When it comes to choosing a tablet, depending on what you're looking to use it for, you can splurge on a top of the line model, choose a mid-range model, or even settle for a reasonably priced device. Whether it's for work or casual use, the specs and design of the tablet will factor heavily into the price, but rest assured there are plenty of configurations available to please everyone.
A tablet is a wireless, portable PC devise with a touch screen interface. In terms of size, a tablet is usually smaller than a notebook style computer and of course, bigger than a smart phone
. One of the first things you will need to do before making this purchase is to determine whether a tablet is REALLY what you need. If the sole purpose of the device is reading, then you may decide that a less expensive, simple e-reader
such as a Kindle or Amazon Fire
(which does have many tablet features), might be enough for you. Or, if your expectation is to have a device that will serve you as well as your laptop in terms of work productivity, you will definitely need to get a high end one that has the ability to attach a keyboard (yes, there are ones designed just for tablets).
If you are a fan of reading and you want to enjoy multiple features and connectivity options, these smartphones can also do the trick. Although they are a little bit more expensive than tablets, they come with more bells and whistles and at the moment of this writing, they are the most popular phones on the market. Don’t hesitate to check them out!
Now back to tablets, for the purpose of this review, we took a look at some really great tablets, from 5 of the leading brands – each with different features and different price points. Regardless of what tablet you get, these are some factors that you want to consider when making your decision.
When it comes to the price of tablets, it varies significantly based specs, features and performance. Knowing your requirements will keep you within budget as well as help you make a perfect choice. Generally small screen tablets starting at 7 inches are cheaper compared to 10 inch tablets. And iPads being the leader in this maze are often more expensive than their Android and Microsoft counterparts, but these are also premium devices that well justify their price tag.
The iPad does however lacks certain features such as native HDMI and storage expansion support, but the flagship model we’ve reviewed boasts a comprehensive software catalogue, blistering performance, a robust ecosystem that offers great support to a wide range of games, apps, music and video and refined interface. Contrarily, not all cheap tablets are worthless devices that deliver a daunting user experience, but many simply don’t offer all the bells and whistles such as a high amount of onboard storage or a full HD display. For example, the Fire tablet by Amazon can be had at an affordable price, but the tradeoff is an unappealing design and a limited number of features (and this is why is doesn’t make it to our top 5 list, but as a runner-up, depending upon your needs, it might be the right one for you).
All the tablets starting from our top of the line model to our budget pick can be ordered in several different variants, further giving you the flexibility to suit your needs and of course wallet. Prices for the best tablets range from $200 to up to $1500 for a top notch model. However, the 5 products we’ve reviewed come in at under $200 and up to $899 for an all purpose tablet.
Everyone wants a tablet with a bright screen and superb viewing angles. These qualities are a combination of the panel type and screen resolution, with the highest being 2,560 x 1,600-pixels. Panel type will dictate whether the images maintain their quality when viewed from different angles or how bright the screen can get. It also will determine how accurate and vibrant the colors are. The best panels are plane-line switching (PLS) and in-plane switching (IPS), and these are featured in the Nvidia K1 and Asus ZenPad S 8.0 tablets among others.
Content is a crucial part of the whole tablet experience, and includes moves, music, games and books. Content storing capacities start at 8 GB, but this, to be honest, is extremely low. If you’re going to settle for a device with low native memory, ensure it can be expanded with a MicroSD card. All the devices we’ve reviewed except the Apple iPad Pro offer some level of memory expansion through a dedicated Micro SD card slot.
Another thing worth pointing out is that the OS of a tablet does consume some of this native storage so 8 GB is not really 8 GB of storage for you to use. If you’re going to be using your tablet on the go, it’s best to invest in a device that offers both Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity to insert a SIM and use on a GSM mobile network. It’s similar to using your tablet like your phone, and tablets that offer the best of both worlds are a little expensive compared to Wi-Fi only tablets, but are so worth it!
Construction and Design
The first thing you’ll want to make sure of is that the tablet feels good in your hands given these are extremely tactile devices. Dimensions and weight play a crucial role towards this, but balance as well. Also, it is important to make sure the tablet has no sharp corners or jagged edges, which might dig into your palm when holding the device. Since portability is the key selling point of tablets, the size of the device is an important aspect to consider.
Tablets generally come in 3 screen size ranges – 6 inches to 8 inches, 9 inches to 10 inches and over 10 inches. The first screen category measure 6 to 8 inches across the screen, and while 6 inches is rather small, 8 inches like our budget choice is a good fit for several tasks. They are much more portable than their bigger counterparts, and fit easily into purses and small bags. Reading eBooks on 7” to 8” tablets is a sheer pleasure since they are a joy to hold even with one hand.
Next up, 9” to 10” tablets are the range most mainstream tablets fall into. These showcase larger screens and top notch resolutions, and our top pick the iPad Pro 9.7 inch makes this quite evident. Large screens are great for several tasks, most notably watching movies, and certain games can even benefit from the extra screen real estate. Adding to this, higher screen size and resolution requires faster processors, and this is one area where this range of tablets doesn’t disappoint. Tablets such as the Samsung S2 9.7 inch make games feel more interactive and TV shows and movies more immersive.
Lastly, the biggest and somewhat best tablets that measure over 10 inches are sort of a rare breed in this arena, and there is just a handful available such as from Microsoft, Apple and Samsung. As you might have guessed, they don’t come cheap, but on a brighter note they take home the gold in terms of design, operating system, performance and features. Tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 we’ve reviewed can even be ordered with a backlit keyboard, which offers a laptop-like experience only in a much smaller package.
Apart from the size of the screen, it is important to check out the screen resolution of tablets, which dictates how clear it is. Even small tablets of sizes 8 inches, such as the Asus ZenPad S 8.0, are fitted with dazzling HD displays, which are a pleasure to view on bright sunny days as well. Next up is screen ratio, which refers to the shape of the screen, aka aspect ratio. To explain briefly, most TV’s and laptops sport a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio aka widescreen, while old CRT monitors and TV’s were 4:3. Most Android tablets feature a 16:9 aspect ratio resulting in slim devices and less black bars along the sides when watching widescreen movies.
The 16:9 ratio makes it easier to read books when in portrait mode, but can lead to a tall and unwieldy experience on 10 inch tablets because it is not the ideal shape for newspapers, web pages and magazines. Recently, some iPads and Android tablets feature a 4:3 aspect ratio and the big black bars are offset by a squarer screen. One great example of a device with a 4:3 aspect ratio is the Samsung S2 – a device that makes reading as well as watching movies a joy thanks to its squarer screen and AMOLED display.
Performance and Ease of Use
When it comes to performance, the two crucial elements that come into play are the Processor and Operating system (OS). Starting with processors, Apple uses its class leading “A” range of processors with the latest A9X and M9 co-processor fitted with the iPad Air Pro. This processor is one of the fastest mobile chips available, and is the reason why the iPad still remains the Holy Grail of tablets. Nvidia – a respected name in the gaming industry uses its very own Tegra K1 192-core Kepler GPU processor to deliver an outstanding gaming experience.
Exynos processors by Samsung don’t disappoint either, but this range of tablets does take a hit when it comes to battery life. But needless to say, mostly all Samsung tablets offers bucket loads of features and top notch displays so a little less juice is not much of a compromise. Operating systems are the backbone of tablets and the most common ones are iOS, Android and Windows. IOS boasts a deep media ecosystem, a massive app catalog and a user friendly interface. The latest iteration of iOS also brings in several new features such as multitasking and superior battery life, and you can experience this first hand on the iPad Pro 9.7 inch device.
Although most developers tend to roll out new apps to iOS first, Android devices are generally next in line. When speaking on a media ecosystem, Android wins hands down in terms of quality of selections such as TV shows, movies, magazines and games. Also, Androids latest version – Marshmallow is now more customizable than ever, and can be found on Google’s flagship devices right out of the box, or easily upgradeable on the two we’ve reviewed – the Nvidia Shield K1 and Samsung S2.
When it comes to operating systems, no one does it better than Microsoft and its newest Windows 10 is a perfect example. It combines the best features of the old and new versions of Windows, and fits them into one nice user friendly, cohesive package. However, the Windows apps store severely falls short compared to iOS and Android, but the OS excels in terms of touchscreen functionality.
When shopping for the best tablet, there are several factors to consider including performance, specs, portability and price. The tablet market is not the same that it was when dominated 5 years ago by Apple, but today there are several brands available that offer great tablets to meet varying needs and budgets. Let’s take a look at our 5 recommendations, and see how they stack up!
The Apple iPad Pro is probably the best tablet money can buy at this moment! This is really where you need to pay attention though, because bigger is not always better! For example, let’s compare the biggest rival to the Pro 9.7 inch -- its 12.9 inch predecessor. Both are compatible with the Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, deliver the same speed CPU and battery power, only that the 9.7 inch model arrives in a more manageable size and consequently leads the pack in terms of portability. Apart from the improved cameras, the new 9.7 inch tablet also boasts a True Tone display that automatically adjusts the screen temperature based on the lightning in the room.
To explain briefly, every iOS device is appointed with ambient light sensors to aid with the Auto Brightness feature. But the iPad 9.7 inch Pro’s sensors are unique in that they detect the brightness as well as the color temperature. That’s not all; the Lil Pro iPad even has an added edge when it comes to connectivity with LTE Advanced technology, which means that data from a mobile network can be downloaded up to an astounding 50 percent times faster.
The Pro iPad 9.7 inch also comes with the Apple SIM built in, allowing you to choose from a variety of data plans from different providers and stay connected in over 90 countries without the need to purchase an international SIM or plan. This is not only cost effective, but convenient especially for those who travel often internationally with their tablet. But if you insist on using your good old, regular SIM, Apple does provide a nano SIM tray at the edge of the device. For just under $750, the iPad 9.7 inch pro gives you a faster processor, a brilliant display, class leading cameras and perks of the company’s latest OS.
Construction and Design
Apple’s new favorite child is not just aesthetically appealing, it packs some serious punch under its hood, and enough to possibly replace your traditional laptop. Even though it is neatly packaged in the same body as the iPad Air 2, it takes stage with class leading cameras, better, louder speakers, support for accessories such as the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, a bright, crisp antireflective display and most importantly a top notch processor.
Debuting 18 months after its much bigger predecessor – the iPad Pro 12.9 inch, this fairly new addition to the Air lineup makes an excellent upgrade for several reasons. For starters, it boasts the same features as the bigger Pro including the ability to split your screen to work on multiple apps simultaneously and Scratch-resistant glass, oleophobic coating, except that this iteration is highly portable and lightweight at just 0.98 grams.
Despite its smaller size, the Pro Apple tablet is still appointed with quad speakers, and can be mated with a new Smart Keyboard. This befitting keyboard makes it easier and comfortable to type on, and is nearly 6cm slimmer in width than its original. This trimmed space however is mostly the “wasted” borders on the 12 inch Smart Keyboard, which were the ones that were no good in any perspective.
The cameras of the Little Pro Apple tablet are another element that makes it distinct from its original, where it is outfitted with a 12 megapixel camera and f/2.2 aperture, allowing you to shoot 63 megapixel panoramas compared to the 8 megapixel camera with a f/2.4 aperture on the 12.9 inch iPad Pro. This is the same camera integrated with the iPhone 6S, the one with an improved flash.
Although some might mock the idea of taking pictures with this tablet, it is always good to have great cameras on any device you use especially if you use it as an on the fly document scanner. The only complaint we did have with the new 9.7 inch tablet was when you flip it over, where the camera lens extrudes similarly to the ones on the iPhone 6S. But this is also the best camera fitted with any iPad so there’s not much to gripe about.
The screen of the Lil iPad Pro really leaves no room for disappointment with remarkable glare reduction and brightness boost, making it a joy to look at in both indoor and outdoor environments. The Cupertino-based tech giant offers its best tablet yet in a Wi-Fi only and a Wi-Fi and cellular version for people on the go. In addition, it can be ordered in three different onboard memory variants – 32GB, 128GB and the expansive 256GB, and even four exciting color palettes – Space Gray, Gold, Silver and Rose Gold (only available for 9.7 Pro version). Regardless of the model you choose, you enjoy 2 gigs of RAM and top notch performance from Apple’s A9X processor.
Performance and Ease of Use
The iPad Pr0 is embedded with Apple’s exclusive A9X and M9 co-processor, meaning you literally get notebook grade power only in a nice, small package. Apple claims the CPU offers just the right level of oomph to allow you to edit several 4K videos simultaneously, which is indeed excellent considering the camera of this tablet can shoot at that resolution. In addition, there is very little or no lag when switching between several open apps or Safari tabs.
Results from the Geekbench 3 overall performance test rendered a score of 5151, which basically outweighs its competition. Of course its bigger cousin yielded a higher score, but this is mostly due to the higher 4GB RAM compared to 2GB on the 9.7 iPad Pro. The Pro Apple 9.7 inch tablet runs Apple’s latest iOS 9.3, so you enjoy great upgrades including Night Shift Mode, which is a display based setting that allows you to “warm up” the iPad Pro screen in low light conditions to minimize the blue light exposure.
Furthermore, you can now also password protect your notes, and sort them by date and title. Students can also login with different accounts on a single iPad, allowing them to share the same device seamlessly. School administrators can now create and manage Apple ID’s effortlessly. You get all the multitasking features from iOS 9, making it the king of the productivity department.
There’s also a Picture in Picture feature that allows you to activate a small window running a video within other apps. If you feel using all these superior apps will chew your battery power, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The 9.7 inch Apple Pro device is fitted with a 27.9 Wh (Watt-Hour) non-removable, lithium-polymer battery, which provides enough juice for 10 hours of use on Wi-Fi and 9 hours on cellular connectivity, which is much more than other devices in its segment.
Asus is increasingly more popular on the electronics market as they build technologically-advanced devices like laptops, cell phones and of course, tablets. The Asus ZenPad 8” Tablet is truly a gem that caught up our attention almost instantly.
There are several features tied into the display of the Asus ZenPad S 8.0, most notably Tru2Life+, which is basically a video processing feature that results in smoother motion. VisualMaster as Asus likes to call it basically brings TV HDR technology into the tablet, and consequently increases sharpness similar to life like images and contrast levels up to an astounding 200 percent higher.
The buttons on the 8 inch Asus tablet are somewhat stiff, but thankfully you can double tap the screen to wake it up without reaching for the power button. With the Touch Gesture feature, you can draw letters when the screen is off to launch specific apps such as E for email and C for camera. Then there’s Motion Gesture, which allows you to shake the device to capture a screenshot, and even a Kid Mode that brings in parental controls and a timer. Tablets with such high end specs can cost an upwards of $400, but the Asus S 8.0 rings in at just under $200 at the moment we wrote this review, and we’re not complaining.
Construction and Design
In an arena where the word “Tablet’ is synonymous with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Apple iPad, you may be surprised to know that a tablet from Asus actually exists. After designing the best tech-per-dollar tablet until date – Nexus 7 (2013), Asus is on a roll again with the ZenPad S 8.0. The rear of the 8 inch ZenPad is mostly covered by a brushed metal plate complete with a little imposter faux leather trim at the bottom, giving it a premium feel.
Lightweight at just 319 grams (11 ounces), the ZenPad 8 inch tablet rings in at a slim 6.6mm, and is fitted with a 4000 mAh battery, which when fully charged provides enough surge for roughly 5 hours. And when you do run out of juice, battery power can be replenished relatively quickly thanks to its next gen USB Type-C charging capabilities. To explain briefly, USB Type-C delivers power of 100 watts at 20 volts, which means faster charging and super fast data transfer rates, and is technology that is often only seen in more expensive devices.
If we compare the 8 inch ZenPad with the iPad Mini 2 since they both showcase similar specs and cost under $400, the iPad Mini justifies higher price tag with a better display, faster processor, Apple Pay features, sharper camera and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. But the Asus 8 inch tablet is not far behind with a screen that’s just as sharp and colorful as the iPad Mini 2, and can be had in 16/32/64 GB variants and with 2/4 GB RAM respectively.
All variants are Wi-Fi exclusive meaning no SIM/cellular connectivity, and are appointed with an onsite microSD card slot to maximize storage up to 256GB, which is an area the Apple tablet falls short and offers no native storage expansion. The rear top right corner of the tablet is embedded with an 8 mega pixel camera (5 mega pixel up front), whereas the volume controls and the power button are located at the right side of the device, headphone jack up top, USB-Type C connector on the bottom panel and stereo speakers flank the screen at the top and bottom of the device. The speakers aren’t revelatory, but YouTube and Netflix videos sound much better than other devices in its segment.
The screen of the S 8 inch Asus tablet is ridiculously brilliant with a 2K (1536 x 2,048 resolution, 320 pixels per inch) panel that is remarkably sharp similar to the Galaxy Tab 2 and iPad Mini 2, and significantly better than the similarly priced Amazon Fire HD 8 and expensive Google Nexus 9. Color quality may not be as good as the Tab 2 or iPad Mini 2, but you’d be hard pressed to find the same top notch display for this price. Asus was kind enough to provide a tool aka Splendid, which allows you to adjust the saturation and white balance in addition to its Bluelight filter mode to minimize eye strain.
Performance and Ease of Use
The powerhouse of the S 8.0 Asus tablet is a robust Intel Atom Z3560 64 Bit, quad-core processor and 4 gigs of RAM. With this architecture, the tablet outweighs many tablets in its class, and comes with Android OS, v5.0 Lollipop right out of the box. It performs well across several applications especially when loading web pages, checking mail and streaming video. Furthermore, the ZenPad arrives with a host of pre-installed apps and a custom user interface aka ZenUI.
This user interface is the company’s best effort yet, and is highly customizable and can be tweaked with custom font sizes, icon packs, colors and more by simply by holding down or swiping up on the homescreen. Camera quality is decent, but your phone is perhaps a better alternative when it’s within reach. Needless to say, shots taken from the ZenPad S 8.0 cameras are still much better than other devices in the budget tablet segment.
The 5 megapixel selfie camera up front offers myriad modes and even a nice shutter mechanism that allows you to drag away from the shutter button to almost instantly set a timed delay. Camera quality isn’t remarkable per se, but the camera app is where this Asus tablet scores well. The selfie camera has dedicated modes for selfie panoramas and time-lapse, slo-mo video and insta-animated GIFs, while the front camera steps it up a few notches with depth of field and miniature modes.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet is a device that will surely blow your mind!
All the marquee features of the Surface Pro lineup still make it to the new model albeit with some minor updates starting with the Pen. This stylus is included in the box of the Surface Pro tablet magnetically attaches to the tablet’s edge rather than with a loop like the previous model. Furthermore, the Pen has been greatly improved, and is now four times more sensitive than the device that came with the Pro 3. It is a bit larger than its earlier model due to the all new eraser at the top, and offers 1024 levels of pressure. The pen is powered by a battery, which lasts roughly 1 year, and when it’s out of juice, you simply chuck it, buy a new one and replace it.
Clicking on the eraser like button on the back will bring up OneNote, which is the company’s favorite app for stylus input. The pen can be also be used with several other apps including the onboard Fresh Paint, and the New York Time Crossword puzzle app. You can also use the pen in a web browser and several text fields, which will bring up a pop up box to convert the handwritten input and convert it to web searches, composing email or filling in forms.
Unlike old Surface Pro devices that were literally hampered with Windows 8, the all new Surface Pro 4 is suited with Windows 10 right out of the box. And to seal the deal, this high end tablet is backed by Microsoft’s 1 year limited warranty against manufacturer defects. With the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft’s hybrid journey takes a new twist – this time the right direction.
Construction and Design
If you think 2-in-1 PC’s are dead, spending a few moments with the Surface Pro 4 will instantly change your mind! As you might have guessed, the Surface Pro is an upgrade to the Surface Pro 3 released in June, 2014. After nearly three generations of pitching an all purpose tablet that can replace a laptop, Microsoft has finally nailed the perfect recipe with the Pro 4 tablet. And this isn’t a subtle upgrade -- this high powered business hybrid arrives with a plethora of class leading features.
Needless to say, the Pro Surface 4 does share similar DNA with its predecessor, but this is a wise move from Microsoft since the goal is not to change the concept of the all-purpose tablet, but to refine the finished product. That said, the display of the Surface Pro 4 tablet now measures 12.3 inches as opposed to 12 inches in its earlier iteration, and this is without making the device any larger. The company instead decreased the bezel around the device’s screen to add more screen real estate.
And this is no ordinary display, but features PixelSense, as Microsoft likes to call it, which is named for its stylus and capacitive touch capabilities, meaning the screen of the Surface Pro 4 supports pen and touch input and boasts a 3:2 aspect ratio. Adding to this, the touchscreen of this all-purpose tablet is just 400 microns thick, which Microsoft claims is the slimmest optical architecture in the tablet arena. Comparing the old and new Surface Pro devices dimensionally, they are nearly identical, but vary in thickness. Both the Surface Pro 3 and 4 tablets measure 7.93 inches wide and 11.5 inches high, but the latter showcases a thickness of 0.33 inches compared to 0.36 inches on the Pro 3.
The Surface Pro 4 also benefits from an array of thoughtfully placed buttons starting with the Power and volume buttons, which are located on the upper left edge of the device. You will find the mini-display port and USB jacks on the right side of the tablet when used with the keyboard, while the headphone/microphone jack combo is located near the top edge of the Surface Pro 4 all purpose tablet.
While the color of the device is the same across all variants, the Covers/Keyboard can be had in a choice of 4 colors namely red, purple, black and blue. These new covers (sold separately) are compatible with the Surface Tab 3 and 4 and are the thinnest and lightest the company has ever made. Their design is complete with an integrated, backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and softer key mechanics. Both old and new devices have the same number of ports – a MicroSD card slot that allows you to increase native memory up to 128 GB.
Performance and Ease of Use
As mentioned earlier, the new Surface Pro device is faster than its predecessor, and scores well in several benchmark tests. Even the lowest configuration unit can juggle multiple browsers and perform office applications and HD media streaming with ease. Furthermore, using Photoshop on hi-res images is lag free for the most part and basic games run fine as well. Considering the Surface Pro range of devices is primarily designed as a tablet, one would expect superior battery power, but it is on par and offers roughly 8 hours of use when fully charged.
The Surface Pro 4 is also somewhat lighter that its predecessor at 1.69lbs compared to 1.76lbs for the least expensive configuration. Speaking of which, the Surface Pro 4 is available in 8 distinct variants with regard to processor, RAM and native memory – ranging from an enormous 1TB SSD, 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 at the top end and 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, Intel Core i5 at the bottom, with the other variations falling in between so you can surely find the combination that works best for you. Moving to the interior, you can call the Surface Pro a workhorse with the inner dwellings of a PC, and features Intel’s latest sixth generation Skylake processors, which Microsoft claims allows the all variants of the new Pro 4 to sprint 30 percent faster than their predecessors, and an astounding 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air.
The Samsung Tab S2 is an excellent contender that boasts incredible specs and enhanced reliability! The Flipboard-esque Magazine feature is however missing in the new Tab S2 device, but this isn’t a huge loss considering it is replaced by a similar reading aggregator app. The Tab 2 device arrives with a bunch of goodies courtesy of Samsung, and most of them are geared towards the new 4:3 portrait screen size. Your purchase of the 9.7 inch Tab2 device includes a 6 month subscription to the Guardian and Economist as well as Pocket, which is an app that allows you to save content for future reading.
Other perks include free downloads of the Hancom Office apps, which is great if you’re into writing and a three month subscription to the Netflix of books aka Scribd. The Bluetooth of the device features low energy functionality, and the Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO technology is significantly faster than regular Wi-Fi. And to seal the deal, you get a one-year warranty with the S2 9.7 inch tablet that covers you for certain things Not including cover water damage or simply running over it with your car! For under $400 at the moment of this writing, the Tab S2 comes in with 32 GB of onboard storage, a fingerprint scanner and a MicroSD card slot, this proves Samsung can be generous.
Construction and Design
It’s hard to ignore the fact that most Android tablets these days try and compete with the glorious iPad, but often fall short because even though they are less expensive, many are also less powerful and less attractive. Samsung however is possibly the only company that’s been exploring the Android tablet space ever since its inception, and has got the knack of designing devices that rival the iPad, and the Tab S2 is an excellent example. A successor to the Tab S lineup and conceived in 2014, the Tab S2 is the same mighty Android tablet in terms of power and appeal, but boasts a premium look and feel with a smooth plastic back cover instead of the fake stitching accents, fake faux leather and dimpled Band-Aid texture rear case in the Tab S.
Unlike some tablets that boast a stylish all metal construction, the Tab S2 with its plastic craftsmanship is still a very sturdy device and its chamfered edges add pizzazz to its otherwise minimalistic design. Featherweight at just 389g (Wi-Fi) and 392g (GSM), the Tab S2 9.7 inch is effortless to hold with one hand or propped up in bed, without ever straining your wrists, and also makes a great lightweight travel buddy. For comparison sake, it is much lighter, thinner and cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and outshines its next rival - the all-metal Dell Venue 8 7000. Just like its original, the Tab S2 can be had in two distinct sizes, only that their not the same. While the Tab S was available in 8.4 inch and 10.5 inch variants, the Samsung Tab S2 comes in 8 inch and 9.7 inch options. In terms of numbers, the Lil Tab S2 (8 inch) measures 134.8 x 198.6mm, while its bigger sibling (9.7 inch) measures 169 x 237.3mm, but both according to Samsung are the slimmest you can get your hands on at just 5.6mm and we’d have to agree!
With regards to weight, both the Tab S2 models are lighter than the original and tip the scales at 265g and 389g respectively. The devices are available in standalone 3G (nano SIM) and Wi-Fi models just like the Tab S, but the Tab S2 tablets differ in color palettes in that they are available in standard white and black color variants an also gorgeous gold similar to the hues of the S6 Edge Plus. Although the resolution of the new Tab S2 tablets takes a hit compared to the Tab S models from 320ppi for the 8.7 inch and 264ppi for the 9.7 inch to 359ppi and 287ppi respectively, Samsung has embraced a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio used in its earlier tablet devices.
Even with this drop in resolution, this portrait and squarer display makes reading eBooks, spreadsheet tasks, apps and surfing the web a pleasure. Contrariwise, watching videos on a 16:9 or 16:10 resolution is a superb experience because it is the same aspect ratio used by many TV’s so you will notice wider black bars at the top and bottom than you did on other tablets. When all said and done, you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking display than the Samsung S2 9.7 inch thanks to its AMOLED technology.
Similar to Apple’s flagship device and the earlier Tab S, the Tab S2 features a biometric fingerprint scanner. What’s different however in this new flagship model is that the fingerprint reader is integrated with the Home button so instead of swiping down on the Home button, you simply place your finger right over it. The S2 device allows you to save up to 4 fingerprints such as your thumb and index fingers, making the process of unlocking a whole lot easier than the traditional swipe to unlock function.
Although having a fingerprint sensor onboard is extremely convenient to unlock the device without having to type or swipe a password, it also works well as an alternative to passwords on websites. Furthermore fingerprint recognition is easy to setup like other Samsung devices, and it’s just a matter of pressing the sensor repeatedly until it recognizes and registers your fingerprint. Unlike many Android tablets that have onscreen buttons, the Tab S2 tablet features a physical Home button, flanked by the Recent Apps and Back buttons silkscreened on either side.
The right side of the device is where you will find the volume rocker and Power button, while the microSD card slot is set right below them. This tablet has a 32 GB built in storage but you can expand the native memory further up to either an additional 64 or 128 GB via the dedicated microSD card slot. The bottom edge of the Samsung tablet houses a pair of speakers, which needless to say render brilliant sound. Completing the design is a set of proprietary connectors at the rear to attach compatible cases.
Performance and Ease of Use
Regardless of the Tab S2 model you choose, you enjoy smooth performance from a remarkable Samsung Exynos 5433 octa-core processor, which includes one set of four cores running at 1.3 GHz for battery saving and other that sprints at 1.9 GHz for when you need performance. Just like its predecessor, the 9.7 inch Tab S2 brings in a generous 3 GB of RAM, and arrives suited with v5.0.2 (Lollipop) with Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. This however can be upgraded to the latest Android v6.0.1 (Marshmallow) as soon as you buy the tablet.
The Tab S2 8 inch tablet is fitted with a 4000mAh capacity battery, and the 9.7 inch model with a larger 5870mAh battery. Battery life is good, but not outstanding on either variant, but this also depends on your usage. Roughly speaking, you can expect around seven and a half hours of usage watching HD video at 50 percent screen brightness. Speaking of brightness, the screen of the Tab S2 is appointed with a stunning super AMOLED 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution display that will leave you in a state of awe.
The device is fitted with an 8 megapixel camera at the rear that takes average quality pictures, and 2 megapixel shooter up front that is good enough for Skype chats. Tablet cameras are really just there for convenience, and most of the ones we’ve reviewed take underwhelming photos with lack of vibrancy, graininess or washed out colors. However, this is not the case with the S2 9.7 inch, and although you won’t get any DSLR quality, it’s still has the best cameras on an Android tablet.
The last one in our list is the mighty Nvidia Shield K1, a tablet purposely designed for gaming. The processor of the K1 gaming tablet offers a smooth experience for mobile games, but there are a couple of services that also allow you to run heavy PC games as well right on its display. If you have a PC with an Nvidia GPU, the GameStream application works in the same way as Sony’s PS4-to-phone Remote Play streaming feature, and allows you to stream Steam games from the PC to the K1 tablet. And if you don’t have an Nvidia PC, you can use the company’s streaming device aka GeForce to play games live on Nvidia’s servers for a subscription cost of $7.99 per month.
The Shield Hub on the homescreen provides instant access to a fantastic range of Nvidia titles optimized specifically for the Tegra K1 processor. Adding to this, you can explore other apps within the hub such as the Dabbler Sketching App. Nvidia offers several accessories for the K1 Tablet including the DirectStylus 2, Shield tablet cover and a world charger. With regards to the camera, it renders average quality photos, but you shouldn’t be using the K1 or any other tablet to click photos --- that’s what your cell phone is for or a standalone DSLR! The front facing camera is ideal for VOIP chats with far off family and friends.
Construction and Design
Although the Shield Tablet K1 is labeled as the best gaming tablet money can buy mostly due to its sheer processing power, it has all the other features to make it an all around great tablet. An upgrade to the much successful Shield Tablet, this latest iteration arrives with a surge of processing and graphical grunt and a plethora of gaming focused features, all at a price tag that will make you smile. The original Nvidia tablet when released received immense praise for its sleek design and understated looks, and the K1 Shield device is no different!
This tablet boasts the same design aesthetics as its predecessor coupled with clean lines and a striking black color scheme. It’s basically one big solid 8 inch glass slate at the front, flanked by two solid strips at each end that accommodate the front facing camera and speakers. Compared to the original that had these bookends crafted in a matte-effect metal, the new 8 inch Nvidia tablet has them in rubber, making the tablet a joy to hold in landscape mode, and also reducing the overall cost of the device. The rear of the K1 tablet features soft touch matte plastic, which is spread across to the edges of the device, and has the brushed metal steel logo in the center and the 5 megapixel camera to complete the rear design.
The K1 houses a single speaker grille at the front, and all the connectivity options and 5 megapixel front camera are neatly tucked away along the top and right hand side. A second speaker grille, along with a mini HDMI port to connect the device to your TV, mini-USB charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack sit neatly up top. Speakers on most tablets are generally located at the rear so this unique setup makes the K1 distinct from its competition and renders excellent sound quality. The hold button, volume rocker and microSD port for memory expansion up to 256GB (important since the tablet only comes with 16GB onboard storage) are located at the right side of the tablet.
Measuring in at 8.8 inches and tipping the scales at a modest 390 grams, the display of the Nvidia 8 inch tablet boasts a stunning 1,920 x 1,200p Full HD resolution, which renders colors that are rich and clean and a white level that makes surfing the web and reading books a true delight. Unboxing the K1 tablet might be a bit disappointing since the big box only includes the device, and of course a brief user guide. Nvidia does not include a micro-USB charging cable for charging or a wall adapter, but considering the affordable price tag of the tablet and the bucket load of features you get for it, this isn’t anything to gripe about. And great chances are that you probably have a spare cable lying around anyways from an old device. This Nvidia Wi-Fi exclusive tablet is fitted with a massive 5,200mAh battery, which when fully charged powers the device for roughly 6 hours – a notable trait for a gaming device.
Performance and Ease of Use
Under the hood, the K1 Nvidia tablet houses a ARM Cortex A15 CPU that sprints at 2.2GHz, and is mated with Nvidia’s exclusive and class leading Tegra K1 192-core Kepler GPU, and backed by 2 gigs of RAM. Onboard memory fails to impress at 16 GB, but this can be expanded via MicroSD card up to a whopping 256 GB. A gaming tablet without stupendous graphics performance is like playing Anomaly 2 on a VGA screen, but this is another department where the K1 outweighs its competition.
The Nvidia K1 tablet averages 13 frames per second, which is solid performance for titles such as Asphalt 8: Airborne. Apart from Google’s own Nexus devices and Pixel C, the Nvidia K1 is currently the only tablet in the market to run Android’s latest version Marshmallow out of the box. However, unlike other tablet devices that run Android along with a multitude of pre-installed apps aka bloatware, the software of the K1 Nvidia tablet is mercifully clean except for a few preloaded apps, most of which you actually need.
For steam in-home game streaming, native and optimized Android games and the GeoForce Now cloud service, investing in the Nvidia’s own Shield Controller is highly recommended. Unlike other controllers that work over Bluetooth, the Nvidia Controller works over Wi-Fi, resulting in easy pairing and unmatched performance. Furthermore, this controller works smoothly with the Shield Tablet, Shield Portable and Shield Android TV Box. It is however worth mentioning that the package of the Shield Android TV Box includes a controller so you don’t have to buy one separately to use with the K1 if you’re planning to buy this TV streaming device.
Wow! We can surely say that the latest model tablets from these top brands have a lot to offer. Now it’s just a matter of deciding which one has the features that you need, and meets your budget.