This year, tablet sales are expected to reach 119 million, double what they were in 2011, and if last year's holiday sales are any indication, a major chunk of those sales will be happening over the next few weeks. Last year, holiday sales doubled the amount of people who owned tablets in the U.S., a figure so surprising that Pew Research re-conducted the survey to make sure the numbers were correct. Pew has said that the growth in tablet ownership is the fastest technology adoption they've seen in the past 11 years, even surpassing smartphones.
When shopping for a tablet, if you want to make the most environmentally-friendly choice, there are a few things to consider. Things like battery life and repairability are important, but so are user experience and design -- things that will make us love our gadgets and use them for longer. Tablets can help us to dematerialize and consume less, but only if we're using them to their full potential and keeping them for a long time. If you're in the market for a tablet for yourself or as a gift, below are five of the most competitive tablets on the market right now and a look at their pros and cons to help you make a decision.
Price: $499 and up
Pros: Now in it's fourth generation, the iPad keeps upping the specs that all other tablets have to keep up with. It features the second highest display resolution of any tablet, HD camera and video recording, the new fast A6X processor and access to the biggest and richest app store. From a user experience perspective, it by far and away continues to receive the highest marks.
The battery life is 10 hours of active use (video playback, audio playback or web browsing), which is pretty solid.
Software support is also strong. Older devices still receive software updates and improvements, letting you hold onto the tablet for longer while using the latest software coming out on newer devices.
Cons: The biggest drawback is repairability. An iFixit teardown gave the device only a 2 out of 10. Most of the device utilizes industrial-strength adhesive, which allows the device to be slimmer and lighter, but it also makes disassembly very difficult. That difficulty could also affect its ability to be recycled at the end of its life, which is another big problem.
Price: $499 and up
Pros: Microsoft has finally entered the tablet market and for Windows fans this is a big deal. Early reviews of the Surface have presented it as a tablet that could be a laptop replacement because of the full use of Office 2013, among other features. That robustness could be a good thing for consolidating devices and keeping our electronic footprint low. The keyboard accessories have been lauded as making typing on a tablet much easier and they serve a dual purpose as a protective cover when not in use. The music and video services are also rich and add to a good user experience.
Cons: The battery life is the lowest of the bunch at eight hours of run time, which isn't horrible, but still two whole hours less than the average. The interface presents a steep learning curve and the app store is still pretty barren. Those things could frustrate people and keep them from using the tablet to its full potential. iFixit gave the tablet a repairability score of 4 out of 10, which is a nice jump up from the iPad, but still not good. The guys found it hard to get into, but once in, many parts were modular and fairly easy to remove, including the battery.
Google Nexus 7
Pros: The Nexus 7 has been hailed as the best small tablet. With a 7-inch display instead of 9 or 10, it's easily held in one hand, making it great for portability and reading books and magazines. It also receives high marks for its gaming interface. It runs the latest and greatest Android software, 4.2 Jellybean and software support, such as patches and updates, is consistent.
The display is made of Corning Gorilla glass which is supposed to be resistant to scratching and tougher all around.
It gets good battery life with a run time of 10 hours.
The tablet earned a good 7 out of 10 for repairability from iFixit. The tablet was easy to open, the screws were common and not proprietary and many parts were easily removed, including the battery. The only downside was the LCD was fused to the glass, but that seems to be the norm now. This ease of disassembly means recycling will also be easier for this tablet.
Cons: Honestly, not many. The Google Play store, while growing, is still not as full as the Apple app store and with the smaller size, there are some features that weren't included that users may miss like a rear-facing camera.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Pros: The latest in the Kindle line delivers the best performance so far. The device is not so much a full-fledged tablet as much as a devoted media playing device, but in that respect it gets great reviews. With access to the Amazon Kindle store, users have a vast amount of media to consume from books, movie, TV shows and more and much praise has been given to the screen resolution and quality for viewing all of that content.
The battery life is the best out of this set at 11 hours of run time.
The iFixit team gave it a solid score of 7 out of 10 for repairability. Like the Nexus 7, it was easy to get into and had many easily-removable parts, including the battery, but did also have the LCD fused to the glass. This ease of disassembly means the product will also be more easily recycled at the end of its life.
Cons: The Amazon app store still leaves a lot to be desired and people wanting to do more than just consume media content on their tablet may be disappointed. It's definitely not a laptop replacement. Not really a critique of the device itself, but Amazon released the latest Kindle Fire only nine months after its previous release, which means users will be constantly fighting the urge to upgrade and the planned obsolescence of their device.
Asus Transformer Pad Infinity
Pros: The latest Transformer Pad has gotten good reviews for closely rivaling the iPad in terms of performance and ease of use. The 10-inch-wide display has a great 1920 x 1200 resolution. It has expandable memory, front and rear facing cameras, GPS and all of the other fully-loaded features one expects in a tablet and runs Android 4.0. Asus is known for good software support for their devices, which is important. It has a keyboard dock that gives it a laptop feel when needed, which when paired with its fast processor and overall good user experience, could make it a contender for laptop replacement for some.
It features the scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass 2.
The battery life is a good 9.5 hours, not the highest, but not the lowest of the bunch either.
iFixit didn't do an official teardown of the device, but a user submitted their step-by-step teardown and found it fairly easy to open and with some modular, easy to remove parts, including the battery. Mainly a lot of screws except for the LCD, which was glued to the glass, just like the rest of the tablets. The result looks like a tablet that will likely be easy to disassemble for recycling.
Cons: Right now, Asus isn't one of the largest tablet makers which means that resources for repair may be fewer than some of the big players and it could have a smaller market for resell when you're ready to move on.
As you can see, each of the tablets has its share of pros and cons and most important to consider is the fact that all gadgets have one major "con" in common -- the fact that they require significant resources to manufacture that, regardless of battery life or performance once in your hands, make a big environmental impact. With that in mind, when buying a tablet for yourself or as a gift, make sure to choose the one that truly fits what you want in a device and then use it for as much and for as long as possible.
There was a wide range of repairability scores, so if you know that you'll want to fix or upgrade things on your own or through an independent repair shop, those scores should carry more weight. If you're risk-averse and want something that has proven longevity and great performance so you'll be able to love it as is for longer, the iPad may be the best bet.