The Best Tablet for You

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Photos, Music, and Video

Best: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

For many people, a tablet primarily serves as an entertainment device meant for viewing photos, listening to music, or watching video. For those uses, no tablet beats the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It benefits from Android’s open platform, which lets you transfer media files from your PC to the tablet directly, no software intermediary or video transcoding needed. In our tests, transferring media files to the Tab 10.1 took half as long as doing so to the iPad 2, which required iTunes software.

Furthermore, Android’s Gallery app is more flexible, and provides more options, than Apple’s built-in photo viewer. Video looks great on the Tab 10.1’s sharp display, too.

Apple’s iPad 2 uses iTunes to sync music and video to the tablet. This arrangement is fine for music and video already in your iTunes library, but not great for video captured from other sources. Syncing images through iTunes is a pain as well.

The iPad 2’s biggest strength is its display, which has good color accuracy and skin tones, and the best balance of colors we’ve seen. The display lacks the resolution necessary to produce crisp, detailed images, however, and it struggled to render text on our image of a Web page. For those reasons, the iPad 2 tied the Tab 10.1 in our subjective display tests.

Though the Tab 10.1 had a few issues of its own, it still finished way ahead of the pack. Colors were oversaturated, to the point where a purple outfit took on blue hues, and reds resembled candy-cane stripes. We also detected a Gallery glitch that affected our Tab 10.1 model, in which images required a pinch-and-zoom action to sharpen to full resolution. Samsung has identified the issue and plans to fix it in an update.

Meanwhile, all of the Android models we’ve evaluated struggle to some degree at properly reproducing the browns and neutral shadings of skin tones. That failure is so consistent on tablets from different manufacturers that I can only think something in the way Android handles colors is off.

None of the tested tablets produced terrific audio through their built-in speakers. All of the Android models tended to sound tinny, with soft volume piped through Google’s included music player. Again, the universality of this issue makes me wonder whether Android’s audio processing is at fault. Here’s why: When I played the same tracks through the speakers of the Sony Tablet S in the Google Music Player and in Sony’s own music player, the audio sounded transformed in the latter. The audio from Sony’s player--which uses several enhancement technologies that the company says it developed for its Walkman series--was far superior, with better bass and body.

Openness and Expandability

Best: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, Sony Tablet S, Toshiba Thrive

The iPad 2 is an island--you can’t connect it to another device without a dongle, and even then you may get limited functionality. And you can’t add storage; whatever capacity you buy is what you have for the duration.

In contrast, generally Android tablets connect to a TV or camera much more easily, and they let you add more storage through a memory card.

The Sony Tablet S has two features that are handy when you want to use your tablet in your living room. Several tablets, including those from Asus and Samsung, have software for streaming content from your tablet over a home network. But Sony’s Tablet S is the only slate that integrates the ability to send content to a device (such as an HDTV) with a simple tap directly from whatever content you want to transmit wirelessly. The Tablet S is also the only model in our Top 10 that can double as a universal remote control. (It’s one of just three tablets at this writing to offer a universal remote; the others are Vizio’s 8” Tablet VTAB1008, which didn’t make our chart, and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which came out too late for in­­clusion in our testing batch for this story.) The Tablet S has an infrared blaster like the ones in conventional remote controls, along with a well-designed on-screen remote to use with your home entertainment system.

For a reliable connection to your HDTV, be sure to select a tablet that has a full-size, Mini, or Micro HDMI port built in. Tablets that lack integrated ports--such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2--require bulky dongles that will set you back about $40. Aside from the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Galaxy Tab 8.9, all of the Android models in our Top 10 Tablets chart have an HDMI output of some kind.

Memory card slots obviously make tablets more versatile, but beware: Not all card slots are equally useful. Some tablets permit you to transfer files from a card, but won’t allow you to store apps and data on one. And full-size slots--as opposed to MicroSD slots--mean that you can take the card from your camera and put it directly into your tablet to view your pictures.

Toshiba Thrive with ports
Toshiba's Thrive packs the most ports of any tablet, including full-size USB and HDMI, and Mini-USB under a flap. On the other side is an SDXC card slot. Photograph by Robert Cardin
Of the three tablets on our chart that come equipped with a full-size SD Card slot, one, the Sony Tablet S, can merely transfer files from the card, not use it for extra storage (Sony says that it will support doing so in a future update). The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet and the Toshiba Thrive can use memory cards as storage space. And the Thrive is the only tablet to support SDXC, a card format that accommodates up to 100GB of digital data. Both the ThinkPad Tablet and the Thrive also have a full-size USB port for use with flash drives or hard drives.

Next page: Best tablets for battery life and productivity

At a Glance
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