In a very short time, tablets have become a must-have consumer electronic. Of course, this means the market is also a very confusing place for the consumer to be. Manufacturers and retailers alike throw out terms like "pixel density", "802.11b/g/n", and the particularly-dreaded "Android/Windows/iOS operating system", often without explaining what the difference between these things are and how they benefit you in any way. Right now, rather than focus on, for example, what exactly Flash Memory means as opposed to Hard Drive Disk storage, let's boil down a tablet to a simple sentence: A tablet allows us to bring the power of a full computer nearly anywhere we want to go.
With these goals in mind, it's much easier to figure out what our tablet absolutely needs to be able to do.
First off, we're going to need to choose between the major operating systems for tablets. An operating system can be thought of as the "soul" of any computer. It defines how you interact with things, what it feels like to use overall, and in many cases, which apps you can run. We have four major choices here: Apple's iOS, Microsoft's Windows RT (basically Windows 8 for tablets and phones), Google's Android, and Amazon's FireOS. For the most part, Android tablets tend to be the best deal for the average user, as long as you're looking for a small tablet (10" or less). Windows RT is more focused on the business area of the market, and users looking for laptop-sized tablets. Apple tablets, though easy to use and well-made, often cost upwards of 50% more than the competition. The Kindle is a great alternative to Apple for users on a budget.
These are the most important questions you should ask about a new tablet:
There are a few things you likely don't need in a tablet despite them being listed as features.
Having some RAM is important for a tablet. This being said, manufacturers often push more memory than is really needed into their products. This is particularly true of Android tablets. Android clears up RAM for you as needed, so rarely is more than 2GB ever actually necessary for basic use. Windows tablets more directly benefit from more RAM, but even then, the typical user simply doesn't need more than 4 GB.
If you're looking to buy a tablet for the long haul, a tablet you don't have to replace for years to come, it might make sense to spring for one with a MicroSD expansion slot. This allows you to easily install additional storage space beyond what ships with your tablet. While this isn't a necessary feature by any means if you don't expect to keep many apps installed, it can be nice.
Other features that aren't really necessary for a tablet to have include rear-facing cameras (tablets are too big to make pictures comfortable to take anyway), Bluetooth support, and 3G/4G access. 3G and 4G tend to be expensive services better-suited to phones.
Of particular importance is to look at pre-installed apps. If there are a lot of apps you're unlikely to use, your tablet will arrive with a lot of wasted space.
If you're planning on using your tablet for video chat software, it might be a good idea to look into finding a tablet with a front-facing camera. Most already have these built in, but it helps to be sure. The least important thing about a tablet is its aesthetics, so don't worry about its finish as much as you worry about the quality of the parts inside. That being said, tablets with metal cases can be more durable than their plastic counterparts.
The size of the screen you need depends on your intended use of the tablet. 7" tablets make great portable media devices and e-readers, while larger tablets are more of a legitimate replacement for a laptop or desktop computer.
Carefully read your tablet's warranty information before you commit to purchasing it. It might be worthwhile to pay for an extended warranty to cover accidental damage.
Great tablet brands include Lenovo, Dell, Samsung, Asus, Amazon (specifically their Kindle), and most other big-name PC manufacturers. These companies tend to offer a selection of products varying in price to fit most budgets, and generally have a history of reliable service.
There are a few big names to watch out for. HP, in recent years, has let build quality slip, and prices have stayed the same regardless. Also, if you've never heard of the brand, definitely read reviews. Many companies are putting out cheap products to cash in on the market. A lot of the cheapest tablets available fall into this category; don't let yourself be fooled.
When you go to pick your tablet, look for the screen size you need, in addition to a fast processor, a few GB of RAM, and 8GB or more of storage. Don't pay for more than what you need, as well. Certainly don't let a salesman talk you into things like Bluetooth support unless you're really going to use it. Look for tablets with good battery life, from brands you know and trust. Definitely don't pay more than $500 for a tablet, ever. A tablet more expensive than that is likely very powerful, but with power comes reduced battery life and features you'll probably never use.