Best Tablets Of 2015, A Buyer's Guide

Introduction, Budget and Mainstream Picks

There’s no doubt that tablets have revolutionized the way many of us consume media.  The tablets on the market today have developed to fill many niche categories and are beginning to rival notebooks in terms of performance.  We see everything from the venerable iPads, to the upcoming Amazon Kindles, to a wide variety of Android slates and the latest installments of the Surface line from Microsoft.  So, how do you know what is right for you?

As is the case with most devices, there just isn’t a single “best” tablet anymore.  A more useful start is to determine what kind of user you are.  Broadly speaking, are you a mainstream user whose primary interests are web surfing, movie-watching and photo-viewing, with a dash of social networking thrown in?  Or are you a gamer who needs to see those pixels sizzle?  Perhaps you're a professional trying to be as productive as you can on the road?  Or maybe you are just trying to find something passable on a shoestring budget?

Fortunately, here at HotHardware we have taken the liberty of categorizing some of today’s top picks.  The current list is what we have on the market today and it will be updated as more devices hit store shelves.

Budget Tablets

Let's start off with some affordable, value-priced picks.  While there are a myriad of cheap Android slates on the market, most will fail to impress.  The upside is a $200 price tag -- or less -- doesn’t have to doom a user of an affordable tablet to a frustrating experience.

Acer Tab8
Acer Iconia Tab 8

Highlighting the above thought is the Acer Iconia Tab 8 at $199.  The Iconia 8 doesn’t try to be anything more than it needs to be.  It has a mid-range Intel processor inside, that's perfect capable of handling any day-to-day tasks, a nice looking FHD IPS display with great viewing angles, and is not stuffed with bloatware unlike many others devices in its price bracket.

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Amazon Kindle Fire 7"

If you are looking for one of the absolute cheapest tablets, from a brand you actually recognize, though, you could do worse than the new 7” Kindle Fire.  To be clear, this year's affordable Fire tablet is a very low performer, and you'll have to deal with some advertisements,  but it is hard to complain about a $50 sticker.  Amazon will even ship you a 6-pack for just $250, perfect for gifts.

Mainstream Tablets

Next up, we have some do-it-all, well-rounded, versatile tablets.  These devices will appeal to the broadest possible audience with great displays and powerful SoC, which make them well suited to a variety of taks. These tablets can cover a wide swathe of the market, and may command a premium price or make intelligent trade-offs to ultimately bring down the price somewhat, while still offering a premium feel and feature set.  Unless you know you need something specific not offered by one of these devices, they'll probably appeal to the largest audience.

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iPad Air 2

No list of tablets would be complete without bringing up the iPad.  The iPad Air 3 is not expected until March 2016 but that doesn’t mean the iPad Air 2 is any kind of slouch.  We covered the iPad Air 2 in depth last November and tot his day it still offers the richest tablet ecosystem.  Even Apple naysayers can’t argue with that, but the premier experience doesn’t come without a chunk of coin.  The base “usable” 64GB wifi-only model still starts at $547.97 USD at Amazon.  While you can get a 16GB model for $441.00 USD you will quickly find yourself pressed for space and we highly recommend against, since there's no local expandable storage to speak of.  The iPad Mini 4 (review pending) starts at $499 USD for the same 64GB capacity and is a good pick if you are in want something a little more mobile.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

The frontrunner here in the Android ecosystem is Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S2.  In terms of performance, this tablet is a strong contender.  But the shining gem of this tablet is the gorgeous and unparalleled Super-AMOLED display.  Unfortunately, in Samsung’s quest to trim every bit of fat (and wow is this thin at mere 5.6mm thick) the battery life suffers a bit.  This isn’t a problem if you are regularly near an outlet, but can be a drag for trips away from home.  It starts at $499 USD with 32GB of storage for the 9.7” version and $399 USD for the 8” version as reviewed.  Both sizes offer expandable storage up to 128GB via an SDXC card.

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ASUS ZenPad S 8 - front and back

A third very excellent option comes from ASUS with the ZenPad S.  It doesn’t pack as much flare as Apple and Samsung’s offerings but certainly gets the job done.  Spec-wise it actually goes toe-to-toe with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2.  If you aren’t put-off by the mere IPS display (picky, picky) you’ll find excellent value here.  It starts at just $299 on Amazon and affords a generous 64GB of onboard storage, which like the Samsung Tab, is expandable up to an additional 128GB via an SDXC card.

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Dell Venue 8 7000 

The Venue 8 7000 is a much better value proposition, with a starting price of $399.  The Venue 8 can be paired with the Dell Cast dongle to make mobile presentations a breeze or switch the dongle to productivity mode and give yourself a lightweight desktop experience just by plugging in a keyboard and mouse.

Tags:  Android, ipad, tablets, ios

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