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Which Tablet Is Right For You?

Dec 3, 2012
Originally published on December 3, 2012 6:50 pm

The holiday season is upon us. In the tech world, that means it's time to talk gadgets, specifically one of the year's most popular gadgets: the tablet.

For the first time, Apple's iPad has some competition: Google's Nexus, Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and the Microsoft Surface.

These tablets represent the marquee efforts of the biggest technology companies. They also represent the four major content universes.

Small Tablets

The Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7 have higher-resolution screens — 1280-by-800 pixels compared with the Mini's 1024-by-768.

They're also significantly cheaper than their Apple competitor. The iPad Mini starts at $329. The Nexus and Kindle Fire HD, meanwhile, start at $199.

But as with the bigger Amazon tablet, there are commercials everywhere on the Kindle Fire HD.

Full-Sized Tablets

The standard-bearer for full-sized tablets is the iPad. Starting at $499, it's a little more expensive than its competitors. But in terms of content, Apple is tough to beat. With 270,000 apps, there's something for everyone in the Apple universe.

But Amazon has a lot of movies, and with the Fire HD 8.9-inch model, you can download the same movie faster than you could on an iPad 4.

The Amazon tablet is also much cheaper — $200 less than the fourth-generation iPad.

The downside of the Amazon tablet? It's not good for work. Try managing your email on it, and you might end up pulling your hair out.

New Tablet On The Block

Microsoft seems to be aiming at folks who want to use a tablet for more than play.

It has a file hosting service called SkyDrive, which lets you sync all your office documents or spreadsheets in the cloud. That works really well.

The problem is Windows RT, which runs the Surface. It's a new ecosystem, so there are some kinks.

The tablet itself, physically, is a beautiful machine. It has a little kickstand, and it has a cover that doubles as a keyboard, which is great.

But at this point, there are things about it that would prevent us from recommending it. It has promise, but give it more time.

The Takeaway

When you are buying these devices, to some degree you're buying into a different content universe.

So you have decisions to make. If you want to spend a little more, go for Apple, but know that you're going to be locked into their universe. Microsoft has the least content available in its universe at this point.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

CORNISH: The holiday season is upon us, and that means today in tech, we're going to talk gadgets, specifically one of the year's most popular gadgets: the tablet. And for the first time, Apple's iPad has some competition.

For a look at the field, we're joined by NPR's tech reporters Laura Sydell and Steve Henn. They join us from San Francisco in a room full of gadgets. Hey there, guys.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Hey there.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hey.

CORNISH: The number of tablets out there is verging on overwhelming. What have you got?

HENN: Well, we decided to look at the big tablets.

SYDELL: And the small tablets. So we're looking at the big and small version of Apple's iPad, Google's Nexus, the Amazon, the HD Fire and the new Microsoft Surface.

CORNISH: Now, out of all the tablets out there, why did you focus on these?

HENN: Well, we decided that we wanted to look at the marquee efforts by the biggest tech companies, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

SYDELL: They also represent the four major content universes. So you will notice if you decide to buy any of these that they kind of want to keep you in their content universe. So Apple has got its store. Google has its. Amazon - it's got its store. So there's that issue, too, and we wanted to try all the content universes.

CORNISH: So first question: big or small?

SYDELL: You know, I'm going to be a proponent of the small size. I really liked the small size because you can just slip it into your purse or wherever, and it's really easy to take around. And on that front, I would say the iPad Mini, in particular, it's like only two ounces lighter than the other two. But for some reason, that made a huge difference to me. You know, when you're carrying a lot of stuff around, there's something about the two ounces that made a difference.

CORNISH: There are a lot of other little tablets that are gaining in popularity, like the Amazon Fire, Google Nexus. What did you think of those?

SYDELL: I did, indeed, try those. And, in fact, there are certain things about them that are nice. They both have better screens. Though the truth is when I watched movies on them, I couldn't tell the difference. But, really, the biggest difference is they're both cheaper, significantly. So the iPad Mini is $329 and the Nexus and the HD Fire, at the entry level, are 199. So that's a big difference. But with the HD Fire, there are commercials. So every time you...

(LAUGHTER)

HENN: There were ads everywhere. In the big Amazon tablet too.

SYDELL: Yeah. So with Amazon, you're going to get a commercial every time you open it up.

The other thing about the Nexus though that I liked is if you are in the Google universe and you use their documents and you use Picasa...

HENN: Their Calendar.

SYDELL: Their Calendar, which Steve uses big time.

HENN: Yeah. So I use Calendar to keep our family from heading, you know, off the cliff. And when you open up the Calendar, or any of Google's sort of Cloud-based services, the interface is beautiful. So on the Calendar, I can see everything going on in an entire month at once. And it's really kind of a striking difference. I have them here. And you open up the Google Calendar in the iPad and it just looks...

SYDELL: It doesn't look very good.

(LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: I can tell you right now.

HENN: Yeah. So if you live in the Google universe and the big devices, and you want to save a hundred bucks, I thought that the Nexus was a decent choice.

CORNISH: So where does all this leave the full-sized tablets, like the original iPad?

HENN: Well, I think, you know, the standard bearer for tablets, and certainly full-sized tablets, is the iPad. And, you know, the - it's a little bit more expensive than a couple of the others. It starts at $499. And honestly, I wasn't completely gaga about it. The Wi-Fi had a smaller range than the other three tablets I tested, so it didn't work in my bedroom. And some of those Cloud-based services aren't so hot. The maps got me lost in Atlanta.

The real strength of the iPad is its ecosystem, 270,000 apps. There's something for everyone. So it's, you know, it's tough to beat on that front. Amazon has a lot of movies and content. And actually, when I was downloading a kid's movie - I downloaded the same movie on the iPad - the Amazon tablet downloaded 10 times faster. And it's also much cheaper. It's $200 less than the competitive tablet from Apple.

So the downside, I couldn't really work on it. If I tried to do email on a - the Amazon tablet, I kind of end up pulling my hair out.

CORNISH: And speaking of work, I want to turn to the Office software workhorse Microsoft. They're getting into tablets, and they seem to seem to be aiming at folks who want to use a tablet for more than play.

HENN: Yeah. And they're doing some nice things. They have something called Skydrive that let's you sync all of your Office documents or spreadsheets in the Cloud, and that works really well. But the problem is the Windows RT, which is - runs the Surface. It's a new ecosystem, so there are some kinks. But the table itself, physically, it's a beautiful machine. It has a little kickstand. It has a cover that doubles as a keyboard, which was great.

But at this point, there were things about it that would prevent me from recommending it. It didn't work with a hotel Wi-Fi I was at, so it basically became useless. It has promise, but I'd give it a little bit more time.

SYDELL: Well, and again, you want to emphasize it doesn't have much content. And when you are buying these devices, to some degree, you're buying into a different content universe. So you have decisions to make. If you want to spend a little more, you go for Apple, but you're going to be kind of locked into their universe with each, you know, with the Surface. And Microsoft really has the least content available in its universe at this point.

HENN: Well, actually - I mean, they have a lot of stuff, but it's only from Microsoft. So they don't have Spotify. They don't have Pandora. If you want to listen to music, you have to listen to Xbox Music. So...

SYDELL: Right.

CORNISH: All right, guys. Thanks so much. NPR tech reporters Laura Sydell and Steve Henn, thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

HENN: Our pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.