The best tablet of 2014: Apple vs Sony vs Samsung

The competition is intense.

Savage competition has seen the gap separating Apple’s iPad from a slew of Android tablets close. Ambassadors of Android, particularly Samsung and Sony, have learnt how to couple the refined OS with capable hardware. The result: better products for less.

This comparison takes the two most competitive tablets, Samsung’s Galaxy NotePro 12.2 and Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet, and measures how they stand next to Apple’s iPad Air.

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Where function meets form

Design is paramount in making complex technology available to people of all technical aptitudes. A poorly designed tablet can lead to great features going unappeciated.

There’s no denying it weighs the hand down

Falling first in design is the Samsung NotePro. Undermining the charm of its brushed steel borders and faux leather back is a hearty weight of 753 grams. In fairness, the tablet does have the largest screen at 12.2 inches, but there’s no denying it weighs the hand down.

Sony’s tablet is the antithesis to the heavy Samsung. It’s a featherweight at 439 grams and one of the thinnest tablets in any division at 6mm. Sony has realised ambitious design with the Xperia Z2 Tablet. The buttons are bespoke, the edging functional and the bordering bezel complements the screen like an artwork’s frame. The Xperia Z2 Tablet by all accounts achieves great things in design, but the iPad Air achieves even more.

The 469 gram iPad air achieves a nice balance between height, width and weight. This keeps it competitive against rivals like the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but it edges ahead on sheer attention to detail.

The iPad Air is a combination of premium materials and skilled craftsmanship. The fine bezels are punctuated by diamond-polished chamfers, and the speaker grilles are precision drilled with lasers into an aluminium body. The extra attention invested in seemingly insignificant details produce a grand experience with the iPad Air.

Apple iPad Air
Apple iPad Air

Winner: Apple iPad Air — just

Android skins v Apple iOS

There was a time when Google’s Android felt malnourished compared to Apple’s iOS, but that no longer is the case. Samsung and Sony’s tablets run the latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat, each dressed with a custom manufacturer overlay.

Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay shines on this tablet. There is no end to its functionality and, unlike the shabby look of TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5, it dons consistent aesthetics throughout the 12.2-inch tablet. However, in spite of its many improvements, its software does not lead the industry.

The Xperia Z2 Tablet is free from the ‘big brother’ governance that turns people off Apple products

Every single facet of Apple’s iOS, from the homescreen to the bowels of its settings menu, is a fine example of technological art. Apple’s credence that a company needs to make both the hardware and the software resonates as iOS takes full advantage of the screen’s space. The established App Store sweetens the deal further by offering more tablet-oriented apps than that of Google’s Play. The colour scheme, the gestures, the animations, the speed: all of it is to the highest standard.

But Apple is critical about how you, the customer, uses the iPad. Files cannot be transferred over Bluetooth, and only photos can be transferred to a PC without iTunes. Not only is the iPad locked down, but it insists you buy complementary Apple products to get the best experience. And sometimes you don’t want to be strong-armed into buying yet another Apple product.

Sony’s rendition of Android arguably features the best overlay of any manufacturer. Application support is strong complements of the Android ecosystem, and Sony then adds one of the best multimedia suites. The iPad’s iOS edges ahead in looks, but the Xperia Z2 Tablet is free from the ‘big brother’ governance that turns people off Apple products.

The interface of Sony's Xperia Z2 Tablet
The interface of Sony's Xperia Z2 Tablet

Winner: Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

High-resolution screens, Multi-core CPUs

Playing in the high end of the tablet market means each of the three tablets run fast and come with high resolution screens.

Apple’s iPad Air runs the least powerful hardware with a 1.3GHz dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM and internal storage up to 128GB. The iPad Air might have the weakest specs on paper, but its iOS operating system is the least demanding.

Samsung screens remain the unsung heroes of its tablets and smartphones

Read more: Sony Xperia XZ review: turbo-charged last-gen phone

The 9.7in iPad Air also has the smallest screen in the comparison, but the 9.7in display has a resolution of 1536x2048 for a density of 264 pixels-per-inch — and that’s higher than both tablets from Sony and Samsung. Having the pixels closer together improves how clarity of a video.

Sony’s 10.1in tablet features a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU, 3GB of RAM and comes with up to 32GB of storage, which can be expanded with a microSD memory card.

The display, which we pined over during our review of the Z2 Tablet, is the least attractive of the trio, as its resolution of 1920x1200 imbues with with a 224 pixel-per-inch density.

Overachieving on the hardware front is the Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2. The tablet’s expansive 12.2in screen has a crisp 2560x1600 resolution for a 247 pixel-per-inch density. Granted the ppi count is lower than that of the iPad Air’s, but the negligible difference is easily compensated with the size, vibrancy and responsiveness of the screen. Samsung screens remain the unsung heroes of its tablets and smartphones.

The Samsung tablet is just as impressive on the inside with specifications matching that of the Xperia Z2 Tablet. It has a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which can be expanded with microSD memory.

Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2
Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2

Winner: Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2

Cameras, unique features and the verdict over the page

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Tags iPadAppleAndroidiossonysamsungAIRXperiagalaxyKitKat4.4Z2NotePro12.2Z2 Tablet

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Tony Ibrahim
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