It’s been a few years since tablets topped the list of high tech Christmas gift purchases, however that doesn’t mean the devices are not still popular. They are.
Many people will have a tablet on their wish list and manufacturers expect to sell millions of them over the next month.
With hundreds of models to choose from and prices ranging from $50 to several thousand dollars, what are the best tablets to buy someone on your shopping list?
That can be a tough one. The best tablets for professionals don’t always translate into a good experience for the average person, some people have a strong preference between iOS and Android and budget is always a factor, too.
We’ve searched through the best tablets 2015 has seen released in order to come up with a short list of picks aimed at typical users. If you’re on the hunt for a tablet, this should make your holiday shopping a little bit less stressful.
The 5 Best Tablets to Buy: Apple (AAPL) iPad Air 2
When it comes to the tablets, Apple (AAPL) is still the one to beat.
The company consistently makes some of the best tablets you can buy, and it’s tough to beat the iPad Air 2 for a full-sized tablet experience.
Design and materials are premium, Apple’s iOS operating system remains the gold standard for ease of use and its App Store is tops in terms of high quality apps that have been optimized for the tablet experience.
You can find tablets with much higher density displays, but the iPad Air 2’s Retina display is still extremely crisp and bright, while its 64-bit A8X CPU provides plenty of power for gaming or running demanding apps.
Starting at $499, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablets to buy someone who has an older iPad, or anyone who is new to tablets and has no investment in Android apps (which are incompatible with iOS).
The 5 Best Tablets to Buy: Microsoft (MSFT) Surface 3
What do you get the person who wants a tablet for casual use — surfing the web, checking Facebook (FB) and watching streaming video — but also wants to use it to get work done?
Apple is pushing its new iPad Pro, but the ultimate in productivity tablets is the Microsoft (MSFT) Surface Pro 4.
However, the Surface Pro 4 is too big for most casual users (a 12.3-inch display and weighs 1.73 pounds), and it’s pricey: starting at $899 and running as high $2,699 — plus the cost of accessories.
Instead, the Surface 3 gets our nod as the “best of the best” tablets for casual productivity.
For $499, you get a 10.8-inch tablet that takes care of casual needs. It runs Windows 10 so the person who receives this as a gift can run their PC software as well. Add the optional Type Cover and it’s a passable Windows laptop replacement, or buy a Surface Pen to turn it into a virtual drawing board.
Just don’t expect the Surface Pro 3 to come anywhere near the iPad or Android tablets when it comes to mobile app selections — that’s not even a contest.
The 5 Best Tablets to Buy: Google (GOOG) Nexus 9
The company announced the new Pixel C tablet back in September, a $499, 10.2-inch Android tablet with a high resolution display that will ship with Marshmallow and offers an optional add-on keyboard — like the Surface and iPad Pro.
From what we’ve seen, this could be one of the best tablets to buy Android fans, especially those interested in a laptop replacement.
However, despite assurances the Pixel C would be available “in time for the holidays” at time of writing Google was still only showing “sneak peaks” of the device.
There are hundreds of Android tablets on the market, but Google’s offering from last fall remains a top pick: the Nexus 9.
Although a year old, its hardware remains competitive and the 8.9-inch QXGA display is still quite nice. As a Nexus devices, Google is rolling out Android Marshmallow to the Nexus 9, so it has an early access advantage over many other Android tablets.
And at $399, it’s a reasonable price for a premium Android tablet.
But you might want to keep an eye on that Pixel C website. If Google gets around to releasing it in coming weeks, the Pixel C may end up being one of the best tablets 2015 has to offer — at least when it comes to Android.
The 5 Best Tablets to Buy: Amazon (AMZN) Fire
What the heck is the $50 Amazon (AMZN) Fire doing on a “Best Tablets 2015” list?
After all, with a mere 1024 x 600 pixel, 7-inch display, just 8GB of storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi (instead of Gigabit Wi-Fi), no Google Play access and only 7-hour battery life, it’s completely outclassed by everything else on this list.
In fact the Amazon Fire is outclassed by most devices that didn’t make this list.
But none come close to the Fire’s pricing, though, and that’s what makes the Amazon Fire one of the best tablets for gift giving.
The Fire tablet is quite usable, especially for typical tablet stuff and at just $50 it’s inexpensive enough for virtually anyone to afford. That’s a big deal.
Even better, Amazon says the Fire will be marked down to $34.99 as part of its Black Friday sale. At that price, a family could buy a Fire each for three kids for less than half the price of one of Apple’s cheapest iPads.
You bet this is one of the best tablets of 2015.
The 5 Best Tablets to Buy: Apple (AAPL) iPad Mini 4
Closing our list of the best tablets to buy as holiday gifts is another Apple entry: the iPad Mini 4.
Last year’s iPad Mini 3 was a pass. Apple simply stuck a Touch ID sensor on the iPad Mini 2, added a gold case option and charged $100 more than the tablet it was based on.
The iPad Mini 4 is a different story, though, and it’s now the tablet to beat in the compact market.
The Retina display is now fully laminated for better contrast and color while making the Mini 4 thinner than previous generations, it gets a powerful A8 CPU, dual channel 802.11ac Wi-Fi and an upgrade to an 8-megapixel iSight camera.
You get very close to iPad Air 2 performance at $100 less, and in a smaller package.
At $399, it remains a premium price but with its high quality aluminum build, speedy performance and Apple App Store access, the iPad Mini 4 is one of the best tablets to buy anyone on your list.
So long as they don’t prefer Android …
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.