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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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, 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