A Tablet Buyer's Guide for Farmers

Prairie Gleanings

Not sure what tablet to get your farmer for Christmas? Check out this buyer's guide.

Published on: December 11, 2013

We’re getting down to the nitty gritty – only 14 shopping days before Christmas Day.

Holly Spangler put together a nice list of gift ideas for a farmer. I’d like to add to that list by giving you a farm buyer’s guide for tablets.

In case you haven’t noticed, tablets are one of the fastest growing segment of technology right now. They bridge the gap between the smartphone and full-on pc (laptop or desktop) perfectly.

There are three main operating system options – Windows, iOS and Android. Your choice can be made a lot easier by choosing an OS first. Here are the ups and downs of each.

There are a lot of tablet options out there. Make sure you choose the best one for your operation.
There are a lot of tablet options out there. Make sure you choose the best one for your operation.

Windows 8

Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS was designed for touchscreens. The interface looks very similar to your Android and Apple devices. However, tablets with this OS are a little more geared toward work, especially if your job involves heavy use of Microsoft products.

Working at Prairie Farmer, my job relies heavily on Microsoft’s Office suite of products. I’m using Outlook (an email program), Word and Excel on a daily basis. I don’t know that the typical farmer will rely as heavily on these programs. They’re designed primarily for creating content. Another benefit of Windows – it will look and feel very similar to your Windows-based PC.

The flagship Windows tablet is the Microsoft Surface 2. Microsoft also makes a model called the Surface Pro 2. The Surface Pro 2 is almost double the price. However, it is a fully-functioning laptop in a tablet format.

By fully-functioning, I mean that it can run any Windows-based software. So, if your farmer has an accounting software that’s not available in the Windows Store (app store), the Surface Pro 2 may be the way to go. Just know that you’re jumping up to the $1,000 price range.

The Surface 2 is a tablet that comes preloaded with Microsoft Office. But, you’re limited to only the apps you can download from the Windows Store. It’s also about half the price.

iOS

Apple’s iOS is only available on the iPad series of tablets. These are sort of a jack-of-all-trades tablet.

A lot of people wonder “What’s so great about an iPad?” My dad probably said it best as he closed in on two years with his iPhone 4, “They just work.” Indeed.

Apple’s iOS is not as customizable as Android, but it works very well. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company does a great job of updating and supporting their products.

The flagship iPad Air retails for $499 (16 GB, wifi-only). For the price, you’re getting a tablet that will run and run and run, with very few hiccups. The browser is extremely smooth, which comes in handy when you’re loading desktop-only versions of websites. FYI: desktop-only versions websites are somewhat common in the farm supplier realm.

While you can’t load an iPad with Microsoft Office, there are some great work-around options. They “work around” not having Office by letting you create and edit a document in a third-party software, like Apple’s Pages (Word equivalent). When you email the document, it’s converted into Word, i.e. the file extension will read .doc or .docx.

If you’re not sure which tablet to get for your farmer, it’s tough to go wrong with the iPad.

Android

Google’s Android operating system is the third main option out there. It’s a great choice too.

Some of the premier tablet manufacturers with Android software include Samsung and Asus, which makes Google’s current line of Nexus tablets.

There is one caveat with this OS – not all Android tablets are created equally. Since Android is an open software, many manufacturers will load a technically-inferior tablet with this operating system.

Therefore, you need to do a little more spec comparison with Android. If you find an Android tablet for under $200, there’s probably a reason. The screen or processor probably isn’t as good as the higher-end versions.

A great all-around option in this lineup is Samsung’s Note 10.1 tablet. It comes with an industry-leading S Pen, with which you can take extremely accurate hand-written notes. The Note 10.1 can then “translate” the note into text.

Again, Android tablets do not come with Office. But, like with Apple, you can load a third-party software for the same sort of work around.

Bottom Line

Either way you go, the bottom line is you should probably be spending around $500 for a tablet that performs well. At that price point, you’ll be able to get a piece of hardware that performs well.

Also, remember to check to make sure the apps your farmer wants to load are available. Android’s Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store are by far the largest app stores. If a farm supplier/manufacturer has an app, it’s probably going to be on one of those two stores.

Lastly, a good aid in making a decision is to look at what type of phone your farmer has. If he/she already has an iPhone, an iPad probably makes the most sense. They’ll already be familiar with the system.