Five practical tips for purchasing the right tablet for your users

The profusion of tablet options is making the selection process increasingly difficult. Susan Harkins outlines a few common sense strategies for zeroing in on the top contenders.

Outfitting a client or organization with tablets might be a costly and frustrating venture. There's not much room for error. A handful of people should be easy enough to please, but if you're purchasing dozens, you've got some serious work ahead. There's a mountain of reviews and technical information comparing units out there already, so the following tips are of a more practical nature. They'll help you meet individual needs and the budget.

1: Canvas the crew

Find out how the people in the organization plan to use their new tablets. After weeding out the ridiculous want list to get a list of true needs, compare each model's specifications to the requirements. Things to consider are:

  • Dimensions
  • Weight
  • Processing speed
  • Internal storage
  • Screen size
  • Input (keyboard, touch, Swype, and so so)
  • Peripherals
  • Battery life
  • Connectivity
  • Compatibility
  • USB ports
  • Built-in camera
  • Apps
  • Possible upgrades

That's a lot of information to collect and correlate, but it's the best place to start. You might discover that a tablet isn't the best choice at all. Be prepared to bend a little.

2: Don't forget the other stuff

The actual tablets will consume the largest part of your budget, but not all. Don't forget about peripherals, apps, and cases. Will the company want to tag all the units with some kind of identification? All those extras add up. With reasonable expectations up front, you can make informed decisions early in the process. At least you'll know what you can't afford, and that will help you narrow your list a bit more.

3: Listen to current owners

Removing the tablets that are simply out of your budget will knock a few models off your list. But nothing beats experience, so visit vendor sites and other forums and read owner reviews. Try to find comments about the specific models you're considering. Don't hesitate to scratch a model off your list and benefit from the experiences of others.

4: Try them out

If you've got the purchasing power, you can probably work a deal to actually test a few models. It doesn't hurt to ask. If a vendor complies, invite personnel to put them to work. Pay attention to what they like and what they don't like. These are the people who will be using the tablets -- you want them to be satisfied with your choice.

In lieu of in-house sampling, take the crew shopping. If there are too many for that to be practical, announce the serious candidates and ask users to go shopping on their own. Tell them to give the candidates a good going over in the store. You want these folks to be comfortable with their equipment, so let them compare, evaluate, and then share their findings with you. The candidate that wins on paper might not be the crowd pleaser in the end.

5: Remember that one size doesn't fit all

Be prepared to compromise. One model might not do. That small tablet that everyone mistakes for a phone might be just the right fit for a few of your users, but not most. If possible, offer more than one model. That's a tall order for some companies, but go to bat for your users. Be ready to defend their differing needs to those with the power to say yes.