Advice on choosing a phone, tablet or PC…

By | February 20, 2017
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After you get a computer, tablet or smartphone you usually gradually get to know it a bit better as you get used to it. You might never become a world class expert (you probably don’t need to) but you learn a bit more about how it works.

On the other hand when you first get it, you might really know very much at all.

Which makes it difficult to choose which phone/tablet or PC is right for you in the first place! You have to choose when you actually know the least about it!

So I thought it’d be useful for me to give you a few tips on what to look for when you’re choosing a new device. Of course, you might not be after one right at the moment, so you might want to keep this email to hand for the future!

(And you might want to make a cup of tea before you read this – it’s quite long! I’ve made myself one before I start writing it…)

I’ve avoided saying “You should get this model” or even “This is a good model if you want XYZ” because these things can change literally from week to week as companies bring out new versions, cancel old models, change prices and even change the specification (spec) of a model that was already out.

So instead I’m going to tell you about some of the things to think about and take into account.

I’ll assume you already know whether you’re after a phone, a tablet, a laptop or desktop PC but if you’re not quite sure, the best thing to do is think about how you’ll use it and where you want to use it – that should help you decide.

Then one of the big decisions is what Operating System you want. For PCs (laptops and desktop) the main choice is Windows and nowadays that’s Windows 10. There are other options (Macs, which tend to be very expensive, Google’s Chromebooks which only really work while they’re connected to the internet and Linux of various versions, which is great but not really so ideal for the beginner). For most people, unless you have a particular reason to choose one of the others, Windows is probably your best bet.

For tablets and phones, though, there are two popular choices: iOS (made by Apple) and Android (the system is made by Google but the devices are made by all sorts of companies). You can also get Windows phones and tablets but they tend to be much less popular so again, unless you have a particular reason for wanting one, I probably wouldn’t steer you in that direction.

I don’t have any great preference between iOS and Android – they’re both good systems that work well and are designed to be generally pretty easy to use. The main thing I’d say is if you’ve used one before, it’s probably simpler to stick with that rather than learn something more different. The other thing I’d say is that often Apple kit is quite expensive, so if you’re not wanting anything top of the range, I’d tend to go for Android. Up to you, though, and you can always try both out in a shop.

If you do go for Apple’s iOS, then the thing will be made by Apple, too, as they won’t let anyone else use their system. So you’ll be getting either an iPad or an iPhone. But if you want an Android one you also get to choose the make. Some people start by choosing this and if you’ve been happily using a Samsung (say) in the past, there’s some sense in sticking with them as it will be more similar.

Otherwise, though, I’d actually leave choosing the make until later and start with what you want the phone or tablet to be like. You may then find that leaves you with only one or two makes to choose from, which makes it easier!

Similarly with PCs – there are lots of makes but I’d start by deciding what you want it to be like first, rather than choosing a make.

The first thing to think about with PCs always used to be how fast the processor was and how fast it would run. This is still relevant for PCs and other devices, but it’s not just about the processor speed – it’s about how much memory it has and several other things as well. You can often get a rough idea of how fast a device is just by price – it’s often one of the biggest things that makes it more expensive. Or you can ask in a shop which one is quicker or read up on the internet about the models you’re interested in.

Before you do that, though, have a think about how you’re going to use it. A modern phone (even a cheap one) has more power than those old mainframes that filled entire rooms… whether you need even more than a cheap one depends on what you’re going to use it for.

If you’re just going to browse the web, send emails and maybe play the odd simple game, you probably don’t need anything very fast. Even watching videos or making video calls isn’t particularly demanding for a modern device.

On the other hand if you want to edit home video or play fast 3d games then you’ll need something faster – and if you want the device to be able to keep up as new versions of the software comes out, then it’ll need to be reasonably fast as well.

Another thing that matters, for laptops, tablets and phones if not for desktop PCs, is the weight. This can vary quite a lot, so again, think about how you’ll use it. If you have a tablet for use at home on the sofa, you might not be too bothered about how heavy it is. On the other hand if you’re carrying it in a handbag, you might want it nice and light. Similarly with a mobile phone.

In fact if you’re going to read a lot on a tablet, you might not want it too heavy anyway, if you find it more comfortable to hold the tablet while you read. On the other hand if you think you’d prop it up to read, then it probably doesn’t matter anyway!

Of course the weight often partly depends on the size – and the size is something else to take into account, particularly if you want to carry it out and about. So it’s worth thinking about whether it matters to you whether it fits in a pocket or not.

The size of the device usually affects the size of the screen, too, and that’s another important thing to think about. It’s more complicated than it looks, though, as it’s not just the size of the screen that affects how easy it is to see it clearly, and I’ve already written quite a bit for this email (and finished my tea!) so I’m going to come back to this next time.

I’ll also talk about the battery life, storage (and why it matters – but only for some people) and a few other things to take into account.

I hope you found that useful… or if you’re not after a new device at the moment that you’ll find it useful when the time comes!

14 thoughts on “Advice on choosing a phone, tablet or PC…

  1. Patricia (Pat) Wren

    I’ve only been on your email list since Christmas, but wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the help and advice you send out. I find the emails interesting and informative whether I needed that information or not !
    Keep up the good work

    1. Mike

      Hi Pat

      Thanks for the lovely comments 🙂 I am really glad you are enjoying Tim’s emails.

      Tim is off today spending time with his kids, but I will make sure he sees these messages when he gets back


      Mike 🙂

  2. Michael Patterson

    Excellent latest letter with what to look out for when in market for new device. Looking forward to the follow up.
    Enjoy all emails you send as find them enjoyable and enlightening as are the books you publish.

    1. Mike

      Hi Michael

      Really glad you enjoy Tim’s emails, he is off today spending some time with his family but I will be sure to let him know you left a message.

      Thank you for the lovely comments 🙂


  3. M.Derome

    Very useful since I am beingn encouraged to buy an iPad – my Toshiba lap top is six years old and is working well -Windows Home Premium 7. Am still not convinced by moving to Apple.

    1. Mike


      Ahh yes, it can be tricky to justify moving to a different device if the one you have works fine! It took me two years to buy a new phone when really the one I had didn’t really work!

      It might be worth, next time you are near one, popping into a shop to just have a look at one in action and see if it is for you!

      If you do decide to get a new device (Apple or otherwise) do let us know!

      Mike 🙂

      PS Tim is off today so I am picking up these messages

  4. Pete Rawson

    As usual,everything in reference to getting this that or the other, assumes that we all know how to operate these “machines,etc. A few weeks ago, I bought a Fusion 5 phone .I am told that because of the number of phones etc. on the market. NO manuals are issued these days, neither on Line nor to purchase.
    Any suggestions, e.g.,how to use the Cameras,and how to Text,or use the Telephone-must be thousands of old people like me that give up buying these machi nes because of no technical help independant to asking the young people to help us??

    Why not produce something

    1. Mike

      Hi Pete

      We had the very same thought as you, and at the end of last year, we launched our first books aimed at smartphone users!

      I think Tim can sum up the books the best:

      Everything explained clearly and simply, in plain language
      These books explain exactly how to use the smartphone — where on the screen to tap, what “gestures” to use and where important options are hidden away.

      You can find out more about our range of smartphone books here.

      It looks like your phone is running Android with a custom ‘skin’ over it, this means that some of the pictures in our book won’t match exactly, but they should be close enough and the written instructions should match.

      It might be worth giving us a ring on 01229 777606 and ask for a free 14 day trial (if you are in the UK) and see if our books can help you get the most from your smartphone.

      Thanks so much for the comment, always good to hear from people with ideas

      Mike 🙂

      PS Tim is off today at home with his family (it’s half term here) so I am picking up these messages from him

  5. Newton Cleghorn

    Thank you for your e-mails. At 80 years I feel isolated from all this new technology. Everything moves that fast, it is hard to keep pace.

    As I have still not figured out how to send photos on my laptop, I am wondering if it would be easier for me to use a tablet to take and send photos to my distant family.

    My price limit is £100. Could I achieve my aim within this range? I do not require to play games etc.,

    1. Mike


      Thank you for getting in touch!

      I’m so glad to hear you like Tim’s emails.

      Tim is off today spending time with his family, (It’s half term here) so I am replying to these messages today, but I will make sure he sees them when he is back in.

      Sending photos to friends from a laptop
      I’m not quite sure on your computer setup, but I am fairly sure we cover sending photos by email in one of our PC help guides, it might be best to give us a ring as I don’t want to recommend the wrong book to you.

      If you are using Gmail (email from Google) then they have a how-to guide on attaching files, which is how you send photos through their service. You can read that here. Or you could upload your photos to ‘the cloud’ and share them with friends/family from there, Google have a free photo storage option here

      A new device
      As Tim says we can’t really go into which device is best for you (everyone needs something different), the best advice I can give is to pop to a local phone / computer shop and ask to give a few a try in your price range.

      We offer books to help you get the most out of a new tablet, once you have one give us a ring and see if we have anything which you think would help you (you can always opt for a 14 day free trial if you are in the UK to give them a try first). The best number to get us on is 01229 777606.

      Sorry I have turned into Tim there with long posts! 🙂

      Do let us know what you decide to do, and if you want to send us a photo as a test just drop one to [email protected] and say “This is for Mike” in the subject.

      Thank you

      Mike 🙂

  6. Alfred Ellis

    I do enjoy reading the news letters and find them informative (most of the time ) . I use a PC and and am one of the Few people who don’t have an android , smart phone , laptop and the only tablet I take is for medical reasons , this is the one tablet you can’t help with . Thanks again for the help, I’ve received from you , in the past ,keep up the good work . I have the best ( or worst ) of both worlds with 2 computors or confusers running Win 7 & 10 , Great Fun isn’t it,I’ve still got most of my hair ( in a little bag beside the Beasts ).
    Bye for now
    Alf Ellis

  7. Colin Davies

    Tim. Further your email of today. One for your book. If your phone refuses ro update. It is possible that iyt hasbeen accidentally put into aircraft mode which automatically overides wifi snd bluetooth which eill prevent updating. Deactivate aircraft mode and your back to normal.

    1. Mike – The Helpful Book Company

      Hi Colin

      I am picking up messages for Tim this week…

      That’s a really good point, thanks for the tip, flight mode can be a handy feature, but it can also get in the way! Sometimes it’s also worth turning your phone off and back on again. Unfortunately we can’t give precise technical help via this newsletter but restarting a phone usually forces it to check for any updates.

      Thanks for the comment!



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