- Chuck Gray
Updated November 2013: After a year of living with much of this tech, I have some new insights that should help you decide if you want to settle for slightly older hardware at cheaper prices when shopping for the 2013 holiday season. I have also provided links to the updated versions of the devices that were listed in 2012 as alternatives to the standard Apple/Amazon/Google/B&N devices.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9
Amazon packed a lot of tech into this package compared to 2011’s original Fire, including a 1920 x 1200 screen, booming audio, 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, dual-band, dual-antenna wifi, and front-facing camera. The only model still available is the $229 16GB wifi-only flavor; all of last year’s models with 4G support have been discontinued.
Kindle Fire HD 7
2013’s model has been slightly upgraded with the same 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU that powered 2012's 8.9" model and now comes with Fire OS 3.0. An 8GB model now runs $139 and a 16GB model runs $169; both are wifi-only.
The Original Kindle Fire has now been discontinued.
2013’s Paperwhite has been updated with brighter, more evenly-lighted screens and darker text and still runs $119 for a wifi-only model with “special” offers. The 2012 Paperwhite has been discontinued
This is the bare-bones Kindle: no 3G, no touchscreen, no audio playback, no back-lighting - just a few buttons and a screen. At $69, if all you’re interested in doing is reading books and periodicals, this is quite a buy.
Kindle Keyboard 3G
This model has been discontinued.
The 9.7” device with a physical keyboard has returned for $199.
2012’s original iPad Mini has been priced at $299 for a 16GB wifi-only model and $429 for a 16GB wifi + 4G. There are no 32 or 64GB models. Though it is now the cheapest iPad, its specs are so dated that if you've got another $100 you really should go for 2013's Retina Display model at $399.
This is the same model that we’ve been seeing since 2011 marked down to $399 for a 16GB WiFi model or $529 for a 16GB wifi+3G version. Unless you absolutely need the cheapest model of the larger-screen variants, go for the much, much improved iPad Mini with Retina Display which starts a $399.
The iPad “4” has been replaced by the iPad Air and has been discontinued.
The iPod Touch 5th Gen
Uses the same 4-inch screen as the iPhone 5, the same CPU as the iPad 2, and starts at $229 for a 16 GB. In 2013. this model is a little long in the tooth. If you can wait, I'd hold out for the hardware's next iteration.
Barnes & Noble
With a 9-inch, 1920 x 1280 screen, a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, and weighing in at just over 1 pound, the Nook HD+ is a great tablet now priced at $149 for a 16GB model and $179 for the 32GB model. It also has what no other eReader tablet has: expandable storage for up to a 32GB microSD card. Unlike the Amazon Kindle Fires, the Nook HD and HD+ now come with access to the Google Play store, giving users access to a far larger library of apps than before.
This model is similar to the HD+ mentioned above, but includes a 7-inch, 1440 x 900 display and a slightly slower 1.3 GHz dual-core CPU. You can now pick up an 8GB version for $129 or a 16GB for $149. $129 for a quality tablet with Google Play is a tough deal to beat, even if it is last year's tech.
The Nook Simple Touch has been discounted to $79, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight has been discounted to $99 and the new Nook Glowlight is $119.
Android from Google
Nexus 7 (first generation)
This first generation Nexus 7 has been discontinued.
Last year’s 10-inch Nexus tablet has some seriously aging hardware for a tablet its size and is no longer a justifiable purchase at $399 for a 16GB model or a 32GB model for $499. Hopefully Google will see fit to update these at some point, but for now don't waste your money.
Other Android Tablets
Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T
This model has been succeeded by the Asus TF701T-B1-GR 10.1-inch tablet. At $449 for the base 16GB model, this is a sweet alternative to the 16GB iPad.
- Android 4.2
- NVIDIA Tegra 4.0 1.9 GHz
- 32 GB Flash Memory, 2 GB RAM Memory
- 10.1 inches 2560 x 1600 Display
- 13-hour battery life
- 1.3 pounds
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
The 2014 model of the Note 10.1 is out and it is a huge improvement over last year’s model. But even with the impressive specs listed below, $549 for a 16GB model is a little hard to swallow when the superior 16GB iPad Air starts at $499.
- Android 4.3
- 1.9 GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos 5420 processor
- 16 GB Flash Memory, 3 GB RAM Memory
- 10.1-inch 2560x1600 WQXGA display
- 9-hour battery life
- 1.26 pounds
The original Microsoft Surface RT Tablet sold poorly due to its high price, unfamiliar OS, lack of quality apps, and lack of support for legacy desktop applications. It has been rebranded as simply the "Microsoft Surface" and sells for $349 for a 32GB version and $399 for a 64GB version. Given its aging hardware and WIndows RT's relative lack of improvement, I don't recommend buying it, even at its reduced price.
The new more powerful model, simply called the Surface 2, is selling for $449 for a 32GB model and $549 for a 64GB model, and runs the subtly improved Windows RT 8.1. I have never worked with any Microsoft Surface hardware, so I cannot speak to its quality. The app selection hasn’t improved much. I refer you to Ars Technica's review.