Tablets have been the “next big thing” ever since the release of the first iPad back in 2010. These days they come in all different sizes and are used for a wide range of activities, both recreational and professional. While the form factor hasn’t quite proven to kill off the laptop as was predicted, it’s certainly found its own space in the market as a media consumption and light productivity device.
One thing is for sure: now is the absolute best time to get a tablet. There are more choices than ever before and it really feels like manufacturers have finally brought the hardware and software to the point where it feels right for the form factor.
But with all the choices out there, where do you start? Here are the five tablets from 2014 that are worthy of your consideration:
When it comes to full size tablets that can compete with the iPad, there aren’t a lot of great alternatives out there. The very best is Sony’s latest—the 10.1-inch Xperia Z2 Tablet. It’s got a great minimalist design, coming in at just 0.25-inches and 1-pound (only marginally thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2). In many ways, it’s a run-of-the-mill Android tablet, except with the fantastic build quality and design that comes with Sony products.
We can’t promise that Sony won’t be releasing the predecessor soon, but if you’re looking for an iPad Air competitor for the holidays, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is still one of the best to have been released in 2014.
Steve Jobs famously said that he never liked smaller tablets—and perhaps that curse explains the big disappointment that was this year’s iPad mini 3. Fortunately, when there are options out there like the Nexus 9, we don’t feel too bad about it. With a beautiful 8.9-inch display, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and the high-powered Tegra K1 chip, the Nexus 9 is another great release in the Nexus tablet line from Google.
While it doesn’t have the premium design and high quality materials that its $399 price tag suggests, that doesn’t keep it from being one of the best midrange tablets available.
Calling the Surface Pro 3 a tablet is almost cheating, especially since it runs a full version of Windows 8, has a starting cost of $799 (without the magnetic keyboard, mind you), and has an Intel Core processor powering it. However, that’s always been Microsoft’s point—and the 12-inch Surface Pro 3 is finally the device to stand out from the jumble of silly hybrids that have come out for Windows 8 in the past couple of years.
It may to be to too late for Microsoft to save Windows 8, but the Surface Pro 3 is still the best laptop/tablet hybrid ever made and the best piece of hardware the company has ever put out as well.
The NVIDIA Shield Tablet is marketed as a gaming device—which it is certainly great at. It comes with GameStream, which lets you stream games from your PC right to your tablet (assuming your PC has an NVIDIA graphics card). The thing about the tablet that makes it extra special though is that it is nearly as good as just a plain ‘ol Android tablet.
In fact, it’s the very best one you can buy in terms of what you get for the price. Running stock Android and costing just $299, it’s hard to recommend any Android tablet other than the NVIDIA Shield tablet.
If there is one area that Apple still undeniably reigns in both quality and sales, it’s in its full size iPad lineup. There’s simply not one Android or Windows full size tablet that can compete with the iPad Air 2 in terms of design and build quality. It might sound silly, but the device really does need to be held in your hands in order to fully appreciate its size and weight.
The truth is that Apple didn’t change up its strategy with the iPad Air 2 at all. There are no crazy new features or big iPad-only software changes. We’re still waiting for Apple to truly take advantage of the extra screen real estate and turn it into a true laptop replacement. Until then, it’s the same iPad people have loved for years now—except lighter, thinner, and available in gold. That might not be enough to keep the iPad on top forever, but as of now, it really is.