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Six Considerations Students Should Make When Purchasing A Tablet

For college students, tablets are becoming the go-to technology for class, the dorm, and beyond, due to the flexible functionality, transportability, and the entertainment that they can provide when not in class.

In 2012, the Pearson Group reported that tablet ownership among college students and college-bound students had tripled from the year prior and this number only continues to grow. And with popularity comes choices. More and more tech companies are providing their version of the tablet, offering countless possibilities for those in the market.

Following are six key considerations that every student should make before purchasing a tablet.

Size Matters

Tablets come in a variety of sizes, so it is important to choose the one that works for you. Larger tablets are often better for dorm or apartment use, while smaller tablets are more convenient if you are on the go.

Additionally, consider what you will be using the tablet for, which could dictate the size that will work best. Tablet makers like Apple, Google, and Amazon, offer multiple sizes of their iPad, Nexus, and Kindle Fire models, respectively. The iPad comes with a 9.5-inch screen, but the iPad Mini offers a smaller 7.9-inch screen. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is available with a 7-inch screen or an 8.9-inch screen. The Nexus 7 is sold in 7-inch and 10-inch versions. When deciding on the right size for you, it is important to consider the following:

  • How much traveling will you be doing with your tablet? (Go small)
  • Will you be reading a great deal on your tablet, such that screen size is important? (Go small to medium)
  • Will you use it primarily for surfing the internet, listening to music, or using apps? (Go bigger)
  • Do you plan to take notes on the tablet? (Make sure you choose one with a comfortably-sized compatible keyboard)

Answering these questions will help you decide the size of your tablet.

Making Connection

Whether in the classroom, at the library, or in the dorm, today’s students must be able to access the internet from anywhere. Most tablet makers today offer models with Wi-Fi only connectivity and with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. For those on a budget who will be using the tablet at home and in the classroom, a Wi-Fi version may be just the right fit. A couple of key things to remember when making this decision:

  • Wi-Fi only models don’t have the option to log onto the web via a cellular connection. For those who need constant Internet access, the cellular upgrade is a must-have.
  • Wi-Fi only models are less expensive than their Wi-Fi and cellular counterparts, and they don’t require a cellular data plan.
  • Cellular models require a data plan purchased from specific service providers, depending on the brand. Apple products can be used with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint networks. The Google Nexus works with AT&T or T-Mobile plans. Whether purchasing one of these tablets, or models from Acer, Sony, Asus, or others, make sure to consider the options for data plans that are required with your choice. Additionally, avoid long-term contractual plans, particularly those that lock you in for two-years. Instead, opt for a month-to-month data plan, if it is available.

One caveat: If your cell phone plan includes the ability to tether via WiFi, you may find that more economical than paying for a separate plan for your tablet. The downside is that you will drain your cell phone battery while using its data connection for your tablet.

Storage Still Matters

In the early days of tablets, it was all about the internet and apps. The biggest need for storage was for music. As the tablet has evolved and risen in popularity, storage needs have expanded to include books and other downloads. In fact, educators are predicting that tablets will replace textbooks in the future.

Fortunately, there are enough storage options to meet the needs of any student, from the casual tablet user to the student whose downloads include Leo Tolstoy’s monster novel War and Peace. Apple offers as much as 128GB on its iPad, but more moderate users will find plenty of lower priced tablets with a range of storage capacities in the 16GB to 32GB range. Keep in mind that storage space and price are often aligned, so you pay for what you get. For those who need more space than they can afford, cloud storage via Dropbox, Google Drive, and other services is a popular option (but could be problematic if you opt for WiFi only and don’t have a connection).

Videos and music continue to take up a significant amount of storage space, so if you plan to use your tablet for either, make sure you purchase the storage space that will accommodate your needs.

Stay Charged

Students’ schedules are hectic, and a power outlet isn’t always an option when moving between classes or during study sessions. Fortunately, eight to 10 hours of battery life isn’t uncommon these days, and the Apple, Amazon, and Google models all boast battery life in this range when using a Wi-Fi connection. Cellular connections consume more battery power, although it tends to only affect the charge by an hour or so.

Consider Apps and Features

Apps and features bring a tablet to life, but not all tablets are created equal.

Apple has built its brand on high-tech features and extensive collection of applications available through its app store. Others, like Windows 8 tablets, have a limited set of apps. It is important to consider the apps that you will need when deciding on a tablet.

Apple has set a high bar with its extensive iPad features, such as its Retina Display, while off-brand Android tablets are known to have inferior screens and limited features. Much like apps, it is important to consider the features that are important to you before making a purchase.

Finally, think about the technology that you are accustomed to using. If you use an iPhone, consider an iPad, given the apps you have purchased can be used on both and your familiarity with the features will ensure very little ramp-up time. If you use an Android phone, consider an Android tablet. It will make the transition to a tablet that much easier.

The Buck Stops Here

While there are tablet options for every budget, it is important to remember that this is an investment that will serve you and your coursework for some time. Consider your needs and find a middle ground between these needs and the price that you can afford. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tends to represent a reputable buy that is less expensive with models beginning at $159, while Apple is at the high end with its iPad Mini model starting at $329 and its iPad topping out at $929.

If you are looking for a bargain, Android tablets can be found on sale while Apple products are rarely discounted; however, it is possible to find refurbished Apple and Android tablets through their respective websites.

A tablet is an investment, so carefully consider all of your needs and don’t be afraid to spend a little extra. Consider the ideal size, storage amount, battery life, and apps and features, and then see which brand and model falls into your price range. Above all, remember that the right tablet can be a tool for success.

Written By

Norman Fong is CEO and Co-Founder of BuyVia, an online and iOS App smart shopping service that finds high quality products at the best price available. Deals on popular products like tablet computers, including the iPad and Android tablets, can be sent automatically to users.



  1. Evan

    March 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    And the most important factor in picking a tablet for students/teen – it has to be cooler than my roomie/classmate) LOL. Thanks for sharing. These tips can be applied not only for student but for everyone who wants to get a worthy gadget!

  2. Laura

    March 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Hi, Norman! Great article. It also depends on what are you studying. If you study web design and you work with 3d files, a tablet might not suffice.

  3. Chris

    March 22, 2013 at 9:05 am

    You’ve clearly identified all the major criteria that make up a purchase decision for a tablet. And if you’re looking to save some money, look over at Craigslist where you can find multiple options of a slightly older model for a fraction of the price.

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