Prescribing the best tablet on the market

There are plenty of tablets around to tempt you, but which one is the best for your needs?

 

Tablets fall into two categories these days: those measuring in at roughly 10 inches, and those close to the seven- and eight-inch mark. While the latter ones seem to offer the perfect compromise for those who want something a little more portable, all are big enough to read documents, watch movies or even do a little work on.

Whether it’s the larger versions or the mini-tablets that catch your attention, we took a look at some the best – and newest – on the market to identify what’s the best buy out there at the moment.


Display
Responsive displays, bright colours and crisp text are a must these days, and are what elevates the more expensive tablets above their budget brethren. But which tablet sits head and shoulders above the rest?

Apple’s iPad Air has always been held up as the standard for screen quality and resolution, particularly after the Retina display was introduced. It’s worth noting that Retina is a proprietary standard applicable to Apple only, and it varies from device to device. In the case of the iPad Air, it means that it has 264 pixels per inch; which means crisp text even when you zoom in.

So how does that compare to the competition? The Xperia Z2 has 224 pixels per inch and a whole heap of technology that Sony has adapted from its TV expertise to give it a bit more oomph.

The HP Omni 10, which runs Windows 8, also boasts a high definition display and is ideal for prepping documents or work presentations on the go, and watching media. Its screen matches Sony’s 224 pixels per inch, but it’s designed to be anti glare.

When you are looking at them in your hand though, the numbers mean little. All in all,the Z2 and the Air are pretty equal, but we prefer the Air’s display. Marginally.

Of the smaller tablets, it’s a toss up between the LG G Pad and the iPad Mini Retina. Both are stunning, with the iPad Mini Retina winning on pixels per inch at 327pi, but the G Pad winning on screen size at 8.3 inches. We call this a draw. An honourable mention should go to the updated Nexus 7 though, with its 323 pixels per inch.


Power
Quad core chips are all the rage these days, but as with smartphones, don’t get dazzled by the numbers. Apple’s A7 chip may clock in at a slower speed than its quad core rivals, but like the iPhone 5S, it is built on 64-bit architecture. The iPad Air definitely holds its own when it comes to multitasking, but the Z2 has the edge. Not only does it have the 2.3GHz quad core processor, but it also has 3GB of RAM built in. The Omni, meanwhile, is built on Intel’s Atom infrastructure.

At the other end of the scale, you have battery life to consider. The outright winner in the larger tablets is iPad Air, which has a claimed 10 hours, and in our tests, it came quite close to matching that. The HP also came close to its 10-hour claim. The Xperia Z2 doesn’t come with any great boasts about its battery life, although it does have what it calls stamina mode.

In the smaller tablets, there’s not much to separate the contenders, although the iPad Mini has the A7 chip, compared with the LG’s Snapdragon 600 and the Nexus’s S4 processor. In this category, it’s a tie between the Android tablets.


Design
On the 10-inch side of things, it’s a toss up between the iPad Air and the Z2in terms of looks. The iPad Air was once the lightest and thinnest of them all, but Sony has taken it a step further, shaving just enough off its tablet to win. The iPad Air’s 7.5mm depth and 469g weight is beaten by a 6.4mm thickness and 439g weight by Sony.

The HP Omni 10 is a little uninspiring, with a weighty 652g, and is the thickest of the three at 9.9mm. It’s noticeably heavier but it also feels solid.

But the Xperia Z2 wins out on more than just measurements. Not only is it slimmer and lighter than the iPad Air, it’s sleek, it’s well designed and it’s waterproof, complete with an IP rating. So that means you can take it most places without worrying about its ability to withstand splashes and dust.

For smaller tablets, the LG G Pad and the Nexus 7 tough it out with the iPad Mini to be crowned king. The iPad Mini shares much of the styling of its larger screened sibling, but there’s nothing really all that new about it. It’s a shrunken iPad at best, even if it is a rather well designed one at that.

The GPad, on the other hand, is head and shoulders above what LG has produced in the past, even if it seems to have been inspired by Apple’s tablet. It’s a shade heavier at 338g versus the iPad Mini’s 331g.

The Nexus opts for a lightweight plastic exterior, which while functional, isn’t really that exciting. Still, it’s easy to hold when reading which is a plus, and at 290g it’s the lightest of the three.

Taking all this into consideration, the LG G Pad gets the points here.


Camera
Do you want to be that person holding up their tablet to take a photo in a crowded tourist spot or concert? If so then pay attention to the rear-facing camera quality.

It’s a toss up between the Sony and the HP tablet on this front, with both cameras coming in at around 8 megapixels and delivering decent image quality. Trailing at the rear is the iPad Air, which has a 5 megapixel camera, which it has labelled as iSight – another proprietary term.

Sony has been busy using its camera expertise though, meaning that if you choose to use your tablet to snap, you’ll probably get the best images out of the Z2 tablet with its Exmor sensor and associated Sony technology. Still, the others don’t do badly.

Front-facing cameras are probably more important for video conferencing and Skype. In this regard, the 10-inch tablets are certainly competitive. The Xperia and Omni tablets offer cameras about 2 megapixels in resolution, with the iPad opting for 1.2 megapixels. Again the Z2 wins out here, at 2.2 megapixels.

It’s probably easier to get away with waving your smaller screened tablet around a bit at family occasions, although it will still come across as a bit clumsy. All three tablets offer 5 megapixel cameras, so there is little to differentiate them.

When it comes to video conferencing, the Nexus 7 has a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera, versus the LG’s 1.3 megapixel offering. The iPad Mini, meanwhile, sticks with 1.2MP too. That leaves the LG just about leading the pack in the smaller screened tablet here.


Capacity
The iPad Air doen’t allow you to expand the onboard memory, so you have the choice of 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. That’s a flaw, particularly for people who want to work on their tablets. And even with cloud storage, it’s not always feasible to connect to the internet to access extra storage. However, both the HP Omni and the Z2 have the capacity to expand their storage, from 16Gb in the Xperia’s case and 32GB in the Omni, with a microSD that expands storage by up to 128GB in the Xperia and 64GB in the Omni.

The Nexus 7 is also limited in its storage capacity. The 16GB and 32GB options also have to contend with an OS that takes up a chunk of space. And there is no expansion slot either. Ditto for the iPad Mini, although the options go up to 128GB, if you are feeling flush.

Step forward LG, which may only offer 16GB of space out of the box, but the expansion slot adds another 64GB, and is cheaper than the iPad Mini Retina, which costs an additional €180 to get it to 64GB capacity. Options are good, making LG the winner on this occasion.


Software
It’s mainly iOS 7 versus Android here, and it’s a battle that is sure to divide tablet users everywhere.

On the plus side for iOS 7, you’ve got the sheer weight of apps that are developed for the platform. Plus it’s relatively stable, despite some niggles, and the apps in its store are vetted more closely.

However, customisation and individuality isn’t something that Apple appears to encourage in its interface. While Android users are adding widgets and other useful items to their desktops, Apple users are stuck with creating folders and changing their background screen. And unless you want to jailbreak your phone, you can’t go looking elsewhere for apps, unlike Android.

The HP Omni, meanwhile, offers full Windows 8.1. Not RT, Windows 8.1. That’s a massive point in its favour compared to other Windows tablets, as you aren’t limited to just Windows Store software. However, Windows 8 is still finding its feet among consumers, which could limit its appeal.


The verdict
While the iPad Air is certainly a nice piece of kit, it’s eclipsed in many ways by the Xperia Z2, giving Sony the edge over the Apple product, with the Omni coming in third.

On the smaller screened debate, the LG G Pad takes top spot ahead of the iPad Mini.