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.


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


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, 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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 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