Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Tablets are virtually tailor-made for our summer vacations, whether we're checking email at the hotel or watching movies during an airport layover. The manufacturers must know this, as there's a surge of new slates set to arrive while the weather's still scorching. Our 2013 summer tablet buyer's guide will help you decide which of these models is worth space in your travel bag. There are also several veteran tablets we recommend, although some of them could be obsolete soon -- we'll let you know when newer devices loom ahead. Whether or not you want the latest hardware, though, our guide should have the tablet you need.

10-inch tablets

Apple iPad (late 2012)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

While there's a chance that Apple may update the fourth-generation iPad at summer's end, that doesn't minimize its importance among 10-inch tablets. Its A6X chip is still fast; there's plenty of battery life; and iOS still has the deepest library of tablet-native apps. And did we mention that it's one of the few (if not only) mobile OS-based tablets with an option for 128GB of storage? As long as you don't mind shopping for proprietary Lightning-based accessories, the iPad remains the reliable choice.

The bottom line: An old hand among 10-inch tablets, but a safe pick.

Key specs: 1.4GHz dual-core A6X processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB to 128GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display.

Price: $499 and up

Google Nexus 10

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

The Nexus 10 will soon lose its edge over rivals in display resolution, but it's still quite the value at $399. Alongside its extra-sharp screen, it offers a reasonably quick Exynos 5 Dual processor and some surprisingly good speakers. For many, though, the real advantage is a stock implementation of Android. The Nexus 10 should stay on the bleeding edge of software, and that could trump the hardware advantages of some Android-based rivals.

The bottom line: The Nexus 10 is no longer cutting-edge, but it remains the definitive large-screen Android tablet.

Key specs: 1.7GHz dual-core Exynos 5 Dual, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 1.9-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display.

Price: $399 and up

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

The Xperia Tablet Z is expensive, but with good reason: it's one of the more alluring designs we've seen so far. Between its extra-slim body, water resistance and infrared blaster, it simply does more party tricks than many of its rivals. A sharp display and brisk performance don't hurt, either. Sony's tablet may have lost some luster now that the Nexus 7 matches some of its features, but it's still a top pick for anyone who wants to use their tablet as a TV remote -- even if it's underwater.

Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 2.2-megapixel front and 8.1-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.

Price: $499 and up

You might want to wait for...

Toshiba Excite Pro

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Toshiba may be an underdog in the tablet space, but its imminent Excite Pro could be a winner. The 10-inch slate is one of the first anywhere to use NVIDIA's Tegra 4, which promises a big jump in computing power versus the fastest tablets in this guide. Combine the new Tegra with a 2,560 x 1,600 display, and the Excite Pro is pushing the limits of tablet technology; let's just hope that the battery life, build quality and software are equally impressive.

Price: $500

7- and 8-inch tablets

Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

From a pure technology perspective, no small tablet really comes close to the new Nexus 7. It has the same display resolution as high-end 10-inch tablets, one of the fastest processors in the category and luxuries like wireless charging. More importantly, it's the standard bearer for stock Android. The Nexus 7 is the only small tablet running Android 4.3 as of this writing, and it should get future Android versions quickly. While it's more expensive than last year's model, it's arguably more of a bargain.

The bottom line: Exceptional value for the money, full stop.

Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 16GB to 32GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.

Price: $230 and up

Apple iPad mini

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

The iPad mini faces a stiff challenge if you're focused on the price-to-performance ratio. The A5 chip, 1,024 x 768 display and $329 sticker don't look great next to some newer rivals. But if you don't mind ceding ground on value, the iPad mini is a fine choice with a relatively roomy 7.9-inch screen, good real-world speed, solid rear camera and the widest selection of tablet-native apps. It's also one of the few tablets its size with an option for 64GB of built-in storage, which may tip the balance for gamers and media junkies.

The bottom line: The iPad's core values distilled in a smaller, cheaper design.

Key specs: 1GHz dual-core A5, 512MB of RAM, 16GB to 64GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7.9-inch (1,024 x 768) display.

Price: $329 and up

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Wondering where the Galaxy Note 8.0 went? It's still in our guide, but the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is arguably the better value among Samsung's WiFi-only tablets. While it sheds pen input, it offers the Note 8.0's display resolution, storage and camera technology for $100 less. About the only noticeable sacrifice for most will be the drop from a quad-core processor to dual-core, but we'll take that performance hit to avoid a similar impact on our wallets.

Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Exynos processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 8-inch (1,280 x 800) display.

The bottom line: Samsung's best value in small tablets.

Price: $299

Windows tablets

Microsoft wants us to think of Windows tablets as full PCs that just happen to lack built-in keyboards. That's partly marketing bluster, but there's no denying that Windows 8 and Windows RT slates often differ sharply from the rest of the crowd: bigger screens, laptop-grade processors and docking stations are more common. Many of them could be your only portable computer and have the prices to match, so we're putting Windows tablets in their own category to acknowledge that there isn't a complete overlap with the rest of the pack.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

The Surface Pro is the definitive Windows tablet in the literal sense of the word: it's the highest-end system designed by Microsoft itself. And that's really why we're including it here. While it occupies a sometimes uncomfortable middle ground between smaller, longer-running mobile tablets and more expandable Ultrabooks, it's also the ultimate expression of Microsoft's vision with its clean design, 1080p screen and pen input. Just be sure to buy the 128GB model for adequate drive space, and seriously consider holding out for a possible Intel Haswell upgrade and the improved battery life that's likely to follow.

The bottom line: The official Windows 8 tablet, and one of the most powerful.

Key specs: 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5, 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of storage, 720p front and rear cameras, 10.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.

Price: $899 and up

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

If there's a sweet spot among Windows tablets, Lenovo may have found it with the ThinkPad Tablet 2. It's not the fastest, nor is it the cheapest. However, it manages to offer exceptional battery life and truly portable design while maintaining full compatibility with legacy Windows apps, which is almost everything you'd ask from a Windows 8 slate in the first place. The second-generation design can also adapt to your exact needs with options for pen support, 4G data, a Bluetooth keyboard dock and a full docking station. As long as you don't need raw performance or a high-resolution screen, your search for an ideal middle ground may well stop here.

The bottom line: Possibly the best-balanced Windows tablet.

Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.

Price: $649 and up

ASUS VivoTab Smart

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

We enjoyed the lightweight, comfortable design and solid camera quality of the VivoTab RT, but we weren't as keen on leaving all our conventional Windows apps behind; even ASUS' distinctive keyboard dock left us a bit cold. The VivoTab Smart tackles most of those problems in one fell swoop while preserving much of what we enjoyed from its Windows RT cousin. Switching to an Atom CPU brings legacy compatibility without too much of a hit to battery life, and the official keyboard add-on is ultimately more practical in our minds. While the VivoTab RT can cost a bit less as of this writing, we'd gladly pay more for the Smart's versatility.

The bottom line: Like ASUS' Windows RT tablet, but with some key weaknesses ironed out.

Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.

Price: $399 and up (at Amazon)

You might want to wait for...

Samsung ATIV Tab 3

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Never mind that there was no ATIV Tab 2; Samsung's number-skipping ATIV Tab 3 has all the early hallmarks of a successful Windows 8 tablet. While the Atom chip and 1,366 x 768 screen aren't out of the ordinary, the 8.2mm thickness and S Pen certainly have our eyebrows raised. Our only initial qualms are with the high price -- Samsung will have to go out of its way to prove the ATIV Tab 3's value when it ships in early August.

Price: $699

3G / 4G tablets

It's hard to resist the call of the outdoors on a summer day, but that usually means giving up a big screen and a constant internet connection. What to do? The solution may be a cellular tablet, and there's thankfully one from virtually every major device maker and platform. Plans are diverse as well, ranging from add-ons for existing services to prepaid plans that should last just long enough for an extended visit with the family. While there's often some premium to be paid for either the device or its data roaming (on locked models), it may be worth the cost to skip packing a big, heavy laptop for that next vacation.

Apple iPad (WiFi + Cellular, late 2012)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Apple got us in the habit of expecting cellular tablets that come without commitments, and the fourth-generation iPad helps justify that route. If you can accept paying $129 beyond the norm to get that extra dash of wireless, the iPad supplies LTE-based 4G on key networks, and EV-DO or HSPA+ 3G elsewhere, without tying the hardware to a contract or even a carrier. GPS comes along with the upgrade. Some credit is due to Apple for offering the cellular variant in the same capacities and colors as WiFi models; you can pick up a 128GB 4G model if you need the absolute best iPad Apple has to offer. Choose carefully when you buy in the US, though, as getting the AT&T or Sprint / Verizon models will dictate just where 4G kicks in while abroad.

The bottom line: Everything you know from the iPad, with LTE on top.

Key specs: 1.4GHz dual-core A6X, 16GB to 128GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display, unlocked LTE / EV-DO / HSPA+ data.

Price: $629 and up

Apple iPad mini (WiFi + Cellular)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Second verse, same as the first... only smaller. The cellular version of the iPad mini is noteworthy precisely because it maintains all the color options and wireless features of its bigger counterpart. The only limitation is the absence of a 128GB model, but that capacity isn't as valuable in this category. Apple's emphasis on parity leaves the iPad mini as one of the few tablets in its class that can hop on the 4G networks of AT&T, Sprint and Verizon in the US without having to sign an agreement. The iPad mini's $459 minimum price is a lot to ask this late into the device's lifecycle, but it's the most affordable way to globetrot with an Apple tablet.

The bottom line: One of the most popular LTE tablets, in bite-sized form.

Key specs: 1GHz dual-core A5, 512MB of RAM, 16GB to 64GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7.9-inch (1,024 x 768) display, unlocked LTE / EV-DO / HSPA+ data.

Price: $459 and up

Google Nexus 7 (2013, LTE)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

We don't need to reiterate how much of a jump the 2013 Nexus 7 represents in terms of performance. However, its cellular variant is truly something special. In the US, the new tablet offers LTE for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon through one model; American travelers won't have to sacrifice 4G speeds or carrier support as they have in the past. Combine that with global HSPA+ support, and you have a tablet that will rarely let you down when abroad. The $350 price just makes it that much sweeter.

The bottom line: One of the most flexible cellular tablets on the market, at a price that's hard to match.

Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display, unlocked HSPA+ and LTE data.

Price: $350

Galaxy Note 8.0 (LTE)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

If you're going to spend a lot on an 8-inch tablet like Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0, you may as well go whole hog and get a cellular model like the LTE-equipped Note 8.0 at AT&T. On top of getting a quad-core tablet with pen input and TV remote control capabilities, you'll have the freedom to hop online without WiFi. Take care to buy the US edition of the Note 8.0 off-contract, however, as the $100 you save up front at AT&T isn't worth two years of mandatory data.

The bottom line: The Galaxy Note 8.0 is very expensive in cellular form, but it's also extremely flexible.

Key specs: 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 8-inch (1,280 x 800) display, LTE and HSPA+ data for AT&T.

Price: $499

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (LTE)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Since the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is already on our short list, it's easy to choose its higher-end configuration as our pick for a cellular-ready Windows 8 tablet. You'll pay $100 more versus the WiFi-only model, but you'll get both AT&T-friendly LTE data and HSPA+ that will work across numerous countries. Buyers can even pick a model with Windows 8 Pro if they need to join a corporate network domain. While it's unfortunate that the 4G ThinkPad loses NFC support, it's still the tablet we'd choose with an IT manager looking over our shoulders.

The bottom line: Possibly the most flexible Windows tablet on the market.

Key specs: 1.8GHz dual-core Atom, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display.

Price: $749

Budget

ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

The definition of value for money. The ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 is no threat to the Nexus 7 in terms of performance, but it costs $80 less while preserving important features, such as a color-accurate IPS LCD, dual cameras and a quad-core processor. There's even the microSD slot that the Nexus 7 lacks. Never mind the software upgrade challenges that often come with custom Android; at this price, they're easy to live with.

Key specs: Quad-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A7 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 5-megapixel rear camera, 7-inch (1,280 x 800) display.

Price: $150

Google Nexus 7 (2013, 16GB)

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Google may have drifted out of the sub-$200 price bracket with the new Nexus 7, but the tablet's 16GB variant is still on our short list. After all, you don't need a lot of storage to stream Netflix video at 1080p -- and other budget tablets don't even have that option. When you also factor in the above-average performance, cameras and stock Android 4.3, it could be worth paying the premium.

The bottom line: The entry-level Nexus 7 is more expensive than its rivals, but you get what you pay for.

Key specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 7-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display.

Price: $230

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide summer 2013 edition

Yes, it's another Samsung tablet on the list, but bear with us -- the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 is worth your attention. While it doesn't have the display resolution or quad-core processing of the Nexus 7, it's still quite responsive, carries a rear camera and touts expandable storage. Be ready to buy a microSD card, however, as there's only 8GB of included space on the US model.

The bottom line: The budget tablet that goes with your Galaxy phone.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, 1.3-megapixel front and 3-megapixel rear cameras, 7-inch (1,024 x 600) display.

Price: $199

0 Comments

Engadget's tablet buyer's guide: summer 2013 edition