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Best Android Tablet 2012

Readers' Choice Awards

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You sent us the nominations, and now it's time to pick a winner from your favorites. This category applies strictly to Android tablets, although there's plenty of overlap between this category and the best non-phone category. Be sure to vote in both categories. You can also vote for your favorite Google app and your favorite blog.

ASUS Transformer Prime

Asus Transformer Prime
Image Courtesy ASUSTek
A product named Transformer Prime just sounds cool. Other companies should take notes. That aside, the main feature that sets the Transformer Prime apart is that it can be attached to an optional keyboard dock. When docked, the keyboard and tablet fold up like a traditional netbook. ASUS also throws in a few extras like a cloud storage system and an eBook reader. The tablet runs on Honeycomb (Android 3.0) with an anticipated upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) and has full access to the Android Market.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus

Galaxy Tab 7 Plus
Image courtesy Samsung

For those who don't want a large tablet and don't want to make a lot of hardware sacrifices, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is a great choice. The Tab 7 Plus ships with a modified version of  Honeycomb with a planned Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade. Like the Transformer Prime and Xoom, you can use Google apps like Gmail, Google+, and YouTube and have full access to the Android Market. Samsung Galaxy Tabs also allow you to purchase apps through the Amazon Market, Samsung's separate store, or any other third-party app market. You can even run the Kindle and Nook apps on your Galaxy Tab for access to both bookstores at once.

The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus offers front and rear facing cameras, though at lower resolution than the Xoom or Transformer Prime, The Tab also features Bluetooth, GPS, and other features supported by standard Android tablets. The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus allows you to use an optional conductive stylus with handwriting recognition.  Full disclosure: Samsung sent me a review device.

Barns & Noble Nook Tablet

Nook Tablet
Image Courtesy Barnes & Noble

The Nook Tablet is an updated version of the popular Nook Color. It's predecessor became popular for hackers looking for a cheap Android tablet to modify. Like the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet uses a customized version of Android that doesn't run Google apps. The Nook Tablet runs apps purchased from the separate Nook app store. It's meant to be a simple device without extra features like cameras, Bluetooth or GPS, but it does sport a slot for expanded memory through micro SD cards. 

Unlike the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet has had longer to perfect their custom Android interface and features better parental controls. However, Barns & Noble has not been as successful in recruiting exclusive book deals or app developers, and Barns & Noble does not directly sell digital videos or music. They do support a variety of third-party apps, such as Netflix and Hulu+, but so does Amazon.

The Nook Tablet initially $50 more than the Kindle Fire for a tablet of similar size and processing speed, but they've since released a $199 8GB model. The Nook has a better screen, hard volume buttons, expandable memory, and a microphone, but a lot of the choice may just depend on where you prefer to shop for content. 

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire e-reading tablet
Image courtesy Amazon.com

The Kindle Fire is Amazon's answer to the Nook Color and was release around the same time as the Nook Tablet. The Kindle Fire has the primary advantage of being one of the most inexpensive Android tablets on the market, which was partially achieved by selling it as a loss leader. It's sparked speculation and interest in low cost Android tablets, and it's undoubtedly the reason Barns & Noble recently lowered the price on the Nook to match that of the Kindle Fire. The Fire sacrifices many hardware niceties to keep the price down, including hard volume buttons, cameras, expandable memory, Bluetooth, GPS, and microphones. You won't find any of those in a Kindle Fire, and like the Nook, it is available in Wi-Fi only. There is no option for free cellular data plans as there are for other versions of the Kindle eReader.

 

The hardware sacrifices don't seem to have made a difference for Kindle fans who are delighted by an inexpensive device they can use to consume Amazon content. Amazon also promotes their device and separate Amazon App Store by offering daily app specials for all users and special streaming content for Amazon Prime subscribers.

Motorola Xoom

Image courtesy Verizon Wireless
The Motorola Xoom was the first Android Honeycomb tablet to launch, and one of the few to sport an unmodified version of Android. Users were the first go get beta invitations to Google Music. It's also the first tablet to get Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades, which have begun rolling out to the Wi-Fi version of the device.

However, the tablet was plagued by missing features and hardware problems. It launched originally with 3G access instead of the planned 4G access, and users had to send in their units for upgrades. SD card storage was also initially missing. The Wi-Fi only version was much later to the market but did not require a physical upgrade.

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