Best tablets 2014: what’s the best tablet?

11 Nov 2014
Tiled tablets

Do you buy an iPad Air 2, a Nexus 9 or save your cash and get a Tesco Hudl 2? Find out in our reviews and chart of the best tablets of 2014

Ask yourself the question "what's the best tablet?" and you're most likely to think of Apple's iPads first. It's understandable: Apple effectively created the tablet market with its original iPad back in 2010 and it hasn't looked back since.

Jump to chart: 15 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, its operating system and premium price tag won't suit everyone.

Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. But before we jump straight into our chart of the 15 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, contrast and colour accuracy 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 on 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.

15 best tablets of 2014

1. Apple iPad Air 2

Price when reviewed: £399 inc VAT, 16GB Wi-Fi

Apple iPad Air 2 review

Apple shaves a little off the thickness of its iPad Air 2, adds Touch ID and a new triple-core A8X processor, setting a new standard in the tablet market.

2. Nexus 7 (2013)

Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT

Nexus 7 (2013)

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

3. iPad Air

Price: from £319 inc VAT

iPad Air

The iPad Air is now cheaper than ever, yet it's still a highly competent tablet. The 32GB version is an absolute bargain at £359.

4. Nexus 9

Price: from £319 inc VAT

Nexus 9 front view

The much-hyped Nexus 9 is a fast, featuring Google's latest Anroid update, and it has a bright, super-high resolution display, but it just falls short of greatness.

5. Apple iPad mini 2

Price: £239 inc VAT, 16GB Wi-Fi

Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

A major upgrade to the original iPad mini, with a top-notch Retina display and fast processor. The result is a superb compact tablet, that's even better value now that the barely different iPad mini 3 has pushed the price down to £239.

6. 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.

7. Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

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

8. Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Price when reviewed: £319 inc VAT

best compact tablets

A great, if pricey, compact tablet, with a top-quality screen, fast performance and superb battery life. There’s no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is an excellent Android tablet, but there are too many little niggles to secure a place on the podium.

9. 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.

10. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Price: from £639 inc VAT

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.

11. 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.

12. Kindle Fire HDX 7in

Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

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

13. Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in

Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

The 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.

14. Asus Transformer Book T100

Price when reviewed: £349 inc VAT

Asus Transformer Book T100

Thanks 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.

15. Tesco Hudl 2

Price when reviewed: £129 inc VAT

Tesco hudl2 review

Tesco’s budget wonder takes a huge step forward from last year's model, with an attractive new design and a larger, brighter, higher-resolution 8.3in screen. Pound for pound, it's among the best tablet deals around.

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