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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This project: How to decide: tech buying guides for DIYers and small business

iPad considerations

I have to admit, I was annoyed when -- after spending close to $850 for my iPad 3 with 4G and 64GB of RAM -- Apple introduced a model twice as fast six months later.

See Also: I'm furious I bought an iPad 3. Are you?

Despite the article name, I wasn't exactly furious, but I was annoyed. That was a lot of money to spend and I felt a bit snookered when clearly Apple knew a new version would be coming very shortly -- far faster than their usual one-year cycle.

Right now, the iPad is in its fourth generation iteration. It is an excellent machine, with what's widely considered to be the best display on tablets and, with the new processor, one of the fastest tablets as well.

See Also: Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets

However, it's the only tablet that still uses the old-fashioned 4x3 aspect ratio for its display. We might have thought Apple would just stay with that form factor, but now that we've seen the iPhone 5, with its modern wide screen form, we can be pretty sure that the next iPad will also have a wide screen.

Apple traditionally announces new devices in March as well as September, and even though they've essentially just upgraded their entire line, it's likely that one or more of their devices will be switched out again in March. I'm betting on a new iPad mini and a wide screen form factor iPad, so if you buy now, you might be annoyed, too.

There's one other issue: the new iPad 4th generation model uses the new Lightning connector . Nearly all older iOS devices use the older connector, so most of the add-on hardware goodies made before this summer won't work with it. However, now that Apple has made it very clear that Lightning is the future, you're likely to see more and more gadgets that work with the new adapter. Just be aware that the universal appeal of the old adapter goes away with this new iPad.

Finally, Apple is still selling its iPad 2, which is considerably slower and lacks the Retina display. While you can get the iPad 2 for $399 instead of $499, some of the latest iOS features aren't supported on it, and it is quite likely to lose support very soon.

If you only have $399 to spend, I'd look for a used iPad 3 or get the Nexus 10, rather than a pretty much already obsolete iPad 2.

Full-size tablet decision tree

Here's a chart that should help you decide:

Chart by David Gewirtz for ZDNet DIY-IT

I've been asked a few times what my personal recommendation is to new buyers. Again, please remember that each individual's needs are different, but here's my typical answer: 

  • Most people can't go wrong getting an iPad. The ecosystem is extremely robust, there are a ton of apps, and support resources abound.
  • If you're buying a Kindle, I'd recommend the smaller Kindle Fire HD, simply because reading is often more comfortable on it. If you plan to read outside, you might just want to spend a mere $119 and get the Kindle Paperwhite. Personally, I read Kindle documents on my iPhone.
  • If you want a tablet and can't afford to spend much at all, the Nook HD+ is a fine, if somewhat limited solution. If you choose this, be aware you can't read Kindle books on it.
  • If you know and love Android (or you want to run apps that Apple would never sanction), go for the Nexus 10. I have a Nexus 7 and it rocks.
  • I can't at this time really recommend the Surface RT. I think it's far to limited for what many people will want, and the app infrastructure isn't robust. But wait a year and I'll bet this will be a good choice.
  • If you really only have a few hundred dollars to spend, consider getting the new $199 Acer Chromebook . It's not a tablet (and I have had regular reliability problems with Acer), but at $199, it's one heck of a good deal for getting online and getting stuff done. 

There you go. Oh, I've also been asked what tablets I use. I have an iPad third generation which I use mainly in the studio. My wife has an original, first generation iPad which she uses everywhere (to read on the treadmill, to watch sewing tutorials on YouTube in her craft room, to watch or read videogame walkthrus while she's using the Playstation 3, etc.). I have a Nexus 7 which I tend to take into the throne room and read news stories on Flipboard. My wife has an original Kindle Fire HD, which she loves to use for reading her Kindle books in bed with the lights out.

The tech industry has reached a point in the evolution of tablets where most of these offerings are quite good. So, now, really, your choice is more about what you'd prefer to do with them than specific hardware features.

Good luck in your buying choices and let me know in the TalkBacks below what you've decided to get and how you like it.


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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