An Uncertain, But Promising Market
Tablets are a new category of electronics product. The iPad has barely been out for a year, and many of that giant's competitors have their time in-production measured by months.
Because of the immaturity of these devices, there's not any long-term data available about their long-term reliability. It's also hard to say how the introduction of new technology, like faster processors and better memory, will impact the viability of these devices in the future.
Still, we can make some guesses by looking at the closest sibling of tablets - smartphones. Tablets often share the same operating system as smartphones, and are based off similar hardware. So how do smartphones hold up?
Quite well, it seems. PC World's 2009 look at cell phone reliability indicated that about 10 to 12% of all cell phone users will need a repair in any given year. That may seem high, but this survey did not account for cell phone age, so it's actually an encouraging result. SquareTrade's 2010 investigation seems to back this data up. They found that within the first 12 months of ownership only 2.1% of Apple iPhone 4s suffered a non-accident failure. Motorola Android phones with HTC Android phones had non-accident failure rates of 2.3% and 3.7%, respectively.
The data indicates that tablets should be reliable, which makes the purchase of a refurbished tablet PC more promising. The touchscreens are the only area where I'd expect see some differentation. Although the technology used in smartphone and tablets is essentially identical, the larger size of tablet touchscreens means that the smaller displays on smartphones might not be a good indicator of reliability.