From Apple’s iPad to Google’s Android Nexus 7, tablet computers let you browse the web, check emails and download apps, all at the touch of a touchscreen.
Available now: the top 10
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 HDX 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 HDX, 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 an exceptional resolution with 323 pixels per inch on the 7-inch version. The tablets have quad-core Snapdragon 800 processors running at 2.2 GHz, providing over three times the processing power of the previous generation of Kindle Fire HD tablets. Amazon claims that the devices have 11 hours of battery life based on mixed usage, and up to 17 hours of reading.
Screen 7” 1920x1200 Weight 303g Storage 16/32/64GB OS Android 4.2 with Fire OS 3.0 UI Processor 2.2GHz Quad-core
While Android phones have caught up with the iPhone, and in many aspects surpass it, the iPad remains a unique proposition and the iPad Air is the best iPad yet. Its light weight and thin form mean it gets out of the way – you don’t notice it, but you notice what you’re doing on it. That, potentially, unleashes a new generation of tablet-based productivity. The fact that Apple is now giving away even more software means that perhaps the rebranding is, therefore, more than simply a marketing exercise. Air may yet be the oxygen for a new wave of uses for the iPad.
Screen 240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm Weight 469g Screen 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display, 2048x1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi) Processor dual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and MIMO OS A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) Camera Front: 1.2MP photos/720p HD video Rear: 5MP photos/1080p HD video
iPad Mini with Retina Display
The advantage of the Mini, even when it had lower specifications, was always its portability, however. It retains that, augmented now with a brilliant screen that makes reading, editing photos and more seem significantly easier. But with the iPad Air now much more portable too, there’s less to choose between them. The 5MP camera, adequate stereo speakers and a good FaceTime camera make the Mini a superb device, but the Air is a superb device too. This is a seriously improved Mini, only really competing against a seriously improved full-size iPad. Both have processors that make gaming and the most demanding apps run smoothly. It is the only tablet in its class.
Screen 7.9-inch Retina Weight 331g Storage 16/32/64/128GB OS iOS7 Processor M7 motion coprocessor. A7 chip with 64-bit architecture Camera Front: 1.2MP Rear: 5MP
The updated version of Google’s Nexus 7 hit UK shelves on 13 September. Produced again by hardware company Asus, the emphasis with the new model is on portability, weighing 50g less than last year’s version and coming in at 2mm thinner. And as with its predecessor, one serious advantage over competitors is its price: £199.99 for the 16GB version and £239.99 for the 32GB. Early reviews report improved graphics on the Nexus 7 2’s 1920 x 1200 Full HD 1080 display, a first for 7-inch tablets with 323 pixels per inch. It also offers the possibility of restricted profiles, allowing limits to be set for children’s browsing, and faster switching between accounts. Taking pictures may not be the primary function of tablets, but this one still comes with a 5MP camera on the back and a 1.2MP camera on the front.
Screen 7.02” 1920x1200 Weight 290g Storage 16/32GB OS Android Jelly Bean, 4.3 Processor 1.5GHz 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” 1280x720 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” 2048x1536 Weight 652g Storage 16/32/64/128GB OS iOS6.1 Processor 1.4GHz dualcore
Microsoft Surface 2
The Surface 2, which replaces the Surface RT, is powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, making apps run faster and smoother, increasing battery life to up to 10 hours for video playback. It will ship with Windows RT 8.1, bringing improvements in areas such as personalisation, search, multitasking, built-in apps, the Windows Store experience and connectivity to cloud-based storage. 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. The tablet is also marginally thinner and lighter than its predecessor, at 0.35 inches (9mm) thick and 1.49 lbs (676g). 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.
Screen 10.6” 1920x1080 Weight 676g Storage 32/64GB OS Windows RT 8.1 Processor NVIDIA Tegra 4
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” 1280x800 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” 2560x1600 Weight 603g Storage 16/32GB OS Android 4.2 Processor 1.7GHz quadcore
Best of the rest...
Apple iPad Mini
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” 1024x768 Weight 308g Storage 16/32/64GB OS iOS 6.1 Processor 1GHz dualcore
This updated version of the Asus Pad Transformer Prime was released last year, but may still be worth the investment. The high-definition, 10.1-inch screen with 1280 x 800 resolution has earned praise, and is a definite bonus for those planning on watching films or playing games on the tablet. The Transformer label comes from the keyboard which can be snapped on to turn the tablet into a laptop, making the product useful for people working on the go too. Manufacturers say the battery life is 18 hours, but reviewers have seen it wind down before this and the device can only be charged from the mains and not via USB. In terms of pictures, the Transformer Prime offers an 8MP autofocus camera on the back and 1.2MP front-facing camera for selfies and Skype calls.
Screen 10.1” 1280 x 800 Weight 586g Storage 16/32GB OS Android Honeycomb, 3.2 Processor 1.3GHz 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” 1024x768 Weight 601g Storage 16GB OS iOS5 Processor 1GHz dualcore
Kindle Fire HD
Although the new Kindle Fire HDX is a considerable improvement, it is worth considering the Kindle Fire HD simply because of the lower price and because it is still a great production. It boasts the entire Andoird app selection, and nifty additions such as X-Ray easily let you see whoever is on screen a film, too.
Screen 7” 1280x800 Weight 395g Storage 16/32GB OS Android (adapted) Processor 1.2GHz dualcore
Tesco's low cost Android device with 7” HD screen aims to make tablets accessible to a new market. Tesco Clubcard customers can even use a scheme called 'Boost' to double the value of their Clubcard benefits, potentially buying the device for £60 in vouchers. It competes with Amazon’s 7” Kindle Fire, which currently retails for £99 but features less memory and a slower processor. The device will run on the Jelly Bean version of Android’s operating system, and offer 9.5 hours of battery life. Tesco will preload it apps such as YouTube, and has built bespoke versions of its existing digital services such as Blinkbox for films and music as well as its family-focused free service Clubcard TV. It is available in four colours and includes 16GB of storage, expandable to 48GB. It is aiming at a market that isn't technology savvy but is interested, is aware of the iPad, and knows that apps, the internet offer a whole new world from a shopping and entertainment perspective.
Screen 7” 1440x900 Weight 370g Storage 8GB up to 32GB with microSD card OS Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean Processor 1.5GHz A9 quad-cor
Nokia Lumia 2520
The Lumia 2520 is Nokia's first 'phablet' smartphone, meaning it works as a tablet and a phone. It is a high-end device with a 10.1-inch screen and five-point multitouch. The case is made from a single piece of plastic which tapers thinner towards the edges and will come in a range of bright colours Gorilla Glass 2 has been used on the screen for robustness, and LTE connectivity makes it usable even when away from a wifi connection. The latest Windows RT 8.1 OS will also ship with the device. Nokia has also launched an optional "power keyboard" which forms a protective cover and also gives you a full keyboard and trackpad, as well as adding an extra five hours battery life to the 2520's existing 11-hours. It is launching in time for Christmas in the last quarter of this year.
Screen 10.1” 1920x1080 Weight 615g Storage 32GB and microSD card OS Windows 8.1 RT Processor 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Asus MeMo Pad
This 7-inch tablet uses Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and comes in a colourful design. It has seven hours of battery life for all-day computing, and is very light at only 358g, and 11.2mm thin. The front camera is high-definition, and it has a micro-SD slot with support for up to 32GB extra storage. ASUS WebStorage allows you to view, edit and save Microsoft Office files online. It also uses MyCloud and MyLibrary software and has one GB memory.
Screen 7” 1024 x 600 Weight 358g Storage 8/16GB and micro-SD OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor WM8950 1GHz quadcore