Tablets have come a long way since Apple (AAPL) kickstarted the category in 2010. Since then, we’ve gone from a time of iPad domination to a much more competitive market, thanks to lower-cost alternatives like Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle Fire line and dozens of Android options. Some of the best tablets currently on the market have come from unexpected sources, namely Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT).
After becoming a consumer favorite, tablets have also made inroads in business, largely as an inexpensive and more portable laptop alternative.
While early flameouts like the BlackBerry (BBRY) PlayBook failed to take enterprise by storm, tablets are becoming increasingly popular in the business environment. Peripherals like Bluetooth keyboards are helping, as are the growing number of productivity and professional apps available (including the recent Microsoft Office for iPad) and moves by manufacturers and enterprise software vendors to offer security options for the devices.
There are plenty of options to choose from, but here’s our list of the 5 best tablets for getting work done.
The 5 Best Tablets for Getting Work Done: Samsung GalaxyTab PRO 10.1
Samsung (SSNLF) sent me a trio of new PRO tablets for a review a few weeks ago, and while the super-sized Galaxy Note PRO 12.2 — with its 12.2-inch display — would make for an awesome working surface, it’s just too big and too expensive. At $750, it costs more than many laptops, and once you add in a Bluetooth keyboard, you’re approaching UltraBook weight territory.
However, I think the GalaxyTab PRO 10.1 (reviewed here) is one of the best tablets for getting work done.
The 10.1-inch display is plenty big, and with more than 4 million pixels, everything displayed is razor sharp. You can open multiple app windows for a productivity boost, it has excellent battery life, and Samsung includes a bunch of business-friendly software including the Office-compatible Hancom Office Suite.
This tablet also incorporates Samsung’s Knox enterprise security system and includes two free years of Remote PC — which allows a GalaxyTab PRO 10.1 user to remotely access files on a PC (a nice option for remote workers).
The 5 Best Tablets for Getting Work Done: Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Microsoft’s first foray into tablets was a mixed bag — the Surface RT confused many people while the Surface Pro was criticized for being heavy and suffering short battery life. Despite taking a $900 million loss on its tablet business, Microsoft released new versions. And the Surface Pro 2 in particular is a real contender to take the place of a laptop.
The Surface Pro 2 has a massive advantage for people who want to be productive: It runs the desktop version of Windows, making it one of the best tablets for getting work done. You can install Windows software (including Microsoft Office), and when you add the Type Cover keyboard and a mouse, the 16:9 aspect ratio 10.6-inch HD display tablet truly becomes a no-compromise laptop replacement.
If you want a tablet that lets you use a familiar PC operating system, with all the software you’d usually run (no looking for alternative apps) and packing the power of the Intel (INTC) Core i5 processor found in portable and desktop PCs, this is the one you want.
The biggest knock against the Surface Pro 2 is its price. If you’re looking to save money compared to buying a laptop, a device starting at $849 (plus another $130 for the Type Cover keyboard) isn’t the way to do that.
The 5 Best Tablets for Getting Work Done: Asus TransformerPad
It may not be a best-seller, or make frequent appearances on “best tablets” lists, but the Asus transformerPad has a cult following among Android tablet fans who don’t want to carry around both a tablet and a laptop computer.
That’s because the Asus goes the extra step of making its proprietary keyboard add-on a dock, with a hinge, a full QWERTY keyboard and supplemental battery. Assembled, the components “transform” into what looks like a laptop.
The TransformerPad itself is a typical Android tablet on its own — 10.1-inch display with a sharp 2,460 x 1,600 resolution, aluminum case and a bit heavier than Apple’s iPad Air. At $449 for the 32 GB version, it’s competitively priced and also has expandable storage thanks to a microSD card slot — perfect for loading up with big presentations (or movies).
It’s when you fork over the extra $149 for the keyboard dock that the TransformerPad makes the case for a laptop replacement. You get all the advantages of an Android tablet, plus a full keyboard, a laptop form factor and extra battery life — making it one of the best tablets out there for mobile workers looking to avoid carrying multiple devices.
The 5 Best Tablets for Getting Work Done (Laptop Replacements): Apple iPad Air
Apple’s iPad Air has been collecting awards since its release last fall and is considered by many to be one of the best tablets every made. I reviewed it in November, and yes, the iPad Air is an excellent device and tops for casual users.
But is it suitable for use in a business environment? Apple’s App Store is certainly well stocked with productivity software — anything from mobile versions of popular photo editing tools to Apple’s own iWork suite — and the recent release of the excellent Microsoft Office suite in an optimized for iPad version makes a strong case for the iPad Air.
The tablet also has great battery life, a good display, a powerful 64-bit CPU and more peripherals than any other tablet out there. Many people swear by the iPad Air as a primary work machine.
Despite owning one, I’m a little less big on the iPad Air as a replacement for laptop to get actual work done, and that’s because of touch input. Specifically, the iPad Air requires touch input and does not support a mouse.
That kills it for me, but the limitation doesn’t seem to bother the 12 million or so iPad owners who have already installed Microsoft’s Office apps to get working on their Apple tablet.
The 5 Best Tablets for Getting Work Done (Laptop Replacements): Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0
Not every business or productivity application involves using a tablet as a substitute for a portable or desktop PC. There are many applications where a small, handheld device is more suitable than a big powerhouse tablet like a Surface Pro 2. That’s where the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 excels.
The 8-inch display is still large enough for writing, reviewing a spreadsheet or checking e-mail. And like the full-sized GalaxyTab PRO 10.1, it’s protected by Samsung’s Knox security. A Bluetooth keyboard can be used with it, too.
But the Galaxy Note 8.0 has the advantage of being small enough to slip in a (large) pocket and to hold in one hand. It also includes an excellent stylus in Samsung’s S Pen and apps optimized to use it. That makes this tablet well-suited for applications like completing checklists or taking notes.
For someone who needs to get some mobile work done and is seriously short on space or who frequently works with lists and notes, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is easily one of the best tablets available.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.