Those tantalising tablets

Those tantalising tablets

If you are torn between Apple, Google and Microsoft products, Chris Lau can help

Tablets rule. They also compete - fiercely. Microsoft has just released its own tablet, Surface, to challenge the market dominance of Samsung and Apple. Google has added a 10-inch version to its Nexus line. And Apple has entered the mini-tablet market with its latest 7.9-inch iPad Mini.

With so many choices, it's no wonder you're puzzled. So which one to pick?

Screen resolution should be a factor. Apple's iPad Mini boasts a display with a pixel density of 1,024-by-768. That's equivalent to the one on the 9.7-inch iPad 2. With a smaller display, that means increased resolution. Microsoft's Surface pales in comparison with its 1,366-by-768 display.

But the winner is Google's Nexus 10 with its 2,560-by-1,600 screen. That's better than Apple's most refined tablet - the iPad Retina - with its 2,048-by-1,536 display.

The three tablets all have cutting-edge hardware. Windows' Surface offers a faster processor, but poorer front and back cameras. When it comes to the operational platform, the differences are huge.

Apple has been loyal to its iOS platform, which is now in its sixth generation.

"Because it has been in use the longest, it's the most mature platform," says Young Post's gadget columnist, Tony Chan Wei-men.

Apple has built a vast database of apps, songs, movies and books for download through its iTunes store; iPads have more than 215,000 apps for downloading.

"Apple also seems to have a larger penetration in schools," Chan says. Many schools write their e-learning curriculums or build apps for use on Apple's devices.

Apple's apps are also deemed reliable as they have to comply with certain standards. Developers have to get their apps approved by Apple before they go on sale on iTunes.

Google's Nexus 10 runs on the company's Android platform called Jelly Bean, which is a more customised operational system than the iOS. Android users have more freedom to modify their screens with widgets. "This platform is developing very fast," Chan says.

Play, Google's app store, has more than 700,000 apps for Android smartphones and tablets. Android devices work especially well with Google's products, such as Gmail and YouTube. Because it's a more open platform than the iOS, "there are more free apps, and apps are generally cheaper", Chan explains.

But security could be a downside, he says. A less-regulated app store means scammers have more freedom to trick users with deceptive apps. Google also has a track record of being susceptible to security breaches, including leaks of user data.

Microsoft's Surface uses the company's newly developed platform Windows RT. Surface will come with the Microsoft Office Home in default and will allow users to customise their devices, as with Android.

Chan says reviews of the system have been generally positive, but there are still some uncertainties about this new platform. No one knows if the Windows app store - equivalent to Play and iTunes - will be as robust as its opponents'.

Yet Chan says gamers and app-obsessed users shouldn't worry too much as the most popular apps will be available on all platforms.

The price is also a crucial factor. Google seems to offer the best deal for a 16GB starter model. The cheapest WiFi-only 16GB iPad Mini costs HK$2,588, and Microsoft's 32GB Surface is HK$3,888.

Chan would put his money on Google's Nexus 10, but he has a word of advice: "There is no point in getting a device with the platform if your school mainly uses another."

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