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
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
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
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.
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.
of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.
Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the
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30 Sep 2010, last update
21 Jul 2020
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