Tablets For Photographers

Mobile computing has come a long way in a few short years. Many photographers—even some professionals—are finding they can leave the laptop at home and travel lighter with their tablet. The creative possibilities are huge. Out of the box, tablets offer the ability to import and view your photos on gorgeous displays. Apps let you edit, enhance and share your images from practically anywhere in the world. With some tablet and software combinations, you even can use your pad as a live viewfinder and remote control for your camera.

There’s more competition in this space than ever before, and while Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android continue to dominate, Microsoft jumped into the game since our last Buyer’s Guide, and there are more models to compare than ever before. We don’t have the space here to cover the full range of what’s available, but we can talk about the key considerations of each platform and touch on popular models from those ecosystems, so you’ll be better informed when comparing devices online or in stores.

APPLE iOS
Still the most popular line of tablets since creating the market in 2010, Apple’s iPad is now in its fourth generation at the time of this writing, with an update expected soon, perhaps before you read this. We know for sure that iOS 7 is due this fall, and it’s no stretch to expect new hardware alongside the OS update.

iPad mini

The iPad is currently available in two form factors: the iPad and iPad mini. The key distinction between these two models, as their names imply, is that the mini is roughly 20% smaller than the full-size iPad. iPad mini’s screen size is 7.9 inches, while the iPad’s is 9.7 inches. The fourth-generation iPad features Apple’s Retina display, with a resolution of 264 pixels per inch for amazing clarity. The iPad mini doesn’t yet incorporate a Retina display, but its resolution is still an eye-pleasing 163 pixels per inch.

In terms of software and capabilities, the two tablets are essentially identical. Both include the same default iOS apps, including the Photo app, which allows you to make some very basic adjustments to your photos. These capabilities can be augmented by the numerous third-party apps available through the Apple App Store, from developers like Adobe, Nik, onOne and other names you’ll recognize.

Both the iPad and iPad mini are available in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular versions. Unlike most of the competition, there’s no built-in expansion ports for removable memory, but you can connect cameras or SD cards directly to iPad with optional adapters. The iPad starts at $499, and the iPad mini, at $329. Both current models will be compatible with iOS 7 when it’s released.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10-1

GOOGLE ANDROID
Deployed by more tablet makers than any other OS, Google Android is open-source, meaning manufacturers are free to use and modify the software for unique user experiences. While that has its advantages, allowing companies to innovate on their own, it also leads to some inconsistencies from device to device. In other words, not all Android devices are created equal.

Newer devices will be running either Android 4.1 or 4.2 “Jelly Bean.” Rumor has it that the next major upgrade to Android, 5.0 “Key Lime Pie,” will make its debut this fall, perhaps by the time you’re reading this.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

While the openness of the Android platform gives device makers a lot of freedom, most Android-based tablets have relatively comparable specs. Google’s own models, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, feature 7- and 10-inch screens respectively, each with the option of 16 or 32 GB of storage. The recently updated Nexus 7 is priced from $229 and offers optional cellular connectivity, while the larger Nexus 10 starts at $399.

Samsung’s $499 Galaxy Note 10.1 includes the S Pen, which you can use for everything from natural handwritten note-taking to sketching, selecting photo objects and more. Adobe Photoshop Touch is included in the software suite, with support for multilayered images and common photo enhancements.

What sets Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z apart from the pack is its ultrathin, ultralight, water-resistant design. It can be submersed in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes at a time—probably not your typical use, but reassuring to know. Pricing starts at $499 for the 16 GB model.

GOOGLE CHROME TABLETS?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Google’s Android OS powers a significant percentage of the tablet market. A report from research firm IDC released earlier this year puts Apple’s iOS at about 49% of the market for 2013, with Android right behind at about 46% and growing. Android is open-source, and popular because of that, but it’s also a double-edged sword.

Unlike Apple, which solely and tightly controls both the hardware and software for its devices, third-party manufacturers building on Android have latitude in deciding which version of Android OS will ship with their models. This has led to a somewhat fractured marketplace for Android users, as the capabilities of Android models can vary from device to device.

That fracturing of the end-user experience ultimately isn’t great for Google, which has led to speculation that Google may eventually walk away from the Android platform altogether and focus on their own Chrome OS, which currently powers Chromebook laptops, but could easily be adapted for the tablet.

This strategy makes sense, as it would allow Google to deliver a consistent, unified experience under the Chrome brand. As Google moves further into devices—their acquisition of Motorola’s consumer division and projects like Google Glass seem to indicate that they will—a closed platform, similar to Apple’s “walled garden,” ultimately will help Google deliver a higher-quality product.

Microsoft Surface RT; Dell Latitude 10

MICROSOFT WINDOWS
Microsoft was late to the game in the modern tablet wars. I say “modern” because remember the Tablet PC in 2002? Microsoft’s new tablet iterations, Surface RT and Surface Pro, were released more than two years after Apple’s iPad reignited the category, with the RT variant on sale last fall, followed by the Pro model earlier this year.

The main thing you need to know about Surface is that RT and Pro are very different. Surface RT runs Windows RT, while the Pro model runs Windows 8. Although both tablets can import, view and edit photos and video, RT is limited to apps specifically designed for it, while Pro can run traditional desktop software you may already own, like Adobe Photoshop.

Specicifations

The default Photos app provides the basic functionality of importing and reviewing images; Surface Pro also offers the Photo Gallery and Movie Maker apps, both free, for making simple edits and corrections. Th

ird-party apps to expand the capabilities of RT and Pro are available through the Windows Store.

If you’re looking to use your tablet primarily for importing and viewing photos, Surface RT is less expensive, starting at $349 for the 32 GB model. For more robust photo-editing capability and the ability to run traditional Windows desktop software, Surface Pro starts at $899.

Windows 8 tablets are also available from other hardware manufacturers like Acer, ASUS and Dell. The Dell Latitude 10 is priced at $649, with 64 GB of storage, and like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, can run desktop software like Photoshop.

LAST PLAY?

At the time of this writing, recent news suggests that the PlayBook, BlackBerry’s tablet, is on its way out. BlackBerry has announced that they won’t introduce the company’s newest operating system, Blackberry 10, to its PlayBook model, appearing to signal the end for the product line, which never really caught on in the market.