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Buying Tablets from UK High Street Shops

If you're planning to spend a big chunk of money on an Android tablet or an iPad, you might well feel like seeing the things in action and getting your hands on a few at a shop on the high street. Comparing screens in particular is something that's only really possible when you have two competing products side by side. 

Sony Xperia Z in John Lewis - properly labelledHowever, it's not quite so easy as you might expect. There is a huge range of slates available and whatever people say about sale or return arrangements, it's costly for a shop to have a respectable selection out on show. 

While the displays of higher-priced offerings are not all that we might hope for, the chances of getting a proper look at budget tablets or those for children, like the LeapPad are even worse. For these cheaper products, it probably makes more sense to buy online. 

In the race to offer the best choice on the UK high street,there are only really two runners - and one of those seems to have decided it would be safer to walk. So here's a quick summary of those two and a few more that would normally slot into the also-ran category. In this case, though, "also walked" might be more appropriate. 

Let's start with the name your expecting... 

PC World - are they running?

No. They are walkers. Their selection is not broad enough, the displays are often austere and the staff are too much driven by thoughts of commission. At first sight, there seem to be quite a few Android devices to choose from and some iPads as well, but close inspection of these reveals that quite a number of last year's models are lurking there. It's not so easy to tell the good from the bad either...  And sometimes the model names aren't too clear - perhaps to discourage you from checking specifications or prices on the internet later. 

For poor old PC World, the move to tablets makes all those huge out-of-town superstores look at bit sad.

Also read - Some more losers from the shift towards mobile computing.

A full desktop PC used to justify lots of big boxes and a special trip in the car. Buying something like an iPad is a lot easier, and relatively cheaper than it used to be - we'd like to buy these things as part of a normal shopping trip. 

PC World's troubles though are nothing though to the deep embarrassment faced by Best Buy who sank an enormous amount into opening, and then closing, a chain of out-of-town stores just at the very moment that the rationale for their existence was starting to look shaky. 

John Lewis Good

The only really runner.  They were late to the party, but now the selection, the staff, the labeling, the ambience... all of it seems to be a more relaxed and professional. There are also sometimes representatives with Samsung or Microsoft on their badges looking to tell you what's good about their respective Galaxy or Windows and Surface offerings. 

CEX, Game

Probably these are the best of the rest. CEX is a fairly low profile operation with a rather anarchic image, but they do now have over 200 stores, mostly in the UK. The name is probably meant to be pronounced <Kex> as in Computer Entertainment Exchange, rather than <Sex> as in Sex. They have a wide choice of second hand ("recycled") computer games, DVDs and mobile devices, with a sprinkling of new ones here and there. The staff are quite knowledgeable too.

Game, after a brush with administration earlier in the year, are now back, with fewer stores, and a model for selling mobile devices which looks very similar to that used by CEX.

Apple StoreApple Store 

Perfect if you've already made up your mind to buy from Apple. The staff seem to be committed to the products and to know a fair but about them. To be honest, the real strength of these stores it's in the after sales care they offer, and their selection of (sometimes overpriced) accessories. 

Carphone Warehouse, EE, 3...

These shops are trying to sell you a mobile contract. If that's what you need, they are worth a visit.  But the slate you buy might often be used in the house, or the coffee shop where there is Wi-Fi.  Or if it isn't to be used there, it might still be possible to tether it to your mobile phone... So there are quite a few reasons to buy a tablet without a 3G or 4G contact.  The choice of mobile devices in these shops tends to reflect this with a preference for slightly smaller products and ones that can be used as a phone. 

Where these stores do win out is if you're trying to choose between a phablet and one of the new flock of giant phones that are coming to market. There's a degree of haziness as to the dividing line between these two things and a shop like the Three store in our high street offers a good chance to see these devices side by side. In fact this is the only store where I've seen the new Sony Xperia Zone Ultra on show. 

Bentalls, Debenhams... 

These shops generally don't seem to be showing the commitment that John Lewis has put in. They do have a selection that maybe worth a look, but not a special trip. 

Argos Not so Good, Maplin

Argos, a hybrid between a normal shop and an online store might work well for some product lines, but in this volatile market, where items are often sold at a high price initially and then quickly discounted, Argos just can't cope. The printed catalogue shows products that are a little behind the best on offer and generally more expensive than they are from Amazon or

The one plus point for Argos is that they offer an pickup point so you can choose something there then pick up a few extra Christmas toys on your visit to collect whatever you've got off

Argos have a tablet offering of their own, but it has not been well reviewed with signs that it has been designed to look good in a catalogue and turn out a bit flimsy when you get it home.

Maplin has better displays, but again they struggle to keep their offerings up to date or competitive in price terms.

The Entertainer Not so Good

I suppose the going is not so easy for toy shops these days, and The Entertainer do offer several LeapPad devices - targeted at younger children. But there are only empty boxes on the shelf so if you don't know exactly what you're going to buy, don't bother making a special trip...

And if you do know exactly what you want - it might well be cheaper at Amazon anyway.