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The Best Tablets to Buy Now

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It's been four years since Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) unveiled the original iPad. Since then, the company has introduced more than half a dozen different models, while other manufacturers have flooded the space with tablets of all different shapes and sizes. With so many to chose from, finding the best tablets can be daunting. But among all the different options, a few stand out. Here are the best tablets on the market.

iPad Air
The successor to the original iPad, the 9.7-inch iPad Air is the overall best tablet on the market. It's light and thin, with great battery life and an insanely fast processor. At $499, It's expensive and doesn't offer expandable storage, but its app ecosystem gives it a huge advantage over its rivals.

There have been more apps written for the iPad than for any other tablet -- about half a million at this point, each one designed to look perfect on the iPad's screen. Whether it's gaming, entertainment or business -- if there's a mobile app for it, the iPad has it.

iPad Mini with Retina Display
The iPad Mini with Retina Display is everything the iPad Air is, just in a smaller form factor. The larger screen of the full-size iPad may be preferable for watching movies or typing out documents, but the Mini is obviously more portable, and easy to hold with one hand. It also costs $100 less.

Nexus 7
's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Nexus 7 is a bit smaller than the iPad Mini, but far less expensive. At $229, it's almost half the price, while still offering comparable specs and a high-resolution screen. If you use an Android handset and have purchased a lot of content from Google Play (movies, books, games, apps), then it's an obvious choice.

The problem with Android tablets in general, however, is a lack of tablet-optimized apps. There are plenty of Android apps that were developed for smartphones, and they can all be used on the Nexus 7. But they're ugly -- in attempt to make them fit the larger screen, smartphone apps have to be scaled up, losing quality in the process. Google is taking steps to fix the problem, but for now, Android tablets still lag the iPad in terms of app optimization.

Galaxy Note 10.1
If the Nexus 7 is too small, then consider Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1, the best large Android tablet currently on the market. Compared with the iPad Air, it's a tiny bit bigger and slightly heavier, but it has something that the iPad lacks: a stylus.

The Galaxy Note's S-Pen sets it apart from all of its competitors, letting owners write notes or draw with their tablet. And while you can buy a stylus and pair it with any other tablet, Samsung has put a lot of work into the S-Pen, with a number of dedicated software features including handwriting recognition -- it even works with third-party apps such as Twitter.

But that S-Pen will cost you: Starting at $549, it's actually more expensive than Apple's iPad Air.

Surface Pro 2
Windows tablets really haven't caught on -- perhaps it's the limitations of Windows 8, or the failure of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) hardware partners to offer compelling products. At any rate, Windows tablets are hamstrung by their lack of apps -- the Windows App store is still a relative wilderness compared to Google Play or iTunes. But Windows tablets have their advantages. If you need your tablet to run full versions of classic Windows applications, there's no alternative to a Windows 8 tablet.

In that respect, the Surface Pro 2 is the best bet. Starting at $899, it's by far the most expensive tablet on this list, but Microsoft pitches it as a laptop replacement, and if that's what you're using for, it's not a bad deal. It's about as powerful as the average ultra-thin laptop, but it sports a full HD touchscreen and the body of a tablet.

There are cheaper Windows devices out there, but if you really want a tablet that can take advantage of the hybrid nature of Windows 8, the Surface Pro 2 is your best option.

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 11:25 AM, techy46 wrote:

    Best tablets for what? The best tablet is the one that matches your chosen ecosystem and provides the functionality required and a reasonable price. Apple fans buy overpriced iToys, Google socialists by plastic devices running adware and Microsoft fans by 2-in-1 devices for consuming content while being productive. I being a retired IT executive wouldn't own an Apple or Google device if you gave it to me free.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 1:08 PM, jschlieckau wrote:

    techy46, being an IT professional, I couldn't agree more. For businesses (with the exception of the Surface), these things are play toys that browse the internet and read email. Problem with the Surface is that it costs as much as the iPad. That being said, at least with the Surface you can run real apps and dock it to a keyboard mouse and multiple monitors - so there is a value to that.

    For the consumer, these all are fine, but the best VALUE is the Kindle - which isn't even on the list. Buy what you want, but you are wasting your money as a consumer on iPads. The only Apple product worth it's value is the iPod You shouldn't buy a Surface unless you are replacing your laptop/desktop and use it for all PC apps. Most just want to browse Internet, read email and move content. Get something inexpensive with a USB port and you'll be happy.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 1:13 PM, cahrens123 wrote:

    Nothing new here. iPad Air, iPad Mini, and Nexus 7 2013 is pretty much a given. Note 10 for people that just hate Apple for one reason or another. Surface for Microsoft fans. Microsoft has had their tablet edition since pre-iPad, installed on $2000 convertible laptops. It was a failure then; and it's a failure now.

    Google rushed out Android to compete with iOS. It's a hack of Linux subsystem with Dalvik runtime. The development environment was a Eclipse plugin until they finally released Android Studio years later; it's still subpar. Kitkat is still a hack. That being said, when Google finally unveils their secret Android OS built from the ground up, iPad will most likely go the same way as the Apple II.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2014, at 3:53 PM, chilero wrote:

    The Dell Venue Pro 8 and Lenovo ThinkPad 8 appear to be very popular 8" Windows tablets. Those are 2 I would definitely look at if I was considering a small tablet.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 10:47 AM, scottspears wrote:

    I just picked up a Toshiba Encore 8" 32 gig tablet running Windows 8.1. My reason over the Dell & Lenovo, HMDI out and powered USB for non-powered hard drives. A little heavier, by an ounce or two. Add in a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and you have a under 1.5 pound laptop substitute.

    Don't forget to delete the bloatware and hibrenation file to get more space on the hard drive.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 8:35 PM, elvis358 wrote:

    Get yourself the Samsung Galaxy Note III (3) phone and lighten your load overall. Just carry one thing that DOES fit in your pocket and do it all.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 12:26 PM, 1279tnk23yar wrote:

    jschlieckau, I could not agree with you more on the Apple IPOD. I have a 160GB IPOD for my car and I absolutely love it. No more CD or CD Changers (now obsolete). I have an iPhone, which is OK and it does what I need it to do, but I would never buy an IPAD. No flexibility and no room for expansion. It looks pretty, but is not functional for business use. A tablet, if it going to be used in a business environment and replace the laptop/desktop, needs to work the same way. If there is no room for expansion, it's worthless. I would consider the Samsung Galaxy Note, but I will wait until they come down in price. I don't need one now.

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Sam Mattera

Sam has a love of all things finance. He writes about tech stocks and consumer goods.

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