The tablet market doesn’t look very different than it did a year ago from the perspective of who’s doing well and who’s not. Perhaps the most exciting developments came towards the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 from the usual big guys: Google released the Nexus 10 and updated the Nexus 7, Apple launched a smaller and cheaper iPad mini, while Microsoft went all in with the Surface RT and Pro.
As we move closer to the end of the year everyone’s moving to refresh their lineups in preparation for the lucrative holiday season. To summarize: Apple just announced a new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, Microsoft pushed out the second generation Surfaces, Amazon hedged its bets on high-end hardware and real-time support for the Kindle Fire refresh, Samsung did its own thing with numerous Android devices at different price points and sizes, and Google is set to refresh the Nexus line later this month (we’ll update this article as soon as they’re out).
Below is a compilation of what we consider are the best options either currently available or announced so far, complete with metascores from our Product Finder engine and review links where available.
Click on the arrow to the right to view the full comparison chart (7 tablets)
|Apple iPad Air||Google Nexus 10||Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014||Microsoft Surface 2 Pro||Nokia Lumia 2520||Microsoft Surface 2||Sony Xperia Tablet Z|
|Price||$499 - $929||$345 - $400||$549 - $600||$899 - $1,799||$499||$449 - $549||$469 - $550|
|Availability||Nov. 1||Now||Now||Now||Q4 2013||Now||Now|
|Review||More info||More info||More info||More info||More info||More info||More info|
|System chip||Apple A7||Samsung Exynos 5250||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800||Intel Haswell||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800||Nvidia Tegra 4||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064|
|CPU||Dual core, 1300 MHz, 64-bit||Dual core, 1700 MHz, ARM Cortex-A15||Quad core, 2300 MHz, Krait 400||Dual core, 1600 MHz, Intel Core i5 4200U||Quad core, 2200 MHz, Krait 400||Quad core, 1700 MHz, ARM Cortex-A15||Quad core, 1500 MHz, Krait|
|GPU||PowerVR G6430||ARM Mali-T604||Adreno 330||HD4400||Adreno 330||T4||Adreno 320|
|Display||9.7-inch IPS LCD||10.1-inch PLS||10.1-inch Super Clear LCD||10.6-inch IPS LCD||10.1-inch IPS LCD||10.6-inch IPS LCD||10.1-inch TFT|
|2048 x 1536 (264)||2560 x 1600 (300)||2560 x 1600 (299)||1920 x 1080 (208)||1920 x 1080 (218)||1920 x 1080 (208)||1920 x 1200 (224)|
|Data connection||Lightning||micro USB||micro USB||USB 3.0||micro USB||USB 3.0||micro USB|
|Video out||$40 adapter||micro HDMI||micro USB (MHL)||$40 adapter||micro HDMI||$40 adapter||micro USB (MHL)|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, NFC||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS|
|Sensors||Ambient Light, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Barometer||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass|
|Operating System||iOS 7||Android 4.3||Android 4.3||Windows 8.1||Windows RT 8.1||Windows RT 8.1||Android 4.1.2|
|App Store||iTunes||Google Play||Google Play||Windows Store||Windows Store||Windows Store||Google Play|
|Size||240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm||263.9 x 177.6 x 8.9 mm||243.1 x 171.4 x 7.9 mm||275 x 173 x 13 mm||267 x 168 x 8.9 mm||275 x 172 x 9 mm||266 x 172 x 6.9 mm|
|Other||Airplay||Built-in stylus, IR emitter||Keyboard covers (sold separately)||Keyboard covers (sold separately)||IR emitter, Water & dust proof|
Seven and Eight Inchers
|Apple iPad mini Retina display||Google Nexus 7||Acer Iconia W4||Kindle Fire HDX 8.9||Kindle Fire HDX 7|
|Price||$399 - $829||$229 - $349||$330 - $380||$379 - $594||$229 - $424|
|Review||More info||Review||More info||More info||More info|
|System chip||Apple A7||Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064||Intel Bay Trail-T||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800|
|CPU||Dual core, 1300 MHz, 64-bit||Quad core, 1500 MHz, Krait||Quad core||Quad core, 2200 MHz||Quad core, 2200 MHz|
|GPU||PowerVR G6430||Adreno 320||Intel HD||Adreno 330||Adreno 330|
|2048 x 1536
|1920 x 1200
|1280 x 800
|2560 x 1600
|1920 x 1200
|Data connection||Lightning||micro USB||micro USB||micro USB||micro USB|
|Video out||$40 adapter||HDMI||micro HDMI||--||--|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi 802.11n, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi 802.11n, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0||Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G|
|Sensors||Ambient Light, Compass, Gyroscope, Accelerometer||Proximity, Ambient Light, Gyroscope, Accelerometer||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass||Ambient Light, Gyroscope, Compass, Accelerometer||Ambient Light, Gyroscope, Compass, Accelerometer|
|Operating System||iOS 7||Android 4.3||Windows 8.1||Fire OS 3||Fire OS 3|
|App Store||iTunes||Google Play||Windows Store||Amazon Appstore||Amazon Appstore|
|Size||200 x 134.7 x 7.5 mm||200 x 114 x 8.65 mm||10.75mm thick||231 x 158 x 7.8 mm||186 x 128 x 9.0 mm|
|Other||Airplay||Second Screen, Mayday, Free month of Amazon Prime||Second Screen, Mayday, Free month of Amazon Prime|
Making your pick
The same advice we’ve offered before applies today: If you mostly care about specs or price, it shouldn’t be hard picking out a winner. But you should know that when you are buying a tablet you’re buying into an ecosystem. The fastest processor or sharpest screen are worthless if you can’t use them for the things you want.
Apple’s iOS often comes on top when it comes to app availability. Not because it offers the largest app catalog -- the total number of apps is a meaningless metric after a certain threshold -- but because high profile apps and games usually launch for Apple’s platform first and sometimes remain exclusive for a while. Android isn’t that far behind. They are definitely doing much better in smartphones than tablets where they are still catching up a bit, so it’s your job to do a little research based on your intended usage.
If you’ve decided to jump on the Android camp then definitely wait for Google’s Nexus refresh in the coming days. Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX tablets are definitely worthy contenders, and if you are buying for a non tech-savvy person, the free 24/7 live tech support it offers through Mayday could be a killer selling point.
It’s another story for Windows RT. Microsoft’s Windows Store is growing but despite the company’s best efforts a lot of the big names are still missing. For this reason we feel the Surface 2 just doesn't measure up to the competition unless you live inside Office and that's one of the key uses you plan to give your next tablet. The Lumia 2520, sadly, is destined to be afflicted with the same limitations as the Surface 2, though if you are set on getting a Windows RT tablet at least Nokia’s offering includes LTE for an extra $50.
On the other hand, the Surface Pro 2 is great if you definitely need desktop applications but you should note that at $899 without a keyboard (or $999 with) it's dangerously close to ultrabook territory. Arguably, the original Surface Pro was already one of the best ultrabooks around, so the Pro 2 simply reinforces that. If you don’t mind the sacrifice in horsepower and screen real estate consider the cheaper yet still full Windows 8.1-powered Acer Iconia W4.