Posted by Matt Egan 03 July 2013
What's the best tablet to take on holiday? Tablets for vacation
A good tablet should be your perfect traveling companion. A web-communications device for contacting home, a camera, e-reader, movie player and games console, a good iPad or Android tablet should help to pass the time whether you are stuck in a tiny plane seat or chilling out on the beach. Read books and magazines, email friends, check facebook and listen to music. You don't even need to leave home to have fun, but everything is better in the sun (apart from glossy screens).
I recently returned from my own summer vacation, during which I met and talked with multiple people carrying myriad connected devices. So thought I'd share the benefit of my sun-addled wisdom before my ruddy tan fades into distant memory. See also: 5 of the best apps for travel.
Best tablet for holiday: Kindle
By far the most popular tablet I saw on my travels was Amazon's Kindle. Of course there are multiple Kindles on the market, ranging from the basic £69 model. The benefits of travelling with a Kindle are enormous: they are robust enough to endure a day at the beach, sufficiently light and small to be truly portable and easy to hold in a prone position. Battery life is astoundingly good, and you can read even in direct sunlight. And they are less attractive to thieves than more full featured tablets.
But there's the down side. Kindles are good for only one thing: reading ebooks. Indeed, they are good only for reading ebooks you have purchased from Amazon. If reading is your thing a Kindle will make a brilliant tablet for your holiday, but although Kindle's can fulfil other functions, you should consider them only for reading. And remember to stock up on books before you go.
Best tablet for holiday: other ereaders
Of course the Amazon Kindle is not the only kind of ereader, any more than the iPad is the only tablet. Amazon has the edge on the others in terms of available content and breadth of models, but users of Barnes & Noble and Sony ereaders (amongst others) swear by their own gadgets. As with Kindles, if you want to read on the beach, an ereader is great. Just don't expect to do anything else, and make sure you stock up with books before you go.
Best tablet for holiday: Kindle Fire and B&N Nook
Taking a step up from your basic ereaders are the Kindle Fire tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble's Nook tablets. The overgrown ereaders, if you like. These are full-spec tablets in the sense that they have full colour touchscreens and can show movies, play games and music, and browse the web. They are good magazine readers and they don't forget their ereading roots, both in terms of displaying books and enjoying great battery life. Finally, they are extremely well priced - if you want to consume media rather than create stuff, these are great toys with which travel and they cost less than half the price of a similarly specced iPad.
But don't expect to be able to do any work while you are away - these are fun gadgets only - and like all 'proper' tablets their glossy touchscreens will reflect light. And in the case of Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets, at least, you are locked into Amazon's world. You can't install Android apps or Google Play movies, for instance. And in the case of the Kindle Fire you need to be online to stream movies, which doesn't work on a plane, coach or beach.
The Nook tablets don't suffer from these faults, and offer access to all content on the Google Play app and media stores. Indeed, at £149 the Nook HD+ is about the best portable entertainment device about, for the money. But in the case of both the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets you must remember to load up with films and books before you go. Digital media rights management is a legal minefield, and the chances of you being able to purchase new content from foreign climes are limited.
Best tablet for holiday: iPad, Samsung Galaxy or Nexus tablets
A step above the overblown ereaders are full-spec iOS and Android tablets from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google's own Nexus brand. The Nexus tablets are subsidised which gives them a price advantage, but the iPad remains the Daddy of all tablets not least because Apple's iTunes app- and media-store is the most mature service of its kind (I know some people claim there are more Android apps than iOS apps, but there are a lot more magazines and apps designed specifically for iPads). You do pay for the privilege of using an iPad, however, both in terms of the initial purchase price and then in any subsequent app or media purchasers.
The Nexus tablets and other high-end tablets from tier one manufacturers such as Samsung offer something approaching the experience of an iPad with a little more customisation and - in the case of the Nexus devices - at a cut price. You can load up podcasts and other apps, and they allow you to do a bit more than just consume media. Take a high-end tablet on your travels and you'll be able to blog or use other social media, even do a little work. Depending on the hardware (and your comfort with looking a bit daft) you may even be able to use your tablet as your camera. Even at this level tablet cameras are a mixed bag, however.
If ereading is a big part of your holiday plans you might want to consider a 7in device such as the iPad mini and Nexus 7 - even when watching movies the smaller tablets are easier to hold. And the same caveats regarding pre-buying movies, music and books apply. You may not be able to buy from everywhere.
Best tablet for holiday: Other Android tablet
We mentioned a couple of Android brands above, but of course there are myriad Android tabs in multiple shapes and sizes and at a variety of price points. All we would say is that with the exception of the Nexus tabs which Google subsidises, you tend to get what you pay for in the Android world. That may be okay for you. If you are comfortable ripping media to a £99 no-brand tablet, the lack of build quality likely won't bother you, and you may have found your perfect cost-effective travel toy. Chances are you don't need this post.
But if you aren't particularly tech savvy, I'd suggest you make sure that any tablet you buy has full access to Google Play's app and content stores. Android is an open platform, which means that just about any manufacturer can use it. But not all Androids are the same, and only recent versions let you purchase the latest movies, TV shows, games and so on.
Best tablet for holiday: Windows tablet
Windows 8 tablets are a bit different. For a start, there are two distinct flavours of Windows for tablet: full Windows 8 and Windows RT. The former is exactly what you might expect - the full capabilities of a PC in a tablet form. If you tend to take a laptop with you on your travels, a good Windows 8 Pro tablet might be a more portable option. But everything is relative: the best Windows 8 tablets such as the Surface Pro are thinner and lighter than laptops, but heavier and chunkier than Android or iPad tablets. As well they might be, considering the function and performance offered. In addition, they tend to be more expensive, which is only fair, and have poorer battery life. A Windows 8 Pro tablet is more for the office than the beach.
The other type of Windows tablet is Windows RT. These tablets run on similar hardware to iPads and Android tablets. They are slim and responsive and have great battery life. But they run only a cut-down version of Windows - it's the Start Screen bit with the apps, not the desktop. And unlike Windows 8 Pro tablets you can't install traditional Windows software. There's nothing wrong with Windows RT tablets, but given that they are far from cheap and knowing that the Windows Store lacks big name apps and media, you'd have to be a huge fan of the Windows look to want to take one on holiday.