2014 Tablet And E-Reader Buying Guide

November 26, 2014

in Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

Almost a year ago to the day, I published my “2013 Tablet and E-Reader Buying Guide” which covered iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, plus Samsung Galaxy tablets, the Google Nexus, and the Microsoft Surface.

( Siddartha Thota Flickr Photo)

( Siddartha Thota Flickr Photo)

It was comprehensive, detailed, and when printed out, ran to about 10 pages, exclusive of the illustrations.

By contrast, this year’s buying guide is much a much more abbreviated “Quick and Dirty,” “Cut-To-The-Chase-Scene” version.

How I Did My “Testing”

To check out the current crop of e-readers and tablets, I did exactly what you might do: I went to BestBuy and Barnes & Noble, picked them up in my hands and tried them out in the store.

Here’s what I decided after this not-so-rigorous, short-term “testing.”

E-Readers

Forget them.

I know that tech writer David Pogue (formerly of The New York Times, now with Yahoo Tech) recently said that the Kindle Voyage “is a highly refined, super-dedicated device, and it makes reading joyous” (although he thought that the price was awfully high). But he acknowledged that you don’t need one in order to read Kindle e-books; just use your tablet, smartphone or computer for doing so.

The Voyage loaded pages excruciatingly slow, almost fading the text in and out, when I tried one out at BestBuy. And I wasn’t impressed with either the Kindle Paperwhite (about half the price of the Voyage) or the “dirt cheap” basic Kindle, either.

There’s just one Barnes & Noble NOOk e-reader being sold this year: The NOOK Glowlight ($99 full retail). Like the Kindle e-readers, it displays text on a white screen. (Barnes & Noble also sells NOOK tablets; more on those below.)

E-readers let you read print books, but not those with color photos or illustrations, or “enhanced e-books” that include video. Unlike tablets, they are single purpose products.

When e-readers came out people extolled the ability to read books on them even in bright sunlight. So if you want to unplug from the world, sit for hours on the beach, and read book after book after book, buy one.

Otherwise, forget e-readers.

Buy A Tablet? Why?

Before you rush out and buy a tablet, think carefully about how and how often you would use it.

Most, if any all, prospective tablet buyers already own a desktop or laptop computer and a smartphone. Tablets are “in-between” devices, mobile with larger screens than phones, but with smaller screens and less “horsepower” and functionality than computers.

For some users (including me) a tablet, especially one connected to an physical keyboard, can meet most on-the-go computing needs just as well as any laptop computer.

I use my tablet (an iPad 4th generation model) daily. And the purchase price was covered over time by reading my daily newspaper subscription online instead of in print, saving me about 90% of the several-hundred dollar/year delivered-to-my-driveway-every-day subscription cost.

But your experience may differ. If you travel little, prefer to watch movies on a TV set and read books and magazines in print, and own a smartphone (particularly one of the larger so-called “phablet” models), a tablet may end up sitting in a corner gathering dust, unneeded and unused.

(For more advice on whether or not to buy a tablet or e-reader, read our “What to Know Before Buying a Tablet or E-Reader” story, written a year ago, but still applicable.)

Size-Wise

Tablets fall into three size categories:

  • “Giant-size” about the size of small laptops (12” or so longest dimension”)
  • “Full-size” or “Large” (9’’-10” longest dimension)
  • “Purse-size or “Medium” (7”-8” longest dimension)

So decide which fits both your computing/Internet needs, and which will be easiest for you to tote around.

Screen-Wise

Apple set the tablet world afire when it came out with the “Retina display” for its iPads. But based on this week’s in-store testing, I’d say that the display on all tablets is now very, very bright and sharp.

Fit and Finish-Wise

In the past, I felt that all other tablets were far less substantially built than, if not simply cheap knock-offs of, the iPad. But all of the ones I’ve checked out last year and this year have a decent fit-and-finish, although the Apple iPads are still the best of the bunch in my opinion.

Keyboard-wise, Protection-wise

With the exception of the Microsoft Surface (and similar products from other manufacturers) which comes with an attached physical keyboard somewhat like that of a standard laptop computer, and some Samsung models that have optional, physical keyboards, tablets have “virtual” keyboards like those that display on smartphone screens.

I’m a two-fingered “hunt-and-peck” typist when using my iPad’s virtual keyboard. But I can touch type much faster when I connect my iPad to one of the two Bluetooth keyboard cases that I own.

Even if you prefer to hold a tablet “naked” in your hands, I strongly recommend buying some kind of protective case or cover, if not a Bluetooth keyboard, to use when carrying your tablet away from home. (Although mine are designed for the iPad, you can buy them for many types of tablets.)

So when you are calculating what a tablet might actually cost you, don’t forget to add in the cost of a case, keyboard, and/or “sleeve.”

Price-Wise

What you’d pay for a tablet depends on these factors:

  1. The manufacturer
  2. The size (bigger device, bigger price)
  3. Amount of memory (more memory, pay more)
  4. Cellular data network as well as Wi-Fi connectivity (pay more)
  5. Discounts available from manufacturer or retailer

During the holiday shopping season, particularly over the next few days surrounding Thanksgiving, you should be able to save at least a few dollars if you buy a tablet or e-reader.

Amazon.com is discounting some laptops and tablets, and well as a wide range of other products, during its “Black Friday” sales period.

BestBuy is offering discounts on tablets, e-readers and other products this week.

Barnes & Noble is discounting Galaxy Tab tablets and other merchandise, too.

As it did last year, this year on “Black Friday,” November 28th, Apple will be giving customer’s gift cards rather than discounts on purchases.

Got Apple?

If you own or plan to buy an Mac desktop or laptop computer or an iPhone, an iPad (full-sized or “Mini”) is the obvious tablet choice for you. You can buy them from Apple at its retail stores or online, from brick-and-mortar retailers who also have Websites, such as BestBuy, and at least some models, including older ones, from Amazon.com.

That’s because Apple’s “cloud” services, the ability to buy one app that will work on multiple Apple mobile devices, and file sharing between devices, particularly mobile devices running the new iOS 8 operating system and Mac computers with the latest “Yosemite” operating system, means that all of these Apple products are designed to work well in concert with each other.

In the past, iPad users have had to use Apple “iWorks” apps to create/read/edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. But the newly released free version of Microsoft Office for iPad makes that process much simpler and could convince potential buyers of the Microsoft Surface tablet to opt for an iPad instead.

Update, Friday, November 28, 2014: Apple may be releasing a 12.2″ version of the iPad in spring/early summer 2015.

Samsung Galaxy

In my mind, Samsung Galaxy tablets appear most likely to give Apple’s iPads the strongest run for a tablet buyer’s money.

The displays look very crisp and bright, the virtual keyboards are easy to see, and the physical keyboards available for some models seemed to be quite responsive and a big-plus for those

Both the Note and Tab felt light and easy to handhold during my quick in-store tablet browsing session, and the Tales Told From The Road Website looked crisp on the devices’ screens.

Both the Note and Tab utilize Google’s Android operating system, so you’ll download apps for them from Google’s app store, Google Play.

Barnes & Noble sells a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0 ($199.99 at full retail, discounts may be available) and a larger Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1 ($349.99 at full retail, discounts may be available).

An employee at my local Barnes & Noble store told me that he thought that the NOOK Galaxy tablets were aimed at an “older audience” (geezers like me, apparently) and that the basic difference between them and the Galaxy tablets sold elsewhere it that the NOOK version can only connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi and not a cellular carrier network.

Google Nexus

Not content to simply license manufacturers like Samsung to produce tablets that run the Google Android operating system, Google offers its own tablet, the Nexus.

Unfortunately, the Nexus model I looked at in my local BestBuy store wasn’t able to connect to the Internet and let me view Websites or YouTube videos. In any event, it’s not clear to me why a Nexus would be a better choice over a Samsung tablet since both run the same mobile operating system.

Kindle Tablets

Amazon.com now offers Kindle tablets in addition to its Kindle e-readers.

Except for the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (the largest model, from $379), I wasn’t much impressed with the other Kindle Fire products that I checked out at Best Buy.

As with the NOOK tablets, I think I’d bypass the Fire and opt instead for either an iPad or Samsung tablet.

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft’s Surface is a laptop-tablet hybrid.

Like a laptop, its bottom half is a keyboard and the top half is the display screen. But you can discontent the screen half from the keyboard half and, because it is a touch-screen, use it like a tablet.

Last year there were three models available: The Surface, The Surface 2, and the Surface Pro. This year you can buy Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 and 3 directly from Microsoft. Older as well as newer models may be available from other retailers, such as Amazon.com.

The Surface Pro can run the full Microsoft Office software suite of programs including Word, Excel, and Power Point. So the Surface may be a good option for those who want to stick with Microsoft products and software, but less so for Mac users who can also run the full Office suite and iPad users who now have access to mobile versions of Office programs, mostly for free.

Decisions, Decisions

Remember, before plunking down your cold, hard cash (or using a credit card) to purchase a tablet or e-reader, take time to read our What to Know Before Buying a Tablet or E-Reader story.

Barnes & Noble

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(Purchases made from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble through links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories.)

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