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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  • PokerGuy - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    "The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is cheaper than an N7? What world do you live in?"

    Last I checked, the tab pro 8.4 can be purchased for $199 right now, while the N7's are harder to come by and cost more.

    "Samsung's exynos chips are slow and disappointing even compared to the now outdated Snapdragon 400"

    I believe the Gtab pro uses the snapdragon 800, not slow by any means.

    The only legit reason I could see to support the N7 is getting android updates quickly and without fuss. There's some value in that, but not nearly enough to make the N7 more attractive than several other competitors.

    "Not to mention that the N7 has Android 5.0 already so is light years ahead in software while remaining a good $100 cheaper."

    Not sure where you're getting the $100 cheaper part, right now the g tab pro is actually cheaper. Agree with you on getting android updates quicker, but not "light years ahead" by any stretch.

    By the way, I don't own a galaxy tab pro, just commenting on the recommendation.
  • NXTwoThou - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I'm kind of surprised you posted the T100 when you consider that Walmart is selling their "Nextbook 10.1" for $179.00 -full price-. I picked one up for a friend as a babyshower present and it's amazing for the price and far better than the T100.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    You uh...do realize the Nextbook 10.1 has 1GB of RAM compared to 2GB in the T100, a lower resolution display (720p instead of 768p), a slower processor (z3745g, which is the single channel memory version of the z3740 that was in the original T100, let alone the z3775 that is in the revamped T100), a lower resolution front camera (though I guess bonus points for a rear camera), less storage (well, okay the T100 has a 32GB model, but the Nextbook 10.1 does not have a 64GB option at any price) and lastly it does not have a USB3 port (or any ports) on the keyboad dock...unlike the T100.

    So...yes. A much inferior tablet at a bit over half the price.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    To add, in my experience, the 2GB of RAM in the T100 is an occasional limitation for some of the stuff I want to do, but looking at it, 1GB is going to limit you to nothing more than email, web browsing, book reading, movie watching and the most basic of touch games. Loading up Banner Saga and my RAM utilization is over 1GB. Loading up Kerbal Space Program (which runs on the T100 fine with the settings turned down BTW) and I've got only 100MB of RAM free. Star Craft 2 will load up and run okay, with well over 1GB of RAM used. And so on.
  • Jamor - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    "As you can see, there's a large price range for the Surface Pro 3"

    Actually I can't see it, as you forgot to add the first 3 prices.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    I have to beg to differ about the Asus T100. If the author had bothered to check, the T100 got a redesign a couple of months ago. It now ships with the beefier z3775 process, which is 1.46GHz with a 2.39GHz burst clock, as well as faster GPU. The casing has also been changed from plastic to metal (sadly tacking on a couple of ounces in the process).

    I happen to have the original z3740 based T100 and it is fairly nice. So lets so an article update please. Now fingers crossed for Airmont/Cherry Trail coming out soon and Asus releasing a new 2-in-1 with that in it.
  • scaramoosh - Friday, December 5, 2014 - link

    Why do people act like 16gb is usable? The base model is 32gb now, I do not take 16gb models seriously and they should not be sold any more.
  • TSkyline5 - Saturday, December 13, 2014 - link

    I managed to get a great deal on an iPad Air 32 GB from Best Buy...I originally bought it for $449, but then it went on sale for $409 at Staples (still on sale BTW...and the 16 GB Air is even cheaper at $369), so I went back and had them price match it.

    Apparently, Best Buy's policy is that they will price match within the return period; since it's the holidays, they have extended returns until 1/15/15, so if I see the price go below $409 anywhere else, I can go back and have them price match it AGAIN.
  • marvdmartian - Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - link

    Funny, Brandon's idea of affordable is a bit higher than most people might consider. $229 for a Nexus 7? $399 for a Nexus 9?? While the screens might offer a nice resolution, that's not the end all for some people. Heck, if all you're worried about is the resolution, take a look at the Fire HDX tablets put out by Amazon. At least then, you'll be stuck with another tablet that offers you extended storage only on the "cloud".

    Earlier this year, I bought an Asus MeMO Pad FHD 10 (ME302C-A1), for ~$200, and couldn't be happier with it. Unlike the Nexus and Fire tablets, it has a micro-SDHC slot, capable of adding another 64GB of storage to the tablet. If that wasn't enough, the micro-USB slot (normally used for recharging the tablet) can be utilized, with a $5 (on Amazon and elsewhere) micro-USB male to USB female adapter, to plug a flash drive into it (or use one of the newer dual-plug USB/micro-USB flash drives). Heck, I've even taken a 128GB SSD, put it into an external drive case, and gotten the tablet to read from it, without any problem. Since the power draw on an SSD is so minimal, it shouldn't take as large a power draw off the tablet battery, like an portable hard drive would. While you're stuck in the cloud, I'm enjoying a tablet with a virtual storage drive of over 128GB (easily expanded by putting a larger SSD into the case).

    Also, be aware that Barnes and Noble put their new Nook tablets, a rebadged Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet (http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/galaxy-tab/SM-T23... on sale (thru tomorrow) for $130. While it only offers 8GB of onboard storage, it also offers a micro-SDHC slot, for added storage capacity. If you're looking for a nice little 7" tablet, you're going to have a tough time finding better specs at that price point!
  • kenpogodan - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Wow...I must be in the stone age. Samsung tabs don't even get a nod??? I have the Galaxy tab 10.1 Pro and LOVE it.

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