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.

All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
This project: How to decide: tech buying guides for DIYers and small business

Pricing

Because most of these devices come with a wide variety of options, I'm not going to try to completely match up all the prices. Instead, since most people I've talked with are concerned with how much the base model costs, I'll share those prices with you here. Just know that if you add cellular or RAM, or a fancy keyboard, pricing will go up.

  • iPad 2 (still for sale): $399 (16GB)
  • iPad (fourth generation): $499 (16GB)
  • Nexus 10: $399 (16GB)
  • Kindle Fire HD 8.9": $299 (16GB with ads, $314 without ads)
  • Surface RT: $499 (32GB, only about 16GB usable)
  • Nook HD+: $269 (16GB), $299 (32GB)

Special mention needs to go here for the Nook HD+. It's nearly half the price of the current-generation iPad, and even almost $130 less than the old iPad or the Android-based Nexus 10. Even with 32GB of RAM, the Nook HD+ is still much less expensive than its nearest rival.

If you want a full-size tablet and money is the most important thing, the Nook HD+ is, by far, the winner.

While we're talking winners and losers, it's important to note that if you want your Kindle Fire to come without ads, you have to pay an extra $15 to avoid having Amazon market to you. Personally, the "special offer" Kindles annoy the heck out of me. But I have friends who have told me that (a) the ads aren't obtrusive and don't show up while reading, and (b) they often like the ads because they're good deals.

Go figure. Consumers.

Here's a fun fact: while the Surface RT appears to have more RAM for the buck, the 32GB Microsoft lists in its specs (as compared to the other devices' entry point at 16GB) is somewhat misleading.

As ZDNet reports, Microsoft Surface RT 32GB tablet reserves nearly half its storage for Windows, Office apps . Apparently, in one of those "only in America" stories, some lawyer quickly decided Microsoft would be a worthwhile whale, and rather than just returning the device for a refund, is suing the company over his diminished capacity -- RAM, that is. Special. Gotta love lawyers.

So how should you think about pricing when making a buying decision? Here's what I would recommend:

  • If price is really important to you, make the decision based on the best price, which means a Nook HD+.
  • If a few hundred bucks one way or the other doesn't matter all that much to you, make your decision based on the device's ecosystem. If you want an iPad, you're probably going to get an iPad, regardless of the fact that the Nexus 10 is a hundred bucks less.
  • The buying decision for the Surface RT is in its own special category, which I'll discuss next.

The strange case of the Surface RT

The Microsoft Surface RT is a strange little beast. It's Windows, but it's not. It's got a full copy of Office, but it doesn't, and with weird restrictions.

I'll be honest. In most cases, I don't recommend buying the Surface RT. I've written extensively about it, and if you're seriously interested in the Surface RT, I recommend you read the following articles, along with those I've linked to in those articles.

See Also: Three days in the life of a once and former Microsoft Surface RT user

See Also: Microsoft says returns okay on opened Surface RT product packaging

See Also: 5 big things that baffle me about Microsoft Surface RT

Here's the TL;DR version: The Surface RT comes with a Windows 8 desktop, but you can't load and run any desktop applications on it. None. You can run Windows Store applications, but they're more apps than full Windows applications, and there aren't that many...yet.

Oh, and while the Surface RT comes with Office, it's missing Outlook and you have to go out and spend extra if you want to use Office for business use .

While I've heard many students like the Surface RT because it has a full copy of Word, I'd caution against buying it for educational use. Flash only works on approved sites (although you can, apparently, hack that). QuickTime isn't fully supported (so dashboards like Angel and Blackboard will complain), and you can't run any of those weird little educational applications teachers are so fond of telling you to run in Windows.

Worse, the Surface RT may be having some reliability and hardware issues, including brand-new keyboards splitting at the seams .

Here's one more thing you need to know about Surface: the Surface brand will have two types of machines. The RT (for runtime) is based on the Arm processor and is quite limited when it comes to the Windows desktop. Sometime next year, a 2-pound device will come out that runs full Windows 8. That device, called the Surface Pro, is quite interesting, but none of us have gotten our hands on it.

If you want a full Windows 8 tablet, wait for that.

Next up, apps and ecosystems...

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Apps, DIY, Google, Microsoft

About

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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