iTunes, Amazon App Store, or Windows Store?
Apple's ecosystem is both one of its strengths and its weaknesses: it's content and app offerings trump what most of what the others offer. As long as you have an Apple TV in your home, it's a cinch to take a video or music playlist from the iPad Air and play it over your home entertainment system with AirPlay. However, its closed ecosystem may prove troublesome if you're not the type to be specifically devoted to one platform, and your experience might feel a little disjointed if you don't have an Apple TV, iPhone, or PC loaded up with iTunes.
The Amazon ecosystem, on the other hand, feels more inclusive—the type of platform where anyone, from any background can join in as long as they have an Amazon account. You can watch movies and television shows and listen to any music you've purchased or stored up in the cloud on virtually anything—Amazon has clients for consoles, computers, tablets, and set-top boxes. It also comes with a free month of Amazon Prime, which gives you free two-day shipping, a library of free e-books to rent, and free video content to watch. For the technically inept, there is also Mayday, which offers instant, free video chat to an Amazon customer service representative. It's Achilles' heel is the fact that it runs a forked version of Android that doesn't work with the same library of applications as the Google Play Store. The Amazon Marketplace may feel limited in its application offerings, especially if you're looking for a tablet that works as more than just an entertainment consumption device.
Nokia's Lumia 2520 and Microsoft's Surface 2 are good productivity tools, since they run Windows 8.1 RT. With access to Office and covers that have built-in keyboards (sold separately), plus the ability to "snap" two applications on the screen at once, they're good choices for getting work done. You may find Microsoft's Windows Store offerings are also quite slim compared to the Apple App Store.
The iPad Air may be the biggest model refresh since the release of the iPad 2 back in 2011, and it continues to lean on Apple's strengths: beautiful design, a wide array of apps and content, and ease-of-use. But it's competing in a different market than even a few years ago, and it's up against an increasing number of large-tablet experiences. We'll have a full evaluation of the device and our official rating in the coming weeks.
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