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Clearly the amount of storage on a tablet is a key parameter to consider.

Without exception, more storage is always better than less, and gives you more future use and value from the device.

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A Buying Guide to iPad and other Tablet Devices :  Part 8

Storage capacity and processor power

Many tablets (but not the iPad) accept tiny Micro-SD cards as a way of extending the amount of data you can store/exchange on the tablet.



A universal constant for all computer devices ever created is that no matter how much storage they offer when you first buy them, you'll run out of capacity long before you max out the other capabilities of the computer.

For this reason, the more storage included with your tablet, the more use you will be able to get from it into the future, particularly with the increasing demand for more storage posed by higher definition video.

In addition to online built-in storage, it is very helpful to be able to plug in additional storage via Micro-SD cards.

Memory and Storage

In the case of an iPad, these two terms are the same.  The iPad's total memory (or, if you prefer, storage) space can be used for any combination of programs, music, pictures, video, and all other forms of data you might wish.

Some other devices will have two separate areas - one in which programs reside, and one in which everything else resides.  In such a case, we'd semi-arbitrarily refer to the program area as memory and the data area as storage.

At present no tablet devices contain miniature hard drives, but instead use memory chips, and the cost of this solid state storage capacity is greater than if it were possible to plunk a miniature 1TB hard drive into the tablet.  On the other hand, solid state memory is smaller, lighter, faster, more physically robust, and requires less power, so on balance it is much more suitable for tablets.

Many manufacturers have taken the cheap/easy way out by including only a limited amount of storage in the tablet itself, and then adding a slot into which you can place a micro-SD card.  In theory this greatly extends the total capacity of the tablet, because you could shuffle your way through a collection of Micro-SD cards, giving yourself many TB of offline storage in the form of extra cards stored in a tiny light carry pouch your pocket, as well as the online storage in the form of the card currently plugged in to the tablet device.

Micro-SD cards currently come in capacities ranging from less than 1GB up to 32 GB.  Currently (Sep 2010) an 8GB card is about $10, a 16GB card is about $25, and a 32GB card is about $90.  There's no point in considering cards with less than about an 8GB capacity, and clearly the 'sweet spot' is probably either 8GB or 16GB - the extra capacity of the 32GB card comes at a considerable cost penalty.

There are already some 64GB cards appearing in regular SDHC cards, so it is likely to anticipate their migration to micro-SD cards sooner or later, too, and probably when that happens, pricing will ease down for the 32GB cards.

It might seem like a good idea and great feature to distribute one's data over a number of usually offline micro-SD cards, simply plugging in the one you need as and when you need it.  For sure it is wonderful to have a micro-SD slot on a tablet (there are of course many other types of memory card as well, but the micro-SD card seems to be the most common).

But it is also very convenient to have a mix of different things all 'online' in the tablet simultaneously.  Having to juggle and continually swap over different micro-SD cards quickly becomes an inconvenient hassle.

We mentioned in the section on GPS that a single GPS map of the US can take up to 2GB.  So if you are planning a road trip with a tablet that only has perhaps 2GB of internal storage, you'll need to access the GPS data from the micro-SD card.  So if you also wanted to be playing music while traveling across the country, how are you going to do that too (if your music was on two or three other micro-SD cards).

Even if you have a clever solution to these problems, micro-SD cards are tiny, which while good for some things, also makes them fiddly and awkward to handle, and very easy to mislay/lose.

They are also not without some cost associated.

You might also find you come up with problems in terms of the amount of memory space to load programs into (for example my original G1 Android phone not only has insufficient memory for newer updates to its Android OS, but it also can only accept a very limited number of apps before running out of memory space for apps, while still having plenty of remaining storage for data).

The more internal memory and storage the tablet has, the much more convenient you will find it to use.

Apple only have internal storage, with no slot for external memory cards.  This is a definite minus, although it is partially compensated by the relatively high capacity of the iPad's internal storage - 16GB, 32GB or 64GB.

In an earlier article series on the iPad, we had recommended choosing 32GB as a compromise between 'too little storage' (ie 16GB) and 'too expensive' (ie 64GB) but we have now filled up both our iPads - primarily with video.  Our feeling now is that if we were able to repeat our purchase, we'd gladly pay the $100 extra to get an extra 32 GB of storage space - which translates to enough space for about 32 hours more video, maybe 16 - 20 extra movies.  At the time we did not expect to use the iPads for watching video, but we have gradually evolved our limited use of them in that direction, and because the only convenient way you can do this when traveling is to save all the videos you might want to watch onto the iPad before leaving home, the more you can save to the iPad, the better.

The need for storage space multiplies massively further if you want to save videos in a higher definition format than the 'medium definition' compromise we were forced to accept.

On the other hand, building up a collection of digital movies is something very easily done, without any limitation at all, on micro-SD cards.

Processor Speed

This is another thing that you can never have too much of.  Faster is always better.

A faster processor will enable video to display more smoothly, and web pages to render appreciably faster (with ever faster internet connection speeds, a growing part of the delay from when you click on a link to when the page finally finishes drawing on the screen is the time it takes the processor to 'render' the images and lay out the page).

A faster processor will allow you to scroll through screens of information more quickly, and to change apps instantly.

It is hard to compare 'apples with apples' when it comes to processor speeds, however, because it is insufficient to know how many CPU cycles a processor can turn over each second (typically somewhere between 500 HHz and 1 GHz processor speeds for tablet devices, and 2 - 3 GHz for desktop computers).  You also need to know how much the processor does per each cycle, and that is a function both of the processor and its operating system.

We are even starting to see dual core processors be announced in tablet devices, and a dual core processor can usually do more per cycle than an otherwise identical single core processor (although this too depends on the OS).

However, while it is difficult to compare processors of different brands and using different operating systems, it is more valid to compare processors that share the same OS, and particularly if they are of the same family of processors.

So while processor speed need not be the most important issue to consider, do have a look at it and consider it as part of the overall evaluation.

Part of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.  Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the top right.

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Originally published 30 Sep 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
iPad and Tablet Buying Guide 1 - Basic Issues
2 - Screen Issues
3 - Operating System & Applications
4 - Battery Life and Extensions
5 - Audio & video - recording, storing and replaying
6 - GPS and other LBS type sensors
7 - Data Connectivity, Wi-Fi and 3G
8 - Online and offline memory/storage, CPU
9 - Everything else
Bonus :  Excel Spreadsheet

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