Do you really need a tablet?


Smartphones keep getting bigger and better

This might be the biggest reason to abstain — after all, you probably have a device in your pocket that can do basically anything a tablet can. Beyond that, gadget makers tend to prioritize smartphones: New components, features and software typically debut on handsets before they make their way into tablets. What’s more, smartphone screens are getting larger by the day — extra-long, 18:9 panels are becoming more common, with the bezels surrounding those displays also getting narrower. We’ve already seen a few phones that are basically all screen, and it’s not hard to imagine that trend taking hold across the industry. Sure, a tablet will still give you more raw screen real estate to work with, but that argument isn’t as persuasive as it was a few years ago.

Tablet apps are second-class citizens

Smartphones are tremendously popular. Tablets, less so. Is it any surprise, then, that software developers tend to build for smaller screens first? While the quality of its App Store is generally quite high, Apple’s iPad isn’t immune to this issue: There’s a notable swath of high-profile apps, like Instagram and Whatsapp, that have never been optimized for use on iPads. Instead, Apple users have to install the iPhone version of the app, only to see the device scale it up. This problem is even more pronounced on Android tablets, where it can be even more difficult to find apps optimized for bigger screens. In fact, plenty of apps aren’t optimized at all; they essentially fill the tablet’s more spacious screen with an interface meant for a smartphone.

In fairness to developers on both platforms, the apps continue to work as designed. They just don’t make any concessions or add real value for people who would rather use bigger screens. Whether or not that’s a true shortcoming is sort of a philosophical question — these apps work, after all — but it’s clear that nailing tablet experiences isn’t a priority to all or even most app creators.

Not many standouts

It used to be that you could walk into a big-box store and find yourself surrounded by tablets. Not so much anymore — our collective romance with tablets has fizzled out over the years, and we’re now left with relatively few devices that are actually worth owning. As mentioned, Amazon’s Fire tablets are great low-end options, and the iPad Pro is easily the most powerful, competent tablet on the market. (For now, anyway.)

The picture is murkier for other tablet categories, though. There isn’t really a fantastic small tablet option, for instance; some people point to the iPad mini 4, but it’s three years old at this point. And despite all the players that once tried to claim the crown, there are really only two options if you want a truly premium Android tablet: Samsung’s pricey Galaxy Tab S4 and Google’s ambitious (if occasionally lacking) Pixel Slate.


Ultimately, a one-size-fits-all answer to our big question doesn’t exist. That said, at this point we’re comfortable saying that most people simply don’t need a tablet — with smartphones constantly becoming more capable and with PC makers continuing to embrace 2-in-1 designs, standard tablets just don’t feel as helpful or as novel as they used to. That may soon change as companies like Samsung and Apple keep trying to redefine what tablets are capable of, but for now, we’d recommend you hang on to that money and buy a great smartphone instead.

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