Americans love their electronics, and tablets have become a real favorite in recent years. The shiny machines are wanted for work, games, movie nights in bed, and even casual photography. Though it wasn't a breakthrough year in terms of tablet innovation—improvements came mostly in the form of subtle under-the-hood changes—the devices remain as popular as ever.
Don't settle for just any old slate though: Screen quality, content availability, and user interface vary widely, so we tested a slew of tablets to help you find the right one.
Best Tablet of the Year - Apple iPad Air
Content is King, and Apple wears the twinkling crown: The iPad Air has access to more content than any other tablet on the market, period.
Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, the iStore, numerous Google services—there are just heaps of goodies waiting at your fingertips. Its content and beloved operating system earn this device the number one spot. If you're searching for ease of use, content galore, durable parts, and an ultra-thin profile, take a peek at Apple's iPad Air. (MSRP starting at $499)
Runner-up - Google Nexus 7 (2nd Gen)
Google didn't mess around with this year's Nexus 7. These things are truly little beasts: The screens pack 320 pixels per inch; the insides host fast-and-furious Qualcomm Snapdragon processors and a whopping 16GB of ram; the palatable price tags undercut Apple by hundreds. Android fans and game lovers will find great companions in the powerful Nexus 7, our number two pick for Best Tablet. (MSRP Starting at $229)
Best eReader - Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
For the bookworms of the world, Amazon offers the Kindle Paperwhite—our number one pick for eReaders. Touch a word you don't understand and a definition appears. Choose a favorite font or alter its size in the main menu. Tweet a quote from your favorite book by selecting the passage with the press of a finger. Buy a novel, rent a textbook, borrow a volume, lend one, cruise the massive Kindle Lending Library: all from the palm of your Paperwhite-laden hand.
(MSRP starting at $119)
Best Design - Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 wins best dressed—and not just by a little. This tablet is far and away the best looking device we've seen all year, with smart leather backing and careful stitching that sings a handsome tune. To top it all off, a beautiful stylus makes creative apps all the more fun.
If you need a powerful slate in a sharp outfit, something with a snappy processor and a beautiful screen, the Note 10.1 is a solid choice. (MSRP starting at $549)
Runner-up - Microsoft Surface 2
Second place in this category goes to Microsoft's Surface 2. On the back of these machines you'll find a collapsable kickstand that allows the tablets to freestand, either vertically or horizontally. Sleek metal bodies make for handsome packages, and magnetic strips along the bottoms of the tablets mean you can attach a keyboard if you so desire.
(MSRP starting at $449)
Read the Full Review of the Microsoft Surface 2 here
Best Innovation in Tablets
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX for Mayday
Novice users and tech-wary shoppers have every reason to love Amazon's latest innovation: a 24-hour video chat customer service app called Mayday. If you're lost or confused, just launch the app and an actual person appears. You can see them, but they can't see you—though they do see your screen in order to help you through your times of tech difficulties. Night or day, a live person is there to help.
(MSRP starting at $229 for 7", $379 for 8.9")
Runner-up - Sony Xperia Z for weatherproofing
Sony's Xperia Z is equipped to withstand toddlers, rainy days, or afternoons by the pool. Parents need not fear the presence of a sippy cup, or the questionable grip of exuberant 5-year-olds. Thanks to Aqua-phobic nano-coating that protects this tablet from spills, as well as the rough and tough Gorilla Glass to prevent cracks, the Xperia Z tablets are likely to last. (MSRP starting at $499)
Best Value Tablet - Hisense Sero 7 Pro
Value is always a favorite talking point among buyers, and nothing says "deal" quite like the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. It might not look like much, but it's a whole lot better than most of the knock-off junk you see in its price range. If you're a thrifty shopper in need of a slate for eReading, videos, and light web-browsing, give this Walmart exclusive a look. Don't expect the best screen or the quickest processing in town, but the Sero 7 Pro can satisfy beginners for a great price. (Online now for approx. $149)
Runner-up - Google Nexus 7
Hot dog! Did you read that right? Yes: Our runner up for Best Tablet of the Year is also our runner up for Best Value: Google's powerhouse Nexus 7 offers a gorgeous, pixel-dense screen, a lightning-speed processor, and mountains of ram—and it's priced so fairly that we gave it the runner up spot for value. (MSRP Starting at $229)
Best Large Tablet - Apple iPad Air
It's no wonder that our Best Tablet of the Year is also the Best Large Tablet. Why does Apple's iPad Air take the cake? It offers the most content, one of the simplest and easiest-to-use operating systems, a razor-thin shape, and a beautiful screen—all in a durable package. When it comes to tablets, the iPad Air is as good as it gets. (MSRP starting at $499)
Runner-up - Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Samsung's beautifully made Galaxy Note 10.1 does more than just turn heads. The leather-backed beauty comes with serious guts, too. The formidable processor offers snappy performance while the screen displays images with some of the best color accuracy we've ever seen on a tablet. Topping off this sharp machine is an accurate stylus that heightens the fun of creative apps. (MSRP starting at $549)
Best Small Tablet - Google Nexus 7 (2nd gen)
Like dynamite, the Google Nexus 7 packs a lot of bang into a small size: The screens are super sharp and jam-packed with pixels, Qualcomm Snapdragon processors deliver lightning-speed performance, and a 16GB-pile of ram offers storage galore. With its approachable price, likeable Android OS, excellent screen, and sheer strength, the Nexus 7 muscled its way to first place. (MSRP Starting at $229)
Runner-up - Apple iPad mini
Apple launched the iPad mini with retina display, and this little guy is quite the performer. iPads offer more content than competitors, for one, but the minis also sport reliable hardware and sharp screens. In white and "space gray" varieties, the iPad minis are typically the right buy for shoppers already invested in Apple's app ecosystem. (MSRP Starting at $399)
Best User Experience - Apple iPad Air
Since many buyers only use tablets for simple tasks like watching shows and sharing photos, heavy-duty hardware isn't as paramount as you'd think: That's why we chose a User Experience award winner, the Apple iPad Air.
iOS7 uses a clean, minimal approach: The home screen is very clean and simple, and navigation is a cakewalk—swipe your finger to find menu shortcuts, turn pages, check notifications, and more. Whether it's zooming, scrolling, or tinkering with settings, Apple makes it all an easy breeze. Best of all, iPads currently offer users more apps, books, and video content than any other tablet. (MSRP starting at $499)
Runner-up - Google Nexus 7 (2nd gen)
If you're looking for value on top of high performance, there's currently none better than the Google Nexus 7. With all the tasty features of the latest dessert-themed Android OS (KitKat), this pint-sized powerhouse hits all the performance superlatives—while keeping great battery life.
What the Nexus 7 lacks in content, it more than makes up for with choice: Don't like something about the tablet? It's easy to customize it to your liking—even the keyboard can be replaced. Perks like that earn this slate the number two spot for User Experience. (MSRP starting at $229)
Best Screen - Apple iPad Air
Tablets have had a rough time advancing their screen technology, but Apple figured out the solution to the liquid-crystal conundrum. Sporting both great contrast and color, the screen of the iPad Air is the complete package.
If you pick up the iPad Air, prepare your pupils for a bath of beauty. Winning our Best Screen of the year among a pack of standouts, the iPad Air very narrowly edged out the Kindle Fire HDX tablets with superior black and white accuracy—as well as build quality. (MSRP starting at $499)
Runner-up - Sony Xperia Z
With the advent of new broadcast standards come new performance goals. Looking ahead to newer UHD guidelines is the Sony Xperia Z Tablet—the only slate you can buy with the newest, more-vibrant color standards.
If that's not enough to entice you, the screen is also water-resistant thanks to a nano-coating that protects your new toy from water, hot chocolate, or clumsy kids. It can't withstand a wrecking ball, but accident-proofing is a major plus (MSRP starting at $499.99)
Best Battery - Microsoft Surface 2
For many, the devil is in the battery, so we tested each tablet in search of the longest-lasting charge. Microsoft's Surface 2 easily wins this award. Bring this slate along on planes, trains, and automobiles: Even with power-hungry settings, the Surface 2 sticks with it for 9 long hours and 30 minutes. (MSRP starting at $449)
Runner-up - Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Runner up in the battery test is Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1. Crank that screen as bright as you want, you'll still enjoy above-average battery life: This tablet runs for an average of 8 hours and 9 minutes before it needs another charge. (MSRP starting at $549)
Read the Full Review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 here