Tablet Reviews: Good Buys and Nice Tries

I do not claim to be an expert when it comes to electronic gadgets, but I try to stay in the know. If I could, I would buy every new phone, tablet, media streamer, gaming console, and television that comes out.  Unfortunately, that is not very realistic. There are devices I definitely want, but I have to ask myself, "Is my wife going to kill me if I buy this?" 

Most of my friends and colleagues know about my geeky side and love of gadgets. People often ask me, "Which phone or tablet should I buy?" Most of the time my answer is, "It depends." I recently spoke at a conference about phone and tablet apps that are useful in forestry. There was interest in the apps that I presented, but I fielded almost as many questions about hardware. Today, I wanted to share a few thoughts on some of the current and future tablets that readers may be interested in.

7" TABLETS

Nexus 7: Good Buy

Google recently announced the Nexus 7 at Google I/O. The Nexus 7 is a 7" tablet manufactured by ASUS. The device has solid specs and priced right. At $199 for the 8GB model or $249 for the 16GB model, I would rate this tablet as a good buy. It is a great device for watching video, surfing the web, reading, and enjoying your favorite Android apps. The Nexus 7 runs on the newest version of Android (4.1), code named Jelly Bean. If you're in the market for a 7" wifi-only tablet, this is by far the best option out there. The Nexus 7 is available in the Google Play Market or some retail stores.

Kindle Fire: Nice Try

Amazon released the Kindle Fire last year just in time for Christmas. The Fire has a 7" display and runs on a customized version of Android. The Google Market is not on the Fire so you can only download apps from the Amazon Appstore. This is a big disadvantage because the Amazon store does not have as many apps in its store. The Fire currently sells for $199 for an 8GB model and boasts specs that are less than spectacular. It is rumored that Amazon will release an updated Fire later this year along with a larger 10" tablet. I would not recommend buying the current Kindle Fire.

Nook Tablet: Nice Try

Like the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet runs on a custom version of Android and has the same disadvantages. If you buy books in the Nook ecosystem, you may consider buying the Nook, but I would recommend the Nexus 7 instead and download the Nook app in the Google Play store.

FULL SIZE TABLETS (9-10")

iPad: Good Buy

The iPad is really in a class by itself, for now. I would definitely either recommend the "New" iPad with the Retina display or the iPad 2. When Apple launched the New iPad (starting at $499), they reduced the price of the iPad 2 to $399 for the 16GB wifi-only model (I've seen it as low as $359 at non-Apple retailers). I bought my wife an iPad 2 a year ago and she still loves it. The quality of the hardware is superb and the apps in the iTunes App Store are plentiful. The biggest disadvantage (for me) is the lack of user control over customizations that I am used to with Android. As a forester, it is a big deal when I cannot use a bluetooth GPS receiver to collect data in some of the GIS apps that I want to use more often. Apple locks down certain features for their own reasons and the only way to get around it is to Jailbreak the device. I cannot justify purchasing an iPad for field use, but I would definitely recommend it for the average consumer (that is willing to pay for it).

Any Android 10" Tablet: Nice Try

Android has come a long way, but manufacturers have yet to produce a tablet that can compete with the iPad. I have an HP Touchpad running Ice Cream Sandwich. I like it, but I don't love it. I paid $150 for the tablet that originally ran WebOS. It has decent specs, but there is still something missing. I like the price I paid for it, so for now, I will keep using it. ASUS has come the closest in my opinion with the Tranformer Prime tablet, but it was plagued with GPS issues. I hope I can change my opinion of the full size Android tablets this Fall when some new models arrive just in time for Christmas. 

Microsoft Surface: TBD

This is the tablet that I am most excited about. I recently wrote about the release of the Surface tablet. I think this tablet has the greatest potential to be a game changer and compete with the iPad. The tablet is expected to be released this Fall when Windows 8 launches. I will try to get my hands on one as soon as it is released and will share my thoughts. Stay tuned.

Check back tomorrow for my smartphone guide.

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