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Current tablet choices: What (and what not) to buy

by Adel Gabot
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

You've probably been saving up to get a tablet, if you don't already have one yet. You know, to fill that hazy middle ground between your smartphone and your laptop. You can argue that you don't really need one, and in point of fact, you probably don't. But it would sure be nice to have one anyway, don't you think?

There are too many tablet choices available these days, as more and more manufacturers take advantage of the explosion in interest and use. There are those with fancy-schmancy operating systems and eye-popping resolutions, and there are those with fair-to-middling specs and more modest, stock options. These range in prices from the atmospheric to the bargain-basement, although they have more in common than they'd care to admit.

Basically, they run on Apple iOS or Android operating systems, excluding the precious and rare few that have their own proprietary system. They have a reasonable battery life and get by on stock applications, or progress from there to the more exotic ROMs. You can carry them around and use them for everyday tasks like note-taking or setting up your weekly calendar, or bring them around for more esoteric uses like having it monitor your caloric intake. Stuff like that.

We'd like to bring you a rundown of the more common selections and give you an overview, so you can have a more informed choice in case you're ready to purchase one:

Apple iPad or iPad mini
The Apple iPad has come along well, commanding a majority share of the market. The current models are the iPad 4th generation, and the smaller 8" iPad mini, which are soon to be superseded by more advanced models (we're waiting with bated breath). The hi-end models are equipped with a high resolution Retina display (except for the mini, which still labors under a more middling display-although we hear that's about to change), 128GB internal memory and high-speed LTE internet support. Prices start at P23,500 for the iPad (16GB, Wifi) and P15,500 for the mini. (That takes care of the non-Android tablets; from here on in, the other choices will be running one or another of the versions of Android.)

Acer Iconia Tab A510
This one is a 10.1" tablet that boasts a quad-core 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, with 32GB storage, which can be beefed up by adding 32GB more via microSD. Videos run smoothly courtesy of the Tegra 3, and the tablet runs for around ten hours of battery life. The bezel surrounding the screen is kinda large, and it suffers from having just a TFT display, but viewing is still pleasant on the whole. Other negative points are it's bulky, and the cameras leave a lot to be desired. But if you're looking for a good Android powerhouse without breaking the bank, the Iconia Tab A510 is a good choice. Prices start at P15,000.

Archos 101 XS
This particular tablet is one that blurs the line between tablet and laptop, having a docking keyboard that also acts as a cover for the screen. The Archos 101 XS is a 10.1" tablet running a much slower dual-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A9 chip, putting it below the Android powerhouses like the Acer Iconia Tab A510 and the Google Nexuses. What makes it seem cheap is the keyboard, with too much flex and shallow travel, making it hard to type for long periods. Likewise for the kick-stand, which seems too fragile to hold up the tablet. Starts at P13,500.

Asus MeMO Pad
It doesn't take much for us to recommend a tablet, but I'm afraid the Asus MeMO Pad didn't quite make it. The good first: it's made by Asus, makers of the much heralded Nexus 7; it looks like the Nexus 7; it doesn't cost much (P6,995); and it's got a microSD expansion slot. The bad: everything else. Heck, even Angry Birds stutters on this one. From the poor resolution (169 ppi) to the horribly slow 1GHz VIA WM8950 chip, this one is a mess. A cheap mess, but still a mess. Pass on this one.

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and Asus Transformer Pad 300
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity is another line-blurring device between tablet and laptop, but this one knows what it's doing. The 10.1" Infinity is actually an improvement over the Asus Transformer Prime, the previous model, with a higher 1080p resolution and better GPS and Wifi sensors. My only two gripes are that the included keyboard isn't heavy enough and wants to tip the tablet over, and the price is a bit too steep for my tastes. The other model, the Transformer Pad 300, another 10.1" tablet, is one of the most powerful Androids, running an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip. But to save some on the cost, Asus cut corners, notably in build quality. The metal back has been replaced with plastic, and the keyboard is flimsier. But the touchpad on the keyboard is great, no doubt due to the Tegra chip. Battery life is great, and if you can overlook the cut corners, you can't go wrong with the Transformer Pad 300. Prices start at P18,500 for the Transformer Infinity, and P23,500 for the Transformer Pad 300.

Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD
The Kindle Fire's biggest and best asset is its price-P8500. This 7-incher is made by the website Amazon, for Amazon, which is its biggest strength, and its largest weakness. Although it runs a basic version of Android, it's been "skinned" heavily as to be unrecognizable. There's no Google Play Store, for one, and in its place is Amazon itself. Instead of the Play Store, you're presented with a bookshelf like a typical Kindle e-reader, with the top shelf featuring your most recently viewed content, and the ones underneath your favorite apps. The sad thing is you get what you pay for-things are kinda sluggish: transitions are ponderous, the accelerometer is slow, and video playback is often blocky and pixelated. No wonder, with 8GB storage and no SD card option, 512MB RAM only, and a slow dual-core 1GH processor. The Kindle Fire HD is a lot better, with 16GB storage (32GB is also available), and is Amazon's contender to the reigning Google Nexus 7's throne. Its wonderful cloud-based Silk browser is impressive and fast. Also notable is its dual-band, dual-antenna Wifi which uses MIMO, or Multiple In, Multiple Out technology to improve reliability and speed. Still, there's always the Kindle Fire's bugaboo; while its interface is smooth and user-friendly, it's also not very flexible or customizable, which in the end might turn most users off. Prices start at P8500 for the Kindle Fire and P10,500 for the Fire HD.

Google Nexus 7 and Google Nexus 10
Ah, the Nexus 7. After more than a year in the market, it still commands pride of place as the best-value 7-inch tablet available. (Alas, it's going to be superseded soon, but it was great while it lasted.) This tablet was made by Asus and Google itself, and as such gets the state of the art Android operating software as soon as it's out of the gate. It's fast, got great battery life, great resolution, and now comes in 32GB storage (sorry, still no microSD card option) and 3G. The newer Samsung-made Google Nexus 10's even better-it beats the iPad's Retina display at 300 pixels per inch compared to the iPad's 264 ppi. It runs a dual-core 1.7GHz Samsung Exynos processor and has 2GB RAM. It still doesn't have an SD card option, but we've gotten used to that with Google. If you're looking for a mid-range priced tablet with high-end specs, the Nexus 10's the one to get. Prices start at P13,500 for the Nexus 7 (32GB Wifi), and P18,500 for the Nexus 10.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is a capable tablet with a reasonable price. Inside, it doesn't use an Nvidia Tegra 3-it has a more pedestrian 1GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4430. While not great news, this shouldn't turn people off; it's enough to run most of its apps. It has average battery life-running a little over five hours, and a decent, but slightly dull 1024x600 TFT screen. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 isn't much different. It runs a dual-core Cortex A9 chip which is up to the task, but not much more. The colors of the screen are a little brighter and clearer, and the sound from the front speakers are better than the rear-mounted speakers of their counterparts. The battery runs for around six hours. On the whole, these two tablet models cling to the middle of the pack in performance and price. Starts at P8,000 for the Tab 2 7 (16GB Wifi) and P11,000 for the Tab 2 10.1 (16GB Wifi).

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is the crown prince of Samsung's tablet line. It brings to the tablet world the S-Pen of their smartphone line, and you get a choice of a rubber or a plastic tip straight out of the box. With the pen you get to take handwriting notes on apps, get screengrabs and that sort of stuff. But other than the S-Pen, the Note 10.1 is ordinary in most respects. It has the quad-core Samsung Exynos processor and has a generous 2GB of storage, but other than that, it pales in comparison to the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity or even the Google Nexus 7. We'll take the next bus, thank you. Starts at P20,000.

Sony Xperia Tablet S
Sony's tablet is 9.4", slightly smaller than its counterparts. It's also slightly thinner than its predecessor, the Tablet S, but its aluminum construction has a more premium build quality. It boasts a 1.4GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM, and has an SD card storage upgrade option. Sony has tweaked the Android look a bit, and has created a clear brand style across its devices. The tweaked operating system is fast at certain tasks, but dog-slow in others. Most noticeable is using the stock Android browser Chrome: page load times were slow, and when dealing with moving images or coping with ad banners the Xperia Tablet S dragged its feet. While we love the tweaks and the build quality, the dragging performance weighed on us a bit. Price starts at P18,500.