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The very best tablets of 2013

With the year now drawing to a close, it's time to take a look at some of the best tech for the year, starting with tablets.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 6 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

With the year now drawing to a close, it's time to take a look at some of the best tech for the year, starting with tablets.

Tablets have been a huge hit over the year, and a number of great products have come to market, and with retailers trying desperately to attract attention with holiday deals, there's never been a better time to buy.

Here all operating system prejudices have been left at the door, and there are tablets running Android, Windows 8.1 and iOS in the listing.

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2 of 6 Google

Best Android tablet - #3: The Google Nexus 7

The new Google Nexus 7 is the much-anticipated 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 4.3 "Jelly Bean" 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, 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 4.3 "Jelly Bean"
  • 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.

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3 of 6 Samsung

Best Android tablet - #2: 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"
  • 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.

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4 of 6 Amazon

Best Android tablet - #1: 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.

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5 of 6 ASUS

Best Windows 8.1 tablet - #1: ASUS Transformer Book T100

The ASUS Transformer Book T100 is a hidden gem when it comes to Windows tablet. This is a 10.1-inch 2-in-1 convertible that switches from being a tablet to a notebook. This tablet beats the Surface 2 offering on almost every metric you care to use.

  • Price: You can pick up the T100 for $379 from online retailers such as Amazon, which is a full $70 less than an entry-level Surface 2 tablet.
  • OS: The T100 runs the full x86 version of Windows 8.1, not the ARM-powered Windows RT that the Surface 2 runs. If you want a Surface Pro 2 that runs the full version of Windows 8.1 then you're looking at a starting price of $899.
  • Microsoft Office: Full version of Microsoft Office (Home and Student 2013) versus the cut-down version for Windows RT.
  • Faster CPU: Intel Atom versus Nvidia Tegra 4.
  • Better battery life: 11 hours versus 10 hours.
  • Lighter: 1.2lbs versus 1.49lbs
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6 of 6 Apple

Best iOS tablet - #1: iPad Air

You might be wondering why this category exists, but since Apple has three different iPads on offer – the iPad Air, the iPad mini with Retina display, and the iPad 2 – then there's still a contest.

So, which one wins? Well, since the iPad 2 is so long in the tooth, this is really a competition between the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display. And for me, the winner is the iPad Air.

Essentially, there are only two differences between the iPad Air and the iPad mini. The primary one is the display. The iPad Air features a 9.7‑inch multi-touch IPS 2048-by-1536 resolution display with 264 pixels per inch, while the iPad mini has a 7.9-inch multi-touch IPS 2048-by-1536 resolution display with 326 pixels per inch.

The other difference is price. The smaller screen of the iPad mini translates into a device that is $100 cheaper than a comparable iPad Air.

Everything else is essentially the same.

Therefore, unless price or screen size is your primary concern, I say go for the bigger iPad Air and get a full-sized iOS experience.

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