With the holidays approaching, it's time for our annual recommendations for devices in various product categories. Today we're taking a look at what tablets provide the best value and experience for different users. There's obviously a lot of decisions to be made when buying a tablet, and we'll assume that by the time a user has concluded that they want a tablet they have already determined that it is a more suitable choice for them than a more traditional computer like a desktop PC or a laptop.

The first question the buyer will have to ask themselves is what price they are comfortable paying. Tablet prices can range anywhere from $100 to $1000, depending on exactly what tablet it is, and the buyer's price target will be a constraint on the different tablets they have to choose from. Once a price target has been established, the user must decide what they want to do with their tablet. Some tablets may not have the selection of applications that the buyer needs, and others may not have a suitable form factor or size for performing these tasks. Tablets come in many shapes and sizes, with displays ranging from 7" to 13" with aspect ratios that vary from 3:2 on the Surface Pro 3, to 4:3 on the iPad and Nexus 9, to 16:10 on the Nexus 7. Certain display shapes and sizes will be better suited to watching videos, while others will be better suited to reading PDFs and books.

These decisions about size, utility, and price will ultimately drive the decision of what operating system the tablet should be running. Currently this is a choice between three platforms, with the market being dominated by tablets running iOS and Android, Windows coming in third, and other operating systems like WebOS having been eliminated in previous years due to lack of consumer interest. There are also other factors, like accessories and keyboard attachments, but it's very difficult to evaluate these as their usefulness will ultimately depend on the user's needs. Instead of trying to look at every single tablet that fills every niche, we've looked at what we think are the best overall devices within each of the three major operating systems that are available on tablets.

iOS Tablets
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  • Gich - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    You can use legacy software on a convertible but on a tablet? you really can't use that old software with a touch interface, it is worst than terrible... so WinRT was actually fine for a tablet.
    Of course with the avaiability of Bay Trail WinRT got pointless...
    Reply
  • redviper - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Well thats not true at all. You can use a lot of legacy software on x86 Windows tablets. Utilities that don't have the need for an interface, media players that are pretty touch friendly other than small close/maximize buttons, things like 7-zip which have large buttons. You can also install touchpointer and just have a normal pointer if you don't like touchy stuff.

    I use Qiqqa on my dell and it is a monster of an application for reference management, and I could do with 4 GB more ram, but even the pen works for highlighting and annotating. Don't underestimate the flexibility of windows.
    Reply
  • przemo_li - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    "Can use" and "Will use" are 2 different things.

    MS HAD TABLETS FOR MORE THEN 15 YEARS.

    Yes those where "Classic" mode, bulky factor, but best of all they worked with "legacy" apps.

    If such support was selling point we would see success long time ago.

    "legacy" apps are bonus, not THE main selling point.

    However for WinRT is was main WONT SELL point. As at that time MS marketed all tablets without "legacy" apps... as toys.

    So WinRT is single OS harmed by lack of "legacy" apps.
    Well done MS! ;)
    Reply
  • hpglow - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    This argument is irrelevant there are no Windows RT devices in this article. The Stream runs full 32 bit Windows. Also I would like to point out that for many tablet users who just browse the net and Facebook it would work just fine. The problem is that none of them were priced competitively enough for this use. Lack of x86 app support isn't the end all for many people. I use a Surface Pro 2 to write code sometimes and nothing compiles on it because MS jacked something up so given your argument regular Win 8.1 lacks backwards compatability as well (before someone says it yes the same code compiles with no error on my Win7 and Linux boxes). Also using caps to emphasize your points is obnoxious and unnecessary. Make an intelegent argument and you won't need caps. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    The Stream is a truly unbeatable tablet for $99. It's hard to recommend anything else at that price point, Android or otherwise, simply based on software compatibility. It isn't like Google "apps" (Gmail, Talk, etc) don't run on Windows. Reply
  • Ananke - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    Played with it yesterday in MS Store - it is worthless useless device. MS partners actually cut the RAM to 1GB on current tablets, and they are unusable today. I don't want to deep into arguments , but I pretty much followed my daily routine usage - the tablet always froze within couple minutes... Reply
  • 24Gordon - Friday, December 5, 2014 - link

    I was considering buying a Stream 7, but the 1GB was my main concern. Instead I opted to pay $50 more and get a Asus VivoTab 8 with 2GB of RAM. In my eyes, the Asus VivoTab 8 is a great deal at $149 on the Microsoft Store. I think it deserved a mention in this article, though I'm not sure it was out when it was written. Reply
  • Gich - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    A program that needs little to no users inputs by definiton doesn't have much problems on how you interface with it...
    The example of media players works to a point: try the standard VLC and then an app... and not just to start/stop but also select subtitles, audio tracks and so on... this it's what i meant.
    Of course you can tecnically use legacy software, and some might be usable... but well, on a tablet you should use something appropriate.
    Reply
  • hughlle - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    I won't deny that vlc on android is far superior to the desktop version, however on my surface pro 3 with its OTT resolution, desktop vlc is still perfectly usable with touch input, i don't have any issue with it and use it as my go to media software. Reply
  • Penti - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Media players in the store are terrible and Windows Runtime is not a good platform for it. Try VLC for Windows 8 and you'll see it's not worth the effort developing it for WinRT.

    It's simply Windows software btw, the alternative runtime isn't really a replacement or a good alternative outside phones. Windows Runtime can't run without Win32 and Win32 isn't going anywhere and isn't being deprecated. Stuff like VLC is two years in and the restrictions of Windows Runtime doesn't make much sense.
    Reply

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