This was a hell of a year for tablets--and we're thankful for it, too, as 2012 was underwhelming.
In 2013, across the board we saw hardware refreshes from all the major players, including Apple, Google (via Asus for its Nexus 7), and Amazon. Although Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 didn't stray too far from last year's design, it improved on some of the major shortcomings that plagued its predecessor.
The best tablets of the year emphasized easy access to content, as well as portability and speedy specifications--not to mention high-definition screens on which to view anything at any time. Here are the five tablets we liked the best. If you're looking to buy a new tablet, make it one of these.
Apple iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display
How do you improve on a tablet that's already hugely successful? You shave off a few ounces until it weighs only one pound.
Everything about the iPad Air is a step up from its predecessors. Its battery is smaller, but its powerful A7 processor makes it more energy efficient. It uses the same M7 coprocessor featured inside the iPhone 5s, as well, so it can monitor motion-sensor data without fully engaging the main processor. It's thinner, so it fits right in with the pile of books and magazines you shove into your bag on a daily basis. And it's easier to hold precisely because it's not so heavy.
The iPad Air is part of the Apple ecosystem, so if you're wholly invested in iTunes as your primary entertainment gateway, there's no need to mess around with setting it up--all of your content should become available once you log in to your account. The App Store is chock-full of applications, too, and it's no secret that iOS has a wealth of games developed specifically for tablets. If you like to watch TV--and who doesn't?--you could even invest in a relatively affordable $99 Apple TV to toss content up to the big screen without tethering. Apple's Newsstand makes it easy to subscribe to magazines and other periodicals.
If you're looking for something just a little more compact, consider the iPad mini with Retina display. As with the iPad Air, Apple improved more than just one feature of the iPad mini--the latest model features a high-pixel-density display, in addition to the same A7 processor contained inside the iPhone 5s and iPad Air, a long-lasting battery, and a 5-megapixel camera with a sensor that helps to enhance the image quality of low-light FaceTime sessions.
With these tweaks, the iPad mini is no longer a second-class citizen. It's the same as the regular iPad, just smaller.
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