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

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

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, Apps, Google, Microsoft, DIY


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • How to decide between full-sized tablets: iPad, Nexus 10, Kindle HD, Surfac

    There is no decision to make as the Microsoft Surface RT should be your only choice. It offers all the benefits of using Microsoft Windows on a portable device. The benefits of having an attachable keyboard, an app store, and wifi to make you more productive. It has received the highest marks in a number of reviews and has a very sturdy hardware build. The competition just can't compare to the Microsoft Surface.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Agreed

      The iPad is a clostrophobic product where everything must be done through iTune.
      Same for the Kindle fire and the Nook
      Nexus 10 is a spyware. Sorry Google but I don't trust you anymore
      The only devise that can connect easily on my Windows network, allow me to synch easily with all my other computing divises (laptop, phone, desktop, using SkyDrive), use Office as well as other Apps including all the one that I need (Skype, Netflix, games, News from all the major medias) is the Surface RT

      I have an iPad that I don't use anymore, a Playbook that I still like and use because of it's zippyness and it's no nonsense Interface and now I have a Surface rt 64gig. The surface rt is the winner.
      • iTunes?

        "The iPad is a clostrophobic product where everything must be done through iTune."

        Sorry, but you don't need to go anywhere near iTunes to use an iPad.
        • music, video, document

          Everything on an iPad must be done the Apple's way even connecting to a bluetooth printer. Apple are control freaks that I just don't understand. Don't get me wrong I own 5 brand new iMac for the Office, an iPad, my son and daughter have iPod and I do appreciate Apple stuff and I beleive Apple have an excellent product list. The problem is that they just don't in a non Apple environnement.
          • I own an iPad and a Surface RT

            I think you are all being pretty silly. That iPad is a very capable device. Certainly it benefits from lots of Apps, and some of them are pretty darn good...sure, there is a lot of junk too but overall, you can find lots of good apps. I'm not sure I buy into the whole "ecosystem" argument, however. I'd say, some people confuse ecosystem with Apps. iOS isn't really much of an ecosystem. It has great apps. It has light integration with iCloud. Its apps are distributed through the iTunes store, but to call it a coherent ecosystem, is a stretch.

            The Surface RT is a surprisingly good piece of hardware. Although it doesn't have a retina screen, I'd say it is somewhere between the iPad 2 and iPad3/4 in terms of quality. Movie quality is sharper and smoother than the iPad, but Text on the iPad 3/4 is sharper for reading.

            The Surface RT doesn't have as many Apps as the iPad, which is to be expected, but don't underestimate what it comes with out of the box. The Office suite is stunningly good. The basic apps like Mail, Calendar, Video, Music, People, Weather, Maps News, Sports, Camera, Internet Explorer, Photos, Finance etc. are all very good. SkyDrive is wonderfully integrated throughout the OS and is a foreshadowing of what iCloud could one day become. Tack on Skype, Lync and Messenger and your communication hub becomes very versatile.

            But, it still needs apps. They are coming quickly, but it needs apps.

            An often overlook app is Remote Desktop. The Remote Desktop app on Surface is unlike anything I've ever seen...and I wonder why it hasn't been done before. With the ability to use the tablet as a giant trackpad in Remote Desktop, you are no longer limited to only Metro apps...and it works well.

            Integration with Exchange, SharePoint, Messenger, Skype, Lync, SkyDrive, Xbox. The ability to access network shares, other computers on the network, printers, DLNA devices. The ability to use the USB port for hundreds of thousands of existing devices, Wacom tablets, webcams, USB audio devices, keyboard, mouse, trackball, xbox controller, etc. etc....and you begin to realize that even the RT device is more than we ever expected. Now that is integration. That is a real ecosystem.

            Bottom line. iPad has an App for that. Surface has the promise of something more amazing.
      • Glad you have the 64GB one...

        because at least you start with 49GBs. The 32GB model only gives you half.

        Too F'N funny.
        Arm A. Geddon
        • nop

          I poped in an sd card and now I have 32 gig more + 30 gig of free skydrive storage. Try that on an iPad
          • You said it gbouchard99! Just buy an SD card!

            iPad owners are suckers - we Surface owners can drop coin on a SD card. All those chumps can do is sign up for iCloud, giving them access to unlimited gigabytes of movies, TV shows, audio and video music tracks, books, magazines, documents, etc. Who wants to have to choose between all that media when we can carry a tidy 32 G on board for some extra coin?
          • Amazon Prime gives me all that far more cheaply than Apple

            The article is correct in pointing out what you get with a Kindle. If he likes reading on an iPhone, he would love my S3! I'm thinking a Paperwhite might not be a bad idea because it does one thing and does it very well. I could read on it at home and keep the same page ready on my phone.
    • I can see why you wouldn't want to buy a Surface RT

      As Dave pointed out, other tablets are lighter or less expensive so if weight and price are an issue (and they are for a lot of people) then an Android tablet would be better.

      However, there is absolutely no reason to ever buy an iPad. It simply doesn't offer any benefit over the Surface RT. It is comparable in content consumption (unless you are watching video in which case iPad sucks). However, it is completely useless for content creation.

      As for the ecosystem, there are 2 aspects to that. Surface RT supports an ecosystem of 420 million hardware peripherals. iPad supports, well, let's be nice and just say that iPad doesn't.

      As for software, I spent over a year trying to find good content creation apps in the iPad's ecosystem. There aren't any. Not one in the 250,000 app store. Pages? Please, that was probably the worst out of all of them. MS Office trumps 250,000 fart apps.
      • Ah, the persistently narrow-minded, intolerant idiocy

        You and LD CANNOT (or choose not to) see that this is a world of many different needs, desires, priorities and preferences.

        What is the matter with you two?

        If someone, after a careful evaluation, decides that an iPad is best for them, who the hell are you to tell them that they are wrong?

        You REALLY need to get over yourselves. You both (and others here) have a pretty despicable mindset.
        • I'm sure that everybody agrees

          that consumers should THINK FOR THEMSELVES. Do not just listen to "either side" in this forum (Microsoft supporters, Apple supporters, Android supporters etc.), but try the devices YOURSELF and make the correct decision FOR YOU.
          • Exactly!!

            Arm A. Geddon
          • in an ideal world

            There would be no Apple. But we're working on one thing at a time. If you want to be productive, go android or windows. If you want to be ignorant and viewed as sheep and being stereotyped as a 11 year old girl, then go ipad.
        • D.T.Long ...Please don't call Loverock Davidson-, gbouchard99,.toddbottom3

          NARROW MINDED.....

          they can't help that fact as they all feel like they can walk on water when it comes to IT......

          but I totally agree with you I do wish they would get over theselves as they can't seem to except that others may have a totally different opinion and if there opinions work for then, then its totally exceptable........
          Over and Out
          • Hi!

            Hello there!!!
            Loverock Davidson-
          • Hi

            I don't walk on water but I am tired of people bashing pruducts that don't know of. I have the chance to be a .net developper, a teacher, a t-sql programmer and do have access to most of the new software and hardware out there. I have tried to love Apple and I bought an iPad, and an iMac, I used for a while and then I felt frustrated by Apple's narrow view. Then I bought a few Android tablets. I then realized how bad they are and how I hated their design and graphic Interface.

            The rt is not perfect and I wouldn't try to sell it that way but it a whole lot more than any other tablet right now. Most of the time, it makes perfect sens. I can't the same about any iPad or even a Nexus. Numbers and figures don't count. The only thing that is how much a device can be usefull and fun in the same time.
          • you need to

            Invest in a spell checker, even a cheap one.
        • FYI, Toddbottom3 used iPad (based on his posts) prior to buying Surface RT

          And I have 4 types of tablets with me iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab (original), Sony Tablet S, HP TouchPad, and Surface RT. And when I talk something, I base it on my personal experience unlike few of us here who constantly bang their disliking platform. I am not pointing fingers at you and hate say this, but you also are part of that "few of us".
          Ram U
          • we need edit.

            I am not pointing fingers at you and hate to say this, but you also are part of that "few of us".
            Ram U