The tablet market is still growing fast and it’s being driven by Android. According to IDC shipments were up 36.7% last quarter compared to the same period last year. We are starting to see a much wider range of Android tablets, and the overall experience for Android tablet owners is improving fast, thanks to developments like the Play Store highlighting tablet optimized apps.
You can divide the Android tablet line up neatly into two sections: big and small.
Best small Android tablet
We’ll start with the small tablets, ideal for people seeking a portable solution when they’re out and about. We’re not going to look at forked Android tablets, like the Kindle Fire range or the Nook because we simply don’t recommend them.
1 – Nexus 7 (2013)
When Google partnered with Asus to create the original Nexus 7 it was a smash hit. Consumers and critics alike loved the tablet, and it offered unbeatable value for money. It was perhaps inevitable that a sequel would follow and sure enough we got one in the summer. Google stuck with Asus to produce another understated, but solid design that’s slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, with several important improvements.
The first thing that strikes you about the Nexus 7 is that stunning 1920 x 1200 pixel display. With 323 pixels per inch, books and movies look fantastic on it. Throw genuine stereo speakers into the mix and it’s the ideal portable package for content consumption. Inside, the 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, with 2GB of RAM, proves itself capable of running the latest games. Stock Android is super slick, Jelly Bean brought another raft of subtle improvements, and the Nexus 7 was quick to get KitKat, as it will be to get future updates.
Google had to increase the price slightly, to $229 for the 16GB version, but this is still the best value small tablet on the market. Check out our Nexus 7 review to learn more.
2 – LG G Pad 8.3
LG decided that 7 inches wasn’t enough and so its best small Android tablet offering is the G Pad, which has an 8.3-inch display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. That’s the same resolution as the Nexus 7, but because the screen is bigger the ppi is 273. The specs are very good with a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage backed up by a microSD card slot.
The G Pad has a pretty premium feel and you’ll find LG’s suite of features, from QSlide apps to Slide Aside, are actually quite useful, even if the interface doesn’t look great. The downside here is the much higher price tag ($350) and the average battery life. Even with a 4600mAh battery, this tablet will need charged every night, and it dies fast if you watch movies or play games.
We think this is an underrated option and if you want something a little bigger than 7 inches it’s a good choice. Read the LG G Pad 8.3 review for more.
3 – Asus MemoPad 7 HD
As the manufacturer behind the Nexus 7, you can rest assured that Asus knows how to put a good tablet together. The budget end of the Android tablet space is seriously competitive and you have to be careful to avoid being stung by a poor quality release. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. For tight budgets the MemoPad 7 HD is something we can recommend. The display manages 216 ppi thanks to a 1280 x 800 resolution, and you’ll find a 1.2GHz quad-core Cortex A7 inside with just 1GB of RAM. Nothing earth-shattering going on there, but it does have one thing that the Nexus 7 lacks – a microSD card slot.
There isn’t a great deal of difference between this and the original Nexus 7. This tablet was released at $150, but we’ve seen it as low as $99 and that makes it a compelling bargain. Get a closer look in our Asus MemoPad 7 HD review.
Best big Android tablet
If you want to kick back on the couch, or surf the web in bed, then you want a nice big tablet to do it on. These are our top picks in the 10-inch space for 2013.
1 – Nexus 10
It really says something about the larger tablet category on Android that a device released in 2012 is still the best big Android tablet in 2013. The Samsung manufactured Nexus 10 wowed everyone with its 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution, providing an amazing 300ppi on a 10-inch display. Google understands that people primarily want tablets for content consumption and so, despite fighting to keep costs down, it never scrimps on the display.
The rest of the hardware is aging. We all expected an update before the end of the year, but it looks like the Nexus 10 refresh won’t land until 2014. As a stock Android device the Nexus 10 has already got the KitKat update and that 1.7 GHz dual-core A15 processor still performs really well. It’s also backed by 2GB of RAM, so it can handle multitasking. The lack of a microSD card slot is a downside, but the Nexus 10 is almost as good value as its smaller brother.
At $399 this tablet is still a pretty attractive proposition, but with a refresh around the corner, patience is a virtue. Have a look at our Nexus 10 review to find out more.
2 –Sony Xperia Tablet Z
If Sony had done a refresh, like it did with the Z1 then this tablet could have claimed the top spot, but there are a couple of weaknesses that we can’t overlook. The 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro is dated, even if it is backed by the Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. The display is also 1920 x 1200 pixels with a 224 ppi. It still looks great, and Sony’s Bravia technology is not to be sniffed at, but it’s not at the same level as the Nexus 10.
In terms of build quality the Xperia Tablet Z is a real winner. It looks and feels beautiful, it’s impossibly svelte, and you can take it into the shower or bath with you, so you never need to be parted. Seriously, the waterproof feature is more than just a gimmick and it’s awesome to be able to watch a movie in the bath without fear. The battery life is also excellent and there’s a microSD card slot for expanding that storage.
Sony also has a nice UI and some decent apps, and the tablet works well as a universal remote, thanks to an IR blaster. You can find out more about it in our Sony Xperia Tablet Z review.
3 – Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014)
Samsung’s new Note 10.1 is a beast. The 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution translates to 299 ppi. The powerful specs extend to a 1.9GHz Exynos 5420 quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM. It has 16GB or 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The dual speakers offer good quality sound. The battery is rated at a whopping 8220mAh. Despite all that, it’s definitely not as silky-smooth in operation as the Note 3.
Samsung is being criticized a lot lately for overloading its products with features and there’s a suspicion that TouchWiz is to blame for less than stellar performance and battery life. What we definitely can say about it is that it works better visually on a big tablet than on the S4. The S Pen is there, along with all the features of the Note 3, and that helps to make the Note 10.1 an obvious choice for anyone seeking a productivity tool, as well as an entertainment tablet.
What keeps the Note 10.1 from creeping higher in the list? It starts at $599, and if you don’t intend to use the stylus and all those extra features, it’s never going to be worth the extra money for you. Our Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review lays out the full picture.