Want to get swipe-happy on a tablet but don't fancy the iPad? Fair enough. After all, Android is the most popular operating system around, and offers a wealth of nifty features. Now may very well be a good time to embrace the 'droid.
With so many Android slates flying around and each one promising a different version of the software, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which tablet is for you. Don't worry, we're on hand with some rules to follow when you're making that vital purchase.
Android operating system
Android is an ever-changing beast, with each update bringing a few new features or a slightly improved interface. It's important to download these updates where possible because they'll keep your tablet on the cutting edge. Updates to the latest versions of Android are often excruciatingly slow to arrive though, so don't expect even high-end tablets to receive an update as soon as it's announced.
Sometimes manufacturers decide not to send out the latest software updates to their products at all. Normally, this is because of hardware restrictions. A tablet might not have the raw computing power, for example, to operate a more advanced version of Android, so rather than force the tablet to run slowly, a manufacturer will stop updating it. This also potentially bags them more money -- if you want the latest software you'll be forced to go out and buy a new tablet with beefier hardware.
It pays to be clued up about the current version of Android and to try and pick a tablet that's not going to be abandoned by its manufacturer. Google's Nexus line of slates are designed to showcase the latest software so will generally receive updates before others.
Choosing a tablet that packs the latest hardware is the best way to make sure it has a long lifespan because it's more likely to receive updates. Most manufacturers slap their own software 'skin' over Android though, so even if you're not on the newest version, you may not necessarily be missing out on much.
The latest version, Android 4.4, also known as KitKat, will soon come as standard on all higher-end slates, although many models will still ship with version 4.3 for a while yet. Top-end tablets really shouldn't be launching with anything older than 4.3, however version 4.2 on a budget slate is acceptable.
Arguably the most important piece of hardware in a tablet is the processor. It will determine whether your tablet runs as smoothly as a seal coated in otter grease or as slowly as a sloth dipped in treacle.
Check out whether the processor is single-, dual- or quad-core -- this will give your tablet a speed boost -- and also look at the clock speed. A dual-core processor with each core running at 1.2GHz will perform far better than a single-core processor clocked at 800MHz, for example. Top-end kit generally boasts quad-core chips that promise lightning-fast performance, which will appeal to those who crave elite gadgetry. Single-core chips don't really appear too often anymore, even on the low-end tabs so it's probably not worth thinking too much about them.
Bear in mind though, these super-charged tablets often come with a super-charged price, and most apps you'll be running probably won't take full advantage of the power held inside. There's a tonne of other factors that will affect performance but looking at the processor speed is a good basic strategy.
Size is important too. The bigger the display and the higher its resolution, the better everything will look. As you go bigger though, tablets get gradually less portable. Think about where you want to use your Android tablet. If you'll be taking it out and about, a 7-inch tablet might be best, as it'll fit in a coat pocket or handbag, and you'll be able to wrap your thumbs around it to type.
Going for a larger tablet may be wiser if you intend to use it mainly at home, collapsing on the sofa and casually browsing the Web. If that sounds like you, a 10-inch tablet will fit the bill. The extra screen size will make watching videos a little more comfortable too.
The quality of screen can vary wildly between brands, with some offering a brilliantly clear view and others rather more muted. We thoroughly test the screens in our reviews, so if you watch a lot of video, stay clear of anything we've said appears too dull. It's always best to get an eyes-on too, so head on over to your nearest gadget store if you can.
Also check out the storage capacity -- how much space does the tablet offer and does it have expandable memory via a microSD card slot? That will let you add an extra 32GB -- or potentially infinite if you carry around enough SD cards -- of storage to your tablet, which is good news if you watch plenty of movies.
If you opt for a slate with only 8GB of space and you can't add more, you don't have much room for downloading big 3D games or storing lots of video locally.
To aid you in your quest, we've gathered up our current favourite Android tablets below.