These days, tablets are offered in several sizes and configurations that cost anywhere between $150 and $2,000. With such a wide variety of devices, it is easy to find one that suits your needs. These are the best tablets of 2014:
Nvidia Shield tablet
Nvidia’s (NASDAQ:NVDA) Shield tablet is its second foray into the world of portable devices after the Shield handheld, and this time around Nvidia is looking to attract a wider audience. The Shield is targeted at users looking to play games on their tablet (a burgeoning segment thanks to the availability of visually striking games on mobile), and the hardware under the hood highlights the tablet’s pedigree: The Shield comes with Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip with a 192 core GPU that can hold its own against anything in the world of mobile GPUs. The CPU features four Cortex A15 cores clocked at 2.2 GHz.
The 8-inch form factor tablet comes with a screen resolution of 1920 x 1200, which means a pixel density of 283 ppi. Also included is 2GB RAM, 5 MP front and back cameras, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac connectivity and Bluetooth 4.0 LE. The frontal stereo speakers look similar to what HTC (TPE:2498) offers in the One M7, and they deliver where it matters; with sound coming out crisp and clear. Also available with the tablet is a DirectStylus 2 stylus that allows you to take notes on the tablet among other things.
This being a gaming-oriented slate, Nvidia is rolling out what it is calling Shield-optimized titles that are tweaked for the tablet. The list of games is continually growing as Nvidia brings more publishers on-board. Nvidia also recently announced its GRID service, which allows Shield users to access 20 blockbuster titles for free. It is clear that Nvidia is looking to build an ecosystem of content around the Shield tablet, which is encouraging. Users with a GeForce GTX card can also utilize Nvidia’s GameStream technology to stream games to the Shield tablet. The tablet is set to receive the latest version of Android this month, which will bring a whole host of new features.
The Shield tablet is available for $299, which is the 16GB Wi-Fi only model. The 32GB version, which also features LTE connectivity, is available for $399. For consumers looking for a more affordable solution to the Shield, Xiaomi’s Mi Pad offers the same hardware in a distinctly iPad-esque design for around $199. While Xiaomi’s offering may be marginally more affordable, it lacks the Nvidia-specific utilities included in the Shield.
HTC Nexus 9
The wait for a larger tablet in the Nexus series is over, with Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) deciding to go with HTC this time around. The motive for doing so was to not give preference to one vendor over others, which is great as consumers get to benefit from different design philosophies. The Nexus 9 is being billed as a premium tablet, and is positioned closer to the high-end segment. The 16GB Wi-Fi only version costs $399, with the 32GB model available for $499. There’s a 32GB variant that offers LTE connectivity, which will retail later this year for $599.
The pricing for the tablet is justified considering the hardware it features. The Nexus 9 comes with an 8.9-inch IPS LCD screen that offers a resolution of 2048 x 1536 in a 4:3 that is more reminiscent of the iPad that an Android tablet. The tablet comes with a coating of Gorilla Glass 3 that offers a layer of resistance to scratches. Under the hood, there’s a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 chip that features the 64-bit Denver CPU clocked at 2.3 GHz along with a 192 core GPU. At this stage, the inclusion of a 64-bit CPU is more future proofing than anything, and the weird 4:3 ratio means that certain utilities do not scale as well (for good reason). The 2GB of RAM may be a bit of a concern for some, and while the tablet can currently handle anything available in the world of Android with ease, memory may become the bottleneck in the future.
Other specs include an 8 MP camera at the back, 1.6 MP front shooter, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac connectivity, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, A2DP, apt-X and microUSB 2.0. The Nexus 9 comes with a 6,700 mAh battery and is available in three color variants: Indigo Black, Lunar White and Sand. One of the more interesting features of the tablet is the frontal speakers. These are not stereo BoomSound speakers like the ones on the One M8, but they still provide a much better sound that what is considered common in this segment.
In terms of build quality, the Nexus 9 loses points as it just isn’t near the level of what other tablets in this category cost. There is a lot of flex, particularly at the back of the tablet, when you press down on it. There also seem to be issues with build quality as a whole, which is not too dissimilar to what we’ve seen when Asus launched the Nexus 7 2013 last year. These issues were resolved within a month, but if you are buying the Nexus 9 as soon as it launches in your territory, be sure to check the device for build quality issues.
Apple iPad Air
Sure, the new iPad Air 2 comes with the faster A8X SoC, which as it turns out, comes with a semi-custom GPU along with the custom CPU design in the “Cyclone” architecture. The new processor has visible gains when playing games, but that doesn’t mean that last year’s iPad Air is obsolete. Far from it, and aside from the lack of Touch ID, there isn’t much to differentiate between this year’s tablet and last year’s offering. Combine that with the fact that the original iPad Air is now available for a discount, and the tablet from 2013 sounds like a much more enticing prospect.
In terms of the hardware, the iPad Air features the A7 SoC with a dual-core ARM v8-based CPU clocked at 1.2 GHz. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was the first manufacturer to kickstart the 64-bit revolution for mobile devices, mainly due to its ability to control hardware and software. The iPad Air comes with a screen size of 9.7 inches and a resolution of 2048 x 1536, which comes out to a pixel density of 264 ppi. There’s not much to say about the iPad Air, as it is often considered to be the benchmark for judging tablets against. With the discounted price, the iPad Air Wi-Fi only 16GB version is now available for as low as $399, with the 32GB costing $449. The LTE models have also seen discounts, and are now available for $529 for the 16GB version and $579 for the 32GB variant.
Surface Pro 3
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is positioning the Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air, touting several benefits like a kickstand, touchscreen and stylus. Clearly, the tablet is intended for work, but it excels at being a portable tablet as well. One of the standout features of the Surface Pro 3 is the hinged kickstand, which allows you to position the tablet at several angles.
Designed for power users, the Surface Pro 3 is available in configurations starting from $799, for which you’ll get a 64GB SSD and an Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) Core i3 CPU clocked at 1.5 GHz. The Core i5 CPU clocked at 1.9 GHz is available for $999 for a 128GB SSD, and for $1,299 when paired with a 256GB SSD. The 1.7 GHz Core i7 variations are also available for $1,549 and $1,949, which feature a 256GB and 512GB SSD. Judging by the price points targeted by Microsoft, the Surface Pro 3 is more an Ultrabook-style notebook than a mere tablet.
The pricing may seem like a lot for a tablet, but the Surface Pro 3 is unlike anything else that is available in the world of computing today. The touchscreen responsiveness is at par with what you find in other tablets, and the performance figures are in line with that of Ultrabooks that feature Core i5 and Core i7 processors. Microsoft has successfully managed to cram incredibly powerful hardware in a lightweight form factor.
The build quality offered by the tablet is outstanding, the 12-inch screen with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 is one of the best available and the optional keyboard docking stand adds to the functionality of the Surface Pro 3. With a full version of Windows 8.1 Pro, the tablet’s main area of focus is productivity, but that does not mean that it cannot be utilized for multimedia consumption. The kickstand makes it ideal to prop up the tablet in various configurations, and the hinge is built to last.
Other hardware features of the Surface Pro 3 include 5 MP cameras at the front and back, full-size USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity along with stereo speakers the feature Dolby Audio-enhanced sound. Also included is a stylus that offers various levels of pressure sensitivity. The ability to run a full-fledged version of Windows enables users to install and run intensive games like League of Legends, Civilization V, and The Elder Scrolls Online. The tablet can also connect with an Xbox 360 controller for Windows.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Samsung (KRX:005935) is known to make a lot of tablets on a yearly basis. For those looking for entry-level slates, there’s the Galaxy Tab series. The Galaxy Tab S series is targeted at the mid-tier and high-end markets, with three variants on offer. All three versions are available in Wi-Fi only and LTE editions, with the non-cellular models featuring Samsung’s Exynos 5420 hardware, while the LTE variants come with Qualcomm Snapdragon 800.
The design of the tablets in the Galaxy Tab S series are a notch above what you’d find in the Galaxy Tab series, and the screens similarly offer higher resolutions. All three tablets come with a 2560 x 1600 resolution AMOLED display that Samsung claims is the best display on a tablet. The AMOLED panel does make colors stand out, but it does tend to over-saturate. The tablets are available in storage variations of 16 or 32 GB, come with 3 GB RAM as standard, 8 MP camera at the back, 2.1 MP shooter at the front, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac connectivity and microSD slots that can accommodate 128GB cards.
With prices starting as low as $399 for the 8.4-inch variant, the Galaxy Tab S series is a viable contender if you’re looking to buy a tablet that offers a high-resolution screen and high-end hardware.