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HH Holiday Gift Guide: Tablets & Smartphones
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Date: Nov 21, 2012
Section:Misc
Author: Ray Willington
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Tablets: Android, Windows 8, And All The Rest
Portable devices are becoming ever more powerful, and users are increasingly using them to keep up with news and friends, get work done, and remain entertained. Smartphones and tablets have never been so powerful, and if you're in market for either, it's going to be a fun holiday season.

Whether it's for yourself or someone else, consider this your go-to guide for picking out the perfect tablet or smartphone. We're all about spreading the holiday cheer around here, and if it means sifting through dozens or even hundreds of devices to find the best ones, then so be it. This is what we do, and we'd much rather you spend your time this holiday season with your family and friends than clicking frantically through the web trying to make sense of all the available models. We've already done it, and these are our picks.

Kindle Fire HD ($199)
 Kindle Fire HD
Is it a tablet? Is it an e-reader? It's the best mixture of both at the moment, and one of the few content-focused tablets that actually strikes a nice balance. It's nimble, fast, and affordable, and while it's best for those who already dabble in Amazon's ecosystem, Android loyalists will also find lots of familiar territory. For the loved one in your life who doesn't want to carry both a tablet and a reader, this is the solution we'd recommend.  If you don't care of the Kindle Fire HD's cameras or the app and eBook ecosystem, the Google Nexus 7 would also be a great choice at roughly the same price point.

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity ($500+)

 

The Transformer Pad Infinity was already a top choice when it came to multifaceted tablets, but now that Jelly Bean is available on it, it's a no-brainer for a holiday pick. It's a tablet at heart, but an attachable keyboard makes it much more of a productivity machine.

From our review: "The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity offers a level of performance that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 - 20% faster all around, versus the previous generation high-end Transformer Prime. In fact, the Transformer Pad Infinity in many test conditions, especially in terms of graphics performance, is one of the fastest Android tablets we've tested to date. In addition, its battery life actually improved in our light duty web browsing test setup, though your mileage may vary, especially if its rendering more graphics intensive content like HD video or otherwise."

Microsoft Surface RT ($599)

 Microsoft Surface
If you're a fan of live tiles, and you're a fan of Windows, you might be a fan of Microsoft's first branded tablet. The Surface RT is a great gift for that busy professional in your life -- that person who longs for a tablet, but needs access to Microsoft Office to get any real work done. At $499, it's a swift and sexy slate, but you'll want to spring for a Touch or Type Cover for the full experience, which adds another $120-$130 to the final price.

Asus Vivo Tab ($500+)

 

For the sake of variety, Asus has a pretty impressive Windows 8 slate, too. Much like the Transformer line, this unit is available with a snap-on keyboard. The Vivo Tab RT offered a very responsive, fluid and satisfying tablet experience overall. Switching between applications and multitasking in general was very impressive, actually besting or matching virtually any competitive tablet solution on the market currently, in general use.  Though there were a few application glitches along the way for Windows RT and the Vivo Tab RT's camera didn't impress us much, overall Windows RT and the NVIDIA Tegra 3-power ASUS Vivo Tab RT is an impressive combination in terms of usability and general performance. 

From our review: Though we weren't able to fully quantify the numbers in dedicated benchmark tests, the ASUS Vivo Tab RT offered a very responsive, fluid and satisfying tablet experience overall. Switching between applications and multitasking in general was very impressive, actually besting or matching virtually any competitive tablet solution on the market currently, in general use.  Though there were a few application glitches along the way for Windows RT and the Vivo Tab RT's camera didn't impress us much, overall Windows RT and the NVIDIA Tegra 3-power ASUS Vivo Tab RT is an impressive combination in terms of usability and general performance. 

Google Nexus 10 ($399)
 
As far as 10" slates go, this one just has to be considered. It's a pure Google device, which means that it'll be first in line to get future Android updates. It also ships with Android 4.2 right out of the box, so you'll be gifting someone with the latest and greatest right from the start. It's built by Samsung, and the quality is top-shelf in, both in terms of speed and design. And at $399, it's on the cheaper end of the spectrum when it comes to high-end tablets.
 
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Smartphones: From Budget To Phablet
Apple iPhone 5 ($199+)

 
Apple's 4" iPhone isn't just another iPhone. It just so happens to be the fastest and most potent iPhone yet, outpacing many of its non-iOS based rivals in many benchmarks. Apple's ecosystem is as strong as it has ever been, and it's also the first iPhone with LTE.

From our review: "For one, the iPhone 5 is the first major overhaul since the iPhone 4 was released. Yes, the 4S added Siri, a new camera and a faster CPU, but it was essentially the same design. And when it comes to Apple products, design matters big time. Second, this is the first iPhone ever, since the original was introduced in 2007, where a display is employed that isn't 3.5-inches diagonally. There's a 4" (1136x640 resolution) display in the iPhone 5, along with LTE support, a new A6 processor, an all new dock connector called Lightning, and an all new operating system (iOS 6)."

Samsung Galaxy Note II ($649)
 
For the person in your life that just prefers everything to be larger, there's the Note II. It's far and away the superior phablet on the market today, improving over the first unit with faster internals and availability on a slew of carriers -- even regional ones like U.S. Cellular.

From our review: "If we run down the list of things that make a good smart phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note II has them all. The device has a very nice screen, it’s very fast, offers good battery life, its camera and voice quality are also good, it’s running the latest version of Android, and the build quality is top notch, save for a couple of minor quibbles. Samsung also goes a few steps further and includes the S-Pen stylus, which adds some additional functionality over and above “touch-only” smartphones. And Samsung’s TouchWiz UI enables a few unique features as well, like the pop-up video player. In light of its features and performance, the Galaxy Note II is a clear winner, no ifs ands or buts about it."

Nokia Lumia 920 ($99+)
 
Nokia's hardware has always been something to be admired, but that quality has been kicked up a notch since the company devoted itself to Windows Phone. Now, with Windows Phone 8 available, the Lumia 920 is leading the charge. WP8 offers a litany of new features over WP7, including wireless charging, a higher-res display, LTE, and an entirely new tiles menu. Plus, it starts at just $99 on contract.

Motorola DROID RAZR M ($99+)
 
When it comes to budget handsets, there really aren't many that can come close to comparing to this one from Motorola. At just $99 on contract at Verizon, it's a small, sleek, long-lasting Android phone that doesn't skimp on performance. It's one of the few phones coming out these days that is both admirable from a performance standpoint without being huge, giving those who prefer smaller handsets a viable option.

From our review: "The overall look and feel of the RAZR M is exceptional. The 4.3" screen size feels just about ideal for those who aren't ready to commit to a phablet. The qHD (960x540) display is sharp and vibrant, and the viewing angles are great. Touch response was also good, with overall system responsiveness being more than satisfactory. Motorola's design choices are also worth praising. The Kevlar back and Gorilla Glass on the front both stand to prevent accidental cracks and bruises, and the microSD expansion slot makes the paltry 8GB of inbuilt storage easier to stomach. Our only real design gripe is the positioning of the microUSB port; if you're charging the phone while trying to use it, that cable gets in the way of normal keyboard use."

HTC One X ($49+)


HTC's One series is a fantastic line, and the One X is a brilliant Android phone for those willing to pony up for style, and the Sense overlay is about as useful as they come. It's also a great budget pick for those who aren't ready to jump up to a phablet in size.

From our review: "We were very pleased with the HTC One X. The device offers excellent performance and we really dig the phone’s design and aesthetics. Our real-world experience with the HTC One X was nothing but good; touch response is best-of-class, the phone never felt slow--even with multiple applications open, the customizations offered by HTC Sense 4.0 are welcomed additions, and the camera is among the best we have used on a smartphone. Even the device’s speakers and audio capabilities are excellent thanks to some smart design decisions and support for Beats Audio. We also liked the HTC One X’s form factor and think many potential consumers will be impressed by how light and thin the phone feels. If you hit an AT&T store and play with the HTC One X alongside some of the other high-end phones currently being sold for AT&T’s network, we think you’ll agree. The HTC One X just feels fast and very polished."

Stay tuned to HotHardware for more holiday gift guides in the days ahead...


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