The top tablets are in the market and each is very different. The tablet to beat is the iPad 4 and each of these products has unique advantages over that offering. Of these tablets, the closest to a business tablet is Microsoft Surface, but since it comes with Office Student Edition, without Outlook or Lync, what would normally be an easy choice may not be.
Still, for business, Microsoft Surface has the lead position thanks to Office integration. While it lacks Outlook, the native email and calendaring clients integrate with Exchange. It has 56 of the top 60 apps but is short of the breadth of apps that both Android and iOS offer.
The product is surprisingly good, particularly with the optional mechanical keyboard, which effectively turns it into a touch notebook. The panoramic screen is better for work (you can better line up apps horizontally) and for movies than the iPad and the screen size is significantly better than the 7-inch offerings. In addition, it has a better port out than the other choices, allowing it to more easily connect with projectors or accessories like a mouse.
Its price, weight and battery life are competitive, but it is the heaviest product in this group and is best on a table or lap and its built-in kickstand helps in this regard. If you want something that can handle work, but where holding the product in your hand for long periods isn’t the primary criteria, this is the top ranked. I am writing this post on a Microsoft Surface on a plane trip from San Francisco to New York, and it is an ideal size to work in coach on a plane.
This has access to the full application suite on iOS and is the lightest tablet in the group. iOS is the most popular platform in business, which means more apps exist for it than any other offering.
It has two significant shortcomings: It is priced well above competing offerings and it has an inferior display. However, for work, the best app coverage coupled with the lightest carry weight make this the best tablet in the smaller class. You’d pick this over the Microsoft Surface if you primarily need this for smartphone-class apps and light email, but be aware there is likely to be a significant pricing action (discount) or display upgrade in the next 6 months.
The second biggest advantage for this tablet is the weight and for a product used to read manuals, books or watch videos in your hand, this product is nearly unmatched. Add to this the Apple-curated App Store, which creates a stronger resilience to malware, and in the 7-inch class this is likely your best choice for business.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD
What gives this product the edge over the Nexus 7 is a tighter connection to the curated store that Amazon provides. It is offered at a dramatically lower price than the iPad Mini and with a solid connection to a variety of Amazon’s online services. Be aware this isn’t a true Android offering anymore and that likely shortens the number of available apps.
This product is optimized for reading and the Kindle reader implementation is vastly stronger in this product than in the Kindle app available in the other offerings. One key feature is X-Ray, which can find the critical information in a publication very quickly, allowing you to find or revisit key points very quickly. Documents in PDF form can easily be transferred to the device wirelessly and read easily.
The Nexus 7 is arguably the best Android tablet in the market in terms of value for the money. It has a strong display, light carry weight and aggressive price. It has the second largest app store, and there are plenty of business apps to use. However, Android has been red-flagged by an increasing number of security firms as simply too vulnerable to malware and that creates simply too much exposure for business or personal use. In addition, Google’s privacy record is far worse than the other solution providers, making this product one we would have trouble recommending for personal use, let alone for business.
Wrapping Up: iPad 4
The iPad 4 is a marginal improvement over the iPad 3, but it represents the thinking that created the new tablet market. This thinking has at its core the belief that tablets should be used in conjunction with a laptop. As a result, in this class, the iPad Mini is better because it is a better addition to a laptop than its larger sibling.
The Microsoft Surface product is by far the best laptop replacement product in segment and if you want something smaller to read with, it pairs well with the Kindle Paper White eReader (because it is vastly lighter and cheaper than a full tablet, and ePaper is better for reading).
Now if you are buying one of these as a gift, I’d personally recommend either the Amazon Kindle as the best value in the 7-inch class. It’s the safest, and in contention for easiest to use. Either that, or the Surface tablet instead of a small notebook. Good luck!