Home inspectors have a lot to consider when buying a new tablet that can withstand the rigors of a home inspection and efficiently run a home inspection reporting app. As much as I would like to tell you to buy model X, the answer is not that cut and dried.
We’ve identified 8 major considerations, many unique to home inspectors, that will affect your tablet-buying decision. Before listing those, let’s establish a common language.
Buying an Android is not the same as buying an iPad
First, Android is an operating system (OS), not hardware. So when you are buying an Android tablet you are buying a device running the Android operating system from Google. But, the manufacturer can be one of many companies including Google, Samsung, LG and a slew of other brands.
So, here are our top considerations in priority order:
1. Price vs. Value
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get” – Warren Buffet
As you can imagine, we have purchased many Android tablets to test our home inspection software, and they range from the cheapest to more pricey models. I was recently looking for a cheap tablet and couldn’t find one with the characteristics I preferred. In the end, if you find a cheap tablet model that you like that meets all the criteria below that you prefer, buy it!
“A picture is worth a thousand words” – Fred Barnard
As home inspectors, the one thing most of you would probably agree upon is that the picture quality is of utmost importance. If you want to learn more about megapixels and what is really needed for quality prints being printed in different sizes or viewed on a computer, read this post “Do more megapixels mean better photo quality?”.
I have set my minimum standard to be 3 MP.A 5 MP tablet can certainly improve the quality of report pictures and is preferred. Anything beyond that is likely overkill. Anything below is unprofessional.
Having a flash makes taking pictures in shadowy areas simpler, but unfortunately, flashes are becoming more difficult to find on newer tablet models. If you opt for a tablet without a flash, you’ll probably want to have a digital camera with you as a backup for taking pics in attics and crawlspaces.
“Size does matter” – Unknown
Choosing the size of a tablet that you use to perform an inspection is not the same as choosing a size for phones. As an inspector you are climbing up ladders, reaching behind equipment and crawling into tight spaces.
You need a tablet that you can comfortably and safely carry with you in all these environments, potentially even sized to fit into a large pocket. A cover with a handle or a clip can help by making it easier to carry in one hand. A cover can also protect the tablet should you drop it while on the roof.
As an app developer, I can tell you that the smaller the screen the less functionality you get. There is only so much stuff you can fit onto a tiny screen. Our designs are much more limited on the phone size tablets than on the 10” tablets. So as you go smaller, you increase your clicks and swipes hand movements. It’s just a fact of life.
Having said all that, I am recommending a 7″ to 8” tablet. Easy to carry in one hand, large enough to have most features easily accessible, and small enough to fit in a pocket or holster case to keep with you. But in the end, you need to decide for yourself.
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Murphy’s Law
Virtually all tablets have the ability to connect to the internet via a wireless network so you can surf the internet and send email. Some tablets also have 3G or 4G cellular data service like your phone uses to access the internet when you are not near a wireless network.
Now that you hear that, I’m sure most of you are thinking you don’t need a tablet with cellular data capabilities. That may be true if you are using the tablet to play games. But, consider that your home inspection reporting app is one of the most important tools in your business and the data you collect on-site will be lost if anything happens to your tablet.
With the right home inspection reporting app and wireless data service you can ensure that any concern, photo, or description captured on site is safely backed up in the cloud. So if you drop and break the tablet, or leave it at on top of your car as you are pulling away, your irreplaceable content is safe and sound.
The good news is that many cellular providers are providing tablets for free or reduced price with a low-priced data plan. That significantly reduces your up-front investment, which is always good.
Counter-argument: You can always use your phone as a hotspot and skip the cellular data capability to achieve the same goal.
“The bitterness of low quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory” Aldo Gucci
As with any equipment, you will find name brands and you will find off-name brands. Being off-brand doesn’t mean it is bad. Being a recognizable name brand doesn’t mean it is good.
As is true for software, a good support team can mean the difference between utter frustration and smooth operation. We had troubles with one of our Samsung tablets and for the cost of shipping, the problem was fixed.
When I am buying a tablet, I look to personal reviews and also read technology publishers reviews (albeit a bit skeptically). There are some brands that are notorious for problems and when you are running a business, you can’t tolerate problems.
For testing purposes we bought Samsung, LG, and Google. We also bought one Asus and one off-name brand. So far we haven’t had issues with any of these.
6. OS Version
“Don’t buy stale candy” – Fortune cookie from last night’s dinner
Android has many versions on the marketplace all named after something sweet and released in alphabetical order. The most current is Lollipop, preceded by KitKat, Jelly Bean, etc,… My mouth waters just typing that list.
In contrast to Microsoft, which strives to have their latest OS version on all new machines for sale, you can buy a tablet running an older version of the Android OS all the way back to Ice Cream Sandwich. And, if the many manufacturers have not certified on the newer versions, you are stuck there.
KitKat was released in late 2013 and Lollipop was released in late 2014. A new version, Marshmallow is released for Google devices and will be released slowly to other manufacturers.
Thus I recommend Lollipop or Marshmallow unless you just love a device running KitKat. Anywhere lower than KitKat is like buying a telegraph machine. Not all manufacturers have embraced Lollipop and Marshmallow has not been expanded beyond Google devices. So pay attention when choosing your device.
7. Screen resolution
“Screen resolution is one of those IT terms that people use without necessarily knowing exactly what it means” – John McGarvey
Screen resolution is the number of pixels your screen can display horizontally and vertically. Screen resolution is more important when you are watching videos than doing inspection reports. But, you will be staring at this screen for a good bit of the day, so you shouldn’t ignore it.
Don’t buy a tablet with any less than a 1280 x 800 screen resolution. I have been using a 7” with that resolution and have no complaints, even when used for non-business activities like watching all 7 seasons of Sons of Anarchy.
8. Memory Internal and External
“640 K ought to be enough for anybody.” Bill Gates, 1981 (alleged)
This depends on what apps you may be installing on your device. HomeHubZoneTM does not require an excessive amount of memory nor an external drive, as all your data is backed up to the cloud, and only current and upcoming inspections are stored on your device.
If you are using your tablet only for inspecting with HomeHubZone, you can get away with 8GB. If you think that you may also want to keep movies, music, tv shows or podcasts on your tablet, you may want to bump up to 32GB to 64GB. ‘Want to include pictures from your thermal infrared camera in your inspection report? Consider adding some external storage to stage the transfer to your tablet app.
Time to Pick a Tablet
Armed with these criteria for evaluating Android tablets for your home inspection app, it’s time to go to your nearest electronics store and try out some models. While looking at pictures and reviews online is great, it’s nice to actually hold some in your hands, see how they feel, and size some for your pockets.
Please let us know in the comments below if you have an Android already, what you like about it and what you don’t.
*Updated February, 2016 to reflect a change in size recommendation to include 8″ tablets and the option of bringing a digital camera as a backup for attics and crawlspaces when choosing a tablet model without a flash.