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2012 Tablet Comparison Guide

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November 5, 2012

How do the top tablets of 2012 compare?

How do the top tablets of 2012 compare?

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Tablets are everywhere. No matter where you turn this holiday shopping season, you'll see them. Apple's iPad is still in the driver's seat, but its field of competitors is rapidly growing. How do you sort through all the noise, and make the best purchase? Look no further than our 2012 Tablet Comparison Guide.

Update: This guide is now history. Check out our most current version for the latest models.

Specs aren't everything, but they can suggest a device's capabilities. Our comparison highlights the most important measurable categories, as well as those hard-to-define intangibles.

We condensed our list to the most popular tablets of the season. They are:

  • Apple iPad (4th generation)
  • Apple iPad mini
  • Google/Samsung Nexus 10
  • Google/Asus Nexus 7
  • Amazon Kindle Fire HD (7")
  • Microsoft Surface RT
  • Barnes & Noble Nook HD

There are omissions. Digging deeper would yield devices like the Transformer Pad Infinity and Galaxy Note 10.1. There are also variations on the included tablets, like the iPad 2, Nook HD+, and Kindle Fire HD 8.9". Perhaps we'll tackle these devices later. For now, we narrowed it down to an elite seven.

Without further ado, let's compare the best tablets of 2012.

Dimensions

Go figure: Surface has the largest surface

Our field is filled with three 10-inch tablets, and four 7-inch tablets. Those screen sizes are rough ballparks, as you'll soon see.

In terms of surface area, the Nexus 7 is the smallest, and the Surface is the largest. The beefy Nook HD is the thickest, and the svelte iPad mini is the thinnest.

All of the tablets can be used in either portrait or landscape, but the Surface RT and Nexus 10 are the only ones intended primarily for landscape.

Weight

Surface is the heaviest, iPad mini is the lightest

With the Nook HD hot on its heels, the iPad mini takes the prize for lightest tablet. The small tablets have other tradeoffs, but they're the most comfortable to hold for extended periods.

Surface is the heaviest of the three 10-inchers, followed by the 4th-generation iPad.

Display

Nexus 10, iPad 4, and Nook HD have the sharpest displays

On paper, the Nexus 10 wins the resolution prize. In practice, it, the iPad, and Nook HD are all extremely sharp.

The Surface has the least pixels per inch, but its ClearType (sub-pixel rendering) technology gives it some leeway. That may leave the iPad mini with the lowest perceived pixel density.

Processor

If you somehow combined these chips, you'd have an 18 core, 9.4GHz processor

The days of single core tablets are long gone. Our list has five dual core, and two quad core processors. Chip manufacturers include Apple, Samsung, NVIDIA, and Texas Instruments.

RAM

Ram varies

The Surface and Nexus 10 have the most random-access memory (RAM), and iPad mini has the least.

Storage

There are many storage options

All the tablets are available in multiple storage options.

There are a couple of caveats: Windows RT takes up lots of space, so Surface's available storage is 16-18 GB less than what's listed. Its microSD card slot, though, helps to make up for that. It and the Nook HD are the lone devices with external storage.

Wireless

Most tablets are Wi-Fi only

Most of these tablets are Wi-Fi only. The iPad, iPad mini, and Nexus 7 are the only devices sold in cellular data models (LTE for iPads, HSPA+ for Nexus 7).

Battery

Take these estimates with grains of salt

Take this category with a few grains of salt, as these are estimates. Most deliver good (if not great) uptimes, with Surface being the most questionable.

Cameras

Both iPads and the Nexus 10 have the best cameras

If you want the best cameras, look at the Nexus 10 and the two iPads. Look away from the Nook HD, as it has none.

Intangibles

See 'Intangibles' section to make sense of this (Eye: Shutterstock)

This is where the two iPads shine. The App Store has over 275,000 tablet-specific apps. None of the other platforms come close. For many customers, this spec trumps all others.

Surface has two keyboard covers (sold separately), which Microsoft is marketing as integral companions. The Touch Cover is unique (it has pressure-sensitive keys), but you can buy third-party keyboard covers for other tablets.

In addition to the full-sized iPad, the Nexus 10 and Nook HD also have razor-sharp displays. The Nexus 10's display has the highest resolution of any commercial tablet.

The Nexus 7 (as well as the Nexus 10) ships with Android 4.2, Jellybean. Unlike most Android devices, the Nexus tablets have no manufacturer skin, and will receive future updates quickly.

If you invest in the Kindle Fire, you'd better like Amazon. The tablet's "operating system" is a heavily-skinned version of Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich. It's essentially a storefront for Amazon, with heavily-featured content from Amazon.com, Kindle, Instant Video, and MP3.

... ditto for the Nook HD, only with Barnes & Noble content.

Starting prices

The mean value of these starting prices is $332 - almost exactly the cost of the iPad mini

All of the tablets are sold at different price points, but these prices reflect the Wi-Fi only base models.

The Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD are the cheapest (US$200). The iPad mini carries a $130 premium over the seven-inch slates. Depending on your needs, its premium build, larger display, and superior software library could justify that.

The Nexus 10 tempts with a $100 cheaper price than the other ten-inch slates. Also remember that Surface's keyboard – its killer feature – adds an extra $100 to its price.

Summing up

Tablets are indeed everywhere, but these are probably the most worthy of your attention. One size rarely fits all, and half the fun is in sifting through the variety to find your favorite. For info on their smaller siblings, you can check out our 2013 Smartphone Comparison Guide.

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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11 Comments

Somehow Someway GIZMAG has come up with a BEST way to provide comparison information. Reading this review of Tablets made more sense than any review/comparison I've ever read before.

Kudos to GizMag for making information so easy to understand & digest.

GrandPoobah
6th November, 2012 @ 08:38 am PST

Nice, broad selection of comparison charts. Thanks!

yrag
6th November, 2012 @ 09:06 am PST

I found this comparison table really helpful. I think that the other invaluable part of this comparison would be to also compare product support. This could have a big impact on my choice. The only support that I ever hear about with regard to tablets is Apple. Thanks

salads
6th November, 2012 @ 11:06 am PST

all tablets should be no less the 64gb anything less is a waste of time. with Hd video and gaming 2gb ram should also be standard. and as for the design of all these tablets"WRONG" i see everyone is copying everyone. Samgsung so far has the best design as Smartphone/tablet " 2 devices in one" but nevertheless the design is still wrong. Have a nice day Freelance Eng.(designer of smartphone tech)

Dave Hargraves
7th November, 2012 @ 11:19 am PST

Antonio Lagana who developed the wonderful i41CX that will never show up on any other platform told me to go take a look at the mini.

He said that the display was fine. It is absolutely beautiful.

And some kid said that it wouldn't fit in his cargo pants ought to go to a uniform store and pick up a pair of 511 Tactical pants. The Cargo pockets will hold the mini although it will extend out about an inch above the flap. But if you have ever worn such you will notice that the rear pockets are enormous so you could easily carry two more.

And it has an iPhone pocket.

Steve had a penchant for refined and tiny, a sort of 19th Century taste thing and this one has that in spades. It is magnificent and I suspect with a blue tooth ear piece it could serve as your complete connection to the outer world.

This is the most beautiful Apple device ever.

Island Architect
8th November, 2012 @ 04:45 am PST

Dave .... don't keep us in suspense. If these are all WRONG tell what would be RIGHT. As to the memory they should all have USB and SD. The Clouds are he place to put your pictures, documents, and even personal videos.

GPS: no one reviews the GPS which is a very essential part of a Pad to most users but there has been a world of difference from one brand of Pad to the other regarding lack of a GPS, sensitivity, lock-on speed, WAAS accuracy. The HTC Evo 7 I have has the best GPS that I have used.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 should have been included (BEST PAD).

barrettjet
9th November, 2012 @ 10:01 am PST

I agree with those who've said that this is extremely helpful, while still being concise.

Amazon Prime gives access to a lot of content for the price of membership. Is that content only available on the Kindle Fire? Or could one stream video to a Nexus device, having paid the $79/yr for Amazon Prime?

What about purchased mp3 and video files? If one is buying, either through Amazon or through iTunes, is it possible to play purchased media on a Nexus device?

Nora Carrington
7th December, 2012 @ 07:45 pm PST

Very nice concise review of the major players in the tablet market. I have not had time to do the research and compare all of the tablets to decide which one to buy. Nice comparison.

Gary Jarrell
8th December, 2012 @ 07:27 am PST

A recent discovery the iPad2 with the latest OS will not support Adobe Flash Player a fairly widely used application. Worth mentioning as I only have this pad at the moment I am unable to test others. Just a thought!

Bhb56
12th December, 2012 @ 11:48 am PST

By far the most helpful article I have found. It cleared up a lot of things for me. Thank you!

Laura Christensen
15th December, 2012 @ 12:38 pm PST

I liked having the comparison of all these models. The Apple store usually doesn't share this kind of information at least about rams. I have a Nexus 10 with 2 gig of ram, and like having that much working space for my apps. Also the Nexus 7 has 1 gig of ram while the i Pad mini only has about half that much. The Nexus 7 is probably one of the most desirable tablets and the price level is really good. I pan on buy a Nexus 7 shortly just to have a good tablet by my side at the sofa. I actually use the Nexus 10 like a mini computer right now with a bluetooth mouse and Keyboard. I also couple it to a 27 inch monitor for easy viewing. If they can get the Bluetooth working right in Android 4.2.2, it will be about as good as it can be for the present.

Ronald Geiken
3rd February, 2013 @ 07:44 am PST
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