As we ramp up to Black Friday this year, I’m up to my armpits in new tablets, so much so that I’m convinced some must be having unprotected sex and making tablet babies. Of course, each tablet has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
Personally I’ve come to prefer the smaller tablets for portability; and the larger ones for productivity and extended video watching, for example. Some of us have tablets tuned for gaming, photographers, and for those who love design but may not love Apple.
I’m personally not a fan of iPads largely because they tend to cost far more than any other tablet, really work best with Apple’s core apps. In addition, Cupertino's pushed thin to a point where they are relatively fragile and difficult for those of us with large hands to hold. Nevertheless, if you are an Apple fan they will be your best choice. Plus, if you are close to an Apple store the customer experience is unmatched - with many reporting that if they accidentally break their iPad the Apple store manager just gives them a new one.
This is uneven though, and apparently depends on the store, the manager, and likely how hot you are. Yes, there is status to owning an iPad, though not as much as there was when Steve Jobs was running the company. The proprietary power plugs can also drive you to distraction unless you also have an iPhone. With Apple you really need to be all in at least with respect to your phone and tablet.
Amazon Kindle HDX
Kindles have historically been my favorites, and the HDX is the latest version. They are far more affordable, tied back to the more platform independent Kindle and Amazon Music apps and provide a more secure (better curated) version of the Android marketplace. If you like to read and enjoy music and movies, want better protection and customer service, but are not tied to iTunes, the HDX may be for you. The tablets even have a really cool May Day button that, when connected to a network, gives you a video conferencing call with a technician. Pretty handy, though the one I got wasn’t young and perky like the one in the ad, more old and grouchy. Still these are affordable, easy to hold and use, providing a very Apple like experience in a far more value oriented package. Like the Apple you can’t expand the memory (no SD slot) so think about the capacity you’ll need before the purchase.
If you really wanted a tablet to sub as a notebook Microsoft has the lead. You really can’t touch Outlook, Word, and Excel in terms of productivity and for this product, these are the killer apps. The tablets also tend to favor panoramic mode over portrait which helps with their laptop like functions but makes them a bit less useful as a pure tablet.
The Nokia 2520 builds on this platform with two key differences: It is tuned as a photo editor and packaged with an impressive set of photo editing apps. In addition, the Nokia is the only tablet with both a fast charge battery and the ability to use an inductive charger (Verizon only) and you can only get it with a WAN subscription. This is really for people who don’t want to mess with Wi-Fi very often and just want to be connected. It is both thinner and more tablet-like than the Surface 2 and uses the RT version of Windows 8.1 so legacy Windows Apps won’t work on it. The downside to this product? It won’t use a standard Micro USB charger because it needs more juice to make fast charging work than the Micro USB can provide. Still, fast charging is often worth it.
The Surface 2 tablet is vastly improved with better keyboards, battery life, and performance than its predecessor. The RT version is a tablet stretched to be a notebook and the Pro version is a notebook shrunk to be a tablet. Interestingly enough, the Pro version is also the most compatible because iTunes runs on it, as does most legacy applications. The magnetic charging connector has been improved (Apple doesn’t even use this on their tablets) so it separates properly if someone trips over your cord and people are now reporting nearly 10 hours of battery life with the Pro product (remember, you have the optional keyboard with a battery). If your emphasis is on work, but you still want to play, the Surface products stand out.
Android has the most freedom but also the highest risk. Be really careful what you install outside of the Google store and even within it. There are lots of free apps where it isn’t clear how these people are making their money and the malware reports on this platform remain troubling. In addition, there is a lot of junk in the market in the sub-$100 range that should be avoided. This isn’t to say there aren’t some really interesting products, though. Here are some of my favorites.
NVIDIA Tegra Note
One of the best values in the market is the NVIDIA Tegra Note 7” tablet. This device is tuned for gaming and weighsin at an aggressive sub-$200 price. What makes it particularly nice is that it has a real premium feel to it which makes it ideal as a gift (both inexpensive and feels like quality). It is set up to easily connect to a Bluetooth game controller (though I actually preferred using the screen) and has the best implementation of a stylus if you are into painting. This is just one hell of a deal and this time of year (I love deals). This is for the gamer on a budget and 7” tablets make the best readers.
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2
The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 is the prettiest tablet to my eye in the market and it comes in 8” and 10” sizes. At 18 hours it has the longest battery life and a kickstand. The cylindrical component it has on the horizontal edge is unique to this class and provides a more secure way to hold the tablet. If you want something that really looks different this is the tablet as it has a very unique profile and it is reasonably priced at $249 for the 8” and $299 for the 10” versions. Think of this product as kind of affordable art and it is idea if you like to place your tablet on a table and enjoy a video. Given the unique cylinder it is also more stable than most tablets on a table. If you’re looking for a tablet that can behave as an attractive portable TV this is the one for you.
Hopefully, this will help guide to you some products you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. I like all of these products for certain reasons, including the iPad which is clearly best for those that love all things Apple or really think a thin profile is the end all in terms of design. There are some great values, with prices starting below $200 and most topping out below $300. This year, affordability shouldn’t be a problem if you aren’t in the Apple camp.
Here is hoping everyone has a great holiday break!