By some estimates, as many as 7 million Australians currently use a tablet. But the real question is: what shiny new tablet will you be playing games on next year? Let's look at the tech side of things -- the known and rumoured details of upcoming graphics chips, high res displays and OS updates -- that will drive tablets in 2014.
When Tom Clancy's The Division arrives in 2014, a tablet-holding player will be able to tag enemies to highlight them on the other players’ HUDs, issue buffs to make teammates stronger and even fire missles down on enemy soldiers. Watch Dogs will also have its own companion app. Microsoft's Smartglass app lets you control your Xbox in fancy new ways. And accessories like the Wikipad and Moga are giving tablet owners the option of restoring our dual analogs and D-Pads. It's good times ahead for mobile gaming, particularly tablets and larger screen phones that can pack in the power of the latest processors.
And as I mentioned, this article focuses on the tech side of things. So let's jump in!
The Razer Edge Pro gaming tablet was one of the most interesting products to arrive in 2013. It's no longer the most powerful Windows tablet around (see Kotaku's review), but hey, it can play Crysis. The good news: Razer will very likely showcase an update at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, hopefully powered by some of the new processors described further down in this article.
The Nexus 7 2013-edition is unstoppably good and with the 32GB 4G model now in Australia, just won Gizmodo Australia's readers choice as the best tablet of the year. Kotaku's Mark Serrels also wields a Nexus 7.
So what about the 10-inch Nexus? Well first, see Mark's in-depth analysis in the video on the right.
A refresh of the 10-inch, Samsung-made Nexus 10 is next for Google in 2014 -- here are some leaked photos of the new LG-made model. We’re expecting (hoping for?) Android 4.4 KitKat, a super high-resolution display, Tegra 4, and a quad-core processor.
It's also possible that we'll see a Google ChromeOS-based tablet in 2014.
So the iPad mini with Retina Display turned out to be a pretty sweet tablet (read our full review). However, according to tests by Dr. Raymond M. Soneira from Displaymate -- the iPad mini with retina display still comes in behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7 because it still has the same small 63 per cent colour gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2.
What comes next? It's Apple we're talking about here, so who knows. Will we see a larger iPad refresh in February? Or perhaps the yearly cycle is now firmly moved to October.
Asus thew a slew of tablets into the back half of 2013, including the Transformer Pad TF710T, its latest and fastest Android tablet.
Running on a Tegra 4 processor with a quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU 1.9GHz with 2GB of RAM and a 2560 x 1600 pixel IGZO-TFT display, the Transformer Pad TF710T will, so Asus claims, run for 17 hours when docked. The mobile dock isn’t just key to its battery power, which otherwise is claimed at 13 hours, but also adds USB 3.0 and SDXC ports.
Also hugely interesting is the new Transformer Book Trio, a dual processor device that stakes its claim to tablet, notebook, and desktop territory. The 11-incher packs an Atom processor behind the glass to run Android 4.2.2 as a tablet with 64GB of flash storage. Then, when you plug it into the keyboard dock, you’ll be treated to a Windows 8, a 4th generation Core i7-4500U, 1TB of hard drive space, and a larger battery.
Lets also not forget about the Asus 10.1-inch Transformer Book T100 and 11.6- and 13.3-inch Taichi convertibles, 6-inch Fonepad Note FHD, 7-inch Fonepad and the Padfone 2. The latter is a 4.7-inch Android phone that docks into a 10.1-inch tablet.
It's likely we'll see more tablets from Asus early in 2014. Our guess: a new PadFone mini tablet, 5-inch MeMoFone, and maybe something running ChromeOS.
Samsung isn't afraid to throw a bunch of different tablet sizes at the wall, with different form factors ranging right up to a rumoured 12.2-inch monster tablet. The enormous tablet has appeared within the Bluetooth SIG database, where it’s known as the Samsung Mobile Tablet (SM-P901). The P900 series has previously been mentioned by internet leak god EVLeaks, who suggested the model range features a huge 12.2-inch tablet running on Samsung’s eight-core Exynos 5 chipset, with the S Pen stylus and a 2560×1600 resolution display. Now it’s been through the Bluetooth certification process, all that’s left is for Samsung to tell us about it and get it into the shops so we can marvel at its enormous madness.
That one's just a rumour at this point, however. As is Samsung allegedly working on introducing AMOLED screens to its 8- and 10-inch tablet lines.
In the meantime, we have the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014. Announced at Samsung's Unpacked IFA press conference, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 2014 model ditches cheap plastic in favour of premium leather and stitching, along with more grunt than ever before.
Samsung is interested in more than just the simple slate tablet, however. The new ATIV series was announced this year, including the ATIV Tab 3. The Tab 3 has a 10.1-inch screen, and runs, of course, Windows 8. At 8.12mm thick, it is, “the world’s thinnest Windows 8 tablet,” and it weighs only 544 grams. It also boasts a 10 hour battery life, which is rather sweet. The other big feature, Samsung’s S Pen Stylus. The refresh of the ATIV model to make it look quite a lot like the old Galaxy Note 10.1. Actually, it’s exactly like it, except for the fact that it comes with Windows 8 rather than Android.
Joining the Tab 3 is the weirdly beautiful ATIV Q: a frankendevice that bends in weird ways to help you get stuff done. It has a keyboard that is connected by a rather versatile hinge. It can fold all the way flat against the back so you can use it as a straight up tablet, you can use it as a normal laptop, you can type with having the screen magically floating above your fingers, or you can use it as a stand.
But why is it a double-hybrid? Because it runs Windows 8 AND Android. I guess that’s one way to solve the lack of good tablet apps in the Windows 8 ecosystem. The tablet can switch back and forth between modes, and while it won’t share settings or apps, at least you can share files and folders back and forth. It will be running a full version of Windows 8 (not RT) and Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) with the Google Play Store and all.
Switching back and forth between operating systems looks lighting fast. Just the press of a single button. No booting or anything. It looked extremely seamless. You can also add Android apps to the Windows 8 homescreen for quick access, which is handy.
The other highlight on the ATIV Q is the touchscreen. It’s at 13.3 inch gHD+ display, which comes in at 3200 x 1800 pixels. At 275 pixels per inch that bests even the screen on the Google Pixel (239 PPI). Samsung claims that it’s “the world’s highest resolution display,” has a 170-degree viewing angle, and is clearly viewable in bright sunlight. Very impressive looking.
Meanwhile in frankendevice-land, Samsung is harnessing next-generation chip technology to power its slates. Expect Intel hardware to make its way back into the line-up at some point.
The Surface 2 Pro is representative of the hybrid tablet-laptop future that we want. Not only is it still freaking gorgeous to look at, it’s running a fully featured operating system, packing in amazing accessories and ports for you to expand your experience. It’s expandable, lap-able, adorable and enviable, and we love it.
We may as well place Nokia under under the Microsoft umbrella after Redmond's purchase of Nokia’s phone business (expected to be finalised early 2014). Incidentally, that only includes a 10-year license to use the Nokia brand in relation to phones. Nokia will continue to operate its other businesses, including mapping and network equipment.
The new Surfaces are so new, it's hard to predict what we may see for the Surface 3. We have, however, seen signs of a potential 8-inch Nokia Lumia 2020 tablet for 2014.
The Xperia Tablet Z is Sony’s current flagship slate tablet, and there’s a 4G model. It also has 11- and 13-inch Duo sliders with Haswell chips. And only just launched: The sleek aluminium-finished Sony Vaio Fit with a ‘multi-flip’ screen that switches between laptop and fold down tablet. The Fit also has a third ‘viewing mode’ that flips the screen onto the back, Asus Taichi-style.
Along with its new ‘Venue’ line of tablets -- including its Surface Pro rival, the Venue 11 Pro -- Dell has just introduced another hybrid Ultrabook in its XPS range. Unlike the XPS 12 Duo’s weird back-flipping hinge, this 11.6-incher uses a more common rotating/flip-over screen to go from laptop to tablet.
Like Dell, HP has a few more tablets available overseas than Australia. Still, in the detachable notebook space we get the 13.3-inch Split x2 (Windows 8), the older ENVY x2 (Windows 8), and the SlateBook x2 with Android and Tegra 4. HP also has a swivelling screen EliteBook Revolve 810, and its Windows 8 ElitePad slate. Again like Dell, HP should directly benefit from Microsoft ending technical support for Windows XP in April 2014, triggering a rise in companies replacing laptops.
Acer’s Windows 8 tablet family is even larger. Choices include the 8-inch Iconia W3, 10.1-inch Iconia W5 (with detachable keyboard), 11.6-inch Aspire P3 (with sliding keyboard/screen cover or keyboard desktop dock) and the 11.6-inch Iconia W700 with sliding keyboard cover. If size matters to you, Acer will also soon launch its mammoth 15-inch Aspire R7 laptop that converts into a tablet.
What’s next? More of everything, apparently. Stay tuned for CES and Computex announcements as Acer pushes to out engineer its Taiwanese rival, Asus.
Also Look out For...
We’re also excited for some of the lesser known tablet development taking place. From Nvidia’s own $US199 7-inch Tegra Note to Wacom’s self-contained Cintiq Companion tablet/stylus to experimental tablet stylus from none other than Adobe.
Screen tech continues to improve, with manufacturers packing more and more detail into each and every square inch. First there was Apple’s Retina display, and moving forward we’re likely to see more super high-definition panels than ever before. And the pixel-per-inch ratio continues to improve.
Your tablet’s screen will also be increasingly more resilient to bumps and scratches. A range of current tablets – Including the Nexus 7 2013 -- use Gorilla Glass for screen protection. But corning has an upcoming version of its ultra-tough glass called Gorilla Glass NBT, designed specifically for touchscreen tablets and notebooks. The benefit: more scratch resistance and less scratch visibility.
Shapes And Sizes
As we mentioned in our look into next year’s laptops, it’s only going to get harder to draw the line between notebooks and tablets.
Sony, LG, Acer, Lenovo and MSI now have their own ‘slider’ style convertibles. Many big names, including Asus and HP, also use both detachable and swivelling designs. Plus: Microsoft and Dell have tablets with Surface-style cover keyboards. Most unique, however, are the Asus Taichi, Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga and Lenovo Helix (with second screen on the lid) and the back-flipping display of Dell’s XPS 12 Duo. The Sony Vaio Fit (above) also combines several of these mechanisms.
And with smartphones only getting bigger and tablets getting smaller, where do ‘phablets’ end and slate-style tablets begin? 2014 will blur the definition and present lots of choice.
We're also hearing that Intel is set to push entry-level ($99-$199) 7-inch Bay Trail Android tablets really aggressively in 2014.
Faster Processors, Better Graphics
Intel’s 22nm Bay Trail (‘Silvermont’) processors -- officially the Atom Z3770 line -- represent its latest and greatest system-on-a-chip (SoC) designed for specifically for tablets and longer battery life. Competing directly with ARM-based chips from Qualcomm (Snapdragon) and Nvidia (Tegra), these cost-effective quad-core processors are already arriving inside Android and Windows 8.1-based hybrids / tablets with force this Christmas.
According to Taiwanese tech newspaper, DigiTimes, 2014 will see Intel succeed its Silvermont series with the 14nm “Cherry Trail” family in time for Computex in June -- followed by its 14nm “Willow Trail” line (using Goldmont architecture) in the fourth quarter of the year. However, Intel hasn’t publicly confirmed its road map for next year. We do know that Bay Trail will help upcoming 2-in-1 detachable and hybrids come closer to regular laptop performance. And on the cheaper side, the chips also support sub $US200 fanless tablets.
Arm’s latest and greatest Cortex A53 and A57 chipset designs for phones and tablets are coming in 2014. Designed for single core or multi-core configurations, the products made from these designs will be the first mobile chipsets to support 64-bit processing. This puts ARM in a prime strategic spot as tablet devices are popping up with the intention of replacing a laptop. Apple, Texas Instruments, Nvidia, Samsung, and plenty of other companies use ARM’s reference designs for their own CPUs.
Samsung is likely to debut 64-bit chips in its phones come-2014, after the debut of the 64-bit A7 chip from Apple landed inside the iPhone 5s this year. Soon after the Cupertino-launch, Samsung promised it was also working on 64-bit devices. Separately — and only after some back and forth — it’s also likely Samsung will make Apple’s A8 chips for 2014.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanichh has also said we should expect the first Windows 8.1 tablets with 64-bit Bay Trail processors in by March 2014.
Finally we have AMD. In September, the company officially launched its 2013 Elite Mobility processor line (code-named Temash) touted as “the world’s first quad-core x86 system-on-a-chip designed for tablet and hybrid PCs. AMD has even built its own reference/concept tablet. Codenamed “Project Discovery”, the units will be demoed at CES in January, in a bid to show manufacturers what can be done with AMD’s new low-power Mullins APU.
Windows 8 And Android
It’s possible we’ll see the next major versions of Windows and Android previewed at big mid-2014 developer events in the US, like Google I/O and Microsoft Build. You just never know.
Windows 8.1 lets you boot to the desktop. The start button returns (but only) to jump you to the start screen. There are smaller tiles and you can group them. DPI scaling is improved. You’re able to keep the start screened pinned to one monitor and use new gestures. Search has been also overhauled. And Microsoft now requires certified Windows 8.1 laptops to include a 720p webcam, higher quality speakers and microphones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
It looks like Microsoft is also sticking it out with Windows RT for ARM-powered tablets. Hopefully that means a fully-touch optimised version of Office is still in the pipeline.
Just to keep us guessing, some pundits are also suggesting that Windows Phone 8.1 might introduce support for 7-inch and 10-inch devices; technically at least.
For Windows 9 (or whatever the next release gets named), 2014 could see Microsoft merge the Windows / Windows Phone app stores, support Kinect-like gestures aided by the cameras discussed above, deeply integrate the Xbox One experience, and introduce ‘Fast Access Login’ using face plus voice, the latter in partnership with Intel. Microsoft is also said to be building a Siri-like personal assistant named Cortana after the artificially intelligent character in Halo. On that front, Android already has Google Now.
The global release of the new Nexus 5 also makes the official debut of KitKat, the latest version of Android. KitKat features improved "OK Google" integration, universal search, less memory usage and much more.
As for Android 5.0 Lassi or Lemon Meringue Pie -- or whatever sweet treat gets the nod -- it’s simply too far out at the moment. One obvious possibility: a milestone Android release with a milestone product in the form of Google Glass next year.
Keep An Eye On...
More Dual Operating Systems: What’s really cool is that some brands like Samsung (ATIV Q) and Asus continue to experiment with dual Android/Windows machines. We now have the Asus Transformer Book Trio in Australia.
Asus has also been mixing Android and Windows in the same device with its bizarre but intriguing 18.5-inch Transformer All-in-One touchscreen desktop.
Category 4 LTE Tablets: Category 4 refers to a specific speed profile on an LTE network that allows devices to pull down a theoretical maximum speed of 150Mbps. Category 3 devices are only capable of 4G speeds up to 100Mbps, but a Category 4 device charges that right up to 150Mbps down. Vodafone currently has Category 4 coverage enabled in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, unlike Telstra which only has Cat 4 in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.
That’s why Vodafone is now selling the Huawei MediaPad 10 Link 4G tablet: a Category 4-capable 10-inch tablet packing a quad-core 1.5GHz processor a 1280×800 pixels (149 ppi) screen and 8GB of storage, expandable up to 32GB via a microSD card. Keep an eye out for more Cat 4 phones and tablets in 2014.
Eye Tracking Gestures: Intel is really pushing motion-tracking for laptops at tablets. At IDF in September, the chip giant demonstrated Kinect/LEAP Motion-style motion tracking camera that will be integrated into Intel-powered portables from the first half of 2014. Check out Gizmodo’s hands-on from Computex.
Fingerprint Tech: Apple wasn’t the first to introduce biometric sensors on a phone. But now that it has, others will follow – and that could extend to tablets. According to some rumours, the 6-inch HTC One Max could be next.