How to decide between full-sized tablets: iPad, Nexus 10, Kindle HD, Surface RT, and Nook HD+

Summary:As tablets mature, consumers have a wide range of excellent devices to choose from. But how do you pick just one? ZDNet's DIY-IT editor David Gewirtz helps you decide and even includes a handy decision tree chart.

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Last week, I published a "how to decide" guide for smaller, 7-inch tablets. Since then, many of you have requested I do the full-size tablet equivalent. This time, we're going to look at bigger tablets, ranging from just under 9-inches up to a little over 10-inches.

See Also: How to decide: should you buy an iPad mini, a Kindle Fire HD, or a Nexus 7?

Helpful tip: If you don't have time to read this whole article, there's an easy-to-follow chart on the last page. That said, there's a lot that will help you choose in the rest of this piece.

Ground rules

As with all my "how to decide" guides, it's important to remind you that this isn't a review. Instead, it's a guide to help you understand just how to think about these different devices and choose the one that's best suited for your needs. I will rate certain aspects of each device, but it's up to you to put the pieces together and see what's best.

With this group of devices, that's particularly true. There are some vast differences in usage models for some of the devices, and in other ways, many of them are quite similar.

One other note: this is a complex topic with a lot of moving parts. If I get further information on any of these devices, or as readers report in with their experiences, I'll update this article. So be sure to do a quick read-through, looking for UPDATE notes, just before you buy.

General differences

When I talked about the smaller models, I explained that there were really two key decision criteria: price and ecosystem. You needed to decide how much you wanted to spend, and whether you're more interested in playing in the Android, Apple, or Amazon ecosystem.

The price issue is certainly true of the larger tablets. The least expensive full-sized tablet starts at $269, and there are variants and configurations that will take you up to about $1,000 if you add a lot of RAM or a cellular or keyboard option.

When it comes to ecosystem, I'm also looking at larger tablets from Barnes & Noble, so there's the B&N ecosystem, as well as Microsoft, which opens the entire can of RT/Windows 8 worms (which I'll discuss later).

One thing that should be noted is that I'm discussing what are essentially reference models for some of these tablets. If you like Android, most of what I discuss will apply pretty nearly as well for a Samsung device as for the Nexus 10. Likewise, if you're (for some reason) excited by Windows 8 RT, you can get a Surface RT from Microsoft, or a similar device from many of the usual PC vendor suspects.

Size and weight

There is something of a size and weight difference between these various tablets:

Device Height Width Thickness Weight
iPad 4th generation 9.5 inches 7.31 inches .37 inches 1.44 lbs
Nexus 10 10.39 inches 6.99 inches .35 inches 1.33 lbs
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 9.4 inches 6.3 inches .35 inches 1.25 lbs
Surface RT 10.81 inches 6.77 inches .37 inches 1.50 lbs
Nook HD+ 9.46 inches 6.41 inches .45 inches 1.13 lbs

If you look at this chart, you may realize it really tells us a lot about the devices. Perhaps the weirdest thing is that the device called the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" (that's the official name of the product) is, in fact, 9.4 inches tall. There's not a single published spec on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" that's 8.9 inches. It's just weird.

If you're buying a tablet, you should take into account how heavy one is. I don't like taking my iPad to bed, for instance, because it's just too heavy to hold in my hand and read comfortably before going to sleep. I much prefer reading on my far lighter iPhone.

If you're interested in losing weight, the Nook HD+ is almost a quarter of a pound lighter than most of the other devices, while the Surface RT weighs the most, but just slightly more than the iPad. Also, note that the iPad with cellular option is just very slightly heavier than what's listed above.

Of course, all the 7-inch devices weigh a lot less, but I'm not comparing 7-inch devices to their larger brethren in this article. Just keep in mind that if you're truly most interested in reducing weight, a 7-incher might be an option.

Another interesting observation is that some of the larger tablet devices are taller and thinner than the others. The shortest, squattest of them all is the iPad, which still does not support a 16x9 wide-screen aspect ratio.

The aspect ratio issue is particularly important if you mostly plan to watch movies on the device. If you intend to hold the device in portrait mode (tall), then a narrower screen is easier to hold, but Web pages might be more difficult to read.

Looking at this set of specs, there's nothing wildly unusual that calls out one device over all the others for a total win, but I do give the Kindle and the Nook points for being the lightest.

Next up, pricing...

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, SMBs, Developer


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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