The 10 best tablets of all time

November 30, 2013
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When I started writing this column in February 2012, Apple was just about to introduce the iPad 3 to the world. We all anticipated a seminal moment in tablet history. It might just have been the last time we actually got one.

Apple’s shift to a 2,048 x 1,536 Retina Display screen quantum leaped the competition. Aside from the visual clarity, the display offered demonstrable evidence that tablets were special, a true shift towards a mobile mindset, while at the same time being wholly unique.

We’re getting close to two years later, and there still aren’t that many tablets—or laptops for that matter—with hyper-HD screens.

Nonetheless, two years later, as I write my last This Week in Tablets column (more on that later), I still marvel at the rate with which this whole tablet thing has moved across the world.

With this in mind, I think it would be interesting to stake rank the most important tablets of the last two+ years.

Before we start, keep in mind that important doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Oh, also, let’s kill the suspense right here and agree that the very first iPad is the most important tablet of all time to date in an emeritus way. It’s not on the list for this reason.

On with the countdown!

10. Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0: Evidence of Samsung’s intent to leapfrog most other consumer electronics companies were evident three years ago when the company released one of its first tablets. The Galaxy Tab, which ran Android 2.1 and featured a 1,024 x 600 display, was a people’s choice kind of product. People who couldn’t afford or were skeptical about iPads gravitated towards this device. It was a little underpowered and pokey, but it did everything a tablet should. The Galaxy Tab paved the road forward for Samsung’s success, in a way-ahead-of-its-time 7-inch form-factory, no less.

9. Apple iPad 2: Apple’s second generation tablet was a big deal—big enough that two and a half years later, people still cherish theirs. Released almost a year after the original iPad, the iPad 2 built on the success of the first generation with a new dual-core CPU, a bigger battery, and added front- and rear-facing cameras to the mi. It was also was the debut tablet for iOS6. Why isn’t this tablet ranked higher on the list? In time, I think the iPad 2 will be viewed as great, but a necessary evolution of the original.

8. Apple iPad Mini: The iPad Mini is a big deal, in some good ways and some bad ways. Bad in that for the first time, Apple was forced to chase down a mobile trend—the 7-inch tablet—started by another company. Good in that it is a successful product, and has made many a tablet user very happy. The Retina Display model is the icing on the cake here. From a business perspective, 7 inches is probably too small, but for consumers, it is perfect.

(For iPad news, reviews, apps and tips, subscribe to the free TabTimes for iPad newsletter)

7. Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga: It’s not a dedicated tablet, the Yoga deserves a place on this chart. In a sea of last year’s also-ran, same-old-same Windows 8 laptops and netbooks, Lenovo surprised everyone with an authentic hybrid device. It is true that as far as tablets go, the Yoga felt a little too bulky. But on its own, this release expanded our vision of what a Windows 8 device could be—pretty much anything. Lenovo is another company whose aggressive pursuit of the tablet market helped their future growth immensely. The company is the number one PC manufacturer these days, outselling HP and Dell, both of which missed badly on tablets.

6. Microsoft Surface Pro 2: I’m convinced that this second generation release is going to be the tablet that turns the tide a bit for Microsoft. Mark my words: The more time that goes by, the more productivity purists will gravitate towards Windows 8 tablets. Word and the rest of the Microsoft Office suite are the keys here. Whatever happens to RT, Surface Pro 2 will likely be the beginning of growth for Microsoft’s mobile division.

(For Windows tablet news, reviews, apps and tips, sign up for the free TabTimes for Windows newsletter)

5. Google Nexus 7: Google’s first release of its first own-branded tablet was an interesting moment. At the time, I thought it would mark the end of all these custom Android variants on the market. That wasn’t true, but the Nexus 7 did mark the beginning of a unification of sorts around the tablet-focused Android 4.x. Even though it only had a 1,200 x 800 screen, the quad-core processor (first of its kind) produced the kind of snappy performance everyone—including most reviewers—wanted at the time from an Android device. The $200 price tag sealed the deal.

4. BlackBerry PlayBook: BlackBerry failed colossally with its first and only tablet, in a way that epitomized the decline of the once-great mobile manufacturer. That’s why the PlayBook is on this list. The 2010 launch was so tone-deaf in so many ways it remains shocking. What did RIM think was going to happen with reviews after forcing users to tether their BlackBerry phones to this tablet in order to get email and other functions? In an alternate universe, RIM gets this launch right and remains a player on the mobile scene.

3. Samsung Galaxy Note: The first bona fide phone-tablet hybrid deserves a high ranking on this list not just because it proved out that the two devices could be successfully fused in an accessible manner. It also is important because the Galaxy Note cemented Samsung’s ability to produce a real counterpoint—both in terms of functions and aesthetics—to Apple’s line-up. Also important: With LeBron James as the spokesperson for the line, Samsung taps into a populist, cross-culture vibe that will pay dividends for a long time.

(For Android tablet news, reviews, apps and tips, sign up for the free TabTimes for Windows newsletter)

2. Amazon Kindle Fire: Amazon’s entry into the tablet market two years ago surprised a few people. In retrospect it makes complete sense. The Kindle Fire plays an important role in the ecosystem that goes far beyond reading books. Much like the original iPod (and iPhone) were extensions of iTunes, the Kindle Fire series of tablets is a window into all of Amazon. Not only did it validate the 7-inch form-factor, it is also important because the people buying Kindle Fire HDs are about as mainstream as you can get.

1. Apple iPad 3: Even though it only lasted a year—the 4th generation iPad debuted just over a half year later—the Retina Display was a real game-changer. For those of who wanted to use the iPad in more productive ways, the screen made our lives easier. For others, the screen made our lives more elegant. There will be other great Apple products in the future, I am sure. But the iPad 3 launch got the fanboys (and many a reviewer) yelling and cheering and screaming in a way I just can’t help but think we may not see again for a while.

So long…for now

So, this marks the end of my TWIT series for TabTimes. I will continue to write a weekly column for the site—I can tell you that—but you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what it is. It will be fairly different, I can tell you that much.

One final note: if you’ve ever emailed me to yell or give props, and I wasn’t able to respond, I want you to know I appreciated all the feedback—good and bad.

See you soon, and thanks for reading.

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