Shopping for a tablet isn't easy. Not only are there different brands, features, prices and software but there are also different screen sizes. Samsung alone seems to have a tablet in every size -- 5.3 inches, 7 inches, 7.7 inches, 8.9 inches, and 10.1 inches.
That screen size feature means more than you might think. It affects how you might use the tablet and how you may (or may not!) hold it. Below is a guide to the different tablet sizes and what each does best.
|Small: 5 inches and larger|
The 5-inch size range might not exactly be a tablet, but it's also not exactly a phone. Tablets in this range have started to be referred to as phablets -- yes, a portmanteau of phone and tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note is the best example of this size.
The device has a 5.3-inch display, making it fairly hard to fit in a tight pocket but not quite big enough to require its own bag or case. This size is best for anyone wishing to have a device in between a tablet and a phone and one that can make phone calls. The Note is offered through AT&T for $299 with a two-year contract. You can make phone calls on it, but also use AT&T's LTE network or Wi-Fi for typical tablet things, like searching the web and using apps. It also comes with a built-in stylus, so you can doodle on screen and turn it into a digital notebook.
|Medium: 7 to 8.9 inches|
Unlike the phablet, the 7-inch form factor has become very popular. Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire has led the way. As you might expect the size is very good for one-handed use. Tablets like the Fire and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.0 weigh under a pound and put less strain on your arm when you're trying to hold the tablet up to read or watch something in bed. According to recent research by NPD, the 7-inch tablets have also become popular for watching quick video clips.
Companies like Motorola and Samsung have also experimented with 8.2 or 8.9-inch tablets, which are slightly bigger than the 7-inch devices and smaller 10-inch tablets. Those middle-ground devices provide slightly more screen real estate, but not necessarily better screen resolutions, so you might see the same amount on the screen as you would on the 7-inch tablets. Tablets in this category usually range in price from $199 to $399.
|Large: 9.7 to 10.1 inches|
Now we've gotten to the most popular tablet size. Tablets with around 10-inch screens are the most common -- Apple's new iPad has a slightly smaller 9.7-inch display and many Android tablets from Samsung, Motorola, Toshiba, and ASUS have 10.1-inch screens.
These larger tablets are still relatively thin and light, at an average of 1.5 pounds or less, but they aren't as easy to hold up with one hand as that 7-inch size. Still, they are ideal for all the other tablet-like activities -- watching movies, using apps, reading magazines or long articles, and even doing work. To that last point, the keyboard is wide enough on these tablets that you can type quickly if you put the tablet down. Many users have found this to be the ideal size and a very happy medium between phone and laptop screens. Tablets in this size category usually start at $450; the new iPad starts at $499.
|Extra Large: 11 inches or larger|
The 10-inch size might be the sweet spot, but that doesn't mean some companies are trying to go even bigger. Toshiba recently announced its Excite 13, with a 13-inch display. Yes, it's almost as big as most laptop screens.
While the 2.2-pound tablet isn't very portable, it's not really meant to be. The tablet is meant more for home use -- on the couch or in the kitchen. Toshiba even includes a stand in the box so you can prop up the tablet in the kitchen to read recipes on a big screen. Also, because the screen is larger, it is easier for two people to watch a movie or play a game together. But extra-large tablets are a niche market. This is not the type of tablet you want if you plan to take it out a lot.
The Toshiba Excite 13 starts at $630. And that's a trend you'll notice: as the tablets go up in size they also go up in price. That might make those smaller tablets a bit more alluring, but always remember to consider the overall tablet package, including the software and ecosystem.
And to that end, Apple's iPad with its 9.7-inch screen continues to lead the bunch. Though there is always the rumor of that 7-inch iPad Mini.