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The 12 best tablets of 2014: what’s the best tablet on the market?

Posted on 11 Jul 2014 at 10:00

It's astonishing how many tablets have been released in recent years, and deciding which one is right for you can be tough. To help you make the right choice, we've put together a list of the 12 best tablets on the market in 2014

Ask yourself the question "what's the best tablet?" and your mind will more than likely turn to Apple's iPads. There's a good reason for that: Apple effectively created the tablet market with its original iPad back in 2010 and it has been the market leader ever since.

Jump to chart: 12 best tablets of 2014

However, the water gets somewhat muddied when you bring value and flexibility into the equation. No matter how good Apple and its iPads are right now, its operating system and premium price tag won't be to everyone’s taste or budget.

Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. But before we jump straight into our chart of the 12 best tablets of 2014, here are a few key points to consider when deciding which tablet is right for you.

Best tablet of 2014: what to look for

Software and operating system

Most tablets sold today run one of the three major mobile operating systems. The most popular two are Google's Android and Apple's iOS. You'll only find iOS on iPads, while Android tablets are sold by a range of different manufacturers. The third, less popular OS, is Windows 8.

As a general rule of thumb, if you're familiar with iOS, you'll be able to pick up and use an Android device without too much effort, and vice versa. Both operating systems share a roughy similar layout and mode of operation.

Watch out for Android tablets with heavy customisation, though. Amazon's Kindle Fire range, for instance, not only alters the layout and design, but also places restrictions on the OS' renowned flexibility, replacing the Google apps and Play Store with Amazon's own services and tools.

Users tend to take a little longer to familiarise themselves with Windows 8 tablets with their sideways-scrolling, tile-based layout, but that isn't to say it's a bad OS; it simply does things differently. Plus, with a Windows tablet, you get the added bonus of being able to run full desktop software packages such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office, alongside tablet specific apps.

Storage and RAM

Storage and RAM is much easier to understand. Simply put, you want as much of both as you can afford: the more storage you have, the more apps, games, movies and music you can store locally, without having to use up your data allowance when you're on the move; the more RAM you have, the more responsive your device will remain when you've got a lot going on.

It's worth looking for a tablet with a microSD slot, too, since this provides a means of cheaply expanding the storage capabilities of your device with external memory cards. If you plan on moving apps to your SD card, though, do bear in mind that microSD cards generally aren't as quick as internal storage.

You won't see storage expansion on iPads, however, and some popular Android tablets also neglect to include this feature.

Processor

With a tablet's processor, it's once again a case of the faster the better. It's important, however, to recognise that clock speed, which you'll see expressed in GHz on a tablet's specifications sheet, is only a partial indicator of overall performance.

The number of cores a processor has affects its ability to multitask effectively; the way a processor has been manufactured affects its efficiency and, therefore, battery life; and its integrated graphics capabilities dictate how smoothly it will be able to render the latest mobile games.

The most common processors found in tablets today are based on British company ARM's designs. You'll find ARM processors (manufactured by various different companies) in Apple and most Android devices. Windows tablets are invariably powered by Intel chips.

Display

When it comes to a tablet's display, you might think that the more pixels the better, too, but that isn't the case. Here, you need to look at the pixel density.

This is a useful figure, because unlike resolution it gives you an absolute measurement of screen sharpness, independent of screen size. What it doesn't tell you is how sharp a display needs to be at normal viewing distances. This is where Apple's handy Retina definition comes in.

Simply put, a "Retina" display is one where, when held at a "typical viewing distance", the individual pixels are not visible to the human eye.

For example, if you view your tablet screen from a distance of 50cm, a pixel density of only 170ppi is enough (here, an 8in 1,280 x 800 screen). If you'd like your tablet screen to look crisp from 30cm, you'll need a pixel density of 280ppi (here, an 8in 1,920 x 1,080 screen will do).

Since most tablets are sharp enough, we find that brightness and contrast are better indicators of a panel's quality. We test for these values using a colorimeter and you'll find the results of our findings if you read the reviews linked to below.

Connectivity

All tablets come with at least 802.11abgn and Bluetooth 4 connectivity these days; a few will support the new 802.11ac standard, though note that you'll need a matching router to make the most out of it.

Also look out for capabilities such as Miracast, Wi-Di, "beaming" or "throwing". These technologies allow you to display what's on the screen of your tablet to a smart TV over your local wireless network. Apple's equivalent is AirPlay, but iPad owners need an Apple TV to make this work.

A simpler way to connect your tablet to a TV or monitor is HDMI: if a tablet doesn't have an HDMI output (most don't) look out for Slimport or MHL compatibility. These allow you to use a converter cable to display a video signal over USB.


12 best tablets of 2014

1. Nexus 7 (2013)

Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT

Nexus 7 (2013) review
An extraordinary compact tablet that improves on the original in almost every way, once again showing rivals how it's done.

2. iPad Air

Price when reviewed: £399 inc VAT

iPad Air review
The iPad Air improves on its predecessor in every respect and replaces it at the top of the A-List.

3. Apple iPad mini with Retina display

Price when reviewed: £319 inc VAT

Apple iPad mini with Retina display review

A major upgrade to the original iPad mini, with a top-notch Retina display and a super-charged new processor – the result is a superb, if pricey, compact tablet.

4. Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

Price when reviewed: £399 inc VAT

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
An excellent display and superb battery life make Sony's tablet the best of the Android bunch.

5. Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT

Samsung TabPRO 8.4
Stupendously good hardware, but lags narrowly behind the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet as our Android tablet of choice.

6. Samsung TabPRO 8.4

Price when reviewed: £349 inc VAT

Samsung TabPRO 8.4
Another brilliant Android tablet from Samsung with an incredible screen; it is a little pricey, though.

7. Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176CX

Price when reviewed: £120 inc VAT

Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176CX
The same price as a Tesco Hudl, but slimmer, lighter and much faster: this compact tablet is an outright bargain.

8. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Price: from £639 inc VAT

<br>
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
A new hinge, screen and Type Cover design, wrapped in a lighter chassis than before; we can't wait to get our hands on one for in-depth testing.

9. Toshiba Encore

Price when reviewed: £200 inc VAT

Toshiba Encore
The first compact Windows 8 tablet we'd seriously consider buying, packing in usable performance and a generous software bundle for a very tempting price.

10. Kindle Fire HDX 7in

Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT

Kindle Fire HDX 7in
A lovely piece of hardware, but the Nexus 7 is almost as good, boasts more features and is more flexible.

11. Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in

Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9inThe Amazon Kindle Fire started life as a smaller cheaper alternative to the iPad, but with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in, it's now a serious rival.

12. Asus Transformer Book T100

Price when reviewed: £349 inc VAT

Asus Transformer Book T100Thanks to Intel's new Atom CPU, the Transformer Book T100 delivers full Windows 8.1 in a tiny, affordable package. As a tablet or laptop, this hybrid remains a real bargain.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

But the biggest bargain...

I think the Archos 80 Cobalt I bought from Tesco for

By The_Scrote on 29 Dec 2012

Before...

...Buying ANY of these tablets please take a moment to locate a suitable forum for hints, tips and most importantly, to find out about issues and problems that may NEVER be fixed.

I'm looking at you Nexus 10!

By rhythm on 29 Dec 2012

iPad Mini

It has a bigger, more pixely screen, it has older hardware and it is more expensive... "but you get what you pay for."

If they had released it two years ago, when iOS was the leading mobile platform, it might have been a good tablet, now it looks dated compared to the competition.

Having used an iPad 4, I was very disappointed with the iOS tablet software.

Android feels more modern and the newer tablets feel much smoother.

To be honest, having used a couple of RT and Windows 8 tablets (I haven't seen the Surface yet), I find the interface refreshing and easy to use.

Battery life isn't that important to me, I think, if I get a tablet at all, then it will be a Windows 8 tablet - or more likely a 13" or 15" convertible.

By big_D on 30 Dec 2012

I've got a few work android tablets of different sizes and tried IPads but I wouldn't mind a Surface/WIN8PRO tablet.

I found the Nexus 7 excellent for the price and pretty usable.

The thing is that the Android tablets are basically commodity items and theres a huge price differential between them and WIN8 PRO tablets.

Really hard to justify WIN8 tablets at the moment.

By MikeHellier on 25 Jan 2013

KeithT

What we need on the market is a 10" tablet docking onto a decent keyboard (Asus have got this) but also a cheapish mobile internet link.

By JKeithT on 7 Feb 2013

@MikeHellier

I am looking at a Windows 8 tablet now, having said I for years said, that I wouldn't buy a tablet...

But I wouldn't justify the price as a tablet, I would justify the price as a desktop replacement. I'm looking at a couple of docks and carrying it between home and work, with a screen and keyboard at both ends for working on and using it as a tablet in meetings and on the move.

By big_D on 14 Feb 2013

@JKeithT

The Lumia 2520 is 10.1" with 4G. There's a good Keyboard cover (includes battery and USB within folio case) too.

Surface 2/Pro 2 both have excellent keyboard options, extremely easy to tether to a phone and have 1080p 10.6" screens.

It just depends on what software is required - just Office? RT. Pro (full Windows) will run anything.

By onegin101 on 10 Dec 2013

"You get what you pay for"

So if you pay and extra £70 for an iPad Mini you get something better than the best 7 inch tablet (the Nexus 7, according to the review above). No, you really don't. If you prefer iOS, and are prepared to stump up the cash then fair enough - but you're not buying the best 7 inch tablet by a long chalk.

By KevPartner on 10 Dec 2013

why no tesco Hudl

Hudl should of made it on the list... high res, sd card, gps, almost pure android, Bluetooth, dual band wifi, hdmi out, cameras etc. Ok its not the quickest etc but it is by far the most complete package. All the others at this end of the market are missing one or usually several off that list. Nexus maybe better but its £80 (60%) more and cannot tick all the features that the Hudl has.

By davidk1962 on 31 Dec 2013

For a 10" screen

Can I recommend Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It's last year's model but it's less than £340, has a retina screen and is very slim.

By ArtissTheGeek on 11 Apr 2014

surface rt is a great buy

What's with the constant press reference to the surface rt being slow. I have a surface rt and it is fast and responsive, as good as any iPad. The addition of office elevates it above a consumption device into a productivity tool when required. I am very pleased with my surface rt and so are a lot of others I know. It is just lazy journalism to criticise the rt based upon hearsay or using a pre 8.1 device.

By bikeman01 on 11 Apr 2014

Surface RT slow? I think not...

I have a Surface RT (v1).

I've never found it slow or wanting in any respect other than having no mobile network option, but I get around that by tethering it to my Lumia 1520 :-)
Other than that it has been fine for web browsing, email, documents, reading, gaming...

Perhaps you should review your review?

There was a lot of inaccurate/exaggerated reporting about the poor Surface when it launched. One good example was the issue of weight, which was compared to an older iPad (not the heaviest one by the way). The difference of 25g was claimed to be a game-changer... That's the weight of a small bag of crisps!

Get a grip PC Pro journalists; wipe the Apple juice from your eyes...

By GlynPress on 8 May 2014

Surface RT slow? I think not...

I have a Surface RT (v1).

I've never found it slow or wanting in any respect other than having no mobile network option, but I get around that by tethering it to my Lumia 1520 :-)
Other than that it has been fine for web browsing, email, documents, reading, gaming...

Perhaps you should review your review?

There was a lot of inaccurate/exaggerated reporting about the poor Surface when it launched. One good example was the issue of weight, which was compared to an older iPad (not the heaviest one by the way). The difference of 25g was claimed to be a game-changer... That's the weight of a small bag of crisps!

Get a grip PC Pro journalists; wipe the Apple juice from your eyes...

By GlynPress on 8 May 2014

Surface RT slow? I think not...

I have a Surface RT (v1).

I've never found it slow or wanting in any respect other than having no mobile network option, but I get around that by tethering it to my Lumia 1520 :-)
Other than that it has been fine for web browsing, email, documents, reading, gaming...

Perhaps you should review your review?

There was a lot of inaccurate/exaggerated reporting about the poor Surface when it launched. One good example was the issue of weight, which was compared to an older iPad (not the heaviest one by the way). The difference of 25g was claimed to be a game-changer... That's the weight of a small bag of crisps!

Get a grip PC Pro journalists; wipe the Apple juice from your eyes...

By GlynPress on 8 May 2014

SP2 - AVOID

I wish I had the energy to list the problems. It's now been discontinued I believe but WHAT A PILE OF SH!T! Maybe the SP3 will have fixed the multitude of problems: but I somehow doubt it.

By bamboozle on 6 Jun 2014

Tab Pro 8.4 wifi version

There were some of these in Best Buy in Canada selling for $349 (Canadian dollars). That equates to ~£195.

I'd have bought one except: a) I need the LTE version, and b) Galaxy Tab S. That Tab S really does have a remarkable screen.

By TheHonestTruth on 11 Jul 2014

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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