Holiday Gift Guide 2015: Tablets

It’s late November and you know what that means – Christmas is a little less than a month away.

That means that the dreaded Holiday shopping season is back and ready to take over your life all over again. We’ve put together a list of the best tablets around in an effort to ensure your shopping experience goes as smoothly as possible.

Whether you’re looking for a gift for the gamer in your life, the individual who loves a good read, or a new tablet for that special tech fanatic who needs the latest powerful hardware, we’ve got you covered.

iPad Air 2

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The iPad Air 2 is the best all-around tablet for most people; it’s thin and light and is more powerful than ever thanks to iOS 9’s impressive multitasking features.

Apple’s iPad has largely stalled from a sales perspective, but it still sells far more than any tablet on the planet, thanks to its enormous app selection and considerable developer advantage over Android when it comes to the device’s app ecosystem.

iOS 9 isn’t Windows or OS X – it’s not really designed for true multitasking – but the iPad Air 2 does a great job at imitating their best features while offering thoughtfully designed touch-friendly, fullscreen apps.

The iPad Air 2 is also very, very fast, with a triple-core A8 processor and 2GB of RAM. But it is also rather expensive, so unless the large screen and extra processing power is necessary, we’d steer you towards the slight less expensive iPad mini 4.

Best: App selection, performance, battery life, accessory ecosystem
Worst: Price
Price: $549 (16GB WiFi) to $699 (128GB WiFi + cellular)
Availability:
Apple Store, Best Buy, various carriers (LTE version)

iPad Mini 4

iPad mini 4The iPad Mini 4 is one of the best smaller scale tablets around. The device comes in at a manageable 7.9-inches, making it the perfect size for reading, gaming, and browsing the web. The tablet’s $439 price tag also makes it an appealing option to those who are interested in picking up a high-end tablet without breaking the bank.

Its impressive 2048×1536 pixel display is denser than the iPad Air 2, and content ranging from apps, videos and games looks spectacular on the iPad Mini 4’s high-resolution display.

The addition of iOS 9 multitasking adds another layer to the iPad mini 4’s capabilities. Productivity apps like Microsoft’s suite of applications – Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote – all work great with iOS 9’s various multitasking features, and there is no shortage of keyboard cases to turn the tablet into a workstation.

If you’re looking for an under 8-inch tablet, you won’t find one better than the iPad Mini 4.

Read our review – iPad Mini 4 review: A perfect tablet for gaming

Best: Great price point, perfect size
Worst: Might be too small for some people
Price: WiFi $439 (16GB) / $549 (64GB) / $659 (128GB)
WiFi + Cellular: $569 (16GB) / $679 (64GB) / $809 (128GB)

Nexus 9

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Truly the best all-round Android tablet, the Nexus 9 hits all the right marks, including a gorgeous HD screen in a 4:3 aspect ratio, a super-fast 64-bit Nvidia processor, and the latest version of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow.

The Nexus 9 had a rough start to its life due to poorly-performing builds of Android 5.0 Lollipop, but the tablet’s stability has been significantly improved thanks to the release of Marshmallow.

At $429, it’s not the cheapest Android tablet out there, but it’s well worth the investment if you’re looking for a slate that will continue receiving updates well after the competition has forgotten about theirs.

Better yet, Google offers a variety of cases for the Nexus 9, allowing it to prop up and pair with a Bluetooth keyboard for text input.

Read our review – Nexus 9 review

Best: Stock Android, performance, metal frame
Worst:
Quality control issues (backlight), app selection
Price: $429 (16GB) / $529 (32GB) / $669 (32GB + LTE)
Availability:
Google Store

Surface Pro 4

SurfacePro4-11-croppedMicrosoft’s recently released Surface Pro 4 is the company’s best laptop/tablet hybrid yet. The device comes equipped with Intel’s latest Silverlake processors, giving the tablet an advantage over most current generation MacBooks when it comes to hardware power. It also features a 2763×1824 pixel display that is a significant improvement over its predecessor in contrast and colour reproduction.

But the most significant change to the Surface Pro 4 is its vastly improved Type Cover 4. Microsoft’s new Type Cover features a 40 percent larger trackpad and keys that are raised, separated and more solid, factors that combine to create a typing experience that resembles a traditional laptop.

And while Windows 10 is far from perfect, it’s a significant step forward for Microsoft and goes a long way towards unifying the operating system’s tiled Metro interface and standard Windows.

It’s also important to note that the Type Cover 4 is also compatible with the Surface Pro 3.

Read our review – Surface Pro 4 review Microsoft perfects the laptop/tablet hybrid formula

Best: Microsoft’s best Surface yet, Silverlake processor, the best laptop/tablet hybrid around
Worst: Windows 10 still has issues, overall experience doesn’t always compare to a traditional laptop, Type Cover still sold separately
Price: 128GB, Intel Core M3, 4GB of RAM – $899 / 128GB, Intel Core i5, 4GB of RAM – $999 / 256GB, Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM – $1,299 / 256GB, Intel Core i7, 8GB of RAM – $1,599 / 256GB, Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM – $1,799 / Type Cover 4 $169.99
Availability:
Microsoft Store, Best Buy

Surface 3

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The tablet that doubles as a laptop – for a price. Microsoft’s Surface 3 tablet runs a full version of Windows 10 and, with an optional (but very useful) Keyboard Cover, becomes a real computer. While the price quickly rises for such a privilege, in many ways the Surface 3 may negate the additional purchase of a tablet or laptop for many students, saving money in the long run.

The Surface 3 runs a latest-generation Intel Atom chip and comes in two configurations, with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, or the more age-resistant (and expensive) 4GB of RAM and 128GB storage model. At that point, though, you’re well into laptop territory, so the question is how well the Surface performs as a tablet. In a word: well. It lacks the app ecosystem of Android and iOS, but the basics are there, and Windows 10 offers an extensive first-party selection, including Office 2016. Finally, Windows 10 better transitions between laptop and tablet mode, optimizing each app and screen for their respective purposes.

Read our review – Surface 3 review

Best: Versatility, battery life, keyboard (extra)
Worst: Price, app selection
Price: $639 (2GB / 64GB) to $769 (4GB / 128GB)
Availability:
Microsoft Store, Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7″

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Samsung’s latest high-end tablet is its best ever. Not only does it feature a metal build, but Samsung has considerably scaled back its once-onerous Android skin, leaving a well-made, decently-priced Android tablet.

The Galaxy Tab S2 benefits from an Exynos 5433 chip, 4:3 aspect ratio high-resolution screen, with Android 5.0 Lollipop giving it a performance boost over previous generation models. Samsung has also partnered with Microsoft to preload Office apps on the device which combine with Samsung’s excellent first-party keyboard dock for a potent combination of Android fun and Microsoft work.

Best: Screen, battery life
Worst: Tablet-optimized app selection
Price: $599
Availability:
Best Buy