Surface Pro 3
What would it take for you to buy a new tablet? (Android Authority)
Tablet sales have been going down for some years — but what would it take for you to buy a new one? Here, we discuss the current state of the market.

In a recent Android Authority article, author Scott Adam Gordon asks, “What would it take for you to buy a new tablet?” He concludes that the reason tablet sales are on the decrease is because people don’t buy new tablets for spec bumps… he sees 6 scenarios in which someone might buy a new tablet:

  1. Current tablet breaks
  2. Tablet software distinguishes itself from other platforms (and is good)
  3. Great tablets become so inexpensive that they just buy one anyway
  4. Tablets become “better” alternative to laptops
  5. Tablets become “better” alternative to phones
  6. A radical hardware shift

I’ve been all in on the rise of tablet computing. I scrimped and saved as a grad student at Kent State to purchase the original iPad, which was interesting in retrospect for a number of reasons – up to that point, I had never owned a smartphone, an Apple product (no, not even an old model iPod), or even a laptop (I far preferred desktops). Although the first iPad was in retrospect very rudimentary, it changed my life and the way I thought about computing. I fell in love with tablets, and have obtained about one per year since then, since I use them for a variety of purposes.

After looking at my history, my buying pattern may fall into these categories, but unless something happens to my current tablet, the next tablet I buy may very well be a tock purchase.

2010: That original iPad

I used and loved that original iPad for several years before selling it on Gazelle. I used this device heavily all throughout the rest of grad school, my trip around Europe, and then primarily at home after graduate school. I loved it, despite the few kinks and bits of awkwardness trying to use it for anything other than consumption. I marched through a variety of apps trying to get decent file management on that original iPad. While I was able to make it work loading my grad school reading into iBooks as PDF and jumping in early on Dropbox and other services, the processes just never seemed as smooth as I wanted them to be.

Replacement reason: Replaced in 2013 when I won a newer model in a contest. So I didn’t really purchase a replacement, but if I had, it would have been #6: the upgrade from original iPad to 4th generation was a huge step up in technology.

2011: A cheap Acer Android thing I ended up selling online

I don’t even remember its name honestly, but it was a bad 7-inch tablet running Honeycomb. I was curious about Android and wanted to give it a try. This was not the device to do that on.

Replacement reason: I didn’t really replace it at the time, I just disposed of it.

2012: A Nexus 7 (16GB)

When Google announced its Nexus 7 tablet, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I generally enjoyed it (by this point the iPad was getting a little long in the tooth), including the build quality and performance (especially for the low price). Unfortunately, while carrying it around campus at work, I ended up dropping it 🙁 The screen cracked and touch no longer worked. The tablet itself still functions decently well on KitKat 4.4 (I did not upgrade to Lollipop on this one – see below.) I still use it via a Bluetooth mouse to stream music through an Auxiliary input in a speaker system.

Replacement reason: #1, it broke.

2013: An iPad (4th gen)

I won a replacement for my original iPad in a drawing from TWiT.

It was a substantial upgrade from the original iPad. Cameras, much more memory, and a much-improved processor were welcome changes. The one negative – although I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth – was the storage. Since it was a contest, the iPad I won had only the base 16GB of storage on it. 16GB of storage in 2013 was kind of cramped, especially since I was upgrading from a 32GB model of iPad Uno. I had to delete a lot of things I used to store locally just to get a few apps I really need on there.

It’s a nicer reading experience than the previous model or on a little phone although slightly heavier than a 7″ tablet. YouTube remains spectacular on this device. Video, reading, and some games are the bulk of my use of this device.

I also tend to use it only around the house because it was signed by some of the TWiT team and is therefore something I will probably hang onto for some time.

Replacement reason: I still own and use this iPad today, although in only a few limited ways due to the lack of storage. I’m on the fence about getting an iPad (2017) with more storage and 4G connectivity – mostly a tock upgrade with a few extra features… But I’m not going to pay full price for it, I’d only do it if there’s a substantial discount. So I guess maybe an argument could be made for reason #3 – Great tablets become so inexpensive.

Also 2013: A Nexus 7 (32GB)

After dropping and cracking my old Nexus 7, I purchased a 32GB Nexus 7. This was not the revised hardware that came out later in 2013, but a Nexus 7 2012 with increased storage. I took better care of this device than I did its broken cousin, but honestly these days I use it less because of how atrociously slow the device operates after its final upgrade to Lollipop. When I can get it working long enough to do some light reading on it, I will.

Replacement reason: In 2016, fed up with its poor performance, I spent about $100 on a super cheap Windows 10 tablet. So I guess kind of #3 – Great tablets become so inexpensive… except what I got isn’t really “great”…

2014: Surface Pro 3 i5/8GB/256GB

I purchased a Surface Pro 3 about a month after its release to replace my laptop. It has become the device I take with me most often, to work, on road trips, to off-campus meetings, etc. The pen has been quite useful for note taking, far more natural when sitting in a meeting than typing on a keyboard, and for making comments on students’ resumes and cover letters when I’m reviewing them. It’s light, it’s thin, it’s beautiful. I could write a much longer post on why I love this device.

In my opinion, Microsoft hit it out of the park with the Surface Pro 3, and the 4 only improved on that. Reason #4 for buying a tablet, “Tablets become a better alternative to laptops” – this has been my experience with the Surface Pro 3. I can only think of one or two minor situations where I would have rather had a laptop than this device, and much of my use of this device would be impractical or impossible with a laptop.

Replacement reason: This one I might actually tock upgrade. While this device still functions quite well (I’m writing this post on the device right now!), The new 2017 revision of the Surface Pro announced today is really interesting to me. Although they disappointingly did not include a USB-C port, the substantially increased performance of the i5-7300U vs the i5-4300U promises increased performance. I might even opt for an i7 model, because one of the worst features about the Surface Pro 3 is the limited graphical performance due to thermal throttling – which might be even worse if the i5 model of the new Surface Pro does not come with a fan. The prospect of a Surface Pro with LTE is also really intriguing – it may be worth waiting for that.

2016: NuVision TM800W560L Signature Edition Tablet

Frustrated with my Nexus 7’s Lollipop performance, I snagged this on a discount. It’s a mediocre Windows 10 tablet, with almost no storage, few bells and whistles, and an interesting (if finnicky) screen. I’ve felt generally okay with most of its performance, although sometimes it will drop Wi-Fi for no apparent discernable reason and sometimes requires my intervention to get it back, rather than just automatically reconnecting. This is mostly for light reading and web browsing, so the tinny speakers are fine, and if I want to add additional storage it supports microSD card expansion, which is a nice touch.

Replacement reason: I don’t see any reason to replace this in the near future. There seems to be no innovation in this small form factor tablet market, perhaps because phones are increasing in size.

My Take

While most of my upgrading and replacement has followed the reasons posed by Scott Adam Gordon, my next potential upgrade, either a 2017 iPad or 2017 Surface Pro, will likely not be due to any of the 6 reasons, but rather just an upgrade. I seem to have fallen into a pattern of wanting tablet options on the small 7-8 inch range and the larger 10-12 inch range. So far the small range has had the most turnover, and generally I’ve been less satisfied with these devices than with my iPads and Surface Pro.

New Surface Pro
This might very well be my new tablet, and it’ll be a spec refresh more than anything else.

One other thing I’ll say about the original source article, coming from Android Authority, is that Android tablets are in a generally strange place. Android seems primarily focused on phones, and Google also supports Chromebooks for mobile computing. At the same time, Android is at least partially an open platform, and people are able to create devices based on Android even without Google’s input or blessing (see the wide range of Chinese TV boxes and tablets based on modified Android). For these reasons and more Android tablets in particular seem to be hit or miss. In March, Android Authority updated their best Android tablets list, and of the four devices listed, one (Nvidia Shield) is no longer available for purchase, one (Pixel C) was released in 2015 and hasn’t been refreshed or updated, and of the remaining two, the Huawei seems to offer the best value, but even then it’s so similar to my phone (the Nexus 6P) that it doesn’t seem worth the consideration to me.

New Surface Pro photo credit: Microsoft

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