Best tablet 2014: Our top 10 ranking
15th Oct 2014 | 15:01
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Tablets are taking the world by storm. Just a few years ago they were an unknown for many people, but nowadays you've got more choice than you can shake a mildly agitated badger at.
And with choice comes decisions - difficult decisions. Do you eschew Apple's high prices, join the Android brigade and find the best iPad alternative? Or jump on board Cupertino's lovetrain, and use one of the most popular tablets on the planet?
Remember - the iPad 2 is nearly available to buy, as is the new iPad Mini 3 (or iPad Mini with Retina 2, if you're getting really picky) so perhaps hold off that new tablet purchase for the next few weeks to check out what's on offer - or if the new Apple slates will force the cost of Android options down.
And for the budget conscious: the Tesco
We've made it easy for you and pulled together the top 10 tablets of the moment available in the UK.
It's a difficult process divining which place each of these excellent tablets should occupy in our list, so we take into account multiple elements including performance, battery life, screen quality and more.
Price plays a minor part, as does age: a tablet that's been replaced by a sequel will tumble down the rankings as you can get all the great features on a better slate.
If none of the top 10 tablets here take your fancy then head on over to our tablet reviews pages, where you'll find in-depth reviews for many more models.
Let us know your thoughts on the top 10 (and whether you think we've got the order wrong) in the comment box below.
10. iPad mini
Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs famously slammed small tablets a few years back, leading many to believe the Cupertino-based firm would never dabble in the budget end of the market, but this model proved that wrong.
In terms of consistency in the tablet market Apple cannot be matched, as it still lays claim to the the top spot in our top 10, although the iPad mini is no longer the jewel in an already glistening crown - it's already been usurped by the upgraded Google Nexus 7 and its successor.
However, the new iPad mini 3 is nearly here. Don't buy this one now - it will probably go off sale really soon. If you must have it, the price will drop quickly at other retailers if you wait.
When it landed we dubbed the iPad mini "the best iPad Apple has ever created", and while the iPad Air now claims that title now, this pint sized slate is still an OK choice on a budget - but don't buy it right now.
9. Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7
Leaner, meaner and more powerful than its predecessor, Amazon has stepped its game up with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 as it looks to keep pace with the new Nexus 7.
On paper Amazon's latest 7-inch tablet is more than up to the job with a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, full HD display, up to 64GB of storage and prices starting at £200.
In reality however it's not the complete offering the Nexus 7 is, with Amazon's heavily modified Fire OS 3.0 stripping out a lot of the functionality of Android and putting the retailer's services front and centre.
For the customisation you give up, you gain simplicity and ease of use on the Kindle Fire HDX 7. We'd like to call this the sort of tablet you give to someone who is less than tech savvy, but those devices don't usually have such good hardware.
If you're a Prime subscriber, or heavily invested in Amazon's ecosystem, the Kindle Fire HDX 7 is a smart purchase. For those who want a little more functionality reach for a Nexus 7, or if you have deeper pockets check out the iPad mini 2.
- Read more in our Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 review
8. LG G Pad 8.3
Well, when you make an Android tablet with a design language like this one, perhaps it's time to quietly worry at Samsung. In place of plastic, it's got a lovely aluminium shell, and connectivity with other Android phones makes it a viable option for a wider range of users.
Some might question whether the Snapdragon 600 chip is too low-power for a tablet that costs around £200, but it allows for a sleeker design according to the Korean brand.
We really liked the G Pad 8.3, and it was only lower down in our list thanks to a slightly higher battery drain than we were expecting - plus the overlay can take some getting used to.
But its one of the closest competitors to the iPad Mini out there in terms of design, and it's a tablet we're not ashamed to pull out of a stylishly slim bag.
- Read more in our LG G Pad 8.3 review
7. Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
Never one to leave a tablet niche unexplored, Samsung pushed screen sizes up to new heights with the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.
Thankfully that's not all it has going for it, as the Note Pro 12.2's 3GB of RAM and quad-core processor give it superior performance, while the S Pen becomes truly useful in combination with the slates large, bright screen.
It's an obvious choice for digital artists or anyone else who wants a device they can be productive on, but the bigger screen makes it great just for web browsing and watching videos too.
On the flip side the increased size makes it a little unwieldy and the build quality is a touch creaky thanks to the larger chassis, but is offset by the sheer expanse of screen to play with.
Its big screen and S Pen support make the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 an extremely useful productivity tool - if you're a fan of the Note range, there's very little better on the market and Samsung seems to be successfully convincing the world that the stylu... sorry, S Pen is still relevant to today's gadget fans.
- Read more in our Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review
6. Tesco Hudl 2
The first Hudl was good - but this is a much better option.
The Intel Atom processor, the quad core speeds, the Full HD screen and the general interface is really something to behold.
The price tag is the best thing though: the Hudl 2 will cost no more than £129, and if you're a Tesco Clubcard holder it can be much, much cheaper.
OK, it's a bit slow to wake and the battery is suspect, but for the price you're getting something we'd be happy to recommend you buy for a loved one this Christmas.
A great tablet even at a higher price. It brings more premium features like Dolby enhancement at a stunning price tag - if you're not after the best tablet, but the best value, this is one to certainly check out.
- Read more in our Tesco Hudl 2 review
Number 5: Google Nexus 7
5. Google Nexus 7
The new Nexus 7 takes over from the original 7-inch effort from Google in 2012, and packs a 1.5Ghz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and comes with either 16GB or 32GB of storage
Offered up at just 260g, it's the perfect tablet for slinging in a bag and hurtling down to the local supermarket, or is equally adept at being a long-haul saviour, with reams of apps, a decent slug of battery life and that all-new high-res 7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 display with 323 ppi.
It's a little more expensive than the previous model was at launch, with prices beginning at £199 for the 16GB option and £239 for the 32GB variant - and it's worth remembering that the OS takes a portion of that storage too, to allow for Android 4.4 KitKat to thrive. Plus there's a 4G option.
But it has some top end features, a low-risk update policy and is built in a way that makes it feel both premium and robust enough to chuck around the house. That's a good mix in our eyes.
If you're considering a tablet now and are already dabbling in the Android ecosystem, we see no reason why shouldn't take the plunge with a Nexus 7.
If you haven't invested at all with Android, you're still in a good place to start. You could check out the iPad mini 2, which is advisable for those who have racked up a lot of App Store purchases, but it's not as affordable as the new Nexus 7.
The new iPad Mini has jumped ahead by beating everything the new Nexus 7 has bar the price, but that's a tablet battle many expected. For the more sensible among you, looking for a decent tablet bargain, the new Nexus 7 is unbeatable.
- Read more in our Nexus 7 review
Number 4: iPad mini 2 with Retina
4. iPad Mini 2 with Retina
Look at that - Apple's taken the two of the top five spots in our tablet round up. You'll either love or hate that decision, but we can't deny that Apple has the best slates on the market right now.
The iPad Air is ahead of the Mini 2, thanks to being more competitive on price and having a larger screen for all those iPad-friendly apps.
But this is far from a poor device. It's got reams of style from the aluminium back, a superfast A7 chip and that screen... well, it's what we should have had last year, but it still looks the business.
Don't forget that this model is about to be usurped by a new iPad Mini 3 - best to wait until that lands on shelves before deciding to buy.
The iPad Mini 2 is actually slightly cannibalised by the change to the Air's design - the larger tablet is now encroaching on the 'portable tablet' space.
That said, the Mini 2 has as many pixels in a smaller space, leading to greater sharpness for text and pics - plus there's no loss in power or battery life, which is a marvel in itself.
If only it was a little cheaper, we'd have two five star tablets on the market at the moment - but even still, if you're looking for a brilliant tablet in the smaller category (and aren't too worried about cost, you wealthy little so-and-so) then the Mini 2 is without compare.
- Read more in our iPad Mini 2 with Retina review
Number 3: Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
3. Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
Sony's done it again in the tablet world, making an amazing large-screened device, and while it hasn't nabbed the top spot, it's still given us a jolly good tablet.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet - so named to tie in more neatly with the phone version - brings a massively uprated Snapdragon 801 CPU, 3GB of RAM and an all-new Live Color LED screen that brings vibrancy and contrast to what you're watching.
Video is also improved thanks to the dual front-facing speakers, meaning you can ditch the headphones when watching in a hotel room and still get a decent experience.
Like its predecessor it's also water and dust resistant, so kitchen-based misdemeanours and reading an ebook in the bath are all on offer for you.
If you're invested in the Sony ecosystem, you could do a lot worse than the Xperia Z2 Tablet, as it comes fully-loaded with access to Sony's music, movies and Playstation platforms. Well, you have to download an app to properly get gaming, but we'll overlook that for now.
There's an IR blaster on top to make this a great tablet for controlling the TV, and the speed and sheer weight (or lack thereof) make this a real sofa-friendly choice.
The screen could do with being sharper and you'll still be paying top dollar for this 10.1-inch tablet, but what you're getting is a really nifty, well-packaged slate.
- Read more in our Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet review
Number 2: Samsung Galaxy Tab S
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Samsung has been pouring a lot of effort into making a really decent iPad rival, and that strategy has seen some hare-brained decisions (such as launching the Tab Pro in January, and then replacing it a few months later with the Galaxy Tab S).
But, apart from annoying anyone that's already bought into the Tab Pro range, this strategy has finally yielded a brilliant tablet in the shape of this Super AMOLED-shorn Tab S duo. Available in both 8.4- and 10.5-inch screen sizes, Samsung has taken the best of its OS and technology ability, fused them with the best display on a tablet and created something pretty special.
The battery life is great, the screen has to be seen to be believed (and is excellent for media and internet viewing, which is really the point of a tablet) and the price is on a par with the rest of the industry. Well done, Samsung.
Why isn't the Tab S at the top of the tree? Samsung's eternal problem returns to bite it: the design is still too flimsy, although having two sizes does help mitigate this problem.
Android still struggles to be a truly powerful tablet OS yet as well, which means the apps are still poor compared to iOS on larger screens, although when Android L pops up we're hopeful of a big step forward.
The difference between the Tab S and the Xperia Z2 Tablet is minimal - it really comes down to design and extra features, but if you're not wedded to the idea of owning an Apple tablet these two are the choices you should be looking at.
Number 1: iPad Air
1. iPad Air
If you've already read our iPad Air review Apple's flagship tablet's ranking will come as no surprise, as Cupertino's latest slate is the first ever to gain a five star rating on TechRadar.
People scoffed when Apple launched the first iPad, but the sector has grown exponentially since the first generation device landed and with the Air the Cupertino firm has finally nailed the formula.
Impressive design coupled with a thinner, lighter chassis makes for a premium and quite frankly beautiful tablet, and Apple's powerful A7 and M7 chips under the hood means it chews through even the toughest tasks in next to no time.
Of course the price tag is still high, but it's comparable to the likes of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, finally making it a contender on an even playing field.... and with that in mind, there's no competition.
And we're about to get a new one in the shape of the iPad Air 2 - so probably best to hold on if you're thinking of buying a new Apple tablet.
"It's not just Apple's best tablet, it's the only tablet you should be considering if you're keen on a larger screen." That's what we said in the verdict of our in-depth iPad Air review. While the Galaxy Tab S is a brilliant tablet, the Air just takes things to the next level.
If you want the best tablet on the market then look no further. The iPad Air has reclaimed top spot for Apple and it's going to take some beating.
- Read more in our iPad Air review
As with today's best smartphones, applications play a big role on tablets – once you've decided which of these tablets if right for you, check out our top app lists so you can get your fill of Temple Run, update your friends on Facebook and read the latest news, all on a bigger screen.
If the tablets on this list aren't enough for you then a) you're very hard to please but b) we think we can still help out a little.
The main thing to remember is that the tablet is still a new category, so devices can age really quickly and slow down if you start to use them too heavily.
That said, you can still pick up a bargain by going for one of these options, which come with a pretty high standard of spec without costing the most to buy:
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Most tablets aren't true laptop replacements, but the Surface Pro 3 isn't most tablets. Microsoft has positioned its flagship slate as a true hybrid, that can fill the roles of both tablet and computer and for the most part it's up to the task.
With a whole lot of power, an impressive display and a useful Type Cover for when you need to get some serious work done it's got the muscle to compete with Ultrabooks and the portability and ease of use to be an iPad alternative.
It's not perfect. The battery life is seriously weak by tablet standards and it's a pricey bit of kit, but if you really want one device to fill both roles then this is the best option out there.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is an impressively powerful and versatile device. There's a sense that it's a jack of all trades, master of none, but it's the best hybrid around and that's reason enough to consider it if you don't want or can't afford both a tablet and an Ultrabook.
- Read more in our Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1
Samsung is no stranger to tablets, in fact the South Korean giant has flooded the market with more slates than we know what to do with and the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is arguably the best of them.
It's clad in slightly underwhelming plastic like most Samsung devices, which is a bit of a shame given what a high end machine the Tab Pro 10.1 is, but once you experience its tremendous power and amazing screen it's a disappointment which quickly slips away.
In fact there's very little else to dislike about it. This is a top tier slate through and through and it's versatile enough to comfortably be used for work or play.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 might not have the premium build of the iPad Air or the waterproof credentials of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet but in most other ways it's just as high end and it slightly undercuts them too.
- Read more in our Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 review
When stacked up spec-for-spec against the tablets like the Google Nexus 7, the Tesco Hudl loses out in almost every respect. But really, that's not a fair comparison.
With a £120 price tag Tesco is competing in a category that's typically populated by cheap and not-so-cheerful knock-offs and massively compromised also-rans. When viewed in that light, the Hudl is a bit of a revelation, with solid build quality and respectable performance across the board.
If you're looking to jump aboard the tablet bandwagon but have been put off by the prohibitive cost of trusted brands at one end and the questionable pedigree at the other, the Hudl is the perfect device for you.
The Tesco Hudl is well specced given its low price point, with a solid construction and a decent 7-inch display.
Stock Android is still rare enough that it's worthy of mention here as a stand-out feature, with Tesco wisely keeping its tinkering to a minimum.
This is a well connected device too, with microSD and Micro-HDMI slots adding expansion and connectivity options that you don't always get in compact tablets.