With the holidays approaching, it's time for our annual recommendations for devices in various product categories. Today we're taking a look at what tablets provide the best value and experience for different users. There's obviously a lot of decisions to be made when buying a tablet, and we'll assume that by the time a user has concluded that they want a tablet they have already determined that it is a more suitable choice for them than a more traditional computer like a desktop PC or a laptop.

The first question the buyer will have to ask themselves is what price they are comfortable paying. Tablet prices can range anywhere from $100 to $1000, depending on exactly what tablet it is, and the buyer's price target will be a constraint on the different tablets they have to choose from. Once a price target has been established, the user must decide what they want to do with their tablet. Some tablets may not have the selection of applications that the buyer needs, and others may not have a suitable form factor or size for performing these tasks. Tablets come in many shapes and sizes, with displays ranging from 7" to 13" with aspect ratios that vary from 3:2 on the Surface Pro 3, to 4:3 on the iPad and Nexus 9, to 16:10 on the Nexus 7. Certain display shapes and sizes will be better suited to watching videos, while others will be better suited to reading PDFs and books.

These decisions about size, utility, and price will ultimately drive the decision of what operating system the tablet should be running. Currently this is a choice between three platforms, with the market being dominated by tablets running iOS and Android, Windows coming in third, and other operating systems like WebOS having been eliminated in previous years due to lack of consumer interest. There are also other factors, like accessories and keyboard attachments, but it's very difficult to evaluate these as their usefulness will ultimately depend on the user's needs. Instead of trying to look at every single tablet that fills every niche, we've looked at what we think are the best overall devices within each of the three major operating systems that are available on tablets.

iOS 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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