TIME FindTheBest

5 Reasons People Aren’t Buying Tablets Anymore

Tablet ipad
Getty Images

First, some perspective: the tablet industry is still huge. Gartner predicts that over 250 million tablets will ship worldwide by the end of 2014, an impressive figure for any consumer electronics device not named “smartphone.”

But there’s reason for tablet makers to be worried. Sales are “crashing” at Best Buy and iPad sales are down year-over-year, a disappointing reversal after three years of explosive growth.

Whether it’s a sign of doom or just a “speed bump,” something, on some level, is wrong. Let’s break down five possible explanations:

1. Nobody knows what tablets are for

Is the tablet a leisure device? A personal assistant? A workstation? It’s difficult to say. For marketers, the latest craze is productivity. The Surface 3 can replace your laptop. The iPad is for climatologists and marine biologists. The Samsung Galaxy Pro is for taking business notes and organizing files. But does anyone actually want all this stuff in a tablet?

Probably not. Nearly all of the best-selling tablets on Amazon are small-screen, budget options, with productivity features ratcheted down…or even stripped out. And the proudly efficient Surface is still a billion-dollar bust. Despite all the ads, spreadsheets and styluses, tablet owners still seem to prefer browsing Pinterest to building PowerPoints.

Put it all together, and first-time tablet buyers are simply going to be confused. They probably don’t care much about efficiency, but every manufacturer is spending millions convincing them to get a tablet for expense reports and file management. What a mess.

2. Phablets, not tablets, are the sweet spot

The first iPad (2010) fit neatly between contemporary devices: it was more roomy than phones, but not as clunky as laptops—the perfect product for reading books or surfing the web after work. What’s more, phones above 4.5-inches were virtually non-existent, making a tablet’s 7- to 10-inch screen a big selling point.

Jump ahead to 2014, and the average phone is faster, smarter and most importantly, bigger. Over 80% of 2014’s new phones have screens over 4.5 inches, and the flagship models tend to be the biggest of all. The tablet’s biggest differentiator has faded, while the phablet has grabbed more market share and garnered increasingly glowing reviews. It’s just not worth snapping up a new Nexus tablet when your LG G3 is almost as big and twice as convenient.

3. Old models are good enough

When it comes to upgrading your tablet, what’s the better analogy: the smartphone or the TV? Three years ago, the phone was the obvious answer. After all, tablets looked and operated a lot like the smaller device, sharing the same apps, layouts and operating systems. Surely customers would upgrade their tablets once every two years or so, just like their Galaxies, iPhones and Nokias.

Given the benefit of time, however, the picture has become more clear. Consumers drop their phones regularly; tablets sit safely on the bedside table. Smartphone batteries go through hundreds of recharge cycles per year; tablet batteries go through only dozens. Users fill their phones with photos, apps and bloatware; tablet owners add only the occasional movie or game. At the 24-month mark, smartphone are chipped, cracked, bursting with data and barely able to hold a charge. Meanwhile, tablets often look like they just came out of the box. Like a TV, there’s no real incentive to get a new model until something truly special comes along.

 

As a result, the refresh cycle for a tablet is much closer to that of a television than a smartphone: four or more years for most customers. If you’re not a tech geek or millionaire, you’re not buying a tablet every other year…which means declining sales for tablet makers.

4. The apps aren’t good enough

The tablet’s saving grace was supposed to be the apps: games, photo editors and productivity suites designed for tablets—and only for tablets—from the ground up. Even if the phone would become the dominant device, customers wouldn’t be able to resist the perks of having bigger, tablet-exclusive applications.

Unfortunately, almost all the best apps are already available on phones, and in some cases, only on phones. Developers have discovered that the only way to compete with such low prices (say, $0.99 or $1.99) is to produce at a mass volume, and the only device capable of selling in mass volume is the smartphone. A few noble development teams have continued to support advanced tablet versions out of principle, but increasingly, it’s a bad business decision. So we end up with blurry, up-scaled interfaces or basic layouts optimized for phones and hastily ported to tablets. It’s a lost opportunity.

5. Lack of competition for Apple

Every year, the smartphone industry only seems to get more competitive, with Apple holding onto the high-end, Samsung clinging to the middle and upstarts like Xiaomi snapping up customers in the budget market. Even if you’re willing to say that Google is winning by market share, or Apple by profits, you have to admit that it’s still a fierce battle, with dozens of flagship phones contending for the crown.

With tablets, however, Apple is still winning handily, shipping 75% more devices than its closest competitor (Samsung) and hogging all the profits. The iPad remains king, despite an ongoing assault of giant Galaxy Pros and Microsoft Surface ads. In order for the industry to avoid stagnation, Apple’s rivals need to make the iPad maker less comfortable. Judging from the iPad Mini 3 non-update, however, they’ve got a ways to go. They’d better hurry, though: the tablet market just might depend upon it.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

Read next: Apple’s New iPads Are Great, But Not Essential

TIME Ask TIME Tech

Ask TIME Tech: Best iPad for the Money Right Now?

iPads
The iPad Mini 3 (left) and the iPad Air 2 (right) Asahi Shimbun / Getty Images

A rundown of all the available models, highlighting the differences in search of the best value

Question: I need a new iPad, but I’m not sure which one I should get. Is the iPad Air 2 worth it or is one of the other models a better deal? I don’t really care if it’s a full-size iPad or one of the smaller ones. And I’m okay with spending $500, but if I don’t have to, obviously I would like to save some money. What are the main differences between all of them?

Short Answer: Last year’s iPad Mini 2 is a good deal at $299.

Long Answer: Someone who says “I need a new iPad” is apparently a rarity nowadays, with Apple having trouble convincing people to upgrade their tablets regularly. I’m part of the problem: I’ve been using an iPad 3 for the past million years and it still suits me fine.

Here’s a video comparison of all the currently-available iPads, which contains much of the advice you’ll otherwise read below:

iPad Air 2 ($499+)

If you have $500 to spend on an iPad, the new iPad Air 2 won’t disappoint. Of all the available models — there are now five: the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air, the iPad Mini 3, the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Mini — the iPad Air 2 has the newest processor, which might help you squeeze an extra year out of it over one of the other models.

Don’t get too distracted by the iPad Air 2’s other specs, though. It’s thinner than the first iPad Air, yes, but we’re talking half of a tenth of an inch. It’s lighter, sure, but we’re talking 0.04 pounds for the Wi-Fi model. The big news here is the processor. The iPad Air 2 is also rumored to sport two gigabytes of RAM versus one gigabyte for all the other models, which should increase performance.

The iPad Air 2 has the fingerprint sensor that debuted with the iPhone 5S, which makes unlocking your iPad quick (assuming you lock it with a passcode) and lets you buy stuff from iTunes without typing in your password. You’ll also be able to log into certain third-party apps with your fingerprint as well.

Finally, the iPad Air 2 uses newer, thinner screen technology that makes colors pop a bit more. Apple added an anti-reflective coating as well. The front-facing camera is a little better than the previous model’s, and the Wi-Fi chip uses newer technology that allows it to connect to certain networks faster. Oh, and you can get it in gold (gold is best) and in a 128-gigabyte storage configuration.

iPad Air 2 ($499+) vs iPad Air ($399+)

iPad Air 2 v iPad Air
Apple

Step “down” to last year’s iPad Air, and you lose the gold option. You get a less efficient processor. The screen is still the same resolution, but there’s no antireflective coating. It’s marginally, marginally, marginally less thin and light. The front-facing camera is five megapixels instead of eight. There’s no fingerprint sensor. It doesn’t connect to certain superfast Wi-Fi networks as fast as the iPad Air 2 does. It might not have as much RAM.

On paper, Apple makes a somewhat convincing case for going with the iPad Air 2 over the iPad Air. In reality, what you’re giving up in order to save $100 might not be all that important. The iPad Air is still plenty fast, plenty thin and plenty light.

iPad Air ($399+) vs iPad Mini 3 ($399+)

iPad Air v iPad Mini 3
Apple

Now we’re going to basically step laterally to the iPad Mini 3, Apple’s newest iPad Mini model. Aside from it being smaller than the iPad Air models, under the hood, the iPad Mini 3 is almost identical to the iPad Air — all the way down to the $399 starting price. You do get the fingerprint sensor with the iPad Mini 3, the gold color option and the 128-gigabyte storage option. The processor, cameras, connections and just about everything else are the same.

iPad Mini 3 ($399+) vs iPad Mini 2 ($299+)

iPad Mini 3 v iPad Mini 2
Apple

Here’s where things get interesting. The iPad Mini 3 and the iPad Mini 2 share pretty much the exact same innards, except that the iPad Mini 3 has the fingerprint reader, the gold color option and the 128-gigabyte storage option. For $299, the iPad Mini 2 is on par with both the iPad Mini 3 and the iPad Air, which makes the iPad Mini 2 a great deal relative to the other available iPads. As long as you don’t care about the fingerprint reader, you’re okay with the space gray or silver options, and you don’t have enormous storage requirements, the iPad Mini 2 is arguably the best bang for your buck.

iPad Mini 2 ($299+) vs iPad Mini ($249+)

iPad Mini 2 v iPad Mini
Apple

Don’t fall for this one. You might save $50 by going with the original iPad Mini, but it’s got a much slower processor than all the other iPads and its screen is much lower-resolution. If ever you had a reason to cough up an extra $50, this is it. The iPad Mini at $250 allows Apple to offer an iPad that can kinda-sorta compete with low-cost Android tablets, except that any $250 Android tablet would almost certainly feature much more potent specs. This is half a marketing play by Apple (“iPad starts at $250!”) and half a chance to clear out leftover inventory of a two-year-old tablet.

If you’re looking for even more info, Apple has a handy iPad comparison page for your perusal.

Related:

 

TIME Gadgets

Android 5.0 Lollipop: What’s New and When Can You Get It?

The next sweeping overhaul of Android — Android 5.0 Lollipop — is just around the bend. Here’s a look at some of its most notable additions, along with some insight as to when you might be able to get your hands on it.

What’s New?

Android 5 Lollipop
Google

The most noticeable difference is the overall look and feel of the operating system. Google’s using what it calls “Material Design,” making extensive use of animations and layered elements to deliver what the company promises is a more intuitive experience.

In layman’s terms, let’s just say there’s more swooping and sliding. And you’ll notice a more uniform design across Android devices in general — phones, tablets, watches, TV gadgets, car audio systems and more. If you have multiple Android gadgets, they’ll work together more harmoniously than before.

You can see a bit of how Material Design looks up until about the 30-second mark of this video:

Battery life should be an improvement. Developers will be able to better fine-tune their apps so they don’t use as much juice, and there’s a new power-saving mode that lets you squeeze up to 90 extra minutes out of your phone if you can’t find an outlet. When you get around to charging your phone, it’ll tell you how long it’ll be until it’s at 100%.

Security gets beefed up as well, with encryption turned on by default to prevent data from being accessed on lost or stolen devices. (Authorities aren’t too happy about this.) Note that you can turn encryption on yourself if you’re running an earlier version of Android. Here’s how (follow up until the part about resetting your phone). For an extra layer of security, you’ll be able to unlock your phone or tablet only when it’s in proximity to your Android smartwatch.

There are also some cool new multi-user features, like being able to use a friend’s phone in guest mode. And if you log in with your Google credentials, you’ll be able to make calls and access your messages, photos and other data as though you were using your own phone.

Notifications also get a much-needed overhaul. They’ll now be ranked and presented based on priority. Ideally, messages from people you want to hear from will be most prominent, while some obscure app telling you it’s been updated won’t get as much screen time. You’ll be able to finesse how often you’re notified with a new “priority” mode that’ll only let certain people contact you or will let you turn off notifications altogether between certain hours.

On newer phones, you’ll enjoy fewer button presses. If the hardware supports it, you’ll be able to say “Okay, Google” to wake the phone up to help you search for something or set reminders without touching it. Some phones will simply wake up when you pick them up or double-tap the screen.

You can see a more complete list of features here; scroll down to the bottom and click the “See All Features” link.

When Can I Get It?

It depends on your device and your carrier. Google’s “Nexus”-branded devices (Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10) will have access to Android 5.0 sometime in November. Certain “Google Play edition” devices (the HTC One M8 and the Moto G, almost certainly) should see the update around the same time. The new Nexus 9 tablet is the only device with a firm date — November 3; the big-screen Nexus 6 smartphone is due “in stores in November,” says Google.

The official word is as follows:

Android 5.0 Lollipop, which comes on Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player, will also be available on Nexus 4, 5, 7, 10 and Google Play edition devices in the coming weeks.

After that, things get even murkier. Dan Graziano over at CNET has a roundup of moving-targets HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony, so keep an eye on that post as it’s to be updated as things progress.

As for whether or not your device is eligible to get Android 5.0, there’s a loose 18-month window for certain Android devices. Google’s official word: “Devices may not receive the latest version of Android if they fall outside of the update window, traditionally around 18 months after a device release.” And that’s only for Nexus and Google Play devices; check with your carrier to see if they can shed any light on your situation. If you’ve had your phone for more than a year, you might be on the fence depending when the phone was initially released.

TIME Gadgets

The 4 Best Tablets Not Named ‘iPad’

With the iPad hogging headlines, it’s easy to forget about the rest of the market, filled with Notes and Tabs, Kindles and Surfaces. And that’s a shame. The iPad might be simple and elegant, but Apple’s rivals specialize in power, price and productivity — sometimes offering twice the features at half the cost.

With that in mind, we pored through hundreds of reviews to see what both experts and everyday users value most in a tablet.

In the end, four themes emerged: battery, price, hardware and productivity. For each category, we picked the best tablet you can buy that isn’t made by Apple. Time to think different.

Battery Life

In tablet reviews, customers mention battery life more often than any other feature. A bit of lag, for example, is a minor nuisance, but a dead device is a travesty.

Unfortunately, tablets aren’t smartphones, even if that’s what consumers have come to expect. You can get through a full day with a 5-inch phone, but a 7- to 12-inch tablet with (literally) millions of pixels? You’ll be lucky to make it through lunch. And yet, one device emerges from the pack of top-rated tablets: the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.

At 13 hours (of constant use), Samsung’s Note Pro bests Amazon, Google and Sony, whose flagship tablets can muster just 12 hours each. Yes, that 13-hour figure might be a little inflated (these are manufacturer-reported numbers, after all), but getting anywhere close to half a day of battery out of a 12.2-inch, 247-PPI screen is just nuts. Even Apple hasn’t pulled that off.

Note that the Note Pro leads in both battery life and total pixels in this plot of popular tablets — a rare combination:

Our Pick: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Price

Many consumers are intrigued by tablets, but they can’t stomach the $500-$900 price tag. Meanwhile, the truly budget options are usually three years old, featuring out-of-date technology that manufacturers can’t wait to unload on uninformed consumers.

So at FindTheBest, we looked for a tablet that was modern (no more than 1.5 years old), well regarded by the experts (at least 4 out of 5 stars, on average), and most of all, cheap.

Here, it comes down to the 2nd generation Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7. While Amazon’s device wins on specs alone, our overall recommendation is the Nexus 7, which received slightly higher review scores across the board. It’s a photo finish, but ASUS, not Amazon, wins this round. With Google’s recent Nexus 9 announcement, expect the Nexus 7’s price to drop even lower.

Our Pick: The Nexus 7 (2nd Gen)

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Hardware Design

It’s tempting to assume that Apple has a monopoly on hardware design. Sure, you can beat an iOS device on performance and features, but no one can touch Apple when it comes to how the product looks, right?

Wrong. Your alternative is Sony. With a classy, sleek design that’s thinner than the iPad Air, the Sony Xperia Z2 is a feat of material engineering. At 439 grams, it’s also the lightest flagship 10-inch device on the market (depending on the final stats of the new iPad: this post went live before Apple’s October 16 announcement).

In the below chart, you can see how the Xperia Z2 compares to other popular ~10-inch tablets. (The size of the dot reflects the slight variances in screen size.)

Our Pick: The Sony Xperia Z2

Runner-up: The Sony Xperia Z

Productivity

In the world of tablets, productivity is a two-horse race. First, you’ve got the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, complete with a giant screen and built-in stylus. Second, there’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, a performance beast with internals that look more like a laptop than a tablet.

For casual consumers, the Note Pro is the right choice, if only for the well-rounded Android ecosystem of Google services and app selection. But for the working professional, it’s hard to deny the Surface Pro 3’s real-world performance. For an apples-to-apples comparison, just look at Geekbench scores. Geekbench performs benchmark testing for a wide variety of products across multiple device categories in order to compare real-world performance. Note below how the Surface Pro 3 performs compared to three other popular tablets:

For reference, consider that the most recent MacBook Air clocks in at 4,678 (multi-core) and 2,469 (single-core).That’s better than almost any tablet, but it’s still below the Surface Pro 3’s scorching results. Microsoft isn’t messing around here.

Yes, Windows 8 still has its foibles, and the Surface Pro 3’s various menus and gestures come with a sizable learning curve. But if you want pure performance and productivity, the latest Surface should be your pick.

Our Pick: The Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Runner-up: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

TIME Gadgets

The Best Small Android Tablet

The Nvidia Shield has a beautiful display, blistering performance, a light, comfortable and good-looking design and a clean interface, making it the best small-screen Android tablet.

Nvidia ShieldShopping for a smaller tablet can be daunting, thanks to the sea of 7- to 8-inch Android devices available. It would be simple if most of the low-cost models were easily dismissed, but Android tablets are getting lighter, slimmer, faster and more powerful while simultaneously getting less expensive.

To find the very best tablets, I looked for four key elements: a bright, vivid, pixel-dense display that looks great at any angle; a lightweight design that’s comfortable to hold in one hand for long stretches; a powerful CPU coupled with a good amount of RAM for smooth, speedy multitasking; and an interface that’s easy to understand and navigate even if you’re not tech-savvy. Price was also a consideration — a great small tablet shouldn’t break the bank.

That narrowed the field down to three standout tablets: the Asus Memo Pad 8 ($129 on Amazon), the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 ($389 on Amazon) and the Nvidia SHIELD Tablet ($299 on Amazon). In the end, the Shield Tablet is my ultimate pick for best small tablet based on its balance of price point and feature set.

Made for Gamers, Great for Everyone

Nvidia designed the Shield Tablet primarily for gamers, so its long list of impressive features includes things like superfast gaming performance and the ability to wirelessly stream PC games from the computer to the tablet. The same elements that make this a great gaming tablet make it a great all-around tablet as well.

The Tegra K1 processor inside isn’t just quad-core; like most tablets, it has 192 graphics cores. That translates into a smooth experience no matter which app or game you’re running, and it ensures the tablet will be able to keep up with Android apps well into the future as they grow more complex and resource-hungry.

The Shield Tablet’s 8-inch, 1920 x 1200 resolution display creates deep colors and crisp details that don’t wash out or distort when you hold the tablet at an angle. Whether you use the Shield to read an e-book or a web page, its high pixel density means that small fonts stay sharp.

The Shield’s display doesn’t pop as much as the display on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (2560 x 1600 Super AMOLED), and if you look closely, the difference in resolution is noticeable. If you want the very best display, the Tab S has it. But side by side, the Shield Tablet stands up quite well to this competition — especially impressive since it costs about $100 less.

Another notable difference between the two tablets is weight. The Tab S 8.4 is incredibly thin and light for its size, weighing 10.4 ounces versus the Shield’s 13.7 ounces. The Shield is still light enough to hold with one hand during long reading sessions or with two for longer gaming sessions without making your wrists ache.

Bonus: Stylus

On top of its sweet gaming features, the Shield Tablet offers one more extra that makes it enticing: a stylus. Just like the stylus for Nvidia’s last tablet, the Tegra Note 2, the Shield’s stylus is a step above the kind of capacitive styluses that work on any tablet, but it’s not the same technology used in active digitizer pens like those with the Galaxy Note series. Active pens are more desirable because they’re accurate and precise, making it easy to reject input from a palm or finger. They achieve this through wireless communication between the pen and the display, which makes the tablets more expensive.

Coupled with the processing power of the Tegra K1, the Nvidia DirectStylus 2 software emulates this functionality in the Shield’s pen, even though it’s not an active digitizer. You still get a very thin, precise tip, and there’s even some pressure sensitivity and (even more impressive) palm rejection — all without expensive hardware.

Nvidia has included a handful of note-taking and writing apps that take advantage of the pen, including Evernote, Write and a handwriting recognition keyboard. The company also developed a neat drawing app called Dabbler that emulates several different types of drawing and painting environments, including wet watercolors.

Outside of last year’s Galaxy Note 8, this is the best stylus experience available in the 8-inch tablet range.

Android and Interface

Most popular Android tablets come with an interface skin over the base operating system that changes the look and some of the functionality of the operating system. Google Nexus tablets and, now, the Shield tablet are major exceptions to this rule. Although Nvidia did a ton of work on the back end to give the tablet some gaming chops, the company didn’t mess much with how Android 4.4 KitKat operates, preserving the stock look and feel.

I’ve praised well-designed skins on tablets from Samsung, ASUS and other companies in previous reviews, and in truth, I prefer them since they smooth over some of Android’s rough edges and make executing some actions more efficient. However, KitKat is Google’s most polished version of Android to date, and if you prefer to take customization into your own hands, the Shield Tablet offers the same blank canvas that Nexus devices do.

You’ll find a few Shield-specific tweaks, such as the Shield Hub interface/menu for easy navigation while connected to a TV and using the game controller. (More on this later.) There’s also Console Mode for streaming full HD video or games to an HDTV. Otherwise, it’s Android business as usual.

Media

The same hardware that makes the Shield Tablet a gaming beast also makes it a great little machine for watching video, showing off pictures and listening to music. Between the beautiful display and the high-end graphics, you’ll enjoy smooth playback of full HD and 4K movies from the device or via streaming. The latter is possible thanks to a dual-band, 2×2 MIMO wireless antenna that connects to the strongest signal available to receive and send data at super-fast speeds.

The Shield sports a pair of speakers on the front, flanking the display. It’s no surprise, then, that the Shield’s audio quality is well above average — and not just because the sound blasts directly toward you. The sound quality is the best I’ve heard on a tablet, well rounded in the mid-range with actual bass. It bests the Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s sound without trying (although it doesn’t take much to earn that distinction, since most tablet speakers aren’t great). Still, it’s still a nice touch that means that you won’t need headphones to get a good audio experience.

Aside from Shield-optimized games in the Shield Hub, you won’t get any special or exclusive content sources beyond what you can find in the Google Play store.

Cameras

The Shield is singular in that it has 5-megapixel cameras on the back and the front. Both take above-average pictures for tablet cameras and are supported by a robust camera app that makes it possible to tweak settings for better images. The high-quality front camera is a bonus not only for people who love selfies but anyone who likes to video chat.

Gaming

nvidia-shield-controller
Nvidia

As I said at the start, you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate all the great things about the Shield Tablet. But since it is designed for gamers, you’ll appreciate several features and accessories that only add to this device’s value.

First and foremost is the optional game controller ($60 at Amazon), designed to be just as comfortable and robust as an Xbox or PS4 controller. It communicates with the tablet wirelessly over Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, managing lag so minuscule you’ll never notice it when playing. All of the games available via Nvidia’s Hub work with the controller out of the virtual box; for others, a mapping app lets you use it with almost any game.

The most impressive software feature is GameStream, a technology that makes it possible to play the high-end games stored on your PC using the tablet. Currently, GameStream only works when the computer and tablet are on the same wireless network — so just in the home — and with specific hardware on the PC side (not to mention some suggested routers). That said, being able to play a game meant for a computer on a tablet is really cool. And when you’re in console mode and connected via HDMI, you can play those same games on a big-screen HDTV without having to move the computer away from your desk.

Gamers love sharing gameplay with friends (bragging rights are important), so Nvidia has built in a sharing option that allows you to record game play for sharing or streaming to gaming video site Twitch.

The only drawback for gamers is that the $299 model only includes 16GB of internal storage. There’s a microSD card slot to hold media and some app data; however, this version of Android severely restricts moving and running apps from SD cards.

Games tend to take up more space than other apps, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on available space.

A 32GB model is available, although it comes with an additional element: LTE. The extra storage and antenna make for a $100 price bump.

Good Reviews Across the Board

At release, the Shield impressed pretty much every reviewer who got their hands on one.

PCMag praised it as “one of the most powerful mobile devices available right now,” calling Nvidia’s success at fitting so much power and flexibility into an 8-inch tablet “genuinely impressive.”

CNET sums it up nicely: “Even if you don’t take advantage of its gaming prowess, the Nvidia Shield Tablet is one of the most versatile — and affordable — high-performance 8-inch Android slates you can buy.”

The Best Small Tablet: Nvidia Shield Tablet

The Shield Tablet has all the elements of a great tablet: a beautiful display, blistering performance, a light, comfortable and good-looking design and a clean interface. It adds some sweet gaming features and a surprisingly excellent stylus on top of that, all for the relatively low price of $299.

Even if you don’t care about gaming, this tablet’s closest competition is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which costs almost $100 more. While the Galaxy Tab does have a lighter design and a brilliant display, the Shield is more than competitive on both fronts. That’s why it’s my top pick.

Runner-up: ASUS Memo Pad 8

Asus Memo Pad 8The $129 ASUS Memo Pad 8 is the tablet you want if you’re looking for something under $200. It used to be that tablets in this price range were either very limited in functionality or poorly built. That’s no longer true, and the Memo Pad line in particular has exemplified how low cost can be done right.

The 8-inch IPS display has a relatively low resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, but the quality of the screen itself is quite good. No matter what angle you hold it at, the vivid colors stay true and don’t wash out or distort. The screen gets pretty bright too, although it’s a bit reflective even at 100 percent brightness.

The Memo Pad is lightweight yet feels well-built and sturdy, not cheap. It runs on a quad-core Intel Atom processor, a decently powerful and speedy CPU for an Android 4.4 device, able to handle any basic app with ease. However, the Memo Pad’s relatively small amount of RAM (1GB) means that resource-hungry apps may choke. If your needs are simple — email, browsing, a few casual games — then you won’t have problems.

Asus has created a custom UI skin to go over Android called ZenUI. While it does add some functionality and change up the operating system’s menus a bit, this skin is mostly a light touch.

The closest competition in this price range is the Amazon Fire 6 ($99 on Amazon) and Fire 7 ($139 on Amazon) as well as the ASUS Memo Pad 7 ($125 on Amazon), the 7-inch version.

The Fire 6 is the most tempting of the bunch due to its $99 price. However, Amazon’s newest tablets continue to suffer the same challenge as always: a limited Android experience. With the Fire, you can only run apps from Amazon’s store. The company has a vast library, but it’s not as deep as Google Play.

The 7-inch Memo Pad is almost identical to the larger version both inside and out, and it’s the next generation of the very impressive Memo Pad HD 7 from last year.

Unfortunately, this year’s model doesn’t have as nice a display or as good a set of cameras. Unless you really want a 7-inch tablet instead of an 8-inch one, the larger version is worth the extra money.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME How-To

Ask TIME Tech: Good Cheap Tablet for Skype?

We've got a $100 limit and a bunch of real-time video to sling back and forth. Let's go!

Question: My husband and I recently had our first child and we want to be able to Skype with my mom and dad. We (my husband and I) both have iPhones and iPads, so we looked in to FaceTime, but an iPad or iPhone for my parents seemed too expensive. They have a computer, but they don’t like using it all that much, although that could be an option in a pinch. Is there a good, inexpensive tablet we could get them, though? We’d like to keep it around $100 or less if possible.

Short answer: Get Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 6 for $99 or use their existing computer for free.

Long answer: FaceTime is great if everyone has Apple produ–I’m so sorry: Congratulations on your new baby! I just launched right into the answer like a nerdy robot. Rude. I have a child, too. He’s about to turn one. We actually have a similar problem in my family, too, with everyone on different mobile platforms.

Anyway, enough with the small talk. To get Mom and Dad on the FaceTime train, your cheapest option would be to get them an iPod Touch, which is like a phone-less iPhone. Those start at $200; iPads and iPhones go up from there.

Now, if they have a relatively new-ish Mac computer, they’re already able to FaceTime with you guys. They can downloaded FaceTime from the Mac App Store here if they don’t already have it. It’s free. And if they have just about any type of computer with a webcam, they can use Skype for free — download it here.

An easy, cheap, portable option that doesn’t tie Mom and Dad to the computer, though, would be Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet. It’s got a powerful enough processor to handle Skype video chats, sports both front- and rear-facing cameras — which is an area where cheap tablets tend to skimp by only including one camera — and has an easy-to-use interface.

The screen measures six inches diagonally, which is small for a tablet. That makes it easy to hold in one hand, but if your parents have poor eyesight or they just want to watch Junior waddle around on as big a screen as possible, this option is almost like giving them an oversized smartphone. The screen itself is sharp, though.

You didn’t mention which kinds of iPhones you and your husband have, but here’s the Amazon tablet sandwiched in between a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader on the left and an iPhone 5S on the right:

Skype Kindle Fire HD
Kindle Paperwhite e-reader (left), Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet (middle), iPhone 5S (right) Doug Aamoth / TIME

The tablet is sized like a thicker, heavier e-reader. Your parents can read books on it, too, along with doing a bunch of other stuff, so that might be a bonus. If they want to use it only for Skype, that’s perfectly fine.

Once they get the tablet, here’s a quick step-by-step for installing Skype. You can either send them to this article and have them watch this quick video or tell them what to do by stepping them through the directions after the video:

Basically, they’ll want to tap “Apps” at the top of the tablet’s main screen, then “Store” in the upper-right corner (there’s a shopping-cart icon), then “Search” in the upper-right corner, then type “Skype” and hit the magnifying glass in the lower-right corner of the keyboard.

Careful: That magnifying glass is right above another magnifying glass that searches the entire tablet. And there are two Skype apps that pop up in the search results. They’ll want to tap the second one. The first one is called “Skype WiFi” and searches for Wi-Fi hotspots. They want the second one: plain old “Skype” with the “S” logo.

They’ll need to create a Skype account, of course. They can create one here or from directly within the app when it first launches.

Good luck!

TIME Transportation

Flight Attendants Sue to Bring Back Electronic Device Ban

Two flight attendants walk in the luggag
Two flight attendants walk in the luggage claim area of the US Customs and Immigration at Dulles International Airport on Dec. 21, 2011 near Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

Want tablets and smartphones to be stowed for landing and takeoff

The nation’s largest union of flight attendants took the Federal Aviation Administration to court on Friday, arguing that the agency should have upheld a ban on the use of smartphones and tablets during takeoff and landing.

Lawyers for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA argued that the devices distracted passengers from safety instructions and could fly out of their hands, becoming dangerous projectiles, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The FAA relaxed its ban on personal devices in 2013, enabling passengers to use devices such as iPhones and Kindles at all times of the flight so long as they were switched to “airplane mode.”

“Essentially we want to set the reset button to the way personal electronic devices were handled prior to October 2013,” said attorney Amanda Duré.

Lawyers for the union argue that the FAA violated an existing regulation to stow away all luggage during takeoff and landing. The defense team argues that the regulation only applies to larger items, such as laptops, and never was intended for handheld devices.

[WSJ]

TIME Big Picture

The Force Disrupting Samsung and Other Tech Giants

Shenzhen
Shenzhen is an ultra-modern city of 14 million people located in southern China approximately 30 miles from Hong Kong. Getty Images

Over the past five years, Samsung has become one of the big tech giants, enjoying a lot of success with its smartphones and tablets. It became a dominant player in China, Korea and other parts of Asia, and became Apple’s biggest competitor in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

However, over the last two quarters, Samsung’s profits have declined substantially, with its executives recently warning that profits could be off as much as 60% in the most recent quarter. So in such a short time, how did a tech giant go from the top of the mountain to a place where it’s looking like the next BlackBerry?

The High-Tech Flea Market

This came about because of the Shenzhen ecosystem effect. Shenzhen is a large town about 30 miles north of Hong Kong and an important part of the China manufacturing area. What makes this area interesting is that it has emerged as a kind of technology parts depot that provides off-the-shelf components that can be used to create everything from smartphones, tablets, PCs or any other type of tech device, which can then be sold as no-name — or what we call white-box — products.

During my first visit to Shenzhen many years ago, I was taken to a six-story building that was affectionately called the flea market for cell phones. On every floor were dozens of vendors with glass showcases peddling cell phones and early smartphones by the hundreds. In Asia and many other parts of the world, users actually buy their cell phone of choice first and then go to a store to buy a SIM card that provides voice and data services.

In this part of China, the Shenzhen flea market was a hotbed for locals to come and buy their phones, providing all types of sizes and models to choose from. Most of the cell phones were of this white-box nature, carrying no known brand name and having been manufactured cheaply from readily available components. They were sold all over China and parts of Asia, and up until around 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, these types of phones dominated these markets.

Upstarts Aplenty

Over the last seven years, the Shenzhen ecosystem of component makers has become much more sophisticated, supplying high-quality components to vendors of all types, which are then used to make smartphones and tablets that can rival products from Apple, Samsung and anyone else making top of the line devices. And vendors from all over the world are making the trek to Shenzhen to buy these components, get them manufactured in quantity and take them back to their regions of the world to sell against established brands.

The best example of this comes from a company called Xiaomi, which didn’t even release its first smartphone until a few years ago but is now the number one smartphone provider in the region. It did this by leveraging the Shenzhen ecosystem to create well-designed smartphones. Until early 2013, Samsung was a top player in China, but big brand Lenovo jumped into the China market with smartphones and gave Samsung some serious competition. Apple also entered China in a big way. Between these three companies making aggressive moves in China, Samsung began to lose market share dramatically.

Micromax has done something similar in India, coming from nowhere to own 40% of that market today. Cherry Mobile did the same thing in the Philippines, and this similar pattern is being replicated in Brazil, South Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere – all markets that Samsung had leads in but where it’s now coming under major competitive threats.

Big Apple

Samsung has a double whammy going on here, too. One of the reasons the company has been so profitable in the mobile business is because of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 smartphones and the Galaxy Note 3 phablet. These smartphones are in the premium category and Samsung dominated the five-inches-and-up smartphone space for almost three years.

However, research is showing that Samsung benefited from a lack of a similar products from Apple, but now Apple has the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch 6 Plus. These products take direct aim at Samsung’s similar models and demand for these new iPhones has been very strong, so Samsung is impacted by this Apple move as well.

Hardware Headaches

What makes this even more problematic for Samsung is that its business model is to make money from the hardware. These white-box vendors can take these phones to their local regions and sell them pretty much at cost because they make their money on apps and local services that they provide their customers. Samsung and many of the other big vendors aside from Apple make most of their money on hardware, while Apple makes money on hardware, software and services.

When it comes to PCs, we have always had white-box products in the market. In fact, no-name white boxes represent about 40% of all PCs shipped. However, companies like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and others have had solid brands and offered things like warranties and service agreements. Even though brand-name PCs are priced much higher than white-box PCs, the big players have been able to compete around the world based on brand, distribution and customer services.

This has been especially true in the U.S., Europe and most of the developed markets. However, if you look at what’s going on with laptops now and see how products like Chromebooks and low-end laptops and desktops are dominating consumer markets, even these major vendors are being squeezed when it comes to trying to actually make money just on hardware.

We are starting to see new PC players go to the Shenzhen components market in order to create PCs to sell in their home markets. Once there, they add local apps and services while pricing these laptops and PCs almost at cost. If they gain more ground in these local markets, this could have real impact on traditional PC vendors who are still trying to compete in these markets but have to make profits from hardware alone in most cases.

For Samsung, the Shenzhen effect is a serious problem — one that will be very difficult to counter while still maintaining profitability. Even with new hardware products, Samsung’s lack of software and services for local markets will continue to make it difficult to compete with Xiaomi, Huawei and others, especially in markets like China and other parts of Asia.

Even worse for Samsung are rumors that companies like Alibaba and Tencent may jump into these markets with smartphones of their own in the next year. Both of these Chinese companies have strong local services they can tie to these smartphones, allowing them to almost give these devices away since they are assured an ongoing stream of revenue from preloaded apps and services.

The Shenzhen ecosystem will continue to be a disruptive force as hardware becomes commoditized and real money is made from apps and services. Companies just selling hardware will continue to be challenged by these upstarts, who can buy components cheaply and get them manufactured cheaply. This can leave even the big tech players hurting, as we’re seeing now with what’s happening to Samsung.

To get a better understanding of the Shenzhen ecosystem and Xiaomi in particular, check out Ben Bajarin’s short presentation on this topic.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Gadgets

Hands On: New Lenovo Tablet Sports a Built-in Projector

lenovo-tablet-line-2014
K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

Lenovo’s Yoga line has always been closely bound up with the idea of exciting innovation and cool features. After all, that first laptop/tablet hybrid got everyone’s attention with the 360 degree hinge, and since then, the design and features have just gotten better.

But when the company introduced the Yoga tablet line last year, it didn’t have quite the same level of innovation—though the kickstand integration definitely gets a checkmark for cool. That’s about to change with generation two.

Lenovo recently unveiled five new devices in the Yoga Tablet 2 line: updated 8- and 10-inch Android tablets, new 8- and 10-inch Windows tablets, and a 13-inch Android tablet with a pico projector built-in. That right there is pretty innovative.

The 13-inch Yoga Tablet 2 Pro ($499) is a media machine through and through. Design-wise, it’s similar to the other Yoga tablets: slim and lightweight with a cylindrical base where you’ll find the battery, the hinge for the stand, and, on this model, a small projector.

There have been attempts to bring Android to larger screens in the past that have had some success. And the 13-inch size makes the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro large enough to serve as a portable TV- and movie-watching machine. The display is beautiful, with wide viewing angles and a QHD resolution of 2560 x 1440; you can watch full HD content without losing a pixel. When I tested out the audio, the tablet pumped decently well-rounded sound thanks to the loud front-facing speakers and the small sub-woofer on the rear.

lenovo-yoga-tablet-2-pro
Lenovo Tablet 2 Pro K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

All of that is impressive, but not completely out of line with what we’ve seen before. The interesting bit is the pico projector housed in the cylindrical hinge. It’s capable of projecting on screens up to 50 inches at 40-50 lumens — the room doesn’t need to be totally dark to use it, but that will help the image look clearer. The projector is only capable of an 864 x 480 pixel resolution, so you won’t get HD quality. Still, the image looks great projected on the wall and the lower resolution is hardly noticeable. The Yoga Tablet Pro 2 will project anything on the screen, from the Android interface to games to websites to video.

The projector is part of where the “Pro” aspect of the name comes from. This Yoga would make a handy presentation companion for small rooms and large ones–just use the screen when folks are close and the projector when there are more people in a bigger room. You can have a lot of fun with it at home as well for parties, family movie night or group gaming. The stand is all you need to prop the tablet in the right position in most situations.

Check it out in action below:

Lenovo updated the stand design on all the Yoga Tablet 2s so that the hinge now rotates 180 degrees, giving you more available angles for sitting it upright or tilted just so for typing. When rotated out completely, it can also serve as an easy mounting solution. Each tablet has a nook in the stand so you can hang it on the wall using a nail or 3M hook–whatever will hold. That makes it a little easier to bring into the kitchen. You can hang them on a cabinet to keep them away from errant splashes.

With an Intel Atom processor inside, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot that takes up to 64GB cards, the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro has great potential as a family hub, secondary TV/movie watching device and an easily-ported entertainment center.

Lenovo’s new 8- and 10-inch Android Yoga Tablet 2s ($249 and $299, respectively) have updated specs from last year — 1920 x 1200 resolution screens, Intel Atom CPUs, 2GB of RAM, 8MP rear cameras with auto-focus, 18 hours of battery life — but are mostly unchanged on the outside and are selling for the same price. With the exception of the hinge updates, the general design is the same — and that’s for the better. Except for the side with the hinge, these tablets are quite thin. And overall, the weight is appropriate for the size. Screens look great from almost any angle and the audio is above average for tablets.

The real excitement is that you can now get these tablets with Windows 8.1 as well. The design is identical except for the color (slate black instead of silver), the specs are the same except twice as much internal storage (32GB). Both the 8- and 10-inch versions ($299 and $399, respectively) ship with a free year of Microsoft Office 365. To add to the productivity chops, Lenovo also created a keyboard cover for the 10-inch Windows model that connects via Bluetooth.

Since Windows tablets are more likely to be used for getting work done, the Yoga hinge modes are an even better fit on these. Lenovo has had some success with Windows on smaller slates, and in my short hands-on time, these performed smoothly and overall looked really good.

All of the next generation Yoga Tablet 2 devices are solidly designed and well-priced for what you get. Hopefully the experience of using them matches my first impressions. If so, any of them would make good holiday gifts.

The 8- and 10-inch Android models are available starting today on Lenovo.com. The 13-inch Yoga Tablet 2 Pro will come out in late October. The 10-inch Windows model will also be out in late October, but at Best Buy. The 8-inch model will come out in November on Lenovo.com.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Tablets

iPhone 6 Demand May Force Apple to Delay Bigger iPad

Suppliers reportedly pushing back on plans to mass-produce a larger-screen device early next year

Strong sales of Apple’s latest iPhones are reportedly leading some suppliers to push back on the tech giant’s plans to mass-produce a larger-screen tablet early next year.

Apple’s suppliers had originally planned to produce the larger iPad beginning in December, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. But the newspaper said it would be challenging for display makers to both meet the demand for the new 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus and also spend a few months ramping up production for a new larger screen iPad, which would also be a new display size that Apple hasn’t produced before.

The speculation about the timing of the new iPad comes just a day after Apple issued media invitations for a “special event” it intends to host on Oct. 16 in Cupertino, Calif. At that event, which will be a little over a month after the company’s last product launch, Apple is expected to unveil new iPads and updates to its iMacs. Some are reporting that Apple could also reveal a gold iPad.

The potential delay in the timeline of new iPad production comes as Apple has reported record-breaking early sales of its newest iPhones. The company sold over 10 million of the devices just three days after the launch in September, and is still rolling out launches to many foreign markets throughout the rest of 2014. Both of the new iPhone 6 models use larger screens than prior versions of the popular smartphone.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser