Time flies, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday that we were just putting the final touches on our spring tablet buyer’s guide, and here we are, updating it for a new season. This time, the sun is out and the trousers are getting shorter, which can mean only one thing — yep, it’s the summer edition! Even if the weather isn’t so lovely where you are, or you’re still wearing long pants, there should be something in here to tickle your technical fancy. Not least because we’ve seen at least one major player enter the foray, along with some other strong contenders. So, how has that changed the line up? Head on past the break to find out, but before you dive in to the cool refreshing water, remember you can visit our review hub all year round. Surf’s up!
You may remember back in spring’s guide, ASUS made our list with its Transformer Prime. Well, this time it didn’t make the cut. That would largely be because its younger, stronger and, more pixel-rich cousin came along. The TF700 stands on the shoulders of its predecessor, jacking up all the key specs. The quad-core Tegra 3 chip now purrs along at 1.6GHz (and up to 1.7GHz with single-core performance,) the resolution jumps from 1,280 x 800 to 1,920 x 1200 and a little design tweaking promises to sidestep any antenna issues. So, good news all-round? Sure. Unless you just bought the OG Transformer, that is.
No surprise to see this fella still on the list. While it might not have been the first tablet computer, Apple’s iPad certainly breathed life into a category that had previously found success in the business world and certain niche markets. Be warned that the latest version runs a little hot, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it has a mind-melting 2,048 x 1,536 screen, new and improved A5 chip, quad-core graphics and, of course, superb app and accessory support. If Apple’s latest and greatest pushes your budget to the limit, its predecessor is still a decent slab of tech that can now be snapped up for a more reasonable $399.
There’s been another family shuffle, and this time it’s Acer’s turn. Back in the Spring, we were all about the zippy Iconia Tab A510, but like the seasons, our gadget preferences continue moving forward. The usurper? The A700. While the 5-megapixel rear and 2-megapixel front-facing cameras are welcome, it’s the 10.1-inch, 1,920 x 1200 display (a first for Acer) that we’re loving here. Matching the ASUS TF700 in many of the key specs, this slate is no slouch. Still, the relatively limited viewing angles, and some minor software bugs keep it from truly stealing the limelight.
When Google rolls into tablet town, you know someone’s likely for the chop. We love you, Nook, but there’s a new king in the 7-inch arena — which means we’ve had to reconsider our top three picks. The Nexus 7 made a splashy debut at the company’s opening I/O keynote, setting nerds’ hearts aflutter the world over. Before the final details were made public, some might have wondered what Google’s entrance into the tablet market might look like. Now it’s finally here, it’s clear the outfit wanted to take the tablet market by the scruff of the neck. With a 1.2GHz quad-core Tegra 3 chip, 1GB of RAM and up to 16GB of storage, this isn’t all that different from some of its larger and more expensive competitiors. Add to Google’s new Jelly Bean OS with all its buttery smooth performance and Google Now goodness, and you’ve got one formidable package.
If you fancy Samsung’s industrial design, but prefer something a little easier to hold, you might want to treat your fingers to the Galaxy Tab 7.7 instead. We pretty much declared it the best 7-inch tablet in our review at the time, and our feelings for it haven’t changed. The epic battery life, brilliant S AMOLED Plus screen and lively dual-core, 1.4GHz Exynos engine make this an Android tour de force. This quality does come at a price, however, and it’s not a metaphorical one. If you want top spec, be prepared to pay top dollar, with the global HSPA+ version of the 7.7 pinching roughly 6.6 Benjamins, especially if you import it.
Previously, the Kindle Fire‘s price tag made it an attractive antidote to the slightly more extravagantly priced Galaxy Tab 7.7 (and the iPad, even), but the Nexus 7 has since dampened that flame. The Kindle’s specs might look a little lackluster compared to its nemesis, but it still has plenty to offer. For starters, it’s got Amazon’s services running through its veins, which means easy access to e-books, music and all the other content that the online megastore already sells. The assumption, of course, is that you don’t mind living in a cordoned-off garden of the Android palace; it’s a heavily customized version of the platform, which rules out access to Google’s own Play store. That said, if you want a tab mainly for consuming content, and like the rattle of some change in your pocket, the Kindle Fire remains a solid bet.
3G / 4G tablets
For those of you who want a slate coupled with always-on internet, a 3G or 4G option might be worth the investment. In the US, at least, they typically require a two-year contract, which will hardly be a good fit for everyone. It should go without saying, but read your local carrier’s fine print before taking the plunge.
This is our second mention of Samsung’s 7-inch tablet, and this time it comes bearing Big Red’s LTE logo. We still love it for all the same reasons and, incredibly, Verizon’s 4G service doesn’t put a dent in its impossibly long runtime. The only drawback, as ever, is the price. Previously, Verizon wanted two years of your life and a data fee paid on time each month, now, however you get a monthly plan, but no subsidy on the hardware. As we alluded to, there’s also a global HSPA+ version for use on other networks, if you don’t mind paying an extra 200 smackers or so for the privilege.
More familiar territory here: Apple, too, is making a second appearance on this list. The iPad has, of course, been available with 3G since it first hustled its way into our lives two ago. Now in its third iteration, you can gulp them bits down over 4G / LTE, rather than sip from the same old 3G mug. Other than that, it’s more of the same, but if you love the look of that screen, and can’t bear to be offline, then this is the one for you.
When Huawei’s MediaPad turned up on American shores in T-Mobile livery, it did so on the crest of a 7-inch tablet wave (Acer’s Iconia Tab A100 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Plus 7.0 were just hitting the market as well). Despite this, we described it as “speedy, well-built and longevous,” with the added bonus of T-Mobile’s 14.4Mbps HSPA+ network. With a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 8GB of built-in storage and 1,280 x 800 IPS display, the specs are reasonable, with price – once again – being the only major cloud. T-Mobile is asking for $250 and 24 months on contract, which will exceed most people’s cost to need threshold. However, if you don’t mind paying $400 for the unsubsidized hardware and buying pay-as-you-go data packages instead, then it could still be a contender for your mobile internet affections.
It’s barely started shipping, yet the Nexus 7 has found its way into two categories of our tablet buyer’s guide already. While the only difference between the two versions is the choice between 8GB and 16GB of storage, that sub-$200 price makes the smaller capacity model a veritable bargain. The Nexus rolls the Kindle Fire over in almost every category — just look at those specs we’ve laid out above. Amazon’s trump card has always been content, but with Google also gaining momentum in this exact area, Jellybeans never tasted so good.
When Jeff Bezos and the team at Amazon were planning their debut into the tablet world, the final price was undoubtedly of the utmost importance. Landing at $199, the Kindle Fire was pitched just right for those who didn’t want to spring for something a little more spec-heavy. Of course, this is no longer the only major tablet at this price point. But, and perhaps most importantly, this isn’t just another cheap tablet. Amazon’s robust catalog of books, music and apps — along with the solid build quality and great screen — make this seven inches of pocket-friendly joy. One thing is for sure, though: it’ll be interesting to see how Amazon answers the challenge put to it by Google.
If the Galaxy Tab 7.7 whetted your Korean-tablet appetite, but the hefty price tag dampened your spirits, all is not lost. The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 offers up a great ICS experience, but without the groan-inducing cost. In our review, we found the dual-core 1GHz TI OMAP chip handles the latest version of Android just fine, and the good-enough 1,024 x 600 LCD display is the same one used on the more premium Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. While this might not offer the same tightly integrated ecosystem as a Kindle Fire, or the simplistic appeal of the Nexus 7, but this $250 slate is still great if what you really want is a low-cost tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich.
If you want to hang out with the big (screen) boys, but still keep on the right side of the $350 fence, then Acer’s Iconia Tab A200 is worth more than just a cursory glance. This 10-incher’s 1,280 x 800 display and dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 SoC won’t have your hairs standing on end, but it will put Android 4.0 into your hands, while keeping the coffers relatively unharmed.
While we’ve done our best to compare popular tablet choices, we understand you too may have a favorite that’s not mentioned here. If so, feel free to represent it in comments below, tell us why you love it, and perhaps you’ll see it here next time!