iOS Tablets

Whether or not Apple's tablet experience is a desirable one is certainly open to debate, but it's hard to deny that the iPad still remains the tablet that all other tablets have to measure up to and are compared against. Last month Apple updated its iPad lineup with the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, and removed the fourth generation iPad. As it stands, Apple has a larger selection of tablets than it has in the past, but whether or not some of them are worth buying is another story. Right now the entry price for an iPad is $249, and it scales as high as $829. For the purposes of these recommendations, we'll be evaluating the tablets based mostly on the base configuration, with additional consideration about the price of storage and cellular upgrades compared to other tablets.

For the most budget minded user, the $249 entry point buys you the original iPad Mini. This is effectively the same hardware platform that shipped with the iPad 2 in March of 2011. With its ageing specifications and low-resolution display, it's not something I would really recommend to anyone, even someone on a very tight budget looking for an iPad. An additional $50 makes things much more interesting, as $299 buys you the iPad Mini 2 which was originally launched as the iPad Mini with Retina Display. Although the display's color gamut is effectively the same as the original Mini, the 2048x1536 display is an enormous improvement over the original. The internal hardware is also superior, with Apple's A7 SoC that still seems to be holding its own a year after release. At $299, the iPad Mini 2 is definitely a worthwhile consideration, even if the color gamut leaves much to be desired.

At the higher price points of $399 and $499 we have three different tablets. For $399 you can choose between the original iPad Air or the recently released iPad Mini 3, and for $499 you can get Apple's new flagship tablet, the iPad Air 2. With the $499 price point it's not really a difficult decision if you're set on buying an iPad, as the Air 2 is thinner and significantly faster than its predecessor. It also includes Touch ID which is a much more desirable feature with the recent launch of iOS 8 and Apple Pay, although not as much of a must-have feature as on a phone.

Choosing between the iPad Air and the iPad Mini 3 is more difficult, as both devices share the same overall specifications. The big differences are obviously the size, the superior display calibration on the iPad Air, and the inclusion of Touch ID on the Mini 3. The A7 SoC in the Air is also clocked 100MHz faster and maintains performance longer due to the heat spreader and lack of stacked RAM, but for most users this isn't going to have many real world implications. I think that I would lean toward the iPad Air as my recommended iPad for the $399 price point, unless the user really needs the smaller size and wants Touch ID. In all other circumstances, the Mini 2 provides the same small tablet experience as the Mini 3 at $100 less.

There's one more factor to consider, and that's the prices of the tablets after storage upgrades, as well as the availability of those upgrades. Apple's pricing scheme for NAND has traditionally been a 16GB base model, with an additional $100 bringing you to 32GB, $200 bringing it to 64GB, and more recently a $300 boost would bring the storage up to 128GB. With the launch of the new iPhones, and subsequently the new iPads, Apple adopted a new storage pricing scheme with the same 16GB base model, but with the $100 and $200 jumps bringing you to 64GB and 128GB respectively, which is a $100 reduction for both of those upgrades compared to the original cost. The iPad Mini 2 and iPad Air now have an upgrade to 32GB for $50, which I would consider a worthwhile investment as 16GB can disappear awfully fast on a tablet.

Overall, I would say that my recommendations are the iPad Mini 2 for the entry level spot at $299, the iPad Air at $399, and the iPad Air 2 as the flagship at $499. There are obviously considerations to make about size and storage, but in general I think these are the best devices that Apple offers at their respective price points.

Intro Android Tablets
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  • PokerGuy - Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - link

    "The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is cheaper than an N7? What world do you live in?"

    Last I checked, the tab pro 8.4 can be purchased for $199 right now, while the N7's are harder to come by and cost more.

    "Samsung's exynos chips are slow and disappointing even compared to the now outdated Snapdragon 400"

    I believe the Gtab pro uses the snapdragon 800, not slow by any means.

    The only legit reason I could see to support the N7 is getting android updates quickly and without fuss. There's some value in that, but not nearly enough to make the N7 more attractive than several other competitors.

    "Not to mention that the N7 has Android 5.0 already so is light years ahead in software while remaining a good $100 cheaper."

    Not sure where you're getting the $100 cheaper part, right now the g tab pro is actually cheaper. Agree with you on getting android updates quicker, but not "light years ahead" by any stretch.

    By the way, I don't own a galaxy tab pro, just commenting on the recommendation.
  • NXTwoThou - Monday, December 1, 2014 - link

    I'm kind of surprised you posted the T100 when you consider that Walmart is selling their "Nextbook 10.1" for $179.00 -full price-. I picked one up for a friend as a babyshower present and it's amazing for the price and far better than the T100.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    You realize the Nextbook 10.1 has 1GB of RAM compared to 2GB in the T100, a lower resolution display (720p instead of 768p), a slower processor (z3745g, which is the single channel memory version of the z3740 that was in the original T100, let alone the z3775 that is in the revamped T100), a lower resolution front camera (though I guess bonus points for a rear camera), less storage (well, okay the T100 has a 32GB model, but the Nextbook 10.1 does not have a 64GB option at any price) and lastly it does not have a USB3 port (or any ports) on the keyboad dock...unlike the T100.

    So...yes. A much inferior tablet at a bit over half the price.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    To add, in my experience, the 2GB of RAM in the T100 is an occasional limitation for some of the stuff I want to do, but looking at it, 1GB is going to limit you to nothing more than email, web browsing, book reading, movie watching and the most basic of touch games. Loading up Banner Saga and my RAM utilization is over 1GB. Loading up Kerbal Space Program (which runs on the T100 fine with the settings turned down BTW) and I've got only 100MB of RAM free. Star Craft 2 will load up and run okay, with well over 1GB of RAM used. And so on.
  • Jamor - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    "As you can see, there's a large price range for the Surface Pro 3"

    Actually I can't see it, as you forgot to add the first 3 prices.
  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - link

    I have to beg to differ about the Asus T100. If the author had bothered to check, the T100 got a redesign a couple of months ago. It now ships with the beefier z3775 process, which is 1.46GHz with a 2.39GHz burst clock, as well as faster GPU. The casing has also been changed from plastic to metal (sadly tacking on a couple of ounces in the process).

    I happen to have the original z3740 based T100 and it is fairly nice. So lets so an article update please. Now fingers crossed for Airmont/Cherry Trail coming out soon and Asus releasing a new 2-in-1 with that in it.
  • scaramoosh - Friday, December 5, 2014 - link

    Why do people act like 16gb is usable? The base model is 32gb now, I do not take 16gb models seriously and they should not be sold any more.
  • TSkyline5 - Saturday, December 13, 2014 - link

    I managed to get a great deal on an iPad Air 32 GB from Best Buy...I originally bought it for $449, but then it went on sale for $409 at Staples (still on sale BTW...and the 16 GB Air is even cheaper at $369), so I went back and had them price match it.

    Apparently, Best Buy's policy is that they will price match within the return period; since it's the holidays, they have extended returns until 1/15/15, so if I see the price go below $409 anywhere else, I can go back and have them price match it AGAIN.
  • marvdmartian - Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - link

    Funny, Brandon's idea of affordable is a bit higher than most people might consider. $229 for a Nexus 7? $399 for a Nexus 9?? While the screens might offer a nice resolution, that's not the end all for some people. Heck, if all you're worried about is the resolution, take a look at the Fire HDX tablets put out by Amazon. At least then, you'll be stuck with another tablet that offers you extended storage only on the "cloud".

    Earlier this year, I bought an Asus MeMO Pad FHD 10 (ME302C-A1), for ~$200, and couldn't be happier with it. Unlike the Nexus and Fire tablets, it has a micro-SDHC slot, capable of adding another 64GB of storage to the tablet. If that wasn't enough, the micro-USB slot (normally used for recharging the tablet) can be utilized, with a $5 (on Amazon and elsewhere) micro-USB male to USB female adapter, to plug a flash drive into it (or use one of the newer dual-plug USB/micro-USB flash drives). Heck, I've even taken a 128GB SSD, put it into an external drive case, and gotten the tablet to read from it, without any problem. Since the power draw on an SSD is so minimal, it shouldn't take as large a power draw off the tablet battery, like an portable hard drive would. While you're stuck in the cloud, I'm enjoying a tablet with a virtual storage drive of over 128GB (easily expanded by putting a larger SSD into the case).

    Also, be aware that Barnes and Noble put their new Nook tablets, a rebadged Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet ( on sale (thru tomorrow) for $130. While it only offers 8GB of onboard storage, it also offers a micro-SDHC slot, for added storage capacity. If you're looking for a nice little 7" tablet, you're going to have a tough time finding better specs at that price point!
  • kenpogodan - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Wow...I must be in the stone age. Samsung tabs don't even get a nod??? I have the Galaxy tab 10.1 Pro and LOVE it.

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