The small tablet market is bustling these days, with many great devices competing for consumers' attention. Amazon was the first retailer to score a hit with the 7" Kindle Fire, and shortly after, other manufacturers followed suit — prompting even Apple to join in on the fun-size slates. Since the smaller size of these tablets make them more portable and more affordable, they're likely of interest to our deal-savvy readers. To put all of these new options into perspective, we've cobbled together a rundown on the pros and cons to each.
Price: $199 to $299
Storage Capacities: 16GB or 32GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1GB RAM, 7" 1280x800 display (216 ppi), 1.2MP front-facing camera, WiFi and NFC, HSPA+, stock Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
Google's foray into the small tablet market kicked off with the ASUS-manufactured Nexus 7. This tablet offers great specs for the money and it has met with critical acclaim.
CNET gave it 4 out of 5 stars and called the Nexus 7 "easily the best 7" tablet available and one of the top tablets on the market." The Verge credited it 8.8 out of 10 and explained that "it's the first Android tablet that I can confidently recommend to buyers."
This praise was echoed elsewhere as the managing editor of TechCrunch said, "If you're looking for a 7" tablet or any tablet of the Android variety, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better than the Nexus 7." Digital Trends, too, explained the Nexus 7 to be "the best 7" tablet we've ever used, by far, a good step forward for Android, and ticks in at an affordable $200, despite having the processing power and amenities of a tablet twice that price."
Price: $329 to $659
Storage Capacities: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1GHz dual-core A5 processor, 512MB RAM, 7.9" 1024×768 display (163 ppi), 1.2MP front-facing camera, 5MP rear-facing camera, WiFi, 4G LTE available on premium models, iOS 6
Rumors of an Apple iPad mini began to crop up several months ago, but it took until October 2012 for the company to debut its 7.9" tablet. The late Steve Jobs famously said that the smaller form factor for tablets would never take off, but now that the market is thriving, the iPad mini (and its slightly-larger screen) looks set to compete well.
CNET gave the iPad mini 4 out of 5 stars, as well, and concluded its review by saying, "If you want the full, polished Apple tablet experience in a smaller package, the iPad mini is worth the premium price. Otherwise, good alternatives are available for less money." The Verge, offered even higher praise and scored the iPad mini 9 out of 10. "The iPad mini hasn't wrapped up the 'cheapest tablet' market by any stretch of the imagination. But the 'best small tablet' market? Consider it captured."
TechCrunch was slightly more effusive in its praise saying that the "iPad mini feels like a revelation: proof that a diminutive tablet works, and works well." Wired also chimed in: "[The Apple iPad mini] provides a very good, though not top-of-the-line, experience and looks sharp to boot."
Price: $199 to $249
Storage Capacities: 16GB or 32GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4 processor, 1GB RAM, 7" 1280x800 display (216 ppi), 1MP front-facing camera, WiFi, HDMI, heavily modified Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
After enjoying great success from the original Kindle Fire, Amazon decided to expand its range. The original Kindle Fire received an update just a few months ago and can now be snapped up for only $159. Amazon also took to releasing the more powerful Fire HD in both 7" and 8.9" form factors. We are focusing on the 7" Fire HD, which has received mixed reviews.
CNET pointed out that the Kindle Fire HD is "really an Amazon tablet as opposed to an Android one," but qualified this by calling it a "media-consuming powerhouse of the highest order." The Verge thought it worthy of 7.5 out of 10 saying, "It's a really, really good tablet for doing some very specific things."
At TechCrunch, they felt that, "The Kindle Fire HD isn't a great tablet but it's a great media device." Over at Digital Trends, the Fire HD scored 7 out of 10 upon review, and was summed up as "a good device if all you want to do is consume Amazon content."
Price: $199 to $299
Storage Capacities: 8GB or 16GB, expandable up to 32GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.3GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4 processor, 1GB RAM, 7" 1440x900 display (243 ppi), microSD card slot, WiFi, heavily modified Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
With the highest resolution display, the NOOK HD from Barnes & Noble is worthy of consideration. It doesn't have a camera, but it is the only tablet of the bunch to boast a microSD card slot.
CNET had mixed impressions, however. It awarded the tablet a 3.5 out of 5 stars, and describes it as a "reading tablet for non-techies." The Verge called the NOOK HD a "beautiful mess," and scored it just 6.6 out of 10.
A hands-on look from the experts at TechCrunch revealed that "the display, the new features, and the sheer comfort in the hand" make the NOOK HD worth considering, "especially at these price points," although there was also concern about the limited nature of the Barnes & Noble ecosystem. When Wired got some hands-on time they too were impressed with the display and discussed the tablet's marketing towards women and parents with a simpler skin over Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and the "ability to create up to six user profiles, complete with customizable settings that can block a child's profile from surfing the web, accessing email, or even from viewing certain types of videos and books."
Which Tablet is Right for You?
Consumers are unlikely to be dissatisfied with any of these small tablets, but any decision should be driven fulfilling one's needs. For the full tablet experience, the Nexus 7 is unbeatable on price, and the iPad mini offers the most polished experience. For a relatively cheap device for consuming content – primarily reading books and watching movies — then it's a straight fight between the Fire HD and the NOOK HD.
Readers, which small tablet do you think reigns supreme? Which offers the best bang for your buck?
Front page photo credit: TechLand