Rapid changes in tablets are bringing more choices, new features, and better prices. Here’s a rundown based on Consumer Reports’ initial tests:
Barnes & Noble Nook HD
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD is the highest-resolution tablet of its size. Images and text look great. Its 7-inch screen lived up to expectations, delivering images that nearly equaled those of the Apple iPad Retina screens.
Magazines are a strength. At 0.7 pounds, the Nook HD is among the lightest tablets and narrow enough to fit in one hand. So it almost feels as if you’re holding a small magazine.
Video and audio were fine. Sound was less tinny than you’d expect on a device this size, but still not as loud as on the new iPad Mini.
Unique features are helpful. Both the 8GB and the 16GB Nooks have features that distinguish them from other tablets. For example, you can set up as many as six personalized accounts on a single device.
Bottom line. If you’re looking for a small tablet, the Nook HD is a fine choice at an excellent price. It’s quite portable, even when compared with other 7-inch tablets.
If you’re looking for a more portable and affordable iPad, the iPad Mini delivers, the preliminary tests found.
It’s midsize, yet thin and light. With a 7.8-inch screen, the Mini offers more real estate than 7-inch Android tablets. But bigger doesn’t mean heavier. In fact, it weighs just under 0.7 pounds.
The screen is good enough. Resolution is much lower than on the newest full-sized iPad or Nook HD. But the crisp text holds its own against the best 7-inch tablets and the non-Retina iPad 2.
It’s fine for media. When you’re viewing photos on the Mini, each image fills the entire screen. The Mini’s cameras — 720p video in the front and 5MP in the rear — are the same as on the latest full-sized iPad.
It feels like an iPad. Apple maintained the iPad experience for reading or using apps. Magazines look great, and book text is fine, and with the Mini’s size and weight, reading won’t tire you quickly.
Bottom line. In shrinking the iPad, Apple didn’t compromise much. Instead, it produced a tablet that’s better suited, in important ways, to reading.
Here’s what testers found out about Microsoft’s new 10.6-inch Surface tablet with Windows RT:
An excellent display. The screen rivals that of the iPad in some ways but falls short in others.
It’s not a PC. Even though it’s Windows-based, the Surface doesn’t run traditional computer applications, such as Quicken or Photoshop.
Apps are limited. There was no Facebook or Twitter app, for example, both of which are available for iPad and Android tablets.
Thin but heavy. The Surface with Windows RT is as thin as the thinnest 10-inch tablets. But at 1.5 pounds, it’s heavy.
Bottom line. The Surface has a lot going for it, including an excellent display. But if you’re a serious online user, you’ll find the software selection limited.