Toys for the boys and girls - TABLETS ANYONE?
LG G PAD 8.3
Cost: $350 (16GB model)
The LG G Pad 8.3 is a decent middleof-the-road tablet. Its performance is solid, the display is clear and crisp and it is thin and light. The price is also mid-range. Whilst it is a decent all-rounder, nothing about the G Pad really excites. The design is nice enough, with the back made of metal.
That said, it is not as pleasant to hold or look at as some other tablets. The battery life is also reasonable, but again, other tablets in this test fared better. The selection of apps is fair, but the Android app ecosystem, whilst better than the Windows Store, is weaker than Apple's App Store.
The G Pad is available in two versions. There is a version running LG's customised version of Android and also a Google Play edition running stock Android software. Whilst the LG software has more inbuilt features, it did lag occasionally when the stock Android version was smoother and faster.
KINDLE FIRE HDX
Cost: $429 (32GB model)
Another nicely designed tablet, this time it has tapered edges, which does make the Kindle nice to hold. The screen is superb. It is very crisp and clean, which makes the device great for watching videos. The Kindle is fast and responsive and as such, it is an improvement on previous models. The battery life is also pretty good.
That said, the Kindle does have its downside. Amazon's operating system is not great. It often feels like it is only there to push you into buying things from Amazon. The inbuilt web browser is also poor. It is not smooth and using it can feel like a bit of a chore. In all, with the Fire HDX, Amazon is moving in the right direction, but they still have a way to go before they will be challenging the iPad.
MICROSOFT SURFACE 2
Cost: $449 (32GB)
The original Surface was widely panned as it was underpowered and the software was buggy. With the Surface 2, Microsoft has taken these criticisms on-board and has done a good job improving on the original. That said, it is far from perfect.
The tablet itself feels well built. The design is solid and the tablet is good-looking. The performance is better than the original Surface and the bugs have been eliminated. The ability to use full Office is also a big bonus. That said, the Windows Store is a fair way behind Android's offerings and miles behind Apple's App Store. To a large extent a tablet is only as good as the apps it runs and as things stand, the Surface 2 lags behind other tablets.
NOKIA LUMIA 2520
Cost: $449 (32GB model)
Nokia made an interesting decision with the Lumia 2520. It is not available as a Wi-Fi-only tablet. This can be seen as a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it means that you can access the internet wherever you have a mobile phone network connection. On the other hand, it means that you are forced to either sign up for a monthly data plan, or buy data at expensive prepay rates. That said, it works over Wi-Ei too so it's not a massive issue, but to have the option would be nice.
In terms of mobile data, it comes fully equipped with LTE (4G), so where networks allow, it's no slouch. The processor is fast too, meaning that the Lumia is nice and responsive. The battery life was very impressive too - it was up there with the best tablets that we tested.
The Lumia runs the same Windows 8.1 RT operating system as the Surface so it suffers from the same issues when it comes to app availability. It is also pretty heavy so one-handed use quickly becomes uncomfortable. That said, overall the tablet felt snappier and more responsive than the Surface 2 and the battery lasted longer. Given that Microsoft recently purchased Nokia, hopefully the Surface 3 will incorporate the best of the Surface 2 and the Lumia 2520.
Cost: $449 (32GB model)
The original iPad mini, whilst a solid tablet, was badly missing a Retina display. Apple's high-resolution Retina displays were introduced to their phone line-up in June 2010 with the iPhone 4 so it was a glaring omission from the original iPad Mini, released two years later.
This has been addressed with the new iPad Mini and the new display is gorgeous. In addition, the new mini maintains all the plus points of the original such as the excellent battery life and the fast, smooth performance. Apple's mature app ecosystem is way ahead of the competition; the App Store has over a million apps ranging for the sublime (such as Paper for hand sketching) to the ridiculous (the self-explanatory Fart Sounds). Newsstand also comes into its own on the iPad mini allowing you to view magazines (such as African Business), newspapers and comic books in pin-sharp detail. All this does however come at a price. The iPad mini is more expensive that similar-sized tablets so if price is a key concern, the iPad mini might not be your best option. ua
Ultimately, many manufacturers have at least one decent tablet in their line-up. At the top end, many are similar in terms of speed, smoothness and the quality of their displays. Where you really notice the difference between these devices is when you search for apps. The Amazon Store and Windows Store are lagging behind the competition when it comes to the range of apps that are available.
Android's fragmented app ecosystem (having more than one, central store for apps) also makes life harder. Tablet manufacturers Google and Samsung have their own Android app stores. Add to that the fact that there are third-party stores too such as Apps Lib and GetJar, navigating the app stores can be a bit of a minefield.
Apple's App Store is in a league of its own. Finding apps is easy and if the app exists, it will be there. In addition, many app developers release their iOS apps first, working on the Android counterparts afterwards. Apple's strict vetting of apps also means that the chances of downloading an app containing malware (think viruses for your tablet) is reduced.
What it all boils down to is price. If you are prepared to spend a bit extra, then the iPad Mini is the way to go. If price is a motivating factor however, you can still get a good tablet from another manufacturer for a lower price.
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