Android Tablets

The Android tablet space is more diverse than the selection of tablets running iOS due to the sheer number of manufacturers that make Android tablets. However, it seems like many of them in the low range make compromises that severely reduce their appeal, and other high end tablets like the Galaxy Tab S are let down by SoCs that struggle against A7, A8, Snapdragon 805, and Tegra K1. That being said, we've seen the launch of two new tablets this year from manufacturers that one might be surprised to see in the tablet market. There's also an old favorite that remains almost as compelling now as it did when it launched quite some time ago.

Our recommendation at the most affordable price point is the Nexus 7 (2013). The recommendation of a budget tablet from over one year ago may sound strange, but the Nexus 7 remains a very high quality and capable device for its price of $229. This returns to the point about other inexpensive Android tablets not being very compelling due to sacrifices in areas like the display or the build quality. It may be that other manufacturers have found it difficult to compete with Google who doesn't necessarily need to make profit off of the device itself if they believe they will get revenue from advertising and purchases on Google Play.

Whatever the case may be, the Nexus 7 still seems to be the best Android tablet available at this price point. Its 1920x1200 display is still best in class for 7" tablets, with accurate factory calibration and a maximum brightness that stands high above every other tablet. The build quality and battery life are also exceptional for its price, and although the APQ8064-1AA SoC has aged since it released, it's still a capable device that receives updates directly from Google. The biggest issue about the Nexus 7 is finding it, as Google has recently discontinued it and removed it from sale on Google Play. That being said, if you can find it at another online retailer or a nearby store, it's definitely worth considering.

Our next recommendation is the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet which starts at $299 with an optional $59 controller. This recommendation is aimed at anyone who wants to use the Android OS and wants to be able to play games on their tablet. Although some may laugh at the idea of a tablet as a gaming device, when paired with its controller the SHIELD Tablet is actually a viable gaming device. NVIDIA has put a lot of effort into taking classic games like Half Life 2 and Portal that were once limited to gaming consoles and PCs and making them available on the SHIELD Tablet. Their new GRID game streaming service has also just begun its expansion, which will allow people to play various games streamed over a network connection.

For users who don't intend to play many games, the SHIELD Tablet is still worth considering. The Cortex-A15 based Tegra K1 is very competitive with the CPU performance of other Android tablets, and the GPU performance is rivaled only by Apple's A8X in the iPad Air 2. The battery life is also good at 10.83 hours, although it doesn't really stand out from other tablets. The display may also be an issue for some buyers, with similar panel characteristics as the iPad Mini. This puts it significantly behind the cheaper Nexus 7 for both display accuracy and brightness.

From a software support perspective, one might expect the SHIELD Tablet to be a worse option than the Nexus 7. However, NVIDIA has proven to be very quick in shipping updates, and the SHIELD Tablet has already been updated to the recently released Android Lollipop; that should put to rest any concerns about updates. Ultimately, for gamers who want Android, the SHIELD Tablet is the best choice. For those less interested in gaming, one will have to consider the $70 increase in price over the Nexus 7, and decide whether to prioritize performance or display quality.

Last, but not least, we have the newly released Nexus 9 that is made by HTC and starts at $399. This is the first Nexus device that Google has had HTC build since the Nexus One, and it's HTC's first tablet since they exited the market in 2012. In a way, the Nexus 9 can be called a successor to the Nexus 7, as its release coincided with the Nexus 7 being discontinued. That being said, the Nexus 9 is definitely not the budget tablet that the Nexus 7 was. At $399, it's well within the price territory of the iPad, and it's almost double the cost of the Nexus 7. Although there are other high end Android tablets at this price point, the Nexus 9 feels like the only Android tablet that actually justifies a premium price by competing with the silicon inside of Apple's iPad.

Inside the Nexus 9 is NVIDIA's Tegra K1 Denver, making it one of the first 64-bit Android devices. The display maintains the standards that Google set with the Nexus 7, with accurate color calibration and a high brightness, although its larger size prevents it from reaching the brightness of the Nexus 7. The tablet is primarily plastic, with a metal band around the edge. At $399 users may be hoping for a bit more in terms of materials, and reports of significant flex in the back cover don't help with giving it a premium feel.

Despite some concerns about the build, at $399 the Nexus 9 is really the obvious choice for anyone looking for a high end tablet running Android. We haven't seen any other Android tablets launch this year that compete with both its display and its speed. However, it may be a hard sell for anyone without any platform loyalty who is choosing between iOS and Android. The build quality and materials just aren't up to the standard of the iPad, and the 4:3 aspect ratio can cause scaled up applications to look worse than normal.

In the end this will again be up to the preference of the user. The iPad Air has more premium materials and a better feel, and perhaps a better selection of tablet software. However, it falls behind in its CPU and GPU performance, and the 1GB of RAM on a 64-bit iOS can be problematic. Despite some disappointments with the build, the Nexus 9 is still a very capable tablet, and it's the only Android tablet that manages to give high end hardware across the board.

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  • MrBeardyMan - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Google appear to have stopped selling the Nexus 7, in the UK at least, over a month ago. The play store only shows the 5, 6 & 9 so unless you find a retailer with stop you are out of luck.

    It is a great tablet (which I own) and I heartily recommend it - if you can get one.
  • Brandon Chester - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Yeah that's why I put it on. Even if it's "replaced" by the Nexus 9, it's still really worth considering if some retailer has it available near you. I was disappointed to see that it was discontinued.
  • MadMan007 - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Yup. The Nexus 9 is fine for a larger tablet, but it is just not one-handable like the 7, nor can it reasonably go into jacket pockets. They really should have kept the Nexus 7 around, like they kept the Nexus 5 around (although it seems to be in and out of stock), to have a two-tier Nexus line. I suppose Google isn't primarly interested in selling to consumers though and so isn't worried about filling every option. At least we know that the 2013 Nexus 7 will be buyable, even if in refurb form, for a good long time if we judge by the continued availability of refurb 2012 Nexus 7's.
  • EnzoFX - Saturday, November 29, 2014 - link

    I found the N9s display lacking compared to the N7 even. I wouldn't recommend it over an iPad for this reason alone.
  • HisDivineOrder - Saturday, November 29, 2014 - link

    The best part about it being removed from the Google Play store is that so many people talked about the Nexus 6 and 9 as though they were additional options to the cheaper Nexus 5 and Nexus 7, respectively.

    Except they're not ADDITIONAL options. They're full-on replacements that cost a LOT more than the devices they're replacing for extra performance and various improvements that may not be necessary to a great many users.

    When you go from $229 and $269 (and often much lower on sale) to $399 and $479, you're damn close to doubling your MSRP for a tablet. I don't know that the 2" diagonal is going to be worth it to a lot of users. Especially given the quality of the Nexus 7 build versus the Nexus 9 build.
  • thesloth - Sunday, November 30, 2014 - link

    I'd also recommend the LG G-Pad 8 as a Nexus 7 replacement. The only slight issue is that the speakers are a bit tinny compared to the Nexus 7, but other than that it beats it hands down.

    You can get it for about £200 new on Amazon or around £150 for a refurb on eBay.
  • gailthesnail - Sunday, November 30, 2014 - link

    False. Its max brightness is so dim it doesn't even reach 50% brightness on the nexus 7, making it nearly unusable outdoors.
  • zhenya00 - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    It's actually an interesting question as to what the departure of the N7 will do to the state of Android tablets? It seems to be the only Android tablet that has ever been widely accepted, and one of the few that I actually ever see out in the wild. It has long been an easy recommendation for someone who doesn't want an iPad for any reason. What now?
  • jessmurray10 - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link


    Tab le t M a x x -- offers some Great Holiday Deals on new Tablets with a half of dozen new models released this month, all with the latest specs and premium features -- plus TabletMaxx includes a free $20 - 16GB MicroSD memory card with all tablets.

    One model that stands out is the new mid-size 9" tablet, the Ramos i9s ($239) - powered by one of Intel's first 64-bit mobile processors and offers a premium build quality that compares to the Nexus 9 at nearly half the price... there's also the new 8-inch Pipo P8 ($229) model which also matches most features of the Nexus 9, but with a more compact size.

    For Windows tablets, there's the new X90 HD - Windows 8.1 model ($269) - the only Mid-size, 8.9" Windows tablet available with an AMOLED 2560X1600 display - the same screen found in several premium Samsung devices; plus the X90 HD comes bundled with a case and Bluetooth keyboard.

    Other Holiday deals through Tablet Maxx include the 7-inch Venus Android tablet ($69) with a quad core processor and HD screen; plus an Ultra-size 12-inch model, the Ramos i12 ($259) - which also offers an optional case with keyboard to make a great tablet - laptop combination.

    Another deal-buster is a premium iPad case with Bluetooth keyboard for only $20 (regularly $59)
  • RJ Phillips - Monday, December 15, 2014 - link

    yep, fortunately, there is still iPad Air 2 (happy) it definitely deserves to be called the best tech of 2014

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