, if you're using the original iPad (let's call it 1), you look at a significant step-up in experience, though the original iPad isn't exactly obsolete. Apps will work better and of course look nicer on subsequent iPads.
If you're doing fine with your iPad 2 and aren't ready to give it away to someone else in the family — or sell it — you aren't doing too badly. The resolution on the brilliant Retina Display is the biggest draw, and many apps are being designed specifically to take advantage of that, but it s by no means an essential. There's a better main camera so you can take pictures directly from the iPad, especially in well lit places, but the front camera is not dramatically different.
If you're very visually oriented and have zero tolerance for anything less than crisp and clear text, sharp pictures and if you do a lot of gaming, you might want to consider upgrading, but there's no hurry and you might even consider waiting for some of the problems reported with the new iPad to settle down. Heating, connectivity and battery problems have been spoken of, but it doesn't look like the complaints are widespread, but if you're not iPad-less and don't necessarily have to be first in line, you may consider waiting to buy a second one.
Only The iPad 2
If you're on a tight-ish budget, you could really do worse than opting for the iPad 2. The base models of 16GB are available and you may have to hunt harder for models with more storage. The difference between the base model and higher ones is of storage and connectivity. A workaround for those who don't manage to get the 3G model: you can use your phone to create a wi-fi hotspot when you're outside of a w-ifi zone. Alternatively, there are small portable router devices that will also give your iPad connectivity when you're on the go. The iPad 2 wi-fi-only is Rs 24,500 and with 3G added is Rs 32,900. The new iPad equivalents are Rs 30,500 and Rs 38,900, so there is a difference.
Only The New iPad
If you have the money and don't find the difference between the iPad 2 and new iPad enough of a deterrent against buying the new iPad, head for the new iPad. If you aren't worried about the teething problems people have talked of, make sure you have a warranty and your iPad will be replaced in case of any problems anyway. Buying the device "without bill" is not a good idea. The new iPad is available in 16-, 32-, and 64GB models. My recommendation would be to opt for the 32GB because apps may be getting a bit bigger and because you may store more visual data on the tablet because the enhanced resolution makes it nicer to play with photos and videos or keep hi definition movies around.
Mala Bhargava is a personal technology writer and media professional
Contact her at mala at pobox dot com and @malabhargava on Twitter