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. Matt Warman rounds up the top 10.
Available now: the top 10
Kindle Fire HDX
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.
Screen7” 1920x1200Weight303gStorage16/32/64GBOSAndroid 4.2 with Fire OS 3.0 UIProcessor2.2GHz 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.
Screen240 x 169.5 x 7.5mmWeight469gScreen9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display, 2048×1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi)Processordual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and MIMOOSA7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)CameraFront: 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.
Screen7.9-inch RetinaWeight331gStorage16/32/64/128GBOSiOS7ProcessorM7 motion coprocessor. A7 chip with 64-bit architectureCameraFront: 1.2MP Rear: 5MP
New Google Nexus 7
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.
Screen7.02” 1920x1200Weight290gStorage16/32GBOSAndroid Jelly Bean, 4.3Processor1.5GHz quadcore
Xperia Tablet ZFrom £399
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.
Screen10.1″ 1200 x 1920Weight495gStorage16/32 GBOSAndroid 4.2Processor1.5 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.
Screen5.5” 1280x720Weight183gStorage16/32/64GB, microSDOSAndroid 4.1 Jelly BeanProcessor1.6GHz 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.
Screen9.7” 2048x1536Weight652gStorage16/32/64/128GBOSiOS6.1Processor1.4GHz 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.
Screen10.6” 1920x1080Weight676gStorage32/64GBOSWindows RT 8.1ProcessorNVIDIA Tegra 4
Galaxy Note 10.1£399
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.
Screen10.1” 1280x800Weight600gStorage16/32/64/128GB, microSDOSAndroid 4.1 Jelly BeanProcessor1.4GHz quadcore