Computing in the modern age is no longer bound to the desktop computer. While these often hulking computers can house more powerful components for applications such as gaming or high-level content creation, they’re no longer considered the first point of digital interaction any more.

The smartphone, for example, is now far more likely to be someone’s first port of call when looking to enter the digital space. The trouble with smartphones, however, is that because they are generally so small, they’re not all that great for tasks like editing documents or even just browsing the internet comfortably.

And that’s why there is a middle ground option of sorts: the tablet. Tablets are bigger and more powerful than smartphones, and can effectively be treated like full-fat computers but with the added benefits of also being slim, compact and easily portable.

To give you a good idea of which tablets are worth shelling out for, we’re going to look at four tablet options available in the shops today.

What we are looking for

As we are testing a number of different tablets with a variety of different platforms, we decided the best way to measure the tablets against one another was by comparing like with like.

We looked at the usual suspects such as CPU specifications, storage capacity, display resolution and connectivity support.

Over and above that we judged the tablets on their build quality, and performance was measured against not only benchmarks but also how the tablets felt while using them for multiple tasks throughout the day.

If one of the slates was equipped with a keyboard or additional accessories we judged those as well; optional accessories were not taken into account.

Real-world use tests

To test how well these tablets function in a real-world environment we used WiFi to stream a 30 minute video online checking for quality drops and any excessive heat coming from the back of the pad. We also tried doing everyday tasks such as browsing the web and typing up emails to decide whether the tab could be used as a PC replacement.

Battery life was tested by running a battery benchmark until the battery was exhausted, and finally we tested applications such as games and word processing to see how the slates fared when actually being used.

On to the gear!

Proline UC10
R3 600

Our first piece of gear is from local manufacturer Proline. The UC10 is a 10.1-inch slate running Windows 10.

The first thing you’ll notice about the UC10 is its rather strange keyboard docking mechanism. Our review unit’s dock was rather difficult to remove and there were a few moments where the force of us pulling felt like it would pull the internals out of the slate altogether.

The CPU driving the slate along is an Intel Atom Z3735F. The quad-core chip is clocked at 1.83GHz and draws a very small 2W of power. This is paired with 2GB of DDR3 memory, and while it runs things it is spec’d a bit low for hugely intensive tasks.

If all you need is a way to easily access the internet and type up your monthly budget it will be fine, but as you call on more of the CPU for more advanced tasks, you will notice a bit of lag.

proline-uc10
It might look like a notebook but the screen slides off the keyboard. It might be a sticky but it can slide off.

Storage is covered by a 32GB solid state drive which – while fast – is not as big as we would have liked, especially with Windows 10 being as hungry for storage as it is.

The battery life wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t particularly good, clocking in at 5 and a half hours of a Game of Thrones marathon before shutting down.

Connectivity is likewise rather lacklustre: there is no support for LTE SIM cards, though you can plug one in and get 3G connectivity. Worse, WiFi is “only” 802.11b/g/n. With so much focus on the 802.11ac standard we find the “n” connectivity a bit disappointing.

The saving grace of the UC10 is its price. At R3 600 this is among the cheapest Windows 10 PCs you could buy. For that price, the familiarity and functionality on offer is nice to have, plus it means you can move around with your PC and have still access to all the files you work on.

It also means you can run a full Microsoft Office Suite, VLC and many other programs that aren’t as convenient to use on a phone.

Specs at a glance

Proline UC10

CPU Intel Atom Z3735F @ 1.83GHz

RAM 2GB DDR3

Operating system Windows 10

Storage 32GB

WiFi 802.11 b/g/n

SIM support Yes, 3G connectivity

Display 10.1-inch

Touch Yes

Price R3 600

Rating 3 Stars

HP Pavilion X360
R14 999

This is a 2-in-1 convertible that actually packs quite a punch. While it can’t be removed from the keyboard, you can – as the name suggests – flip the display 360 degrees so it rests on the underside of the keyboard.

Unlike the UC10, the X360 has a very nice premium feel; we’d even go so far as to compare it to an ultrabook. Of course, that’s to be expected for a buck under fifteen grand.

If space is a problem you can flip the screen 360 degrees into tablet mode.
If space is a problem you can flip the screen 360 degrees into tablet mode.

Blazing along at 2.3GHz (2.4GHz turbo-boosted) is an Intel Core i5-6200U and 4GB of RAM. That extra 2GB RAM really makes a difference when it comes to multi-tasking as it makes things just that much smoother.

Like the UC10, the X360 runs Windows 10 though it does so considerably better than the Proline does. What’s more is that storage is handled by a 1TB HDD which is plentiful compared to the smartphone style storage in some tablets.

Battery life is rather good: we got a total of 6 hours and 20 minutes out of it.

Not surprisingly, the X360 is very good overall, but it does come at a price. In fact the X360 is priced higher than many notebooks at R14 999, but you are getting an extremely capable device for that price. Just not one with LTE or 3G, as connectivity is limited to WiFi. On the bright side it is Gigabit WiFi (802.11b/g/n/ac) so speed won’t be an issue when connected to an AC router.

If you need something with a bit of graphical punch, Intel’s onboard HD 520 graphics chip can is present. It’s so good it can even play 3D games like Torchlight and Dota 2 quite comfortably.

As a primary computer for the mobile individual, then, the X360 is more than capable. It’s just expensive.

Specs at a glance

HP Pavilion X360 13

CPU Intel Core i5-6200U @2.3GHz (2.4GHz Turbo)

RAM 4GB DDR3

Operating system Windows 10

Storage 1TB 5400RPM HDD

WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac

SIM support no

Display 13.3-inch

Touch Yes

Price R14 999

Rating 4 Stars

Yoga Tab 3
R5 999

If you’re simply looking for something to use to watch videos, including games and post to social networks though, you’re in luck – Lenovo’s Yoga Tab 3 will help you do that just fine.

It’s a capable slate bearing Lenovo’s signature bottom-bulge which houses the power/unlock button, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a rotating 8MP camera. Capable, however, doesn’t really translate into “nice to use”, and instead emphasises just how limiting the form factor can be.

The Yoga 3 Tab has a number of odd features including a kickstand that can be used to hang the slate.
The Yoga 3 Tab has a number of odd features including a kickstand that can be used to hang the slate.

Inside, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 drives things along at a steady 1.3GHz and 1GB of RAM is paired with the CPU. Yes, 1GB. Sies.

Sadly, 1GB just isn’t enough to do any real work with the Yoga 3. Opening an app made us think of those old-timey cars that needed to be cranked to get started, and when the apps finally loaded, they weren’t very responsive.

Storage is also shocking not great. With only 16GB on board and support for a “mere” 32GB microSD card, you’ll soon find yourself having to choose which apps need culling. And nobody wants that.

In terms of connectivity you’ve got 802.11b/g/n WiFi, and sadly that is your only option for an internet connection because there is no SIM tray.

As to the rest of the tablet, well, there isn’t much else, other than the Lenovo hinge which lets you use the Yoga 3 in various positions. The trouble with this it that it introduces a major delay when moving the screen out of the portrait position; it was so bad that the gyroscope honestly seemed like it was sitting in the bowels of the tablet contemplating its navel instead of doing what it’s meant to do.

As we mentioned, if all you need is something to watch movies on, play the odd game, browse through your Facebook feed, the Yoga 3 will be fine but we recommend something with the same portability as the Yoga 3 but perhaps with a bit more grunt.

Specs at a glance

Yoga Tab 3 10-inch

CPU Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 @ 1.3GHz

RAM 1GB DDR3

Operating System Android

Storage 16GB

WiFi 802.11 b/g/n

SIM support Yes, LTE connectivity

Display 10.1-inch

Touch Yes

Price R5 999

Rating: 2 Stars

iPad Pro 9.7-inch

This smaller version of the iPad Pro 12-inch is, to our mind, the best version of Apple’s “Pro” tablets. While the battery and screen are smaller, you aren’t getting much of a specification downgrade.

Driving things along is Apple’s own A9X CPU which is paired with 2GB of low-power DDR4 RAM. It isn’t blazing fast, but it is capable and you won’t be tapping your fingers in anticipation of the Twitter app starting up.

Add a Smart Keyboard to the iPad Pro and you've got a capable notebook replacement, provided you're comfortable with using iOS for work.
Add a Smart Keyboard to the iPad Pro and you’ve got a capable notebook replacement, provided you’re comfortable with using iOS for work.

The battery life of the iPad is incredible, clocking in at about 12 hours of screen-on time in the WiFi-only version we had on review. There is also a slate with LTE SIM card support which can impact the battery charge state, so if you want to go with that option instead, keep it in mind.

Our review iPad was a 32GB model which some might find a bit small but we found it to be ample. There are – of course – iterations of the slate that come with even more storage but keep in mind that as storage capacity increases, so does the price.

And that leads us nicely into the biggest detractor for those tempted by Apple’s design prowess: the price tag. This entry-level slate retails for R9 999, which means that it’s a rather expensive toy.

Add to that extras such as the Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil and that price comes closer to R15 000. Because Apple.

Unlike the Yoga 3, though, the iPad is a brilliant little slate that could replace a notebook quite easily provided you’re comfortable with using Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

Specs at a glance

iPad Pro 9.7-inch

CPU Dual-core Apple A9X @2.16GHz

RAM 2GB

Operating System iOS

Storage 32GB

WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac

SIM support Optional LTE support

Display 9.7-inch

Touch Yes

Price R9 999

Rating 4 Stars

Drumroll please…

Deciding on a winner has been no easy task. For that reason we have settled on two winners, and while that may seem like a copout, let us reveal our winners and explain.

The HP Pavilion X360 and the iPad Pro 9.7-inch are the tablets to go for.

We really liked the performance of the iPad and how well it worked for multiple tasks. The X360 comes with the familiarity of a Windows 10 notebook, and can easily move between an office desk and a kitchen counter to be used as a recipe book, which we quite liked.

The iPad does, however, have a much larger battery capacity and won’t need attaching to the wall as often as the HP will, but don’t take that as the HP being any worse off: six hours of screen-time is still pretty impressive.

What this test has shown us is that before you think about spending your money on a bulky notebook or desktop, consider what it’ll be used for, and if all you’re looking for is something to browse the internet and do the monthly budget, a tablet might just be a better option for you.

[Main Image – CC BY 2.0 Eurritimia]

 

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.