16 December 2014

Best Android Tablets 2014

With Christmas just around the corner, plenty of you are currently on the lookout for a lovely Android tablet that'll bring a smile to the faces of your loved ones. This year has seen plenty of brilliant new models released, including the Tesco Hudl 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5, meaning that purchasing a good tablet is now cheaper and easier than ever. The power on offer in the top-end models has gone through the roof, while budget devices have improved massively. Unfortunately, this means that picking one has now become a very difficult task.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

If you know that the iPad Air 2 or a device running Windows isn’t for you, then this is the place to be. Check out all of our top picks from the list below.

If, however, you'd like a little more guidance on what to look for when buying a new tablet, you should read our tablet buyer's guide, which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider, technical or otherwise.

One of the golden rules you need to remember when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap, no-name models. There are a countless number of them available from various vendors and they're almost never worth purchasing, mainly because they don't tend to last very long.

As for the 'best' Android tablet, there isn't really one at the moment. What we do have is a number of great Android tablets that perform some tasks better than others, whether that's gaming, work or general entertainment. What's best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

Best 10-inch Android tablet

Key features:
  • 10.5-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Super AMOLED screen
  • Exynos 5 Octa 5420 CPU
  • Over 14 hours video playback

This has one of the finest screens of any tablet of any type. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5's display is stunning, and a marvel for watching video. It's also among the slimmest and lightest tablets of its size and packs in a few extras like expandable storage and a fingerprint reader, though the latter isn't all that good.

Performance is also excellent, while battery life is fantastic, at over 14 hours. Elsewhere you've got all the usual extras such as front and rear cameras and stereo speakers, while a somewhat clunky but still useful case system seals the detail. It's simply the best 10-inch Android tablet around.

Price: £344 (£399 at time of review) / $374.99

Nexus 9

Best 8-inch or 9-inch Android tablet

Key features:

  • 8.9-inch, 2,048 x 1,536 IPS LCD screen
  • Powerful GPU
  • Good battery life
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop

The Nexus 9 looks starkly different to Google’s previous tablets. It is far broader and the 8.9-inch display, with an aspect ratio of 4:3, isn’t as good for viewing widescreen movies as previous Nexuses, but games and apps feel much nicer. Colours are excellent, viewing angles are good and the 281ppi screen is nice and clear. At 425g and 7.9mm thick, it’s also comfortable enough to hold for extended periods of time.

One of the standout features is that, unlike any of its rivals who will have to wait for the software, it ships with Android 5.0 Lollipop. The battery life, combined with the powerful GPU, allow for an excellent gaming experience. The 8- and 1.6-megapixel rear- and front-facing cameras aren't the best you'll ever come across, but it's a terrific piece of kit nonetheless.

Price: £299.99 (£319 at time of review) / $349.99

Asus MeMO Pad 7 ME572C

Best 7-inch Android tablet

Key features:

  • Excellent screen
  • Good battery life
  • Attractive design

The Asus-manufactured Nexus 7 (2013) made the 7-inch Android tablet market its own, with its combination of solid specs, excellent performance and tiny price tag. However, it’s not as young as it used to be, and Asus has taken aim at it with the MeMO Pad 7 ME572C. It’s a unique-looking slate, with curved sides and sharp corners, but lacks a soft-touch plastic rear. At 8.3mm thick and 269g, it’s also thinner and lighter than the Nexus, without holding back on battery life and performance.

If you’re after something that’ll keep the family entertained, you might be best off looking elsewhere. The speakers offer solid but unremarkable sound quality and are easy to block with your fingers. While the 1,920 x 1,200 pixel resolution screen delivers excellent viewing angles and good contrast and colours, our review sample suffered from backlight bleed. It's not perfect by any means, and while it’s not as cheap as the Nexus, it’s definitely a better all-round device.

Price: £179 / $326

Asus Memo Pad 7

Best sub-£100 Android tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch 1,280 x 800 IPS screen
  • Intel Atom Z2560 CPU
  • Android 4.4

When we reviewed the Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176CX, it was selling for almost £150. But with all the competition from tablets like the Hudl 2, it has now been price-dropped to £99.99 by many retailers, making it a bonafide bargain.

Screen resolution is decidedly sub-Retina grade and the design isn’t too flashy, but in most other respects this is a top-notch tablet. The Intel Atom Z2560 provides loads of power, you get a very generous (at the price) 16GB of storage, and while the screen doesn’t offer oodles of pixels, its quality level is otherwise pretty solid. If you can afford to push the boat out a little further, we think the Hudl 2 is better. But if £100 is your strict cut-off point, the Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176CX should be at the top of your list.

Price: £99.99 (£119.99 at time of review) / $124.99

Tesco Hudl 2

Best sub-£200 tablet

Key features:

  • 8.3-inch 1,920 x 1,200 IPS screen
  • Intel Atom Z3735D CPU
  • Android 4.4

Tesco is hardly well-known as a top tablet manufacturer, but it's hit the ball out of the park with the Hudl 2. At £129 this is probably the best-value Android tablet ever made, potentially even trumping the Nexus 7. It gets you a great 8.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 display, giving you a bit more screen space than the long-standing Nexus model. This size of screen is great for watching movies on, without being so large that it’s a pain to carry around with you.

The quad-core Intel Atom CPU gets you plenty of power for high-end 3D games too, meaning there are few roadblocks despite the low price. There is, predictably, a bit of Tesco app bloat to deal with and general performance isn’t quite at Nexus 7 level. But for pure hardware value, you'll struggle to beat the Hudl 2.

Price: £129

Asus Transformer Pad TF701T

Best Android tablet for work

Key features:

  • Great 10.1-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixel IGZO IPS screen
  • Keyboard dock adds extra five hours of battery life
  • 32/64GB versions available - expandable

The Transformer series convinced us that an Android tablet can work as a replacement for an ultra-portable laptop. Asus’ Transformer Pad TF701T has been around for a while now, but it’s still the best choice if Android is what you’re after and you're willing to spend enough cash for a real top-quality experience.

The 10.1-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution IGZO IPS screen produces super-sharp visuals and great viewing angles. It has an Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core processor and apart from some minor jaggedy moments, it's a slick operator. One of the most impressive features of the Transformer is the battery life: the TF701T gives you a combined 17 hours, or around 12 hours with just the tablet alone. Now available for under £350 with the keyboard base, it’s a great pick.

Price: £328.99 (£430 at time of review)

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (2014)

Best Android tablet for entertainment

Key features:

  • Brilliant speakers
  • Excellent 8.9-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 resolution screen
  • Attractive, lightweight design

If you’re in the market for an Android tablet built for entertainment, you won’t find anything better than Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (2014) right now. It boasts the same excellent design qualities as its predecessor, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and at 374g, the Wi-Fi only model is significantly lighter than even the iPad Air 2 (437g).

The 8.9-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution display, with a sharpness level of 339ppi, is brilliant, delivering excellent colour accuracy and a higher level of brightness than the previous HDX model. It’s also great for reading, but can struggle with glare outdoors. The speakers are the best you’ll find on any tablet. With support for Dolby Atmos, they deliver a better, more immersive sense of directional sound than anything else on the market right now. The 2.5GHz Snapdragon 805 processor paired with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 430 GPU make it excellent for both everyday use and gaming. Fire OS is still divisive, however.

Price: £329 / $379

Amazon Fire HD 6

Best Android tablet for kids

Key features:

  • 6-inch, 1,280 x 800 pixel IPS screen
  • Mediatek CPU
  • 8/16GB storage
  • Fire OS

The Amazon Fire HD 6 is one of the first sub-7-inch tablets we’ve seen. It uses a 6-inch screen, giving it proportions that kids are more likely to get on with. Just as important, it’s also cheap. At £80 for the 8GB version, you’re not going to have to cancel your kids' pocket money for a whole year if they accidentally drop it.

With tablets of this price, you generally have to deal with a great many hardware cuts, but there are remarkably few here. The Fire HD 6 has a good-quality IPS screen, a surprisingly powerful processor and very good battery life. It’s not as slim as we’d like and it uses Amazon’s more restrictive Fire OS rather than normal Android, but it’s still a corker for children or budget buyers.

Price: £79.99 / $99

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Best tablet for drawing

Key features:

  • 12.2-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 LCD screen
  • Exynos 5 Octa 5420 CPU
  • S Pen digitiser stylus

Artists out there who want to get creative with a tablet need to make sure they get something with an active digitiser stylus. This technology has been around for years, since before modern tablets existed, but only a few of today's best slates actually use the tech.

The Note series of Samsung tablets is where to head to first, and the biggest of the lot at present is the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. You don’t get the AMOLED screen of Samsung’s latest top-end tablets, but the large display makes a great virtual canvas when you team it up with the S Pen stylus and something like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, which comes preinstalled.

With a 12.2-inch screen and 750g body, it’s not the smallest or lightest tablet around, but the extra scribble space is worth it for art enthusiasts. If you want something a bit smaller, check out the Note 10.1.

Price: £349 (£649 at time of review) / $599

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Best Android tablet for gaming

Key features:

  • Brilliant gaming experience
  • Impressive build quality
  • Excellent display

For consumers who are seriously into gaming, look no further than the Nvidia Shield Tablet. It’s far and away the best tablet for gamers on the market right now, having been built to deliver the best experience possible. Under the hood, the custom-built Nvidia Tegra K1 processor clocked at 2.2GHz combined with a 192-core Kepler GPU and 2GB of RAM ensure smooth performance, even while simultaneously running high-end Android games and multiple apps.

In terms of design, it looks slightly like an enlarged HTC One M8, which is no bad thing. The front-facing speakers above and below the screen, along with a pair of speakers on the top and bottom edges, deliver sound that can easily fill a room. At 9.2mm thick, it isn’t the sleekest number we’ve ever seen, but the tapered edges make it comfortable to hold in one hand. The 8-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 display delivers rich colours but isn’t quite bright enough. Premium, Tegra-optimised games and the £49.99 Shield Controller cost extra, but they’re worth it if you're willing to splash the cash.

Price: £240 / $299

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