Tablets were initially marketed as the "missing link" between smartphones and traditional computers, combining the instant access of the former with the more usable size of the latter. Since then, tablets have evolved to become the poster child for multi-tasking. Each of these tablets is extremely well-suited for general use, and offers plenty of support in terms of apps and content for just about any purpose.
Kindle Fire HDX 7
Google Nexus 7 Tablet by ASUS
NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet
EVGA Tegra Note 7
ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C
iPad Air 2
Samsung Galaxy Tab S
iPad Mini 3
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Tablet
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
The Kindle Fire HDX 7 offers a 7-inch screen and excellent all-around performance for less than $200. The low price brings with it no disadvantages when it comes to content either as this tablet offers a tremendous content ecosystem for Amazon Prime members in particular, making it a top choice for outright media consumption.
The compact size and light weight of the Kindle Fire HDX 7 make it ideal for reading books or video-watching marathons, although the lack of built-in storage expansion can limit options for storing movies. Performance is fast, and the user interface has received small updates to improve the overall experience. Also included is Mayday, Amazons personalized customer service feature that’s accessible directly from the tablet. Unfortunately, only a frontal-facing camera is included but the overall performance of this tablet is outstanding.
Google has teamed up with Asus to produce this tablet at an extraordinarily adorable price. While the 2012 Nexus 7 was priced at $200 for the 16GB version, the 2013 model has received a bump in price to $230. Even so, this small tablet presents one of the best values on the market.
The 2013 Nexus 7 has seen several performance bumps over the previous model. A 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM make this tablet even more snappy and responsive than before. Google's latest Android 4.3 Jelly Bean comes standard and while it might not be earth-shatteringly different, it maintains smooth tablet operation.
A bump in screen resolution now puts this tablet at 1920x1200 pixels, which is impressive especially when remembering this is a 7-inch screen. The 2013 Nexus 7 also now has dual cameras, having added a 5-megapixel rear-facing one as well as the 1.2-megapixel front-facing unit of the previous model.
The Nexus 7 is offered with 16GB or 32GB of storage, with the larger size costing an extra $50. 802.11n WiFi is standard, and the 32GB Neus can also be purchased with access to 4G LTE connectivity from the network of your choice. This device offers full access to Google's 'Play' service while Google's most popular Apps come pre-loaded, making the Nexus 7 just about ready to go straight out of the box.
Other updates include the addition of Bluetooth Smart, allowing connections with Bluetooth devices the ability to transmit data, and support for SlimPort, allowing the Micro-USB port to be used as an HDMI port with the purchase of an additional adapter. Multi-User restricted profiles have been added, making the current Nexus 7 a kid-friendly family tablet by allowing for setting up accounts with very limited online access.
Perhaps the only potential negative in the updates to the latest Nexus 7 is the design which, despite being smaller and lighter, no longer has the soft and grippy feel of the previous model. That being said, the tablet retains much of the same overall look: basic, black, and sleek with sturdy build quality that has a reassuring heft. Even when compared to all of the other tablets on the market today, latest Google's Nexus 7 makes a solid case for itself. The affordability is simply icing on the cake.
The Nvidia Shield Tablet loses some of the portability of its predecessor but offers an excellent gaming tablet, good battery life and an included stylus pen at a reasonable price. The latest Nvidia Shield Tablet uses an attractive 8-inch display and the new Tegra K1 processor to offer excellent performance both for gaming and all-around.
This tablet can be used as a TV-connected microconsole, as well as being able to connect to Nvidia Gamestream. This allows for streaming and remote playing of games using connected PCs with compatible hardware. This tablet also includes Google Play access, and storage is expandable with a micro SD card.
Despite the heavy focus on gaming, the Nvidia Shield Tablet is versatile and affordable enough to be purchased and used by non-gamers. The tablets 5-megapixel cameras in front and rear are decent but the front is reported to offer better picture quality. Although it is bulkier than a lot of the competition, it offers a huge amount of performance even if you're not planning on using it for gaming. However, it’s fairly compact and reasonably lightweight so it’s unlikely to cause discomfort during use.
The EVGA Tegra Note 7 offers performance well-suited to gaming while still good for general use. This affordable tablet offers good storage expansion options and performance that can almost be compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. This mid-sized tablet is powered by the Tegra 4 processor, and makes up for a lack in styling with solid performance.
Although the display could have been higher-res to make full use of its gaming capabilities, the EVGA Tegra Note 7 offers very good graphics performance and snappy responses. The included front camera is another weak point, although the 5-megapixel rear camera is fine. If you want a small and affordable table that comes with a stylus, or if you want to use your tablet for gaming, the EVGA Tegra Note 7 is a good choice.
The Asus Transformer TF103C offers a hybrid tablet experience for an affordable price tag. This tablet comes with a keyboard dock, making it well-suited for anyone who needs the functionality of a laptop combined with the convenience and portability of a tablet.
While responses can sometimes lag a bit and not as thin of a design as we're now used to seeing, this tablet offers decent overall performance in a portable and convenient package. The Zen user interface is quite good and includes plenty of features, making this tablet an excellent choice for students, writers, or anyone else who only needs basic functionality and a keyboard. Most of the faults of this affordable tablet can be forgiven in light of the low price.
The iPad Air 2 marks the further development of Apple's revolutionary iPad design. This newest version of the iPad Air adds a more potent A8X processor, even better cameras, and Touch ID into an increasingly thinner and lighter body. Also updated are the anti-reflective screen to better resist glare, more storage options, and higher configuration options.
Despite the lighter and thinner body than even the previous iPad Air, this tablet manages to feel even more sturdy and rigid than ever. Unlike original iPads, it can easily be held for long periods of time with one hand, reducing fatigue during video-watching marathons. Battery life remains about the same as the previous model, which was quite good.
With an excellent screen and cameras, fast processor, and essential features such as fingerprint scanning, the iPad Air 2 undoubtedly maintains the iPad's position as the best tablet currently available. Although those with a previous generation iPad Air will likely not find too many reasons to rush to upgrade, those coming from the original iPad will notice a huge difference in performance and overall user experience.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S might not yet be quite able to beat the Apple at the tablet game, but it’s one of the first to really give the iPad a run for its money. Though not quite as insanely thin and light as the latest iPad Air 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S comes very close to the Apple tablet's numbers in terms of weight and dimensions. The Galaxy Tab S features a sleek design with a vivid and sharp screen which is actually larger than the iPad Air 2.
Despite its thin and light size, the Galaxy Tab S doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time, helped in part by the dimpled finish on the back. This tablet supports multiple features, including Google Play, a customizable multi-window function, and even a fingerprint scanner which allows for both unlocking the device and paying for purchases with PayPal.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is undoubtedly the best Samsung tablet to date, and top tablet choice for Android. This premium tablet commands a hefty price tag, but offers a user experience and zippy performance that more than justifies the cost.
With most of the focus going to the new iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the iPad Mini has received only modest upgrades with the latest version. The iPad Mini 3 retains the excellent Retina Display and A7 processor from the iPad Mini 2 (previously known simply as the iPad Mini with Retina Display), as well as identical configuration options and overall performance.
The only real changes made to the iPad Mini were the addition of the gold color option, and the inclusion of the Touch ID fingerprint scanning. Otherwise, the iPad Mini 3 is exactly the same as the previous model. Although the iPad Mini 3 is no slouch, it’s essentially no longer a smaller version of the larger iPad Air. It maintains its starting price of being $100 less than the base iPad Air 2.
The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, Amazons latest tablet device, continues to threaten Apple's dominance with its super fast performance, a sharp screen, as well as Amazon's own expansive content library. Though the lack of Google Play means that app availability is pretty limited thus far, the Kindle Fire HDX represents extraordinarily good value, especially if apps are not that big of a priority for you.
The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 has been redesigned to be less bulky, and now feels light and comfortable in the hand. This tablet is the lightest larger-size tablet on the market, making it easy to finish books without any lingering soreness.
An 8-megapixel back-facing camera joins the front-facing camera found on previous models, the micro-USB port is still there, however the micro-HDMI port has been removed in favor of the new video fling feature which allows content to be wirelessly sent to a TV or game console. One downside, however, is that this feature is not yet available, pending a future update. Another interesting new feature is Mayday, a customer service feature that quickly brings up a video feed with a real live Amazon rep, representing a totally new direction in the way customer service is handled.
In terms of performance, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 receives a new 2.2 GHz quad core processor paired with 2GB of RAM, ensuring snappy, satisfying performance. While the latest operating system plays a part, the software updates are minimal enough so most of the credit can go to the new processor.
Overall, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is extremely affordable for the performance it provides, at a base price of $379. The smaller 7-inch version starts at $229, as does the previous model Fire HD 8.9. It's definitely recommended to spend a little more to get the versions without "special offers" as ads disrupt the user experience. Overall, the combination of quality, performance, and value presented by this tablet is extremely hard to beat.
Although the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 seems to function better as a tablet than as an actual replacement for a laptop, it offers increased portability and convenience for working on-the-go. Performance is similar to that of the Surface Pro 2, allowing it to keep up with current laptops. Like most new tablets, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, including a large 12-inch display which is bright even when viewing off-axis.
Despite a convenient kickstand that allows for tilting the screen to almost any angle and an excellent keyboard cover (not included w/base price), the Surface Pro 3 can be difficult to balance on your lap. While not a huge problem, it can be a hassle finding an adequate work surface when the tablet is supposed to be highly portable. A digital pen is included, although it lacks on-board storage. While the Surface Pro 3 might not be the best choice for games, its excellent battery life and overall portability and performance make it easily the best Microsoft Surface Pro to date.