10 Best and Coolest Tablets for the 2014 Holiday Season

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Tablets have become the new laptops. They're generally thinner, lighter and more portable than similar keyboard-attached models.

Tablets usually fall into two camps, with Apple (AAPL) iPads comprising one group and Google (GOOG)  Android devices the other. But, there's a third group this year that made it on the TheStreet.com's list that runs on Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 8.1 OS.

 

Read More: 5 Semiconductor Stocks Delivering Big Shareholder Profits Now Although it was difficult to narrow down the selections to only the top 10 tablets, we feel these are the best available designs you can get this holiday season.

10- Asus Vivo Tab Note 8

Never mind its name which sounds like a melding of everyone else's tablet description. This Asus tablet is a winner all on its own. With its 8-inch high-definition (HD) screen (1280 x 800 pixels), it's a perfect size for kids and adults alike. It runs on Windows 8.1 and can handle just about anything you throw at it.

Inside is the same Intel Atom processor that is used in Asus' terrific, new EeePC (See our review here). The tablet is mated with 2GB of RAM, 32GB of flash storage, cameras back (5 MP) and front (1.2 MP) and stereo speakers. The Tab Note 8 also has a stylus to go along with its built-in Wacom input system. There's also a copy of Office Home and Student 2013 loaded onto the device.

The Vivo Tab Note 8 ranges in price from a reasonable $229 on Newegg to $249 from Amazon (AMZN) and B&H to a mind-numbing $378 on Tiger Direct.


9 - Nvidia Shield

Nvidia (NVDA) makes terrific processors and some very special devices which run on them. Consider its new Shield tablet. It's a top-line Android device with Nvidia's latest Tegra mobile chip, the K1, and also possesses a tremendous amount of graphics power. The Shield is also targeted as a tablet designed for gamers.

In its first incarnation, the Shield was purely a gaming device with a small screen and what turned out to be limited appeal. This new Shield tablet is a fully functioning Android 4.4 tablet, which can be used with your finger, the stylus or an optional gaming controller.

In addition to the 2.2 GHz K1 chip, there's an 8-inch, full HD (1920 x 1200 pixels) touchscreen, 2GB of RAM, front-facing stereo speakers and either 16GB or 32GB of operating memory. The Shield tablet can also be connected to a large-screen TV for a bigger view of what appears on the tablet screen

The 16GB Wi-fi-only Shield model retails for $299. There's also a 32GB model that sells for $399, with Wi-fi and 4G LTE that is not locked into any carrier's network.


8 - Amazon Fire HD 6

Choosing any of Amazon's  (AMZN)  terrific line of tablets is always a wise decision, especially if you're entrenched in the company's ecosystem of offerings that includes Kindle books, Amazon music and video online shopping malls. Amazon's devices are all feature rich and well priced. But, this holiday season we're highlighting the smallest and least-expensive of the bunch: the new Fire HD 6.

Do not be fooled by the diminutive size or super-affordable selling price. This is a terrific little Android tablet worthy of your consideration. It's not a cheap toy. It's probably bigger than your smartphone and somewhat heavier at 10.1 ounces, but it is well suited for smaller hands. The 6-inch display offers a full HD experience (1280 x 800 pixels). Inside, there's a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and a front-facing 2.0 MP camera. It runs Amazon's special version of Android 4.4 and comes loaded with enough software to keep children of all ages occupied for hours on end.

The HD 6 with 8GB of storage sells for $99. Add $20 for the 16GB model.


7 - LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition

This LG design runs a stock version of the Android operating system 4.4. The 8.3-inch touchscreen means it's direct competition for Apple's smaller iPad mini. The tablet comes with a Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon processor, 2GB of RAM, Android 4.4 and a thin, lightweight frame to help make this one terrific gift that any enthusiast would like to discover under the tree this year.

Despite the fact that the G Pad is no longer being offered for sale via Google's Website, you can easily find them on the Web being discounted by numerous retailers for as little as $210. These tablets aren't even close to being outdated, just because Google has stopped offering them. For example, the G Pad 8.3 is on the list to receive an early update to the latest version of the Android operating system, otherwise known as 5.0 Lollipop. That means the LG/Google Play Edition could be one of the great Android tablet bargains of 2014.


6 - Lenovo Yoga 2

Tablets are fun to use but can be a pain to hold for long periods of time - like when you want to view a long video, or stream music, or even watch a feature film. Lenovo has a nifty solution.

Lenovo's Yoga line of tablets has a built-in, fold-out stand that lets you prop-up the screen whenever you like. The second generation of the Yoga 2 tablets has a unique round hinge which lets you place them in a variable "hands-free" mode. That round hinge also contains the rechargeable battery pack - allowing the up-standing screen portion to remain very thin and lightweight.

Yoga 2 comes in either 8-inch or 10.1-inch screens, capable of 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Both models run on quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Processors, 2GB of RAM and Android 4.4. Currently, the 8-inch version is selling for a penny less than $230, while the 10.1-inch is $270 in Lenovo's online store.


5 - Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

This is Samsung's (SSNLF) take on a smaller full-featured tablet, similar to the iPod mini. It is a thin 0.26 inches and a lightweight 10 ounces, while packing a big performance punch. The Super AMOLED touchscreen is capable of displaying 2560 x 1600 pixels, yielding a 359 pixels-per-inch density. There's a 19 GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage inside, along with a camera that touts an 8.0 megapixel back and 2.1 megapixel front. The battery is expected to offer 10 hours of use between charging sessions.

In real life, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has one of the best-looking screens of any tablet available today. The device is also fast and fun to use.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is available via Samsung's Website, as well as at least a dozen online and brick-and-mortar retailers for $400.


4 - Apple iPad Mini 3

This is Apple's idea of good things coming in smaller packages. Just like its big brother opened the doors for the tablet explosion, the iPad mini has done the same for smaller-sized tablets.

The third-generation mini 3 has a beautiful 7.9-inch high-definition touchscreen (2048 x 1536 pixels), Apple's 64-bit A7 processor, 1GB of RAM, a camera with 5 megapixels in the back and 1.2 megapixels in front, a fingerprint security system and lots more. It runs Apple's iOS 8.1 software.

This level of quality doesn't come cheap. The Wi-fi-only version retails for $399 with 16GB of storage, $499 with 64GB and $599 with 128GB. Wi-fi and cellular connected models sell for $529 with 16GB of storage, $629 with 64GB and $729 with a whopping 128GB. Apple also sells older iPad mini models with the mini 2 starting at $299 and the original mini starting at $249. Any one would make a great holiday gift.

Read Now: 10 Best Apple Products Ever


3 - Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Microsoft's  (MSFT)  Surface Pro 3 is not only the largest tablet on the list, but it's also the one most likely to be used as a full-fledged laptop. It runs a full 64-bit version of Windows 8.1.

Microsoft did a great job upgrading the Surface line with this third-generation model. Inside is a top-notch fourth-generation Intel processor, your choice of 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and either 64, 128, 256 or 512GB of solid-state storage. The high-definition touchscreen measures 2160 x 1440 pixels, while the camera offers 5 megapixels front and back.

The Pro 3 also comes with a stylus pen, which also sets it apart from most other tablets and laptops. It does not come with keyboard, which is why this device has made it into both our tablet and laptop Top 10 lists this year. An optional keyboard for the Surface Pro 3 retails for $130.

Actual tablet pricing depends on exactly what's inside. You have many choices. The base model, which retails for $799, comes with a 1.5 GHz Intel i3 processor and 64 GB of storage. A 1.9 GHz Intel i5 processor with 128 GB of storage retails for $999. Add $300 for a i5 processor with 256 GB or storage. The more expensive options come with a 1.7 GHz i7 processor and sells for $1,549 with 256GB of storage, or $1,949 for 512GB.

Read Now: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review


2 - Nexus 9

It's easy to call the Nexus 9 the best Android tablet available today. First of all, it's a Nexus device which means it runs a "pure" version of Google's Android operating system - in this case the brand new Android 5.0 version called Lollipop.

It runs that software on a top-of-the-line hardware platform, designed with and manufactured by the experts from HTC. There's the 8.9-inch LCD screen (2048 x 1536 pixels), a 2.3 GHz, 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K-1 processor mated to 2GB of RAM, a 192-core graphics processor, a camera with 8 megapixels in the back and 1.6 megapixals in the front, as well as a beefy 6700 mAh rechargeable battery.

It's thin, lightweight and performed flawlessly in our tests. Quality level is top-notch throughout. And, as you might expect, this level of excellence do not come cheap. Prices start at $399 for the Wi-Fi-only model with 16GB of storage and can run as high as $599 for the Wi-Fi/LTE version with 32GB inside.

There is also a cute, but expensive, optional magnetically attached keyboard cover that sells for $130


1 - Apple iPad Air 2


The original is still the best. The iPad Air 2 is thin (0.61 inches) and lightweight (less than a pound) and its Retina display is a thing of beauty.

The touchscreen measures 9.7 inches and provides the user with 264 pixels per inch (2048 x 1536). It uses Apple's high-end, 64-bit, 1.5 GHz A8x processor mated to 2GB of RAM and runs on iOS 8.1. There's an 8 megapixel camera on the back and 1.2 megapixel shooter up front, fingerprint security support and, of course, Apple's unparalleled warehouse of apps, games and more. You can also use the tablet to handle your Apple Pay transactions.

The Air 2 is priced accordingly. The 16GB Wi-fi-only model retails for $499, the 64GB model for $599 and the 128GB tablet is $699. Add 3G cellular connectivity and those prices jump to $629, $729 and $829 for the 16GB, 64GB and 129GB models, respectively.

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

To submit a news tip, send an email to tips@thestreet.com.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.

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