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Comparing Full-Size Tablets

Let’s start our full-fledged comparison with those full-sized tablets, as exemplified by the Apple iPad. In fact, when you’re looking at this end of the market, it really breaks down into Apple and everybody else – with the “everybody else,” added together, still selling fewer units that does the iPad.

The most popular tablets in this market segment include:

  • Apple iPad Air. This is the latest version of Apple's iPad, which defined and continues to be the standard bearer for the entire tablet market. The new Air is lighter and thinner than previous models, impressively so. It also beefs up the power while retaining the previous model's high-resolution Retina display (264 pixels per inch) and decent battery life. The iPad Air comes in four different storage sizes (16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB), each with or without cellular data functionality. They’re all a bit on the pricy side ($499 for the base model, up to $929 for the fully loaded one), but it’s hard not to recommend an iPad when you realize that everyone and their brothers (and mothers) are already using them.

Figure 1 Apple’s iPad Air – the latest and the greatest from the undisputed tablet leader

  • Apple iPad 2. Last year's iPad, inexplicably dubbed the iPad 2, is still available, at a considerable price savings over the newer Air. The iPad 2 isn't as fast or as fancy as the new Air (screen resolution is only 132 ppi and the built-in camera is the worst I've seen in many a year), but you'll pay just $399 for the Wi-Fi only model.
  • Google Nexus 10. The top competitor to the iPad line is the Nexus 10, manufactured by Samsung and sold by Google. Here's an Android tablet that's priced the same as last-year's iPad 2 but performs almost as well as the newer iPad Air. You get a fast quad-core processor, high-resolution screen (300 ppi), quality camera, and all the Android apps you can eat. At $399, it's a much better buy than last-year's iPad 2 at the same price.

Figure 2 Google's Nexus 10 – current-generation performance at a previous-generation price

  • Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. Knock an inch or so off the other large tablet screens and you get the 8.9” Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 from Amazon. While this is technically an Android tablet, it’s more accurately described as a nifty little front end to all the products and services that Amazon offers. Amazon makes it easy to buy and read books on the Fire HDX, as well as listen to music and watch movies and TV shows from the appropriate Amazon online stores. The Fire HDX also includes a unique "Mayday" help function; tap the Mayday button and you get live onscreen help from the kindly folks at Amazon central, which may be appealing to the technophobic out there. The Fire HDX 8.9 runs $379 for a 16GB model with "special offer" – ads, that is – displayed onscreen; you spend an extra $15 to get an ad-free model. Screen resolution is best in category, at 339 ppi; it's also the lightest large tablet around, at less than a pound. Remember, though, that you probably won't find as many apps for the Fire HDX as you do for other Android tablets, or for the iPad.

Figure 3 Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 tablet; it runs the Android OS, but with a custom interface

  • ASUS MeMO Pad FHD 10. This full-size tablet is a lower-priced competitor to the Apple iPad. The base 16GB model runs just $329, which beats just about anything else out there in this size range. That works out to 224 ppi, which is better than the iPad 2 but not quite as sharp as the iPad Air – which are both priced higher than the MeMO Pad.

Figure 4 The ASUS MeMO Pad FHD 10 – a low-priced competitor in the large tablet market

  • Microsoft Surface 2. Microsoft finally got into the tablet game last year with the Surface tablet and the new Windows 8/Windows RT operating system. (Windows RT is the tablet-only version of Windows 8, which derives its live-tile interface from Windows Phone.) This year's new Surface 2 is a nice piece of hardware, with the largest (10.6”) screen in the category; unfortunately, resolution is only 207 ppi. The Surface 2 is a true tablet, running Windows RT. It's priced at $449 for the base 32GB model, which isn't bad – especially when you consider it includes Microsoft Office RT free of charge.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 2. This version of the Surface is more of a notebook/tablet hybrid that runs the full-blown version of Windows 8.1. By itself, it works like a tablet, but add one of the optional keyboard covers (the flat-surface Touch Cover 2 runs $119.99; the Chiclet-key Type Cover 2 runs $129.99), prop the tablet on its back-mounted kickstand, and you can do real productivity stuff. Even better, the Surface comes with a tablet version of Microsoft Office installed for free, so this it becomes quite attractive to office workers who are in the market for a tablet. The base 64GB model runs $899.

Figure 5 The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with optional Touch Cover keyboard/cover, running Windows 8.1

Table 1 details these models:

 

Apple iPad Air

Apple iPad 2

Google Nexus 10

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

ASUS MeMO Pad FHD 10

Microsoft Surface 2

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Price

$499 (16GB)

$599 (32GB)

$699 (64GB)

$799 (128GB)

(NOTE: add $130 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$399

(NOTE: add $130 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$399 (16GB)

$499 (32GB)

$379 (16GB)

$429 (32GB)

$479 (64GB)

(NOTE: add $15 to remove "special offers"; add $100 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$329

$449 (32GB)

$549 (64GB)

$899 (64GB)

$999 (128GB)

$1,299 (256GB)

$1,799 (512GB)

Operating system

iOS

iOS

Android

Android

Android

Windows RT 8.1

Windows 8.1

Screen size (diagonal)

9.7"

9.7"

10"

8.9”

10”

10.6”

10.6”

Screen aspect ratio

4:3

4:3

16:10

16:10

16:10

16:9

16:9

Screen resolution (pixels)

2048 x 1536

1024 x 768

2560 x 1600

2560 x 1600

1900 x 1200

1920 x 1080

1920 x 1080

Pixel density (pixels per inch)

264 ppi

132 ppi

300 ppi

339 ppi

224 ppi

207 ppi

207 ppi

Storage capacity

16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB

16GB

16GB, 32GB

16GB, 32GB, 64GB

32GB

32GB, 64GB

32GB, 64GB

CPU

Dual-core A7 64-bit processor with M7 motion coprocessor

Dual-core A5 processor

Samsung Exynos 5250 quad-cord A-15 processor

2.2GHz quad-core processor

1.6GHz Intel Atom processor

NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad-core processor

Intel Core i5 processor

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

3G/4G data

Selected models

Selected model

No

Selected models

No

No

No

Camera(s)

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.2 MP

Rear: 0.92 MP

Front: 0.7 MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.9 MP

Rear: 8 MP

Front: 0.9 MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.2 MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 3.5 MP

Rear: 0.9 MP

Front: 0.9 MP

Video recording

1080p

720p

1080p

1080p

1080p

1080p

720p

Ports

Lightning connector, stereo headphone

30-pin Apple, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, microSD, micro-HDMI, stereo headphone

USB, microSDXC, HD video, stereo headphone

USB, microSDXC, Mini DisplayPort, stereo headphone

Dimensions (w x h x d)

6.6” x 9.4” x 0.29”

7.31” x 9.5” x 0.34”

6.99" x 10.38" x 0.35"

6.2” x 9.1” x 0.31”

7.18” x 10.4” x 0.37”

6.81” x 10.81” x 0.35”

6.81” x 10.81” x 0.53”

Weight

1.05 lbs.

1.33 lbs.

1.32 lbs.

0.825 lbs.

1.28 lbs.

1.49 lbs.

2 lbs.

Comparing Mini Tablets

While the full-sized iPad established the modern tablet market, that market has recently been overtaken by smaller mini tablets. These are tablets with screens in the 7" to 8" range, typically priced a hundred dollars or so less than their full-sized brethren.

The smaller size makes these mini tablets smaller and easier to hold in one hand than bigger tabs. The smaller screens also make mini tabs a little less suited for browsing the web, running some apps, and viewing larger-format publications, such as magazines. What they do excel at is reading ebooks, as well as watching videos and playing most games.

Let's look at the most popular mini tablets available today:

  • Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display. The iPad Mini is essentially a shrunken iPad, with a 7.9" diagonal screen. The lead model offers Apple's high-resolution (326 ppi) Retina display, but at a disappointingly high price point. At $399, this is the highest-priced mini tablet on the market today.

Figure 6 Apple’s new iPad Mini with Retina Display – just like the iPad Air, but smaller

  • Apple iPad Mini. You might find last-year's model iPad Mini to be a better deal. At $299, it's still higher priced than the competition but getting in the range. Unfortunately, to get that price you have to compromise on the display, which is only 163 ppi. Other than that, however, the non-Retina Mini has similar specs to its higher-resolution sibling.
  • Google Nexus 7. Apple's chief competition in the mini tablet market is the Nexus 7, manufactured by ASUS but sold by Google. The newest Nexus 7 has pretty much the same high resolution as Apple's Retina display (323 ppi), along with similar storage and other technical specs, but a much lower price. So you get screen resolution and power that compares to the iPad Retina Mini, at a price ($229) that's $70 lower than the lower-performing original iPad Mini, which is quite appealing. It runs the Android OS, so there are a fair number of apps available.

Figure 7 The Google Nexus 7 – Android's lower-priced answer to the iPad Mini

  • Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. Also popular is Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX. At 323 ppi, its screen is right in there with the iPad Retina Mini or Nexus 7, and it sells for just $229, same as the Nexus 7. As a plus, you get the "Mayday" button that summons up live customer support onscreen, if you need it. Just remember, there aren't as many apps available for the Kindle Fire as there are for the Android-driven Nexus 7 or iOS-driven iPad Mini, which could be a factor in your decision.

Figure 8 Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX includes unique "Mayday" live customer support

  • ASUS MeMO Pad HD7. If you want the lowest-price name-brand mini tablet, turn to this ASUS model. At $149 it's mucho affordable, and you get decent performance for the price. The screen isn't as sharp as the newer iPad, Nexus, and Kindle Fire models (it's just 216 ppi), but it's not bad. It's certainly worth considering if you're on a budget.

Figure 9 The affordable ASUS MeMO Pad HD7

Table 2 compares these models.

Table 2 - Mini Tablets Comparison

 

Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display

Apple iPad Mini

Google Nexus 7

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

ASUS MeMO Pad HD7

Price

$399 (16GB)

$499 (32GB)

$599 (64GB)

$699 (128GB)

(NOTE: add $130 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$299

(NOTE: add $130 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$229 (16GB)

$269 (32GB)

(NOTE: add $80 to 32GB model for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$229 (16GB)

$269 (32GB)

$309 (64GB)

(NOTE: add $15 to remove "special offers"; add $100 for Wi-Fi + cellular)

$149

Operating system

iOS

iOS

Android

Android

Android

Screen size (diagonal)

7.9"

7.9”

7”

7”

7"

Screen aspect ratio

4:3

4:3

16:10

16:10

16:10

Screen resolution (pixels)

2048 x 1526

1024 x 768

1920 x 1200

1920 x 1200

1280 x 800

Pixel density (pixels per inch)

326 ppi

163 ppi

323 ppi

323 ppi

216 ppi

Storage capacity

16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB

16GB

16GB, 32GB

16GB, 32GB, 64GB

16GB

CPU

64-bit A7

Dual-core A5

1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor

2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor

1.2 GHz quad-core processor

Wi-Fi

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11a/b/g/n

802.11b/g/n

3G/4G data

Selected models

Selected model

No

Selected models

No

Camera(s)

Front: 5 MP

Rear: 1.2MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.2 MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.2 MP

Rear: 8 MP

Front: 0.9 MP

Rear: 5 MP

Front: 1.2 MP

Video recording

1080p

1080p

1080p

1080p

1080p

Ports

Lightning connector, stereo headphone

Lightning connector, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, stereo headphone

Micro-USB, microSD, stereo headphone

Dimensions (w x h x d)

5.3" x 7.87" x 0.29"

5.3” x 7.87” x 0.28”

4.49” x 7.87” x 0.34”

5.0” x 7.3” x 0.35”

4.7" x 7.7" x 0.4"

Weight

0.75 lb.

0.69 lb.

0.64 lb.

0.67 lb.

0.66 lb.

Recommendations: Which Tablet Should You Buy?

With all these options available, choosing the right tablet for you or your loved ones is a challenge. Rest assured, though, I’m here to make your choices easier.

Here’s what I recommend, based on how the tablet is going to be used:

  • You want the latest and greatest. Recommendation: Apple iPad Air. There's no contest here. The iPad Air is a sweet and stylish tablet, light and thin, with an eye-popping display and faster-than-fast performance. The 10" size makes it great for doing everything, from playing games to watching movies to browsing the web. Yeah, it's pricey, but if you simply have to have the best there is, this is it.  
  • You want to browse the web. Recommendation: Google Nexus 10. For the best experience when viewing web pages, you need a larger tablet. The Nexus 10 gives you great performance at a hundred bucks less than the iPad Air — which is also a good choice, if you're not on a budget.
  • You want all the latest apps. Recommendation: Any Apple iPad. Let's face, the best apps are out first in Apple's App Store. So if the best app selection is what you want, go with any iPad. Android tablets are attractive, but they're one step behind when it comes to app availability. (And there are even fewer apps for the Kindle Fire than there are for standard Android tablets.)
  • You want to play games. Recommendation: Google Nexus 7. While there might be a few more games available in Apple's App Store, you'd be surprised at the number of quality mobile games available for the Android platform. The Nexus 7 boasts a high-resolution screen and fast quad-core processor, all of which translates into great gameplay — at an affordable price. .
  • You want your kids to use the tablet. Recommendation: Apple iPad Mini. The mini size is perfect for kids; they don't need a larger screen. What they do need, however, is access to all the latest kids apps and games, which is what you get in Apple's App Store. You don't need to spend more for the Retina display, so go with the standard iPad Mini and save a few bucks. (The Nexus 7 is a tempting runner-up, but the best kids apps come first to iOS and only later — if at all — to Android.)
  • You want to watch movies. Recommendation: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. You could go with a larger tablet for movies, but most folks find the mini screen to look just fine, plus a mini tablet is easier to hold for a two-hour movie. The Kindle Fire HDX boasts a great-looking display and access to your favorite flicks through the Amazon store and (via separate apps) Netflix and Hulu Plus. It's the perfect portable movie machine.
  • You want to read ebooks. Recommendation: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. The 7” mini tablet is the right size for reading; it’s pretty much the same size as a standard book page, plus it’s easy to hold in one hand. Even though you can find Kindle and NOOK book-reading apps on both the iOS and Android platforms, the Kindle Fire HDX gets the nod due to its tight integration with Amazon'd ebook store, which makes it uber-easy to buy, download, and then read your favorite ebooks.
  • You want to do office work on your tablet. Recommendation: Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Not that too many people do, but if you're purchasing a tablet for productivity reasons, Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 is the way to go. Make sure you buy one of the optional keyboards, then you're good to go with any Windows-based application – both newer Modern apps and traditional desktop programs. (Steer clear of the base Surface 2, despite its appealing price; Windows RT doesn't run any traditional desktop apps.)

And that’s that for our annual holiday guide to tablets. There's definitely something for everyone, with some very good options available if you don't want to spend an arm and a leg.

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