In Review 2013: Best Tablets of the Year Sarah Fox December 17, 2013 Tech Reviews As we prepare to celebrate the final holidays of 2013, it’s natural to reflect on the year behind us, and there was a lot of great tech to be excited about this year. Tablets are only in their third-year, (considering the launch of the initial Apple iPad as the first real installment at the consumer level) and already they have become an essential part of our day-to-day lives. In the thick of it all there are now four main operating systems that power the majority of our tablets; Apple iOS, Android, Windows RT and Amazon’s Fire OS. Among these four operating systems awaits dozens of models to choose from, and there are size variations and remodels within each operating system as well. Looking back at 2013, we picked the best from each of the operating systems, considering value, functionality and features. Android OS: Winner Google Nexus 7 (available at amazon and googleplay for $229) When comparing all of the Android devices on the market today, no one does it better than Google. With the Google Nexus 5, the Nexus 7 and the larger Nexus 10, we landed on the 7″ model as this year’s best option. At $229 it’s one of the most affordable tablets on the market, and it’s also one of the most powerful. The screen featured on the device offers a 7.02″ 1920×1200 HD display (with 323 ppi). The battery-life on the tablet is also one of the most efficient, offering up to 9hrs of “Active Use” if you are going by Google’s standard, and the speed offered with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor (with 2GB of RAM) ensures that a quick response while your working through emails, watching videos or playing games. The Android OS offers one of the largest app-stores on the market today, rivaling Apple’s own App store and improving every week, making the Google Nexus 7″ an easy contender for anyone’s shopping list. Windows RT: Winner Microsoft Surface 2 (available at microsoftonline for $399) After a stumbling launch of the original Surface, Microsoft doubled its efforts and offered a new, streamlined and powerful option for consumers in the Surface 2. With a growing app store, a growing familiarity with Windows 8 and improved hardware, the Surface 2 is quickly becoming the go-to tablet for school, work and entertainment. While still rivaling its smaller companions, the Surface 2 is also one of the largest tablets on the market (coming in at 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.35 in) yet only weighing 1.49 lbs in total. Consumers should enjoy the lager 16:9 widescreen display, featuring a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 and offering a responsive 5-point multi-touch input to work with. Under the hood the improved hardware on the Surface 2 make it a seamless experience for Windows 8 users, featuring a NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, a 9hr-10hr charge cycle and two impressive cameras (3.5 megapixel front-facing camera, 5.0 megapixel rear-facing camera) the Surface 2 has the hardware to keep you working when you need it. What sets the Surface 2 apart from other tablets though is its connectivity and seamless experience with applications. The Surface 2 features a full-size USB 3.0 input, a microSDXC card reader and an HD video out port. Software has been a double-edged sword for the Surface 2, on the one-hand it offers the best Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote experience on the market; but it’s the app store that’s been holding the platform back. Over the last few months Microsoft has made drastic improvements to the app store, and it’s just now starting to catch up. Still, the Surface 2 is one of the best productivity tablets you will find on store shelves, and that software is only set to improve in 2014. The Apple iOS: Winner iPad Mini (available at apple for $399) This year Apple released a new iPad Mini and the new iPad Air, and although the iPad Air is a powerful and wonderfully designed product, we felt the iPad Mini offers more value for the cost. We had a few issues with the iPad Air, for starters, despite its name it isn’t the lightest tablet that was introduced this year within its class. The Air also isn’t leading the charge with the best display. With Apple, when the company releases new products customers have come to expect leading technology, and although the iPad Air did have a few dramatic innovations, we felt the iPad Mini just offered a better value. When the iPad Mini was first introduced, everyone had the same concern, it didn’t have the retina display. This year Apple fixed that issue, now offering the iPad Mini with Retina Display for $399. Looking under the casings, the iPad Mini offers the the powerful A7 chip with a 64-bit architecture. Apple was the first to move ahead with the 64-bit designs in a mobile device and it leads the way for some great games, and applications in the future. Amazon Fire OS: Kindle FIRE HDX (available at amazon for $229) Amazon leads the way in services when it comes to the tablet market. The company announced two new Kindle Fire models this year, the Kindle Fire HDX 7″ and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ and both offer a ton of features to match the tablet’s technology. The Kindle Fire HDX lines offer terrific hardware, but we think the 7″ model offers the best value when it comes to mixing price, hardware and functions. The 7″ model offers the (1920×1200) 323 ppi. HD screen, perfect for anyone that enjoys watching movies or shows on their tablet. The powerful 2.2GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM will make watching all of the extra entertainment options offered on Amazon devices fluid and responsive. Those entertainment options are the foundation of Amazon tablets. Amazon tablets offer apps from the Amazon App Store, a sort of spinoff of the Google Play store. The Amazon offerings aren’t as robust as the Google Play store, or the Apple App store, but the standard social-media and video applications are all accounted for in the marketplace. Amazon’s Prime membership is deeply integrated into the HDX line, and the features offered are unparalleled in the tablet market. Prime members can now download over half of the collection of Prime Instant Video movies and TV shows to watch offline, and that is a feature that no other store allows you to do for free. Amazon cloud storage offers more room for all of your data than any other manufacturer, and Amazon Prime Video offers you all of that terrific video content and exclusives, for fee, with your membership. The X-Ray feature lets you see trivia and character backgrounds while you are watching movies and TV, while X-Ray for Music offers lyrics and data on any song you are listing to from Amazon. The new Mayday button is revolutionary, and offers the kind of support that you normally would only get by calling up your son/daughter/niece or nephew when you need something fixed, or want to learn something new. Looking ahead it will be screen displays and processors that will most likely lead the charge in the new year. As more and more consumers look to integrate the same functionality of their laptops into their mobile devices, it will be interesting to see which of the ‘big four’ does it best. At the same time media and entertainment is on the rise, meaning tablets will have to offer the best entertainment options to keep consumers coming back to their designs.