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by John Markley

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The Most Hardcore Android Tablets 0f 2013

Spring 2013

The selection of available Android tablets has grown impressively in a very short time. In the face of such variety, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. In keeping with our tireless dedication to organizing everything worth knowing into lists of 8-12 items,  Hardcore Droid is happy to bring you this list of some of the most noteworthy Android tablet devices of the past and present.

Nexus 7

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The Nexus 7 was the first tablet in Google’s Nexus series of mobile devices, and continues to routinely appear on critics’ lists of the top Android devices. (Actual respectable critics’ lists, I mean, not just mine.) It has a 7-inch 1280×800 pixel display, a 1.2 gigahertz Tegra 3 quad-core processor, and runs Android 4.2, providing very respectable performance for something that only costs around $200 thanks to a recent price drop. It’s been one of the most well-regarded tablets on the market ever since for its high-quality build, technical sophistication, and innovative “budget-priced tablet that doesn’t suck” design philosophy. 

One fly in the ointment is that it can’t use memory cards to expand its storage capacity, so the 16 gigabytes of space it comes with (twice that if you pay another $50 or so for the 32 gigabyte version) is all you get. I feel slightly ridiculous saying “16 gigabytes is all you get” for storage on a $200 handheld device when I’ve had desktop PCs that would have collapsed into gibbering catatonia simply trying to conceive of something so vast, but if you’re playing a lot of high-end mobile games or have a lot of media files to haul around it could be a concern.

It also has only a single front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera instead of the front and rear camera configuration more common on tablets, so if you’re frequently running into situations where you need to take multiple photographs in opposite directions simultaneously that may be an issue as well.
 

Nexus 10

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The Nexus 10 is the Nexus 7’s big brother, equipped with 2 gigabytes of RAM, a dual-core 1.7 gigahertz CPU, and a Mali-T604 GPU. All of which is necessary to keep up with its predecessor, since the Nexus 10′s most conspicuous feature is that it trades in its sibling’s 7-inch 1280×800 pixel screen for a 10-inch display with an astonishing resolution of 2560×1600.

Besides the usual headphone jack and microUSB port, the Nexus 10 has a mini HDMI port so that you can play media from your tablet on another display. Its speakers also have better than average sound quality for a mobile device, though that’s not a terribly high bar. If you’re planning to use the Nexus 10 for high-performance gaming you’ll still be better off with headphones or a dedicated speaker. It comes in versions with either 16 or 32 gigabytes of storage space, but like the Nexus 7 it has no card ports to expand the amount of space you get initially.

Sadly, 4,096,000 pixels and the computing power to put them to work fast enough to prevent modern games from looking like a slideshow doesn’t come cheap, with the Nexus 10 costing about $400 for 16 gigabytes of storage and $500 for 32. Whether it’s worth it depends on how much the high-resolution display and other improvements appeal to you. Some people also find the smaller Nexus 7 easier to use or more comfortable to hold for gaming, so think about your own ergonomic preferences if you’re trying to decide between the two. Still, while the Nexus 10 doesn’t dominate its competitors in its price category like the Nexus 7, it’s certainly a contender. 

 

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700

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If you’re like me – a PC aficionado with less-than-stellar manual dexterity and a crippling fear of change – or just a person who likes the tactile feedback from physical controls, you’d probably enjoy having a physical keyboard as an alternative to touchscreen controls. In addition to the standard touchscreen controls, the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 can be combined with an optional docking keyboard that attaches to the bottom of the tablet. It includes a full QWERTY layout and a trackpad; basically letting you turn the tablet into a mini-laptop. The keyboard is on the cramped side but it’s still a far sight better than the slide-out deals with keys just barely visible to the naked eye that are usually the best you get in mobile devices’ keyboards.

The Transformer Infinity has a number of features with appeal far beyond the shaky-handed curmudgeon demographic. It has a very bright 10-inch screen with a resolution of 1920×1200 a 1.6-gigahertz Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, the ability to update to Android 4.2, and an 8-megapixel camera. It comes in versions with either 32 or 64 gigabytes of storage, and – prepare to have your mind literally blown from your skull in amazement – a microSD to expand its storage capacity. Adding the keyboard also gives you an SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, and an additional built-in battery to keep the tablet running longer.

One notable downside is that the keyboard is sold separately, and the retail price adds another $150, so keep that in mind if that’s why the Transformer series interests you. It’s still a fine tablet without the keyboard, though, and at $500 the 32-gigabyte version is priced similarly to the 32-gigabyte Nexus 10.

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 

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Moving back in time a bit, we reach this predecessor to the Transformer Infinity. It’s less technically impressive than its successor, with only a 1280×800 pixel display and a 1.3-gigahertz quad-core CPU. However, it bears the distinction of being the first mobile device made with a quad-core processor, and so warrants inclusion on this list for historical reasons.

There’s not much to buy one now since you can get the superior Infinity for the same suggested retail price, though if you encounter one on sale it might be worth getting. However, if you like the idea of the Transformer tablets but don’t want to spend that much money, there is a variant of the Transformer Prime called the Asus Transformer Pad TF300T that sacrifices some screen brightness but costs $100 less.
 

Sony Xperia Tablet S

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If you’re reading this and are a parent of young children, you probably want to share the wonderful world of gaming, computers, and the Internet with them without worrying that handing your child a tablet will result in uncomfortable questions like “Daddy, what’s ‘male enhancement’?” or fearing that your house will be repossessed by Zynga to pay for $200,000 worth of FarmVille livestock. The Xperia Tablet S offers a solution.

Recently rereleased after being pulled from the market last year due to a manufacturing defect, the Xperia Tablet S features a 1.3 gigahertz quad-core Tegra 3 processor, a 9.4-inch 1280×800 display, Android 4.0, and the choice between models with 16, 32, or 64 gigabytes of storage, plus a card reader that can expand storage by another 32 gigabytes. It includes a feature called  “guest mode,” which allows the primary user to create additional user accounts and limit the access according to the primary user’s specifications – a feature that many parents will love. You can restrict Internet access, allow or disallow purchases from Google Play, or deny access to specific apps. Android 4.2 supports multiple user accounts but lacks this ability.

It’s designed to be splash-resistant, which is another mark in its favor if you’re looking for a kid-friendly device and don’t want to become the owner of a chocolate milk-encrusted $400 coaster. It also comes equipped with an “infrared blaster,” which isn’t nearly as cool as the name makes it sound but is still pretty handy, allowing the Xperia S to function as a remote control for televisions and other home media. (And, to be fair to Sony, if they included actual heat-blasting death ray functionality in a device that they’re encouraging parents to entrust their children with, it would probably open them up to all sorts of legal liability.)

If you have no use for the guest mode feature, this probably isn’t for you. It’s a solid device but with a price of $400 for the 16-gigabyte version you can get comparable performance for less money elsewhere. If you do have use for it, however, it’s one to consider. Sony also has a higher-end tablet called the Xperia Tablet Z that is fast approaching release right now. 

Motorola Xoom

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This entry in the list takes us across unfathomable gulfs of time to the misty primordial era of February 2011. The Motorola Xoom was the first tablet to use Android 3.0, which was the first version of Android intended for tablets, and so is credited with bringing the Android operating system to tablet computers. (Whether it was the “first” Android tablet depends on your definition. There were older tablets capable of running Android but they were not designed with it in mind.) While it’s not something I’d recommend for the modern Android gamer, it deserves a place on this list for its historical importance.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

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As handy as touchscreens can be, they’re not exactly precision instruments. For those performing tasks that would benefit from a greater degree of accuracy than hammering their fingers against a piece of glass can provide there’s the Galaxy Note 10.1, the latest entry in the Galaxy Note series from Samsung.  It’s made to be used with the included pressure-sensitive “S Pen” stylus, allowing you to use it as an electronic notebook or drawing surface without registering unwanted touchscreen input from your hand brushing the screen while you work with the S Pen. The interface for the Galaxy Note 10.1 also supports multiple open windows, which is an extremely welcome feature.

It has 1.4 gigahertz quad-core CPU, runs Android 4.0 out-of-the-box with the ability to upgrade to 4.1, and has a 10-inch 1280×800 screen. It costs $500, so if you’re interested in a tablet primarily for gaming or media viewing there are other tablets at a comparable or lower price that are better-suited to your needs. If you’re looking for a more work-oriented device or would get a lot of use out of the stylus features, however, it might be right up your alley.
 

Archos GamePad

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Now that mobile gaming is expanding beyond simple time-killers like Angry Birds to an increasing number of games meant to appeal to fans of traditional console and PC gaming, we’re seeing a trickle of android mobile devices made with games specifically in mind. The Archos GamePad is the latest of these, with physical gamepad-style controls built into the device to supplement the touchscreen.

It has a four-button D-pad, four front action buttons, two shoulder buttons, and two analog thumbsticks (though “nubs” might be more accurate than “sticks” in this case). Internally, it has a gigabyte of RAM, a 1.6 gigahertz CPU, a Mali-400 GPU, 8 gigabytes of storage, a card slot that can expand storage capacity by up to 64 gigabytes, and runs Android 4.1. All this allows it to run recent high-end games like Modern Combat 4 quite nicely. It also has a miniHDMI port, if you want to play on a television screen. An application is included to map touchscreen commands to physical buttons.

However, the  Archos GamePad definitely has some limitations. Its 7-inch display’s resolution is only 1024×600 pixels, which is respectable compared to other dedicated portable game systems (the PlayStation Vita’s screen is 5 inches and 960×544, for instance) but distinctly underwhelming compared to the other tablets on this list. Controls are a mixed bag, with the analog thumb sticks catching a lot of criticism for being stiff and awkward.

It also has a very brief battery life, and when used intensively can run out of power in two hours or less. Even the optional rechargeable battery pack for the Sega Game Gear – a handheld notorious for burning through six AA batteries every four hours or so – did better than that, and the Archos Gamepad doesn’t have the excuse of being 23 years old.

On the other hand, it’s only $179 and, battery life and display resolution aside, packs some pretty nice hardware for that price. There also aren’t a lot of tablets with gamepad-style physical controls; there are programs that let you use an actual gamepad with a tablet via Bluetooth, but if you want a mobile gaming device because it’s mobile something with built-in controls is considerably more convenient than hauling a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controller with you everywhere you go. A built-in gamepad to either side of the display rather than a separate device also means that the touchscreen controls are still in reach at a moment’s notice, which may be a plus depending on your play style. But on yet another hand – I made the ill-advised decision to supplement my income by becoming a medical testing subject back in college, long story – display resolution and battery life aren’t exactly minor details on a portable gaming device.

Nevertheless, if you like being able to use console-style controls and want to play the latest Android games without spending several hundred dollars more, this device is worth taking a look at.
 

Qualcomm Mobile Development Platform

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Got a spare $1,300 to spend on a new tablet? No, of course you don’t. But if you did, you could spend it on this monstrosity. It comes with the obscenely powerful quad-core Snapdragon APQ8064 CPU, an Adreno 320 GPU, two gigabytes of RAM, and a 13-megapixel camera. There’s probably some sort of emergency self-destruct device built in as well, just in case it turns out to be hostile to humanity when it inevitably becomes sentient, but that’s not the kind of thing companies like to talk to the press about.

As the name suggests, this wasn’t made for the consumer market. Qualcomm created it for developers to try out the latest iteration of the company’s Snapdragon processors, but in principle there’s no reason you can’t buy one yourself if you have that kind of money to blow on handheld electronic gadgetry. Which you don’t, unless Hardcore Droid is doing much better with the oil baron and international diamond thief demographics than I’ve been led to believe. Nevertheless, if you ever wanted to be able to play Shadowgun at maximum frame rate while running complex global climate modeling programs or nuclear blast simulations in the background, now you can.

 

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About the Author

John Markley

John is a gamer from Illinois who has been playing video games since encountering Galaga on his cousin’s Atari 2600. His favorite gaming memories include Final Fantasy III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade, Planescape: Torment, Persona 3 and 4, the Infamous series, and the time a series of “friendly fire” incidents while playing NES brawler River City Ransom with his cousin escalated into an actual fistfight.



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