Apple iPad MiniFrom £269
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” 1024×768 Weight 308g Storage 16/32/64GB OS is 6.1 Processor 1GHz dual core
Nexus 7From £159
A key part of the Nexus 7’s appeal comes from the open Android operating system, effortlessly integrating into Google and into the increasingly popular Android operating system; there are movies, films, books and music galore, as well as all your emails, maps and the rest, elegantly implemented.
But the single biggest plus point for the Nexus 7 is the price: for £159 you get a better screen than the iPad Mini and perfectly decent build quality from Asus. Now that the company has added a 3G option, there’s also permanent connectivity. And while Google Now really comes into its own on a phone, this feature predicts what you want to search for before you even know it (bus times when you get to a bus stop for instance) and also tells you when to leave for your next calendar appointment. Clever and affordable, the Nexus 7 is the best solution for many users.
Screen 7” 1080×800 Weight 340g Storage 8/16GB OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.2GHz quad core
Galaxy Note 2From £449
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 super fast 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” 1280×720 Weight 183g Storage 16/32/64GB, MicroSD OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.6GHz quad core
Microsoft Surface From £399
Microsoft’s Surface is the first tablet that the Windows-maker has built itself, and the idea is to show off Windows 8. The latest version of the operating system is built for touch screens such as the Surface, and indeed this device really does make the operating system make more sense than on a conventional laptop. There are trade-offs, however: Windows 8 is a fully fledged operating system, while the Surface RT only runs a cut down version, called Windows RT. While the Surface Pro runs the full version, it is more expensive, thicker and heavier. So if you want a lovely Windows RT tablet, running the growing but limited selection of Windows 8 apps, then the Surface RT is for you. But who actually wants that? So for now 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. The Surface Pro, meanwhile, is more of a laptop replacement, and laptops are lighter and more capable.
Screen 10.6” 1366×768 Weight 681g Storage 32/64GB, MicroSD OS Windows RT Processor 1.3GHz quad core
Kindle Fire HDFrom £159
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 HD 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 HD, 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 a higher resolution than the iPad Mini at a far lower price. And in truth it does everything most people use a tablet of this size for. It’s hard to argue that that’s enough when the Nexus 7 costs the same price and offers a wealth of additional features, such as the entire Android app selection – but where Amazon excels is in making everything simpler, and that for many users is the appeal. Nifty additions such as X-Ray easily let you see whoever is on screen a film, too.
Screen 7” 1280×800 Weight 395g Storage 16/32GB OS Android (adapted) Processor 1.2GHz dual core
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.
Screen 10.1” 1280×800 Weight 600g Storage 16/32/64/128GB, MicroSD OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Processor 1.4GHz quad core
Nexus 10From £319
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” 2560×1600 Weight 603g Storage 16/32GB OS Android 4.2 Processor 1.7GHz quadcore
Asus Transformer Prime Since £410
Asus make a wide range of tablets, but the Transformer Prime is the one that comes close to being both an excellent tablet and an excellent laptop – with the keyboard acting as a removable charging dock as well as a better way to type than on the touchscreen, as well as packing a powerful processor, this is a device for people who can get most of what they need doing done on a tablet but appreciate the convenience of a laptop. It suffers, however, from the weakenesses of Android as a tablet operating system and the equal lack of apps, and also from the fact that Android is not designed to operate laptops. So its Office software, for instance, is a compromise. But it’s one that works for Asus’s dedicated niche of users.
Screen 10.1” 1280×800 Weight 598g Storage 32GB, SD Card OS Android 4.1 Processor 1.3GHz quad core