Tablets are here, and they are here big time. We might as well call 2011, the year of tablets. With everyone from Apple, to the small time brands, we’ve seen a widening of the price ranges of these products. Tablets start from as low as Rs. 8,000 and they can be as expensive as Rs. 45,000. A big chunk of tablets have prices that clash with those of mobile phones. All of us have phones, but for those using older phones and looking to buy a new product, a questions that’s being asked more often than ever is whether the next purchase should be a large screen mobile phone, or a tablet?

Tablets were never designed to be mobile phones, in fact they were intended to be a replacement for netbooks. There were attempts in the past, but the end result was an underpowered and oversized product that are the tablets we see today. The new generation of tablets that spawned were post Apple’s iPad launch. There are a number of reasons why tablets could be your next big purchase and a number reasons why it could be a bad idea. Obviously, price plays a major factor in the buying decision.

Larger screen and resolution

The biggest differentiating factor is the screen size and the resolutions offered. Mobile phones, even the ones priced at roughly the Rs. 13,000 mark have started offering 480 x 854 resolutions. Most tablets offer similar or slightly higher resolutions. This depends on the price. In terms of workspace they’re both similar, but the size of the display matters.

Dell Streak - both, a phone and tablet

Dell Streak – both, a phone and tablet

On one hand, watching content is a more immersive experience on a tablet than it is on a mobile phone. On the other hand, a tablet isn’t really portable. Even the most compact of tablets are required to be carried in a pouch or a backpack. Phones with really large 4.1- or 4.3-inch screens are the only pocket-able devices and they aren’t a lot larger than the usual 3.5-inch or 3.7-inch phones that we’ve seen in the last couple of years.


Demand on processing has increased and very few people use their phone only for making calls and sending SMS’. Playing games, browsing the web and watching movies on the phone is a passtime for many. The new generation of phones coming this year are built around dual-core processors. However, prices of these phones are closer to Rs. 27,000.

Dual-core processors are already here, quad-cores will follow soon

Dual-core processors are already here, quad-cores will follow soon

The more popular tablets such as the iPad 2 are priced at roughly the same price range and offer this additional performance. As of today, there aren’t too many apps that require this kind of power. Already, quad-core processors are on their way in and developers will have more power at their disposal. Tablets are used more for productivity and media consumption whereas phones are used primarily for instant communication and alerts. Phones in comparison don’t absolutely require to be really powerful in comparison to tablets. 

Software Platform

The tablet market for the most part is dominated by Apple with their iPad tablets, which runs Apple’s own iOS operating system. The rest of the tablets today run on Google’s Android platform with a smaller fraction of users using the QNX powered OS that RIM’s Playbook uses.

Different devices, similar platforms - iOS and Android

Different devices, similar platforms – iOS and Android

If you buy an Apple iPhone 4 or an iPad, in either case you’ll get the latest iOS platform. In Android powered phones and tablets on the other hand, you have the choice of Froyo or Gingerbread (Android 2.2 or 2.3) on most phones and older tablets and Honeycomb (Android 3.0) on the new generation of tablets. 

Usability and Practicality

The mobile phone is a tinier device, which is lighter and easy to carry around. It’s something you can pull out in an instant and type in, read, listen and do a number of things. The tablet, on the other hand requires you be seated ideally, preferably at a desk – it’s more of a notebook replacement. Both phones and tablets have a common problem though.

Onscreen displays use up a lot of the available workspace

Onscreen displays use up a lot of the available workspace

The lack of a keyboard means data entry is a little more cumbersome and the on-screen keyboard often blocks half of the workspace. This is a problem that will plague you, unless you buy a compatible dock or wireless keyboard that works with your tablet. Both of these devices aren’t ergnomic either. Both require you to look down while bending your neck and back. The mobile phone if at all is a little easier to hold but you lose out on screen real estate.

The Final Word

Unfortunately, there isn’t one, or a clear one at least. Trying to choose between a tablet and a phone is a recipe for disaster. You’ll always need a cell phone, and a tablet will only complement it. The decision to choose your purchase – phone or tablet, depends on your budget. If you’re looking to buy a tablet for less than Rs. 20,000, you’re probably going to end up with an outdated tablet. There are phones being sold with 1 GHz processors with a 480×800 resolution screen running the latest version of Android. You are better off with one of those. There isn’t much a choice, either. Most of the decent tablets such as the Apple iPad 2, the Acer Iconia A500, the RIM Playbook are all priced above Rs. 25,000, which makes them out of reach for the majority of us.

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