Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Tablets For Your Techie

Cool Slates

Today's tablet market offers as much variety as the local pharmacy, and many come with prices that are easy to swallow. Here are 10 top choices for the techie on your holiday list.

Dell Venue 11 Pro

The Venue 11 Pro is one of a slate of new Windows and Android tablets from Dell. The Venue 11 Pro comes in a choice of six 64-bit Intel processors. Three Haswells drive the Venue's 10.8-inch IPS panel with Intel's high-end HD Graphics 4200 GPUs. Its 10-point capacitive-touch display puts out a maximum of 1,920-x-1,080 pixels (204ppi). The Venue 11 Pro is available with 32 GB, 64 GB, 128 GB and 256 GB of solid-state storage. There's a full-size USB 3.0 port and a Micro-SD card slot that reads SD, SDXC and SDHC formats with support for 64 GB of additional device storage. There are 720p front and rear cameras, dual mics and a micro-HDMI port but no adapter. Dell delivers Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and 3G and 4G LTE mobile broadband options. Interestingly, Dell has opted not to include sensors for ambient light, movement, orientation and acceleration. Dell offers Windows 8.1 or Win8.1 Pro. Pricing starts at $499.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 is one of only a handful of tablets that come with Windows 8.1 Pro, allowing it to join domains, process group policies and do other enterprisey stuff. It's also pretty well-endowed, technically. Surface Pro 2 contains a fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4200U dual-core 1.6GHz processor with 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, and is available with 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB of solid-state storage. There's one full-size USB 3.0 port, plus a Micro-SD card slot that can add as much as 64 GB to that. It supports SD, SDXC and SDHC formats. For about $100, Microsoft offers a keyboard that doubles as a screen cover. An optional dock adds USB, display and networking ports. There are 720p front and rear cameras, dual mics, a stylus and a Mini DisplayPort (an adapter costs extra). Surface Pro 2 includes only Wi-Fi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0; there's no mobile networking option. Pricing starts at $899 with 4 GB RAM and a 64 GB SDD.

Apple iPad Mini

In typical Apple fashion, the company released new devices just in time for the Christmas buying season. Among the latest, the iPad mini is built around Apple's 64-bit A7 system-on-chip, which packs two 1.3GHz ARMv8 application cores with more than a billion transistors into a 102mm die along with a dedicated motion processor and dual-core PowerVR G6430 four-cluster GPU. The mini's 7.9-inch IPS Retina display now packs an impressive 2,048-x-1,536 pixels (326 ppi). For storage, Apple offers 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB models. The face camera is a fixed-focus 1.2MP sensor with 720p capture capability. In the rear is a 5MP camera with 2.4f aperture and five-element autofocus lens that can capture 1080p video with geotagging for photos and videos. Also included is dual-band, dual-antenna MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and optional LTE with AT&T Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. Pricing for iPad mini starts at $399 with 16 GB and Wi-Fi only, or $529 with Wi-Fi and LTE.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX packs the impressive Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, a quad-core SoC running at 2.2GHz. It houses four Krait 400 cores similar to the ARM Cortex-A15 and its Adreno 330 GPU is reported to be 50 percent faster than its Adreno 320 predecessor. Its 8.9-inch LCD puts out 2,560-x-1,600, or 339 ppi. Amazon puts 2 GB of RAM in the Fire HDX to run apps atop Fire OS 3.0 (which itself runs atop Android 4.2.2). Kindle Fire HDX comes with 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB for app and data storage. The main camera has an 8MP sensor with a 2.2f aperture lens, LED flash and image stabilization. It can capture 1080p video, and the front camera grabs 720p video. It also contains dual-band, dual-antenna MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, plus optional LTE with AT&T or Verizon. Kindle Fire HDX pricing starts at $379 with 16 GB and Wi-Fi only, or $479 with Wi-Fi and LTE.

Apple iPad Air

Apple continues to amaze the world with engineering prowess. Its latest feat, the iPad Air, is the world's lightest full-size tablet that also happens to be the company's most powerful ever. With an all-new 64-bit A7 SoC, MIMO Wi-Fi up to 300 Mbps, 10-hour battery and expanded LTE coverage, it's a one-pound, wafer-thin slate with just as much pixel power and screen real estate as before but is smaller, thinner and lighter. The 9.7-inch IPS Retina display puts out 2,048-x-1,536 pixels, a density of 264 ppi. iPad Air is available with 16, 32, 64 or 128 GB of storage starting at $499 with Wi-Fi only; add $100 for each storage increment. Models with Wi-Fi and cellular radios start at $629 and inflate by the same increments.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is similar in size and shape to Apple's non-Retina iPad mini, but offers some significant pluses. It's got a far more powerful processor that's faster for running applications and graphics, four times the RAM, a higher-resolution screen, includes a stylus for pen-based input, the ability to display as many as three apps on the screen at once, expandable storage and access to the file system. It's also running Android, an open source operating system that can be modified if need be. The Galaxy Note 8 is built around Samsung's Exynos 4412 quad-core system-on-chip with 2 GB of system RAM. Along with its four 1.6GHz ARM Cortex A9 application processor cores, the 4412 SoC incorporates four ARM Mali 400 graphics processors. An 8-inch LED puts out a maximum resolution of 1,280-x-800, or 189 ppi. Galaxy Note 8 weighs just 12 ounces with 3G/LTE or Wi-Fi and can double as a TV remote. Galaxy's available with 16 and 32 GB and starts at $399.

Lenovo Miix 2

Lenovo's latest Windows tablet is the Miix 2, an 8-inch Windows 8 tablet built around Intel's latest Bay Trail-T Atom-based processor. Among the lowest-costing Windows tablets to date, it joins Lenovo's Miix 10, a 10.1-inch device of slightly lesser power and resolution. The Miix 2 incorporates the Intel Atom Z3740, a 1.8GHz quad-core, quad-thread 64-bit SoC that consumes just 2 watts of power. It comes standard with 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and as much as 128 GB of storage. Its 8-inch IPS 10-point touch panel delivers 1,280-x-800 pixels (189 ppi). This smallish tablet measures just 8.5 inches long and 5.2 inches wide, about the same width as the iPad mini and just a tad longer. At 0.32 inches thick, it's 0.04 inches thicker than iPad -- not too shabby. Miix 2 comes bundled with Microsoft Office Home, and Student 2013 and a start button. List pricing starts at $299.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1

When sizing up tablets for use in the field, cost can sometimes take a back seat to ruggedness and reliability. Good thing, too, because at a starting price of $2,899, the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 clearly isn't intended for the bargain hunter. This high-power Windows tablet would feel at home at construction sites and hospitals, on military vehicles and maneuvers, and anywhere that machines are likely to take a pounding. A large variety of accessories cater to those and other verticals. An Intel Core i5-3437U 1.9GHz dual-core vPro (Ivy Bridge) processor coasted into seventh place on CRN's all-time laptop and tablet performance list. An 10.1-inch IPS panel cranks 1,920-x-1,200 pixels lit by an 800-nit LED, making it easily seen in bright sunlight. Toughpad adheres to MIL-STD-810G and IP65, a rigorous set of tests of a device's ability to repel dust, dirt, moisture and debris, and to survive drops and dings.

Google Nexus 7

Another 7-incher to hit the scene this year is the Google Nexus 7, which sports a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro application processor running at 1.5GHz and 400MHz Adreno 320 GPU. Nexus 7 comes with 2 GB of system RAM and is available with 16 GB or 32 GB storage and is not expandable. But Nexus 7 can move files or connect to an external DisplayPort or HDMI monitors through its microUSB port, which supports the SlimPort spec. The required adapter is sold separately. Google's 7-inch IPS display pumps out an impressive 1,920-x-1,200 pixels, or 323 ppi, and is protected with Gorilla Glass. The starting price for the (as-yet Wi-Fi-only) Nexus 7 is $229 with 16GB.

Dell Venue 7

Last but not least, except in price, is the Dell Venue 7, the latest tablet to roll out of Round Rock. This 7-inch Android tablet is built around a 1,280-x-800 IPS panel and is driven by a 1.6GHz dual-core, four-thread Intel Atom Z2560 32-bit SoC with Intel HD Graphics running at 400MHz. For $149 list, Venue 7 includes 16 GB of storage, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, front and rear cameras, and Android 4.2.2 running on 2 GB of DDR2 memory. Others in Dell's Venue family of tablets include an 8-inch Android model with better cameras and a 32 GB option; and the quad-core Venue 8 Pro, which runs Windows 8.1 and adds a 64GB model. All are warranted for a year and the latter is covered by a rapid return service and 90 days of premium phone support.