Apple’s iPad was the best tablet on the market from the moment it launched, thanks to more apps than anyone else, a beautiful screen and an ease of use that was peerless. Then the iPad Mini was launched. Despite Steve Jobs’ own reservations, it turns out that in fact the 8” screen size strikes the perfect balance between ease of use and portability. It feels more natural to integrate the iPad Mini into daily life than any other device – whether it’s checking a quick email, browsing the web or downloading an app, the Mini is an easier gateway. With a 4G version available, too, it’s got excellent connectivity wherever you are. The downside is that the full-size iPad’s screen is bigger and, on balance, the Mini doesn’t offer the best value for money when compared to other tablets. But it does offer the best user experience, at least until Android develops more of the ‘coffee table’ apps that make the iPad such a joy. The thin, lightweight design is unsurpassed.
Screen 7.9” 1024×768 Weight 308g Storage 16/32/64GB OS iOS 6.1 Processor 1GHz dualcore
A key part of the Nexus 7’s appeal comes from the open Android operating system, effortlessly integrating into Google and into the increasingly popular Android operating system; there are movies, films, books and music galore, as well as all your emails, maps and the rest, elegantly implemented.
But the single biggest plus point for the Nexus 7 is the price: for £159 you get a better screen than the iPad Mini and perfectly decent build quality from Asus. Now that the company has added a 3G option, there’s also permanent connectivity. And while Google Now really comes into its own on a phone, this feature predicts what you want to search for before you even know it (bus times when you get to a bus stop for instance) and also tells you when to leave for your next calendar appointment. Clever and affordable, the Nexus 7 is the best solution for many users.
Screen 7” 1080×800 Weight 340g Storage 8/16GB OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.2GHz quadcore
Xperia Tablet Z
Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z is the companion device to its (xcellent) Xperia Z mobile phone, and both use a slimline design that is stylish, angular, waterproof and dustproof. The Tablet Z is a lightweight 495g and just 6.9mm thick, yet it gave me a great battery life of more than seven hours. It feels more futuristic even than the iPad simply because it is so implausibly thin and lasts so long. And while I must confess I had no need or urge to test out its waterproof features, that addition is a useful thing to have too. It’s the tablet you could take into the bath if you really can’t put down that book or magazine.
Screen 10.1″ 1200 x 1920 Weight 495g Storage 16/32 GB OS Android 4.2 Processor 1.5 GHz quadcore
Galaxy Note 2
At 5.5”, the Galaxy Note 2 is both a phone and a tablet – hence the ‘phablet’ moniker. But as much of the appeal comes the unique S-Pen technology. This stylus allows you to garner extra information about what’s on the device’s screen simply by hovering above it, and the superfast processor means that this is a device that is as comfortable as a media consumption device as it is as a work unit. For some that means the Note 2 is neither one thing nor the other, but many people still use this it as their main, sole device. It may look like an over-sized phone, but its advantages are considerable. Large screen and impressive capabilities aside, it’s also blazing a new trail.
Screen 5.5” 1280×720 Weight 183g Storage 16/32/64GB, microSD OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.6GHz quadcore
The latest iPad is a beautiful design that works blazingly fast – the new processor may not technically be the fastest, but it feels slicker than any other tablet on the market. With Apple’s ‘Retina display’ the company also has a screen that is, again, not technically the best on the market but somehow looks arguably more lovely. And now that there are 4G options and a 128GB version, you need never run out of storage again. If there’s a criticism of the new version it’s that it changes the dock connector so that your old cables will need replacing, and battery life could be better. But if you’re prepared to spend the money, the iPad remains – and certainly feels – like the best full-size tablet on the market. Web browsing, emails and more never felt so elegant.
Screen 9.7” 2048×1536 Weight 652g Storage 16/32/64/128GB OS iOS6.1 Processor 1.4GHz dualcore
Microsoft’s Surface is the first tablet that the Windows-maker has built itself, and the idea is to show off Windows 8. The latest version of the operating system is built for touchscreens such as the Surface, and indeed this device really does make the operating system make more sense than on a conventional laptop. There are trade-offs, however: Windows 8 is a fully fledged operating system, while the Surface RT only runs a cut down version, called Windows RT. While the Surface Pro runs the full version, it is more expensive, thicker and heavier. So if you want a lovely Windows RT tablet, running the growing but limited selection of Windows 8 apps, then the Surface RT is for you. But who actually wants that? So for now Surface feels like a lovely product with some great ideas, not least the ultra-slim keyboard. But it’s a device in search of a market. The Surface Pro, meanwhile, is more of a laptop replacement, and laptops are lighter and more capable.
Screen 10.6” 1366×768 Weight 681g Storage 32/64GB, microSD OS Windows RT Processor 1.3GHz quadcore
Kindle Fire HD
If you use the internet, you almost certainly use Amazon, and if you read books it’s increasingly certain that you also own a Kindle. The Kindle Fire HD is Amazon’s attempt to move those who already download books into the burgeoning category of those who also download music, film and TV. And while Amazon does indeed let you browse the web or use email on the Fire HD, more than anything else it is a device for browsing the company’s own store and watching media. As such, it’s got a lovely screen, offering a higher resolution than the iPad Mini at a far lower price. And in truth it does everything most people use a tablet of this size for. It’s hard to argue that that’s enough when the Nexus 7 costs the same price and offers a wealth of additional features, such as the entire Android app selection – but where Amazon excels is in making everything simpler, and that for many users is the appeal. Nifty additions such as X-Ray easily let you see whoever is on screen a film, too.
Screen 7” 1280×800 Weight 395g Storage 16/32GB OS Android (adapted) Processor 1.2GHz dualcore
Galaxy Note 10.1
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 is the company’s most serious attempt to change the face of computing yet – that A4 notepad can, Samsung hope, be replaced by this computerised version, which with the S-Pen you can write notes on, and then later on in the day you can watch films and TV shows too. It’s the ultimate work and play device, the company hopes, and can arguable take on the iPad on all fronts and more. Those are lofty ambitions and for early-adopting technology fans there is a lot to like in the Note 10.1. But it hardly heralds the paperless office yet, because the handwriting recognition isn’t perfect, and it also struggles because the screen isn’t up to the quality of its rivals. With 4G connectivity, however, there’s much to like the Note for – it’s a product for geeks for now, but it heralds at least part of the future. It’s also a super-charged version of the S-Pen-free Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Screen 10.1” 1280×800 Weight 600g Storage 16/32/64/128GB, microSD OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.4GHz quadcore
Like the Nexus 7, Google’s Nexus 10 offers a great tablet at a really great price – unfortunately with the this larger model feels like it doesn’t quite have the class of the Nexus 7. That’s not because the screen isn’t fantastic, or because the build-quality isn’t perfectly decent. Rather it’s because of details, such as the way the case replaces the speaker cover, so you can’t easily remove it, and above all the fact that this good hardware revelas the lack of premium tablet apps for Android. On a screen this nice, there should be more to do than simply read books or watch films. Where the iPad provides that, with apps such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Anatomy offering a novel experience, the Nexus 10 only reveals that Google has a way to go. But not being as good as the iPad is not a major barrier when the price is this attractive. Indeed, the Nexus 10 is still cheaper than the two-generations-old iPad 2.
Screen 10.1” 2560×1600 Weight 603g Storage 16/32GB OS Android 4.2 Processor 1.7GHz quadcore
The only real reason not to buy the iPad 2 is that a better one is now available – but with iOS5 updated to iOS6, decent battery life and a great price, the iPad 2 offers everything that made the original iPad so impressive. That means a huge library of luxurious apps, plus effortless web browsing, decent email and the design that made Apple the leader in its field. At £329, this is by no means the cheapest tablet on the market, but it remains one of the most capable, and it is of course compatible with all the accessories that are built around Apple’s ecosystem. The original connector means your old cables will work, too.
Screen 9.7” 1024×768 Weight 601g Storage 16GB OS iOS5 Processor 1GHz dualcore.
By Matt Warman,