iOS Tablets

Whether or not Apple's tablet experience is a desirable one is certainly open to debate, but it's hard to deny that the iPad still remains the tablet that all other tablets have to measure up to and are compared against. Last month Apple updated its iPad lineup with the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, and removed the fourth generation iPad. As it stands, Apple has a larger selection of tablets than it has in the past, but whether or not some of them are worth buying is another story. Right now the entry price for an iPad is $249, and it scales as high as $829. For the purposes of these recommendations, we'll be evaluating the tablets based mostly on the base configuration, with additional consideration about the price of storage and cellular upgrades compared to other tablets.

For the most budget minded user, the $249 entry point buys you the original iPad Mini. This is effectively the same hardware platform that shipped with the iPad 2 in March of 2011. With its ageing specifications and low-resolution display, it's not something I would really recommend to anyone, even someone on a very tight budget looking for an iPad. An additional $50 makes things much more interesting, as $299 buys you the iPad Mini 2 which was originally launched as the iPad Mini with Retina Display. Although the display's color gamut is effectively the same as the original Mini, the 2048x1536 display is an enormous improvement over the original. The internal hardware is also superior, with Apple's A7 SoC that still seems to be holding its own a year after release. At $299, the iPad Mini 2 is definitely a worthwhile consideration, even if the color gamut leaves much to be desired.

At the higher price points of $399 and $499 we have three different tablets. For $399 you can choose between the original iPad Air or the recently released iPad Mini 3, and for $499 you can get Apple's new flagship tablet, the iPad Air 2. With the $499 price point it's not really a difficult decision if you're set on buying an iPad, as the Air 2 is thinner and significantly faster than its predecessor. It also includes Touch ID which is a much more desirable feature with the recent launch of iOS 8 and Apple Pay, although not as much of a must-have feature as on a phone.

Choosing between the iPad Air and the iPad Mini 3 is more difficult, as both devices share the same overall specifications. The big differences are obviously the size, the superior display calibration on the iPad Air, and the inclusion of Touch ID on the Mini 3. The A7 SoC in the Air is also clocked 100MHz faster and maintains performance longer due to the heat spreader and lack of stacked RAM, but for most users this isn't going to have many real world implications. I think that I would lean toward the iPad Air as my recommended iPad for the $399 price point, unless the user really needs the smaller size and wants Touch ID. In all other circumstances, the Mini 2 provides the same small tablet experience as the Mini 3 at $100 less.

There's one more factor to consider, and that's the prices of the tablets after storage upgrades, as well as the availability of those upgrades. Apple's pricing scheme for NAND has traditionally been a 16GB base model, with an additional $100 bringing you to 32GB, $200 bringing it to 64GB, and more recently a $300 boost would bring the storage up to 128GB. With the launch of the new iPhones, and subsequently the new iPads, Apple adopted a new storage pricing scheme with the same 16GB base model, but with the $100 and $200 jumps bringing you to 64GB and 128GB respectively, which is a $100 reduction for both of those upgrades compared to the original cost. The iPad Mini 2 and iPad Air now have an upgrade to 32GB for $50, which I would consider a worthwhile investment as 16GB can disappear awfully fast on a tablet.

Overall, I would say that my recommendations are the iPad Mini 2 for the entry level spot at $299, the iPad Air at $399, and the iPad Air 2 as the flagship at $499. There are obviously considerations to make about size and storage, but in general I think these are the best devices that Apple offers at their respective price points.

Intro Android Tablets
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  • Flunk - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    The idea that WinRT is tied to Win32 isn't actually true. the idea is to abstract the underlying interface so they can change the underpinnings later. Microsoft has already done this with Windows Phone so I wouldn't count on WinRT relying on Win32 forever. That is assuming WinRT ever catches on and that's not exactly a given right now. Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, November 29, 2014 - link

    Nah, it abstracts Win32 so it does require Win32 and to remove stuff there you'd also have to remove them in Windows Runtime. It needs to hook into it even if it doesn't run directly on it. You will need both "Windows" and "Win32" code to run it. WP wouldn't work without it's Win32-parts either, neither did Windows Phone 7.X run Windows Runtime or even Windows Phone Runtime.

    Stuff like VLC can't be built with MSVC so it's not that easy to use in WinRT.
    Reply
  • Samus - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    There are a lot of great media player options for Windows. I feel VLC has fallen behind even Media Player Classic. The only thing it does better is subtitles (which often require an annoying filter\wrapper on MPC.)

    I personally run XBMC on my convertible laptop (HP Revolve G2) because it has the nicest touch interface.
    Reply
  • Penti - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    You know most people use these simple Atom-based slates with keyboard and mouse in some capacity. The real problem is lack of memory (RAM) and storage. The browser is a Win32-application btw. So is most of the startscreen, it's just the store apps that's not. Office will never have a hybrid touch solution run inside the startscreen, it will be the Win32 version and Store versions that's dumbed down and essentially built on the Office Mobile solution, not geared at professional use.

    People even use 60% mechanical keyboards with these things. See the 7-10-inch Atom slates as a kind of new netbook. Atom is plenty fast for browsing, and for all the older and most new apps that doesn't lean too heavily on graphics. Most Atom slates are 32-bit though, and RAM will be the biggest limit apart from slow (small) storage.
    Reply
  • mabellon - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    WinRT is the API set replacing Win32 for application development. WinRT is the framework for developing all the modern apps on Windows 8. "Windows RT" is Windows 8 compiled for ARM processors and probably what you are talking about. Reply
  • basroil - Saturday, November 29, 2014 - link

    "you really can't use that old software with a touch interface, it is worst than terrible... so WinRT was actually fine for a tablet."

    I have a Surface Pro 3 and regularly use it with "legacy" apps that don't support the new windows touch system. Not a single issue (outside of those that use opengl or dx for interaction and were made with XP in mind) as long as the UI was designed with limited menus (the bane of any touch device's existence) and large or adjustable buttons/sliders (a surprisingly large percent of good programs). With the Surface Pro 3 though, you also have the option of the pen, which mimics a mouse input for old software (in fact, it'll be indistinguishable from a mouse to anything that doesn't have win 8 specific input filters, including Photoshop CS6, unless you install the wintab driver) and can be used identically to a mouse in 100% of click scenarios (though only GDI type programs will support right click hold, opengl/dx buffered screens will ignore the right click hold)
    Reply
  • Gich - Sunday, November 30, 2014 - link

    "as long as the UI was designed with limited menus (the bane of any touch device's existence) and large or adjustable buttons/sliders (a surprisingly large percent of good programs)." I don't feel it's a large percentage that get those criteria.
    The pen is the sobstitute of the mouse, and it was indeed the standard for the "original tablet pc" but it's not so common now, nowdays for the "modern tablets" I'd say you expect to be able to use just fingers... pen is a niche, mostly for professional users.
    Reply
  • basroil - Saturday, November 29, 2014 - link

    "you really can't use that old software with a touch interface, it is worst than terrible... so WinRT was actually fine for a tablet."

    I have a Surface Pro 3 and regularly use it with "legacy" apps that don't support the new windows touch system. Not a single issue (outside of those that use opengl or dx for interaction and were made with XP in mind) as long as the UI was designed with limited menus (the bane of any touch device's existence) and large or adjustable buttons/sliders (a surprisingly large percent of good programs). With the Surface Pro 3 though, you also have the option of the pen, which mimics a mouse input for old software (in fact, it'll be indistinguishable from a mouse to anything that doesn't have win 8 specific input filters, including Photoshop CS6, unless you install the wintab driver) and can be used identically to a mouse in 100% of click scenarios (though only GDI type programs will support right click hold, opengl/dx buffered screens will ignore the right click hold)
    Reply
  • kron123456789 - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Thats interesting — two of three best android tablets are based on Tegra K1. Btw, where is Nexus 9 review? It's been over two weeks since "Preliminary Findings". Reply
  • redviper - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    The Asus vivotab note 8 is a better option than the DVP8. I have the DVP8 and the pen is a disaster, I'd really rather get the Asus. Ofcourse if they come out with some processor/screen/ram update that would be a really nice tablet, but MS is pushing low end for everything but Surface now. Reply

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