2013 Nexus 7

2013 was undoubtedly the year of the budget Android tablet. In fact, the trend started back in 2012 when Google launched the Nexus 7 in July 2012. Until then, a budget tablet costing less than £150 tended to be underpowered and underspecified, paling in comparison with ‘premium’ tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The Nexus 7 was a premium 7in tablet at a budget price, and heralded the start of a wave of top-quality tablets at knock-down prices. These tablets offer high-resolution IPS screens, powerful processors and long battery life – qualities which had been absent from cheap tablets up until that point.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, along with rivals from Barnes & Noble, got in on the action and offered similarly great hardware while locking you into buying content from their respective stores. These all run a highly customised version of Android.

Nook HD - user profiles

In the same way, Google subsidised the cost of the hardware in the hope that you bought your apps, music, movies, magazines and more from itself rather than anyone else (notably Apple).

However, compared with Apple’s walled garden that is iOS, Google’s Android operating system is wide open, giving you freedom to install apps from any Android app store, which is why it was and remains the preferred choice of enthusiasts.

Plenty of people still waited excitedly in anticipation of Apple’s iPad announcement: would it launch an updated iPad mini or not? Rumours abounded that difficulties manufacturing a Retina screen would delay the launch until 2014, but Apple still went ahead and unveiled a second-generation iPad mini alongside the iPad Air.

It’s far easier to get hold of an Air than a Retina-equipped mini, suggesting the rumours were true. Apple also increased the price of the new iPad mini, rather than trying to bridge the gap to the new wave of budget Android tablets.

And what a bumper year 2013 has been for cheap but great Android tablets. Tesco surprised many by announcing an own-brand tablet and the £119 Hudl has been hugely successful. Argos attempted to do the same with the Bush MyTablet but underestimated demand and sold out within weeks of the £99 tablet going on sale.

Amazon launched a new range of tablets, dubbed HDX, at the end of the year with a revamped, easier-to-use operating system with a unique Mayday button. This is essentially an on-board hotline to Amazon’s tech support, whose advisors can guide users through using features on their Kindle Fire or solving problems by taking remote control of the tablet.

Importantly Amazon also added a new feature called FreeTime which turns a new new Kindle Fire HD or HDX into a kid’s tablet, replete with great parental controls. It should worry the makers of other kids’ tablets, especially as the cheapest Kindle Fire costs only £119.

Kindle Fire HD FreeTime

A potential trend for tablets in 2014 is likely to be a Netflix-style subscription which gives you access to a big library of apps, books, games, movies and TV shows instead of buying them individually.

Amazon already offers this to US Kindle Fire owners in the form of FreeTime Unlimited. It costs $5 per month for a single child (the content is all aimed at kids) but there’s a discount for Amazon Prime members.

There’s a good chance this service will be offered to UK Kindle Fire owners soon. If that happens, we could well be seeing Google and possibly even Apple offering similar subscription services. Watch this space.

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