Will you use your tablet for business or pleasure? Though you can find scads of productivity apps for tablets, regardless of the platform most people wind up using tablets for gaming, media consumption, and light-duty tasks such as web browsing and email. If you'll be doing a lot of typing, consider investing in a Bluetooth keyboard because using a tablet's virtual keyboard is tedious -- at least for extended sessions. Windows RT slates offer a version of Microsoft Office, so if you do want a work tablet, it becomes worth considering. Slate tablets that run the full Windows 8.1 operating system have the advantage of letting you use any software that runs under that OS (the Microsoft Surface 2 can only run apps from the Windows Store). Some Windows laptops have screens that detach or that swivel around 360 degrees for use as a tablet, but reviews say that those are best thought of as a full time laptop and only a part-time tablet. See our discussion of laptops for more information on those.
What screen size do you need? Screen size is given as a diagonal measurement and not the size of the tablet itself. Smaller tablets, in the 7- to 8-inch range, can be used one-handed and are great companions for a crowded commute. Larger tablets can get tiring to hold but offer more screen real estate for better visibility and easier use; they are also terrific for gaming and watching movies and video.
Will my tablet run the apps I need or want? The iTunes and Google Play app stores are both massive, but that doesn't mean that a specific app you want or need is available for both platforms so check before you buy. That's even more important for tablets that only have access to smaller app stores, such as the Windows Surface 2 and Amazon's Fire tablets.
How much control do you want over the operating system? Apple's iPad Air 2 and mini 3 don't have many customization options, but Apple's iOS offers a highly polished interface. Google Android lets you create a highly customized experience full of widgets, alterable keyboards and multiple home screens, but it can be confusing for casual users -- and the interface can vary a little -- or a lot -- depending on the specific tablet. Windows tablets feature a happy medium, offering a polished and colorful experience that allows users to move, resize and group Live Tiles as they see fit.
Elsewhere in this report: