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Best Android tablets (September 2014 edition)

Given the broad choice, and combine that with rock-bottom prices, there's never been a better time to pick up a new Android tablet! Here are my picks of the best Android tablets for September 2014.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

There's never been a better time to pick up a new Android tablet. Not only are prices at their best, but also there's never been a better selection of hardware from big-name OEMs on offer.

Here's my top Android tablets picks for September 2014.

All of the tablets features here are very capable, powerful workhorses, and are ideal not only for home users, but also for enterprise users or those looking for a BYOD tablet. Any one of these will give you an excellent Android experience, and when combined with the right apps, will allow you to get a lot of work done when you're away from your desk.

And for you gamers out there, there's a new entry from Nvidia – the Shield.

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2 of 13 Nvidia

Nvidia Shield

The Nvidia Shield features an 8-inch full HD display, front-facing speakers with rich sound, DirectStylus 2 technology to augment touch, and brings with it the first GPU-accelerated 3D painting experience, and an optional cover that both protects the screen and can be used as a kick-stand to prop up the device.

It also features optional LTE connectivity.

There are also plenty of games to play. In addition to all the Android games available from Google Play, there are now more than 400 Shield-optimized games available through the Shield Hub, and another 11 specially optimized games for Tegra K1, with more on the way.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • Nvidia Tegra K1 192 core Kepler GPU, 2.2 GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU with 2GB RAM
  • 8-inch 1920 x 1200 multi-touch Full HD display
  • 16GB/32GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 5 MP front and rear camera
  • DirectStylus 2 input
  • 3-axis gyro
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • 3-axis compass
  • Optional LTE

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Powerful hardware

Cons:

  • Poor battery life
  • Not many killer Android games
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3 of 13 Amazon

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

To show how serious Amazon is about the tablet market the company unveiled a new addition to the Kindle Fire HD line-up – the Kindle Fire HDX.

The HDX comes in two different flavors – a 7-inch version and a bigger, beefier 8.9—inch variety. Both are essentially the same hardware apart from the screen and the fact that the 8.9-inch version features a bigger, better screen and a rear-facing camera.

  • Fire OS 3.0, a highly modified version of Android
  • 2.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 7-inch 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) display | 8.9-inch 560 x 1600 (339 ppi)
  • Both feature a front-facing HD camera, while the 8.9-inch version also has an 8MP rear-facing camera too
  • +11 hour battery life
  • Dolby audio
  • Choice of 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of internal storage

Price: from $229.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Fast and powerful

Cons:

  • Tied to Amazon's ecosystem
  • Official Amazon accessories are expensive
  • No expandable storage
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4 of 13 Nvidia

EVGA Tegra Note 7

The Tegra Note 7 is Nvidia's entry into the fearsome tablet market, and what an entry it is.

While Nvidia itself doesn't make the hardware – it only provides the reference design – its long-term hardware partner EVGA has done an excellent job of putting together a quality tablet at a very competitive price. And EVGA is just the first of many OEMs who will be bringing their own version of the Tegra Note to market over the coming months.

  • Android 4.3 "Jelly Bean"
  • 1.8GHz Tegra 4 processor complete with a 72-core Nvidia GeForce GPU
  • 7-inch 1280x800 IPS display
  • 5MP rear camera
  • VGA front camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • MicroSD card slot
  • 4100mAh battery offering 10 hours of HD video playback

Price: $199.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Fast and powerful
  • Expandable storage

Cons:

  • Cameras are rather poor
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5 of 13 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab PRO 10.1

Samsung currently has a lot of tablets on the market – over 30 by my last count – so it looks like they are shotgunning the market with every size and shape tablet possible, and seeing what people want.

The selling point of the Galaxy Tab PRO 10.1 is the "PRO" label. Samsung packed this tablet with power so people can get their work done.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4) with Samsung TouchWiz
  • Exynos 5 Octa-core CPU with 2GB RAM
  • 10.1-inch display at 2560 x 1600 pixels (with a pixel density of 299 pixels-per-inch)
  • 8 MP rear camera with flash
  • 2 MP front camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • With Galaxy Perks, you’ll also receive content and services like a $25 Google Play credit, 3 free months of Hulu Plus, 50GB of Dropbox space, and 1 year of Gogo Inflight Internet access and more

Price: $499.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Excellent display

Cons:

  • Pricey
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6 of 13 Google

Google Nexus 7

The follow-on to the highly-successful original Nexus 7. The hardware, once again manufactured by Asus, consists of a 7-inch display with a resolution bumped up to 1920x1200 HD display and a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor, an Adreno 320 GPU, a choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage, a 5 megapixel rear camera, and a – somewhat limited – 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera.

The main downside of the Nexus 7 continues to be that it does not feature a card slot to allow you to expand the storage.

The hardware runs the very latest – and highly capable – Android 4.4 "KitKat" operating system, and features an improved, very efficient software keyboard.

Also, being a Google-branded tablet, you're also guaranteed software updates, rather than having to rely on the goodwill of the hardware maker to make them available.

The tablet also features Wi-Fi, optional cellular, Bluetooth, NFC, and optional cellular, and all this is powered by a battery that can give 10 hours of usage under normal conditions.

A powerful tablet in a small, easy-to-carry form factor.

About the only thing I don't like about the Nexus 7 is the 16:10 screen aspect ratio, which makes the device feel awfully top-heavy in portrait mode.

At a glance:

  • 7-inch, 1920x1200 HD display and a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor
  • Adreno 320 GPU
  • Android 4.4 "KitKat"
  • 5.0 megapixel rear camera
  • 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Choice of 16GB or 32GB of internal storage
  • Stereo, surround speakers
  • Battery life of 9 hours

Price: from $199.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Pure android experience
  • Regular updates

Cons:

  • Basic UI
  • No expandable storage
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7 of 13 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition)

The Galaxy Note 10.1 is Samsung's is a flagship tablet that commands a flagship price. And it just got better with this latest update

The hardware is all top-notch, with a 10.1-inch screen with a 2560x1600 resolution display, a 2.3GHz quad core processor on the LTE version (the Wi-Fi/3G version has a 1.9GHz quad-core CPU and a secondary 1.3GHz quad-core CPU), a choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage, an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, a 2 megapixel front-facing camera, and a 10-hour battery pack.

The software is Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" operating system.

For times when a finger just isn't precise enough, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a nifty stylus called the S Pen specifically designed to work with a number of applications. This really comes to its own when doing fiddly things like working in a spreadsheet, or knocking out a doodle.

The stylus makes the Galaxy Note 10.1 a great machine for taking notes, planning, and sketching out ideas. This can be a hugely useful for BYOD usage.

There are two drawbacks to this device. The first is the price. This is a premium tablet, and has a premium price tag to go with that. But at $50 more than the iPad, it's hard to recommend the new Galaxy Note 10.1, especially when you factor in the second drawback – performance. While the hardware baked into the new Galaxy Note 10.1 is top-notch, the tablet still suffers from a sluggishness that makes it annoying to use. Perhaps this will be fixed by a software update, but for now it plagues what should otherwise be a flagship device.

At a glance:

  • 10.1-inch, 2560x1600 display
  • 2.3GHz Exynos quad core processor on the LTE version
  • Android 4.3 "Jelly Bean" (Android 4.4 "KitKat" coming soon)
  • 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, a 2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage
  • Battery life of 10 hours

Price: from $549.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Huge display
  • Good battery life
  • Great handwriting recognition

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Can feel sluggish
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8 of 13 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8-inch

The Android market is dominated by Samsung, and it's no surprise that it has come out with a 8-inch version – the Galaxy Tab 3 8-inch.

At $299, the Tab 3 8-inch is a bit pricey, but it's a good competitor to the iPad Mini for those who don't want to get caught up in the iOS/App Store lock-in web.

The best thing about the Galaxy Tab 3 8-inch is that it is essentially an upgraded Galaxy S II.

At a glance:

  • 8-inch, 1280x800 display
  • 1.5GHz Exynos 4212 dual-core processor
  • Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean"
  • 5 megapixel rear camera, and a 1.2 megapixel front camera
  • USB 3.0
  • 16GB storage of internal storage
  • Battery life of about 11 hours

Price: from $299.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • Pricey
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9 of 13 Google

Google Nexus 10

Here is the Nexus 7's bigger brother — the Nexus 10. However, be aware that we are currently waiting for Google to announce a replacement for this device. This could happen any time soon.

The Nexus 10 sports a 10-inch screen with a 2560x1600 resolution display, a dual core ARM Cortex A15 processor, and a quad core Mali T604 graphics processor.

The Samsung-made tablet also comes with a choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage, a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera, a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera – which is far superior to the 1.2 megapixel camera that the Nexus 7 has – and a power pack capable of delivering 11 hours of usage.

The Nexus is designed by Google, and so it offers the best, purest Android experience possible – and it also means that you will get operating system updates direct from Google, rather than have to wait for the hardware makers to the update.

Overall, a powerful, very well made tablet, and if you have space in your life for a 10-inch tablet, you should take a look at this one. The main downside of the Nexus is that it does not feature a card slot to allow you to expand the storage.

At a glance:

  • 10-inch, 2560x1600 display
  • Dual core ARM Cortex A15 processor
  • Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" upgradable to 4.4 "KitKat"
  • 5 megapixel rear-facing camera, a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Choice of 16GB and 32GB of internal storage
  • Battery life of 11 hours

Price: from $399.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Big display
  • Pure android experience
  • Regular updates

Cons:

  • Basic UI
  • No expandable storage
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10 of 13 Amazon

Amazon Kindle Fire HD

Amazon, a company that rose to fame by making it easier and cheaper to get your hands on the books you wanted, has been aggressively getting into both the hardware and digital content markets over the past few years. And the recently updated Kindle Fire HD is testament to how serious Amazon is about disrupting the tablet market.

  • Fire OS 3.0, a highly modified version of Android
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor
  • 7-inch 1280x800 HD display featuring a pixel density of 216 pixels-per-inch
  • Dolby audio
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi
  • 10 hour battery life
  • Choice of 8GB and 16GB internal storage

Price: from $139.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Fast and powerful

Cons:

  • Tied to Amazon's ecosystem
  • Official Amazon accessories are expensive
  • No expandable storage
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11 of 13 LG

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition

Do you like the Android operating system but hate all the customizations/bloat/crapware that tablet makers like to cram into it? If you answered "yes" then you are not alone, and LG have a tablet that might be of interest to you.

The LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition is a standard LG G Pad 8.3, but with the OS and all the trimmings deleted and a stock version of Android 4.4 "KitKat" loaded onto it instead.

The result is a solid, well-made tablet that runs the latest Android operating system.

  • Android 4.4 "KitKat"
  • 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 processor with an Adreno 320 GPU
  • 8.3-inch 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution with a pixel density of 273 pixels-per-inch
  • 5MP rear camera
  • 1.3MP front camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • MicroSD card slot

Price: $349.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Fast and powerful
  • Expandable storage
  • Great display

Cons:

  • Front camera is poor
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12 of 13 Sony

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

The Xperia Z2 Tablet is essentially the Z2 smartphone expanded to tablet proportions.

The Xperia Z2 Tablet went on sale in the UK and wider Europe in March, and made it to the U.S in May.

Not only is the tablet waterproof and dustproof, but this one is also thinner and lighter than Apple's iPad Air.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801 processor with an Adreno 330 GPU
  • 10.1-inch 1,920 by 1,200-pixel display
  • 8.1MP rear camera
  • 2.2 MP front camera
  • 16GB and 32GB internal storage

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Rear camera is excellent
  • Water and dust resistant

Cons:

  • Poor speakers
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13 of 13 HP

HP 7 Plus

Android tablets don't have to be expensive – take the HP 7 Plus, which can be picked up for $99. Sure, you don't get the latest and greatest hardware, but you do get a very capable Android tablet that packs enough of a punch to do 99 percent of what most users will demand of a tablet.  

  • Jelly Bean (Android 4.2.2)
  • Allwinner A32 1GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM
  • 7-inch 1024 x 600 IPS display
  • 8GB internal storage
  • microSD card support

Price: $99.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Cheap and cheerful

Cons:

  • Low resolution display
  • Remember, it costs $99

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