/ Technology

How do you use your tablet computer?


More than half of UK homes now own a tablet PC – just five years after the most popular tablet, the iPad, was launched. Is yours an all-singing life essential or just something you look at occasionally to read the news?

I’m in the age group that, according to Ofcom, most love their tablets. Nearly two thirds of people aged 35-54 have one – including me. But I find that I don’t use it half as much or for half the things that I thought I would.

The all-singing, all-dancing tablet

From the way they’re advertised, you’d think we would all be spending our time using our tablets to learn a musical instrument or paint a masterpiece. In fact one of Britain’s most famous living artists, David Hockney, used his index finger as a paintbrush to produce works of art on his iPad, many of which were later exhibited. Some of my Which? colleagues even had a go.

Hmm… hearing about features like that make me feel a bit guilty (I’m Catholic – it doesn’t take much). I know the iPad can do loads. Yes, it’s an entertainment centre. Hooray. Yes, it can probably teach me how to salsa or speak Gaelic. Great. But, to be honest, mine usually lies on the sofa like a dog pleading to be taken for a walk…

I’ll use it to search the internet, read a few newspaper articles online and that’s about it. Sometimes I feel it’s a bit like having a high-performance car you only use to go down to the shops.

So how do others use theirs?

How do people really use their tablets?

I took a quick poll around Which? HQ. I found no master artists – reading the news, shopping and surfing the net were the most popular answers. Along with a way to keep the kids happy. Use as an online recipe book was also mentioned.

This chimed pretty well with research we carried out with Which? members last year, who saw it as a passive device – for ‘receiving’ and ‘watching’ rather than ‘doing’. ‘Doing’ was seen as the laptop’s role. A tablet’s not for serious tasks, they suggested.

Many said that their tablet’s main advantage was that it was easy to use and you didn’t have to sit around ‘waiting for it to boot up’.

Tablets on the rise

In 2011 just 2% of households owned a tablet. Now that figure is 54% and the trend looks set to continue – 21% of households currently without a tablet told Ofcom they were likely to get one within the next 12 months.

To put that in context, the TV only found its way into 75% of homes in 1961 – a much longer period since its invention.

So do you own a tablet? If yes, what do you use it for?

What do you use your tablet for?

Web browsing (28%, 939 Votes)

Using apps (17%, 550 Votes)

Watching films/TV shows/YouTube videos (14%, 462 Votes)

Reading books (11%, 376 Votes)

Education (7%, 241 Votes)

Navigation (7%, 232 Votes)

Gaming (6%, 211 Votes)

Writing (5%, 168 Votes)

Other (please tell us in the comments below) (4%, 139 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,035

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In desperation trying to think of a birthday present for Mrs R I bought her an iPad 3 years ago. It was the best present ever – used almost daily. Photos, emailing family, internet to look up information, maps, iplayer (an Apple TV box was a great addition), Words with Friends, househunting……It has made me feel less guilty about playing on my laptop. As Paul says its a big advantage that the iPad is so instantly available. I’m sure my elderly laptop needs some clearing out as it takes ages to boot up – but it gets their eventually.

Hi Malcolm,

Are you on a Windows PC? If so, you may find this useful:


And a few of these tips probably wouldn’t do any harm either:


Adam, Thanks for the links. I’ve now disabled some startup programs (but there are some I don’t know what they do so I’ll have a look at “should I remove it”). See what that does tomorrow when I start up again.
The tips are useful, but many seem taken care of by Bullguard that regularly runs PC Tune up optimization. Some issues it deals with automatically, others it leaves me to manage. Again, some processes I’m not sure about so leave alone but should be braver! However, as Dieseltaylor points out below we are so dependent on our computers that I tend to leave (fairly) well alone.

When I bought my iPad 2 I had hoped to use it as a more convenient alternative to taking my laptop or a bundle of papers to the numerous meetings I attend. I was sadly disappointed to find that I cannot switch quickly between half a dozen pdf/Word/Excel files like I can on the laptop.

Until I bought a smartphone I used the iPad mainly for email and web browsing when away from home. It is very convenient and the battery life is still excellent. As someone who can be on the right road but heading in the wrong direction, the standard maps and navigation apps are extremely useful. At home it I use it to update my diary, which synchronises with the laptop and phone, but not much else. On holiday the iPad gets well used and I use it to look at new photos each day and occasionally to play with new apps and occasionally use Skype.

My iPad might get a new lease of life if we get a Which? Conversation app. 😛

Malcolm – If you just shut the lid of your laptop it should wake up nearly as fast as the iPad.

I agree about the conversation app. I switch my laptop on each morning and off last thing at night. It hibernates when it is out of use for a bit but wakes up pretty quickly. It is the initial boot up that takes the time.

No app, but it’ll be mobile/tablet responsive so it’ll be much easier to add a comment and browse the site on your tablet!

Oh well. As long as the update works well on mobile devices it might encourage more young contributors to take an interest in consumer issues.

Although I can see the obvious purposes for some people, I’ve never had the need for a tablet. I find that a very slim top-end laptop and an iPhone are enough for me. My iPhone can do everything that an iPad can do. I don’t need anything in-between a laptop and a smartphone, which would just be another device that needs to be synced.

They sync automatically these days. If someone rings my mobile number, the laptop, iPad and phone even ring together.

When the phone is on charge in the kitchen, my laptop alerts me to calls that I would otherwise have missed, so it’s actually a useful feature. I keep the sound turned off on the iPad to avoid information overload.

A tablet is much cheaper than a decent laptop. Mine has minor cracks on the screen as a result of an activity holiday a couple of years ago. It does not affect the performance but I would be rather upset if I had broken my laptop.

We use ipads at work to save us having to print out and distribute paper copies of training materials. I do not have a tablet at home yet – but I do have an Android smart phone that does similar things. It is useful for internet browsing without the need to go and sit at a proper computer.

I have noticed, however, that the latest Windows tablets now appear to be fully functional Windows PCs, thus blurring the boundary between a “proper” PC and tablet.

I’ve been wondering whether or not to get a tablet. Apart from its portability and convenience for people who want internet access wherever they go there don’t seem to be any compelling reasons. With two laptops in the house already, which don’t get a lot of use, I think I’ll just carry on with my plan to update my desktop configuration. As someone who does a lot of writing I feel more at home with a bigger screen and a full size keyboard.

I would not like to be without tablet or laptop as one will supplement the other when a problem arises with either. My tablet is a very efficient camera but it is not compatible with my printer and so I tend to still use my original camera unless I can forward a picture with an email. I tend to use my laptop for longer posts as my tablet has a habit of locking in the middle of a comment and refuses to budge. Any suggestions as to how I can unlock it would be most welcome. This never happens when using my laptop. The tablet is very quick and easy to pick up and find answers to every day questions which are constant and need to be answered tout de suite or I tend to suffer information exasperation.

Can’t you get an app on your tablet for your printer, Beryl? I agree, I don’t think I’d be able to live for a week without access to my laptop!

Thanks Andrew, I will put your suggestion to my technophile son when he next visits. Another advantage of having both laptop and tablet is you can research a topic on one whilst writing something on the other without interrupting the flow.

No problem Beryl 🙂 If yours is an iPad, you should also be able to connect to your printer via AirPrint:


Yep, personally I think the one disadvantage for a tablet is being able to work on it. I’m not a huge fan of touchscreen keyboards…

Tibouchina says:
6 June 2015

I have to do a lot of research in libraries, and find that my iPad is perfect for this, since I can use it to take notes, keep track of what I’m doing and also- which is brilliant, saving both time and money- scan old magazines and newspapers (with permission, of course) with the scanbot app. It was a revelation.

Sherry says:
6 June 2015

Use it for reading (confidential) papers distributed by my employers in advance of meetings. (Via specialized app).

My preference would be to receive on my laptop.

Georgia says:
6 June 2015

I love my tablet. It boots up quickly and takes up little space in the kitchen where I couldn’t fit a laptop. I use it all the time. In addition to the functions already ticked, I use it for email, as a recipe book (no more recipe books kept ‘just in case’ cluttering up the kitchen), for photos, occasional child amuser (doodle app), for workouts and as a timer to name just a few things. I’m slowly working my way towards a more minimalist lifestyle and decluttering, and the tablet is a brilliant aid to that as it’s so multifunctional. Am 52 by the way.

ElizabethMcAndrew says:
6 June 2015

After reading your entry I do not have to put one in. My tablet use mirrors yours. I love my tablet too. It was a gift and when it eventually crashes I will replace it and if it could include mobile phone features I would not leave home without it.

Tablets are perfect for the elderly, particularly those with medical long term conditions and disabilities. As a paid member of this group [wrist osteo-arthritis forbids use of smartphone], I have two tablets: the Android one is used anywhere outside the home for checking emails, porting documents to meetings, web browsing, displaying medical apps information and, of course, using wifi [and at long last hospitals now offer free wifi to patients]. The other tablet [Microsoft Surface Pro 3] is used as back up for the laptop [again, elderly patients with restricted mobility during illness would die of starvation where it not for the great online grocery delivery services]. With an ageing population, I’d like to see Which offering information and case studies illustrating all the benefits – and they are many – of IT. And…who knows …anyone having to use Windows 8 and 7 more or less simultaneously [as I do upstairs and downstairs in my home] may even delay the outset of dementia!!

I think that it is an excellent idea to get people familiarised with what is possible with technology – tablets especially as eyesight I suspect will be a problem.

I would also like to make a couple of pleas:
Also provide a fall-back position if for some reason the electronic geegaws fail. People do not know what they will miss until they have gone totally electronic and a disaster happens.

Having a step by step safety net would be great. Everyone talks of the convenience and simply backing up will solve all problems but this is simplistic. Once the Governement has us all interacting with it by the net it will be crucial that recovery – possibly sans devices – is available from a trusted source.

Be prepared to talk about where tablets have drawbacks rather than always how wonderful they are. Eye-strain from reading being a primary area where some research and advice should be provided. And lastly on a recent cruise I noticed people holding their valuable and information packed tablets in a stiff breeze over the ships’ sides to take photos. A £200 travel camera with a large zoom and a tiltable screen would be hugely more sensible.

You are absolutely right about the possibility of disasters, Dieseltaylor. I have always been very careful about backups and when my laptop developed serious problems in February I was not concerned because I had three recent backups available. I bought a new laptop and recovered files from my backup but despite considerable effort have not been able to recover about 10 years worth of sent and received Outlook email.

I did get the old laptop repaired, but the one thing that refused to work was Outlook, so I still did not have my old email. I wasted a great deal of time and then a couple of weeks later it started working, but some of the largest mail folders including the sent mail was missing. The only option left is to try and do a full restore from the most recent backup. I really thought that I had backups well managed but had not bargained for major problems using them.

Dieseltaylor – I believe that tablet and computer screens are much better than printed text for avoiding eyestrain. I just expand the text to a comfortable size. I just wish that I could use two fingers to select and enlarge text on the printed page.

Reading and eyestrain-

As I understand it the research shows reading from tablets, smart phones or a monitor are all more tiring due to the brightness of the screen. Reading from paer is less tiring for eys. E-readers that have paper-white screens actually generate black text on a white background without glare and are therefore superior to the other electronics.

As you say the ability to enlarge text is very useful particularly as the eyes age [the brains as good as ever]!. I have had two small ereaders and the problem their is I find the screens too small as I read very quicklyand thumbache sets in. I have a 9.7″ screen ereader which is basically like a tablet but dedicated to reading. As the screen is roughly 3 times that of a normal reader it also means that .pdf’s in double columns, maps , and Accounts , are all very easy to use.

I have had good results with people who have very poor eyesight who find they can blow up text to a very large size and still have a decent amount to read on the page. I always find it regrettable that Which? never ever mentioned the existence of the larger readers.

Most people are happy to read on a tablet and the biggest advantage of the e-reader is the much lower power requirement, allowing them to be lightweight and have a much longer battery life than tablets.

Which? mentions Doro and other mobiles suitable for those with poor eyesight or other problems, so it would be worth mentioning larger e-readers.

If I’m reading at home I far prefer using a laptop, which has a bigger screen than a tablet or e-reader and I can vary the brightness, angle and distance to avoid becoming tired.

Thanks for your comment dieseltaylor.

As the popularity of ebook readers has fallen over the past few years (largely being replaced by tablets), we’re testing fewer, and we tend to try and review the most popular and widely available on the UK market. Readers that are 6-7 inches are much more prevalent because they’re roughly the size of traditional paperback books and, as you and wavechange point out, the user has the option to increase text size.

But thanks again for your comment and we’ll bear it in mind next time we test ebook readers, especially if more big screen versions hit the market.

Adam – I think you highlight the problem. “We review the most popular and widely available on the UK market” .
I think this could be translated as – that unless there is a UK distributor we will not be looking at it regardless of the fact it can be bought via the Web and would be a useful service to the visually impaired or those with special reading requirements.

If Which? cannot test it and similar there is always the option of advising subscribers that these devices exist but are untested. Another possibility that consumer bodies on the Continent have paid for them to be tested already and Which? can buy the research in – as it does for mattress testing, and tyres.etc etc

Overall Which? has to perhaps be more active in looking at devices and deciding even if they are low volume they are beneficial to some part of the Which? readership. After all Which? has tested mobility scooters which are a very niche market. This is laudable but for the fact it could have easily just provided a link to RICA a spun off charity from Which? that has a much bigger and more helpful review of mobility scooters – and the size of car boots to stow them in.

I read ‘The Times and Sunday Times’ on my Nexus7 most days and every day when away (at least 6 months of the year).

robertop says:
6 June 2015

Travel: I still take my laptop everywhere for its massive archive but it does in checked baggage. When traveling the instant boot and smaller size in planes plus kindle etc. library are preferable.

Dictionaries: I know, or more accurately used to know, five languages but at age 71 words escape me even more than in English. Quicker than laptop and less fiddly than mobile.

Specialised reference documents: it is somehow easier when writing to have documents, in my case mostly a sports rulebook, open on a separate machine rather than on the laptop.

Ron says:
6 June 2015

Your list of options didn’t mention listening to music. In fact I’ve found very few uses for it. It seems to fall between my all-in-one PC and my iPhone – it doesn’t have the versatility of the former or the flexibility of the latter. I mostly use it as a large iPod, and now that I’ve managed to get it to pick up our broadband signal in upstairs rooms (I bought a wi-fi extender) I’ll be receiving BBC programmes via the iPlayer apps, particularly the radio one.

Jacqui says:
6 June 2015

Internet shopping for almost everything, an online recipe book, a how to do just about anything manual, a calendar, photo album, a camera, a wedding planner, a research tool, a genealogy tool…..couldn’t imagine life without it.

Josquine says:
6 June 2015

At home for most of the time, I use a PC with a huge screen for my main computer, and don’t need/have a laptop. But my Nexus 7 – slips into my handbag – is great for a quick check of my e-mails, Facebook etc (I’m 69) while watching TV in the evenings, for using for looking at/showing photos (uploaded via PIcasa) and e-mails and browsing when away from home – and for watching catch-up TV in bed!

Dionysus says:
6 June 2015

I also use my tablet as an mp3 player when I get tired of reading on a long train journey and to carry around holiday and family photos (taken with a separate camera) to plague friends with.

H Strickland says:
6 June 2015

I do some internet shopping.I also message friends on it using Facebook messenger. I love my tablet (kindle fire) and can take it away with me on trips and journeys. I wouldn’t be without it.

Henry says:
6 June 2015

I also use mine for email, social media, shopping …

Alan Gauld says:
6 June 2015

There are lots of photography apps and and you can save and view photos on a tablet in the field so you get a clearer view than on the camera LCD. And it’s much lighter in the camera bag than a laptop, even my netbook.

Anna says:
7 June 2015

I use it as a toy, after all it keeps me young, to be playful! I don’t feel any pressure to use many or all it’s features. It gives me great pleasure to know that i can if I want to. Photos haven’t been mentioned in your questionnaire. But it is the best way to show the latest images to grandparents. For FaceTime ing its easier to manage than the phone and laptops. It’s fun!!!