Convertibles aren't for everyone. There are reasons to go with a plain tablet, not least of which is the fact that Android and iOS have better selections of touch-friendly apps than Windows 8.1. Even if you'd rather stay in the Windows camp, recent discounts from Intel and Microsoft have made entry-level Windows tablets shockingly cheap. See below.
|HP Stream 7||Display: 7" 1280x800 (216 ppi)
Processor: Intel Atom Z3735G (Bay Trail)
Storage: 32GB + microSD slot
Battery life: 8 hours
Weight: 0.8 lbs
|Google Nexus 7 (2013)||Display: 7" 1920x1200 (323 ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro
Battery life: 10 hours (web), 9 hours (video)
Connectivity: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0
Weight: 0.64 lbs
|Nvidia Shield Tablet||Display: 8" 1920x1200 (283 ppi)
Processor: Nvidia Tegra K1 32-bit
Storage: 16/32GB + microSD slot
Battery life: 10.7 hours (web), 13.9 hours (video)
Connectivity: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE
Weight: 0.86 lbs
|Apple iPad Air 2||Display: 9.7" 2048x1536 (264 ppi)
Processor: Apple A8X
Battery life: 10 hours (Wi-Fi), 9 hours (LTE)
Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE
Weight: 0.96 lbs
Thanks to those Intel and Microsoft discounts, the HP Stream 7 serves up Windows 8.1 and a quad-core Bay Trail processor for only $100. The storage and memory are admittedly limited, and the 4.5-hour battery life isn't anything to write home about. Still, there's something strangely compelling about a $100 slate that runs the full version of Windows. This could be used as a second tablet, as a starter PC for a kid, or even as a cheap Linux box to hack, if you manage to get rid of the pre-installed OS. (It's been done on other Windows tablets.) Keep in mind the storage can be augmented with a microSD card, too.
Now, if you're looking for a high-quality 7" tablet, then we'd recommend the Google Nexus 7. While this thing is a year old, it's still very competitive—and, being part of the Nexus family, it's also among the first in line for new stock Android releases. (The Android 5.0 Lollipop update for the Nexus 7 is already available for download, and the over-the-air update is reportedly rolling out now.) The 323-ppi display, long battery life, and generous RAM are other reasons the Nexus 7 is still a great buy. The only downsides are the somewhat limited storage capacity on the cheapest model and the lack of a microSD slot.
Extra $100 burning a hole in your pocket? Then we can vouch for Nvidia's Shield Tablet. In addition to being a solid, well-designed device, the Shield Tablet can stream PC games from a GeForce-equipped desktop or Nvidia's Grid cloud streaming service. PC streaming is a particularly handy feature for gamers on the go—and it really works. The Shield Tablet also includes a stylus, and like the Nexus 7, it's now upgradable to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Word to the wise: Nvidia's Shield Controller is sold separately for $60, and a version of the tablet with LTE connectivity and extra storage is available for $399.99. PC game streaming is supported over LTE, assuming your data plan can handle it.
Finally, we couldn't bear to leave out the latest full-sized tablet from Cupertino. Apple's iPad Air 2 isn't cheap by today's standards, especially since the base $499 model only has 16GB of storage capacity, and Apple is apparently too cool to include a microSD slot. At 0.24", though, this may be the thinnest tablet around. More importantly, the iPad Air 2 combines a gorgeous 9.7" high-PPI display with Apple's fastest processor yet—and long battery life to boot. Now consider iOS's huge selection of quality apps and games, and you may find the total package is actually well worth the price. That holds especially true if you live near an Apple Store, since Apple's in-person after-sales support is terrific.
Some folks may not want to bother with either a full-sized tablet or a convertible. Instead, such users might prefer to use a phablet as their everyday smartphone and to whip out an actual notebook when a larger display, full-featured OS, and proper keyboard are called for. Here are some of our phablet favorites:
|OnePlus One||Display: 5.5" 1920x1080 IPS (401 ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Weight: 5.71 oz
Software: Android 4.4 (Cyanogen 11S)
|Samsung Galaxy Note 4||Display: 5.7" 2560x1440 Super AMOLED (515 ppi)
Processor: Samsung Exynos 7 Octa 5433 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 805
Storage: 32GB + microSD slot
Weight: 6.2 oz
Software: Android 4.4 (TouchWiz)
|Apple iPhone 6 Plus||Display: 5.5" 1920x1080 IPS (401 ppi)
Processor: Apple A8
Weight: 4.55 oz
Software: iOS 8.1
Our most affordable recommendation is the OnePlus One, an interesting entry from an admittedly unproven Chinese startup. We have one of these in our labs, though, and we can confirm that it's not made of duct-tape and string. It's a real smartphone that undercuts other current-gen phablets by over 50%. The Cyanogen software isn't quite stock Android, but it's not too heavily customized, and it should get updates fairly promptly when new Android releases come out. Our only gripes are with the camera and screen, which are disappointingly low-grade (though perhaps unsurprisingly so, given the price). Ordering a OnePlusOne also involves jumping through a few hoops, since the handset isn't available at retail quite yet.
Around the $800 mark (assuming you're not buying on contract), we suggest picking up either Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 or Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. The Galaxy has the advantage in the display, storage, and memory departments, and it comes with a stylus. The iPhone is thinner and lighter. More than hardware differences, though, we expect platform preferences will dictate your selection here. The Galaxy runs Android, which many prefer over iOS. Then again, the Galaxy is also infused with Samsung's custom TouchWiz software suite, which entails bloatware, ugly substitutes for Google user interface cues, and being stuck behind the curve on Android updates. Choose wisely.
We should also throw in a provisional recommendation for Google's Nexus 6. While it's not available yet, this jumbo 5.96" phablet costs less than the Galaxy Note 4 and isn't saddled with TouchWiz. The early reviews are fairly encouraging, too, although not everyone likes the extra bulk that stems from the six-inch screen. Heck, not everybody wants to carry around a six-inch device in the first place.
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