The Best Tablets for Canadians (January 2013 edition)

Daniel Bader

January 2, 2013 9:12pm

We meant to get this guide out for the holidays but, as schedules tend to, there just wasn’t enough time.

The prospect of such a guide for the holidays was also diminished by the fact that we never actually released reviews of the iPad mini and Nexus 10, both late-2012 entries into the crowded tablet market. This was really a shame, as they are both great devices in their own right. But here we are, at the beginning of a new year, and instead of tallying a Top Ten, as we did with smartphones, we’re going to touch on five of the best tablets currently available to Canadians, in no particular order. This gives us a chance to talk in a bit greater length about each one, and avoids the numbers game of which readers are so wary.

Without further ado, I present the Best Tablets Currently Available, January 2013 edition.

Google Nexus 7

One of the best things to come out of my trip to Google I/O in June, the Nexus 7 was, while not exactly a surprise, a delightful addition to my day pack in the months since its release. Compact, inexpensive and improbably powerful for a $200 device, the Nexus 7 continues to impress us well after its release. That’s because, unlike the quick-turnover smartphone market, the Nexus 7 really hasn’t been superseded, at least not in the price-to-performance metric.

The 7-inch tablet made a glorious comeback in 2012. Not only did the hardware finally fit the user base — previously, 7-inch tablets were underpowered and lacked the software to make them worthwhile — but the Nexus 7 brought thousands of Android developers into the fold, spurring a veritable revolution of usability upgrades for a largely-ignored ecosystem.

Not only was the Nexus 7 the first device to come with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box but its $199 ($209CDN) price point was easy to stomach and extremely attractive to a market that until recently largely ignored tablets.

To this day the Nexus 7 remains my favourite tablet on which to read books. It’s easy to hold in one hand, the battery lasts forever, and there are a number of great reading apps available for Android, from providers like Google, Kobo, Amazon and more. It’s a shame that the best app, Play Books, cannot be used to import other content, but Google’s done a heck of a job making the Nexus 7 attractive to both users and developers.

More information: Nexus 7 Review

Sony Xperia Tablet S

Sort of a dark horse in this year’s race, the Xperia Tablet S quickly became my full-but-not-too-full-sized tablet to take with me wherever I went. Great for playing games or watching movies, the 9.4-inch tablet runs a heavily customized version of Android 4.0.3 and sports a number of homegrown Sony improvements to lure users away from the low-cost intrigue of the Nexus line.

Though the Sony Xperia Tablet S costs $399, a hair under the 16GB Nexus 10, it provides a lot of value for your money. Sony, at least in the tablet game, has become the Nokia of the Android world: it has built a number of slate-specific experiences, such as a universal remote, Small Apps, a great music and video content portal, along with fantastic music, video and reading portals, that make the device far more than the sum of its parts.

Despite a now-low 1280×800 pixel resolution, the Xperia Tablet S provides one of the best tablet viewing experiences on the market. Viewing angles are sublime, colours are rich and true, and Sony’s mobile Bravia Engine actually does a great job at improving contrast and colour saturation when watching movies.

It’s a little disappointing that the Xperia Tablet S, which was taken off the market and since reintroduced with a more robust exterior, has yet to be upgraded past Android 4.0.3, but the OS still runs extremely well. I prefer the “old-school” design of Android tablets, with the notification bar and settings available in the bottom right corner, but that’s more a subjective alignment.

Ultimately, the Xperia Tablet S feels fresh well into its product run. It may not have garnered the attention it deserves, but it’s thinner, lighter and more capable than most 10-inch slates on the market, and it fits perfectly into the useful — and growing — Sony ecosystem. I happen to be a user of the Sony NEX-5R camera, which wirelessly transmits photos to the Xperia Tablet using the pre-installed PlayMemories app. I am too a PS Vita owner, and many of the games I’ve purchased on the PlayStation Store are available to download on the tablet since it is PlayStation Certified.

Then there are the thoughtful additions like a Guest Mode and Small Apps; the former was implemented well before it arrived on the Nexus 10 in Android 4.2; the latter still proves to be a great tool for quick referencing, and has since been plucked by Samsung.

The Sony Xperia Tablet S is a great little machine, and that I use it when there are newer, more powerful options on the market speaks to the care that went into creating it.

More information: Sony

Apple iPad mini 

Whether it’s a waste of time or the perfect tablet depends on whom you ask, but the iPad mini has been a resounding success for Apple this quarter. Outfitted with a dual-core A5 chip and 512MB RAM, the iPad mini is not the spec powerhouse of its fourth-generation Retina counterpart, but the magic is in the delivery. The 7.85-inch tablet runs every iPad app — some 100,000 — and is one of the best eReader/content consumption devices available today.

Many users met the non-Retina screen with disappointment, but at this stage in the game Apple would need to make huge size and power sacrifices to accomodate four the number of pixels than its XGA reality. Other than the 1024×768 resolution, the iPad mini is glorious: its form factor favours a single hand, something the larger iPad cannot claim, especially with its third- and fourth-generation weight increase; its build quality is unmatched among tablets, and the design reference to the new iPod touch line is welcome.

Ultimately, though, the iPad mini comes down to content. Apple offers a vastly superior app, movie and music experience than Google, especially for Canadians. Though Android is making strides in filling in the app gap, so to speak, there are quality apps for almost every type of experience on iOS.

There is, of course, the question of price: the iPad mini carries a $120 premium over the equivalently-sized Nexus 7, a number that many users can and will not stomach. Many users won’t see the value in buying into a non-Retina iPad at this stage in the game, especially when the Nexus 7 display is smaller and sharper. Nevertheless, Apple has created a fantastic first-generation product in the iPad mini, and we can look forward to many more years of competition in the smaller-screen segment.

Google Nexus 10

This was simultaneously an easy and incredibly difficult decision. At first glance it would seem obvious that the Nexus 10 would be included on this chart. It’s got the highest-resolution screen of any mobile device, an astounding 300ppi pixel density, an incredibly-fast processing chip based on ARM’s new Cortex-A15 design, and a new mobile OS outfitted with many 10-inch user enhancements.

And yet, the Nexus 10 is a mess. Not only is it incredibly difficult to procure (see Nexus 4), but constant criticism has been levelled at Google and Samsung since this device hit the market. Complaints of creaky chasses assert poor build quality; light bleed is a common occurrence in new units; battery life is generally abysmal compared to other 10-inch devices, and charging via microUSB is slower than molasses; and software issues continue to plague the Nexus 10.

But through it all, the slate continues to charm me and thousands of other users with its sleek design, impressive matte backing, jaw-dropping sharpness, (generally) outstanding performance and an improved app ecosystem. Google got a lot of things right here, and many of the issues, including random reboots and app instability, can be cleared up with a software update.

Mostly the Nexus 10 is just a wonderful product hobbled by some quality control issues and software bugs. The former will be hammered out in the next batch of sales; the latter will most definitely be addressed in a future patch.

More information: Google

Microsoft Surface RT

Perhaps a controversial choice, but the Surface RT has grown on me in recent weeks. As Microsoft quickly worked to remedy many of the performance problems that affected the tablet at launch, the Surface has quickly grown into a member of my daily arsenal.

Paired with a portable Logitech mouse and keyboard, the tablet does double duty as a laptop. But more so now than ever, the app ecosystem has grown to the point where I can do my daily news consumption, Twitter and web browsing without feeling the sting of wanting for specific apps.

More importantly, the Surface is the only tablet I feel comfortable throwing in my day sack knowing that I’ll need to get actual work done later in the day. This includes things like photo editing and a true Office experience — all that’s lacking is a dedicated Dropbox app to connect everything together.

The Surface may not be worth its asking price and, despite a dubstep-filled marketing campaign, only appeals to a niche market, there is far more substance in its dance steps than initially thought.

More information: Microsoft Surface RT Review

  • Sean

    Pretty good list, never thought of the Sony Tablet S like that but it does seem like a good tablet. Also surprised, but able to understand the lack of iPad 4, it’s just not as good as it use to be

    • Ontario Teacher

      Please support your teachers, McGuinty is cutting our wages and reducing our way of life. Teachers deserve annual wage increases.

      Thank you.

    • Brad F, Brad F(anboy), jack

      McGuinty realized teachers don’t work for two months and is compensating for it.

  • Educated Canadian.

    Anything by Apple, since it is always premium quality stuff.

    • ace

      “premium quality” and a “free” or “open” design are very different things. You can be locked into the way Apple wants you to use their products… or use them how you actually want too. I would rather pay $200 for an android tablet than an ipad that costs x3 as much, and the specs are even on par performance wise…

      haha im so hypocritical… written on a macpro 😛

  • Varroa

    Just picked up a Asus transformer Pad for $300 on boxing day and this thing rocks for the price! I think you should consider sale prices when doing this list in January.

    • monsterduc1000

      Yep, great Great tablet! Picked up my 32 gb 10.1 inch Asus tf300t for$278, regularily $400 at Visions Electronics. Has the same processor as the Nexus 7 with same screen resolution so app integration should not be an issue, has an 8 mp back camera as well as as a 1.2 mp front camera, expandable storage and hdmi out. Pretty amazing deal for only a little bit more than the nexus 7 🙂

  • Jimmy

    Bought the Nexus 7 and I’ve been glued to the device ever since.

  • AP

    I think the Note 10.1 ought to be on here as well.

  • Threecube

    Yeah I love my Nexus 7. At first I had a sour taste in my mouth with how pre-orders and shipping went but it was all worth it in the end. It’s nice to see too that a fair bit of the apps are optimized for the tablet now too.

  • TZM

    I got two Nexus 7 32 GB’s tablets over Christmas and glad I did. One I gave away as a present. Great device and a good price.

  • Tom

    Sounds like the Nexus 10 will be a good choice once the issues are resolved.

    With the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 Google’s starting to give the impression that they can create great products at incredible prices, but need to add a couple of months to their schedules to get the kinks worked out.

    I have been fortunate – my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 were perfect from day one – but it sounds like others have had problems and that is unfortunate.

  • Mr.Mobile

    btw the 199 /209 Nexus 7 doesn’t exisit anymore! There is on the 32 gig model at 269.00 and currently a newer LTE version at 310.00 and who the hell sinks 599.99 to 649.999 and doesn’t even buy the added keypad /cover lol wow FAIL on all levels ! Who is actually gonna carry around this tablet and a keyboard and mouse ?? Kinda defeats the purpose of the touchpad/keypad protecting cover doesn’t it ?? And it’s failry easy to recommmand a product that no one can get thier hands on in North America due to shortages and delays lol!! WOW ! That be like me saying the Asus Vivo Tab smart ( when it has no rerelased date and was shown at CES 2012 last year when this CES is approaching in a few weeks for CES 2013 !!

  • Mr.Mobile

    The shocker for me not even being an Apple fa you picked the mini was close to his dying days Steve Jobs so no way no how he would ever enter the mini/7 inch tablet market with his Ipad!! Yet almost a year after his death APple puts one out !! Way to stomp on the legacey and last days of a man who scorned any type opf move in this market ! Only to turn aorudn it it only does half of the things the bigger version does and it’s made up of older gen parts/chipset!! No maps , no TV etc !! Shoud have been called mini fail! Yet more of a big fail for this site to herald it to we Canadians!! I mean who is writing this crap now soemone from the United States !???

  • Mr.Mobile

    wow theres a shocker comments deleted !! Just as a shocker the Infinty Pad was not mentioned or an alternative to the crappy non expandable Nexus 7 in the Asus TF 300 !!! At the same or close price point and more than 240 nit more liek close to the 300 close to it’s name sake and better cam and video taking and expandable memory !

  • Ron Mexico

    All great tablets. The problem is no one is buying any of them except the Nexus, the Kindles and the iPads.

    • monsterduc1000

      I bought a Transformer 😀

    • jonno

      I hear ya there, I’m still loving my “crappy” Playbook that I got last year at Christmas, it does all I need it to and more! Considering even going out and picking up a larger capacity one, but I’ll wait ’til BB10 launches and see if a new model comes out first.

  • dave

    All hail the still mighty HP DouchePad, now featuring Jellybean 4.1.2, with Project Butter goodness!! The best $150 tab ever!!

  • GlassBackbadIdea

    A tablet with 2560×1600 resolution is the number one tablet in my book (Nexus 10)

    • GlassBackBadIdea

      I do wish however if the Nexus 10 was in the $300 range 🙁

    • Brad F, Brad F(anboy), jack

      If only it had a glass backing like the N4, I would buy it right away! =)

  • surfacable

    I can’t believe you put Surface on the list! I’m glad you did though and thank you for at least giving them credit for the amount of apps jumping. It is true its the minority to buy one right now but man do I love mine! I will admit I am missing a good epub reader but other than that it does more than any other tablet I have had!

  • Len

    I kind of want a windows RT tablet… but my opinion is basis..

    Since I am extremely entrenched in the MS ecosystem

  • screamer

    Tablet? Nobody need a tablet. I have a smartphone and use it most of the time. Who paying 500 $ for a tablet? Something wrong with people? Ipad is so good! But in what? No micro sd or a flash player nether then a usb port. I also can’t watch any movie on it. Need to convert it to mp4. So I pay 600 $ for what?

    • STY

      May have not made the list as a “best”. But the Blackberry 32GB Playbook for $120 after Black Friday was fantastic tablet value.
      Especially for my older eyes, who cannot make out a smartphone screen so well anymore….

  • I prefer jujubes

    I have a Nexus 7 with 3g and it is great hardware but jelly bean really is flakey – it doesn’t come close to the fluidity or speed of my Nokia 920. The 7 inch screen is a perfect size for content consumption though. Flipboard and currents are great.

  • wind784

    Love my Nexus 10 all I have to say. What a deal on top of it.

  • Mike

    The under rated under dog of them all, BB Playbook.
    Buy Canadian, Canada.

  • someguy

    Galaxy note 10.1
    Should be on list.
    Its also great tablet and extras like
    S pen and multi-window view is really helpful on tablet.

  • someguy

    Ipad mini is a joke.

  • Nukes best pal

    Sooo sad!

    Embarrasing WIND customer experience

    WIND started holidays sales with some offers for superphones at $0. The last day of the sales they said they have run out of the phones. What a joke! Next thing I am gonna check them the first day after the sales end to see if they have them foe sales at regular price. I felt treated like a 3rd world customer. I knew they have phones but they have been told to keep them for the regular price. I feel trouble with them all the way. So embarrasing… CTRC was right when they didn’t accept them first time. I wonder when Orange or Vodaphone from Europe will come to Canada with their amazing plans. This in debt strange ownership structure financial engineered company seems nothing but trouble. Even the former employees speak out about their culture and behaviour. Better stay away. They need to go back to learn how to run a business in Canada. Please stop people like that from corrupting the Canadian society this way. If you let people and companies like that to do it, it will end up really bad and I guess Canadian wil have to do something about it. If Canada resisted recession better than the others was for a reason. However, I see wicked people flourishing every corner, and what was very isolated cases now is a common trend. Will Canada resist wicked things like this WIND? I hope so.

  • John Marshall

    I had a Kobo Arc for a while, didn’t really like it because of its spotty performance and the erratic tablet performance of Android apps. I’d probably hold out for an iPad Mini, though I hear they’re hard to jailbreak now, which I’m not a big fan of, either.

    Though the Surface Pro might outclass the lot of them, or even the Surface RT if the Windows Store comes into its own, and the price of the tablet goes down a bit. It looks like a striking new way to do a tablet, especially for users frustrated with just a grid of icons and widgets.

  • Ramy ayash

    The Xperia Tablet S is indeed great. I am a Sony camera user as well and the Playmemories app is stunning. Not to mention the stellar battery life and the full sized SD Card if I want to view my RAW images quickly.

  • DrugStoreCowboy

    The BB PlayBook is certainly among the most underrated tablets out there. It’s also quite the bargain now (although not when is started out!). I have one and am very pleased with it.

    That aside, the list is pretty decent. The best part of this is there is basically something here for practically anyone looking for a tablet.

  • StEC

    Having hands on experience with most of the tablets listed as well as a few others I believe the Blackberry Playbook is still one of the best tablets on the market especially at it’s current price-point it’s the best bang for the buck! Also it has a fast growing app store which was one of the biggest compaints! It’s not the most powerful tablet but it’s one of the cheapest & best!

  • jimit

    the galaxy note 10.1 is a truly under-rated tablet. i bought it on boxing day for $399 (32 gb) and this thing is a beast! love the features, love the colour contrast, and LOVE the s-pen!

  • Jerry

    I have a Nexus 7 and an iPad mini. The iPad mini gets the most use right now. I use my tablets mostly for reading.

    I like the slightly larger screen and the 4×3 aspect ratio of the Pad mini better for reading. This is especially true for books with graphical content.

    I bought a magazine from google play and found it to be almost unreadable on the Nexus 7. It is much better on the iPad mini.

    They are both great tablets but so far I give the edge to the mini for my purposes. I expect that if I was more of a movie watcher I might pick up the Nexus 7 more often.

  • Crocography

    Took back my Apple iPad mini and bought a Nexus 7. Simple reason it was too wide to fit in my hand. Love the rubberized back of the Nexus 7 as well; really a much better feel than Apple’s mini.

    One other thing I found was that the Nexus 7 is one hell of a geek device… and no more iTunes! (yes, yes, yes)

  • Get. A. Clue.

    The Asus tf300t is plagued with issues. I picked up a Asus VivoTab RT with a keyboard included for $400. Best deal ever.

    • Josh

      personally, i got the transformer infinity. I’m pretty happy with it, and im glad asus keeps their line-up well updated. Once you start loading lots of apps on it the performance definitely degrades as with all tablets. I have to completely wipe the system evey month or so which is really a big piss off since i paid more than even an ipad 4…i paid 550$. Anyway i hope 4.2 will help clear some problems up. Thankfully i opted for the 2 year warranty so if problems don’t go away within the next month or after 4.2, im getting a new one. But i would reccomend it for the screen…god damn this screen is amazing. I personally watch movies on it over my t.v because the quality astounds me. And just to add one more opinion, the BB playbook is crap. Stupid os, slow as hell, no games relatively and so hard to type on. Anybody who feels they got a good deal probably has never had a tablet before.

  • deli

    Loving my nexus 10. I haven’t had much issues

  • Mike

    You all paid too much!
    My 32GB playbook @ $99.00 on a 3 day sale weeks before xmas.

    • GlassBackbadIdea

      LOL you overpaid for that playbook by about $99.00, because it is not worth anything.