Top Five Tablets For Uni

So you don’t want a nerdy laptop for university? That’s cool. We’ve got you covered. Check out these awesome tablets for back to school that won’t break your student budget.

iPad Air

If you’ve ever been put off owning a big tablet for university because of the size, the iPad Air goes a long way to circumventing your concerns. It’s lighter and easier to wield than ever, but still gives you the bright and beautiful 9.7-inch screen for reading and watching content that defines this product family.

You can now finally compare the iPad mini and iPad Air against each other on weight which is a huge achievement for the designers at Cupertino.

There’s never been a better time to consider a big new tablet in your life with the iPad Air. It surpasses its competitors and even blows its predecessors out of the water.

This thing is insanely light and thin for a 9.7-inch tablet. It appears that Apple set out on a mission to make sure that this thing wouldn’t referred to as “the big iPad” ever again. It looks a lot like the iPad Mini these days, what with its chamfered edges, matte finish and thin bezel, and we rather like that.

We decided to check out just how thin the unit was, and placed it next to the First-Generation iPad Mini and the new iPhone 5s and found that it’s roughly 1mm thinner than the iPhone, but about the same thicker than the iPad Mini. Regardless, that’s super-impressive, and means you won’t see it hog any of your all-important messenger bag space.

iBooks Author — Apple’s university book publishing push — has also been out on the market for some time now, which means that all the big players are now publishing their text books on the iBooks store for you to buy and love forever (or at least until you pass that course).

Plus, the App Store has loads of incredible note taking apps for you to choose from.

Nexus 7

The first Nexus 7 was good for university and school study. The new Nexus 7 is hands-down great if you’re an Android-lover.

The 2013 Nexus 7 is the follow-up to the wildly successful small Nexus tablet from last year.

This new Nexus 7, still built by Asus, is packing a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage all compactly living underneath a 7-inch 1920×1200 screen at 323 ppi protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. For the first time too, the Nexus 7 is packing a rear-facing camera which clocks in at 5-megapixels. That compliments the existing 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera meant for video calls and Google+ Hangouts with that tutorial group you’re doing a joint-assignment with.

This thing is as good as a Nexus has ever been. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s undistilled Google-goodness in seven beautiful inches that you can slip into your pocket when you’re done and be off with. It’s the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a perfect gadget.

The design has been modernised to make it look like next-gen hardware with Google and Asus ditching the rippled back design in favour of an embossed NEXUS logo, which is way better. Also, it’s thinner and more narrow than ever, making it look like exactly what it is: a really portable mini-tablet.

That thinness doesn’t cost anything, however: we still have great internal hardware, as much storage as we ever had and a screen that makes the competition look weak.

The battery is great and will last you for days with medium-use in classes (note-taking and the like), and the speakers are loud enough to keep you and a friend entertained with whatever you’re listening to. Don’t go listening to it in a very crowded environment, however: that’s where you’ll need your headphones.

If you’re in the market for a smaller Android tablet, you absolutely can’t go past the 2013 Nexus 7. It’s the perfect example of how the best gets better.

Surface Pro 2

This is it. The big one. The first tablet that we’ve ever thought could genuinely replace a laptop in terms of functionality. The only problem is that you’ll definitely pay for the power.

The Surface Pro 2 is the follow-up to the original Surface Pro, packing better hardware and a better experience with Windows 8.1.

On the outside, it’s pretty much the same as last time: same heat sink fan panel on the rear, same jet black design, same thick bezel, same port configuration. Hell, it even weighs exactly the same. The only real difference comes from the extra angle added to the kickstand to make it more lap-able.

The real changes are concealed under the hood, and they’re designed to push the Surface Pro 2 even deeper into laptop-tablet hybrid territory.

The new Surface Pro 2 is running the new Intel Fourth-Generation Core “Haswell” chips. It’s an Intel Core i5-4200U under the hood to be exact, clocked at 1.6GHz with the capability to boost up to 2.3GHz if needs be, while also packing 4GB of RAM. The new Haswell chips means Microsoft is able to claim a 75 per cent battery improvement over the last model, dragging the overall usage time up to around 7 hours.

Customisability at build has also become a priority, with storage variants now ranging up to 256GB and 512GB solid-state options with 8GB of RAM apiece. That’s some seriously impressive hardware, and it’s doubtful you’d be wanting for much more in a mobile computing solution anytime soon. Don’t worry if you can’t afford a massive physical storage variant, however: both Surface 2 models will have microSD expansion slots and 200GB of free Skydrive storage for two years.

Surface Pro 2 starts at $1019 for the 64GB version, which is actually $20 more than the launch price of the original Surface Pro back in May. The 128GB Surface Pro 2 is priced at $1129, the 256GB model is priced at $1469, and the 512GB version is priced at $2039.

When you’re studying, you need to be versatile, and that’s what the Surface Pro 2 is with its slew of accessories. They allow you to expand on your experience almost endlessly. That’s really the whole point of an operating system like Windows 8.1 paired with this sort of device: make the base device small and portable for the majority of people who want that sort of thing, while also adding the ability to expand on the experience for others with clip-on keyboards, expandable display ports, USB 3.0 ports and even a whole desktop dock for office-bound folks. It’s perfect. It’s a true all-in-one for your university experience.

We also have to give Microsoft props for allowing people to customise their Surface Pro 2 before they buy it. No two people compute exactly the same, especially with a device that can be used for just about anything, so allowing users to choose more built-in memory, more RAM or even just different accessories is really important.

The addition of the new USB 3.0 port is also welcomed. You forget just how important a decent I/O is to a tablet, and it’s something that manufacturers like Apple and even Samsung have been missing from their tablets for a long time. Microsoft is even edging out OEM competitors like Toshiba and Asus by sticking a fast, full-sized USB port on the actual device itself.

The bottom line? This thing isn’t just a paltry consumption device, it’s a hybrid tablet workhorse dressed to impress and specced to the nines.

Buy this if you don’t want to own both a tablet and a laptop.

Toshiba Encore

Small Windows tablets are awesome in theory, but the ones we have seen so far haven’t been anything to write home about. Thankfully, Toshiba has a new 8-inch Encore tablet, running Windows 8.1. We’ve been hands-on, and it’s pretty rad.

The Toshiba Encore 8-inch tablet is powered by the new Intel Bay Trail chipset in the form of a 1.3GHz quad-core Atom chip, alongside 2GB of RAM for all your Windows 8.1 processing needs.

The tablet comes in both 32GB and 64GB varieties, and it’s also packing other cool hardware features like 802.11ac Wi-Fi, micro-HDMI out with the ability to drive a 1080p external monitor, a mini-USB out for driving accessories like storage, networking or external VGA displays, a microSD card slot to expand the memory a further 32GB and a battery that will last you 10 hours.

It shouldn’t be a feature worth highlighting, but Toshiba is proud of the fact that the tablet can now boot from standby within 300 milliseconds, “like an Android or iOS tablet”. Perhaps the fact that this needs to be highlighted tells us what was wrong with Windows tablets before 8.1: slow and drab. Not anymore, hopefully.

The Encore comes with a pre-loaded copy of Office Home and Student edition for all your uni productivity needs, and for the first month you own it, you’ll get access to an exclusive offer that lets you Skype any number on the planet for free. Toshiba is saying that this is the first tablet truly optimised for Skype, thanks to gear like the new dual-microphones which can accurately pinpoint the sweet spot of someone talking in order to drown out all the noise in the background. Think of it like a focal point on a camera lens: the subject is in focus while the background is blurred. It’s like that, but with sound.

The new Toshiba Encore tablet will be available in Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and Dick Smith stores from November, with the 32GB variant coming in at $399, with the 64GB version costing $469.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Amazon has never really cared much for Australia, but that’s all changing these days. Take the new Kindle Fire HDX for example. It’s the first one to land in Australia without the aid of third-party shipping services or dodgy middlemen, and it’s amazing.

This thing packs power like you read about. It’s an 8.9-inch tablet with a beautiful 2560×1600 pixel panel with an incredible 339 pixels per inch. It weighs in at a shockingly light 374 grams, measuring just 7.8 millimetres at its thickest point. It’s running Amazon’s Fire OS 3.0; an operating system that essentially started its life as a fork of Android.

Under the hood, you’ll find a whopping quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and your choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage.

Other bells and whistles include Dolby Digital Plus sound enhancement, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and Amazon’s optimised Silk browser.

The real stand-out feature is the amazing screen, which makes reading digital textbooks a joyous experience.

Amazon actually calls it the Kindle HDX because it’s meant to go “beyond HD”. Kind of gimmicky, but also startlingly accurate. The screen has an incredible 2560×1600 resolution with 339 pixels per inch. To put that in perspective, the iPad Air packs in a resolution of 1536×2048 and 264 pixels per inch, while the 2013 Nexus 7packs in a 1200×1920 display with 323 pixels per inch. The only display to really match the HDX we’ve seen is the unfathomably good Nexus 10 made by Samsung, which also has a 2560×1600 display and a pixel density of 299 pixels per inch, merely by virtue of having a 10.1-inch screen rather than a smaller, denser, 8.9-inch panel. It’s seriously impressive work from Amazon, especially considering how much that panel must cost to manufacture versus the relatively paltry price it’s selling it for.

Plus the Kindle App itself is Amazon’s bread and butter, which means you’ll only need to carry one device for all your readings, rather than a bag full of paper. It won’t break your back either.

Apple has spent the remainder of this year and will spend most of next year telling you how light the new iPad is, but the Kindle Fire will beat it in a weigh-in every day of the week.

For some perspective, the iPad Air weighs 469 grams, and it’s Apple’s lightest tablet ever. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, however, weighs just 374 grams. That’s not something that sounds terribly impressive on paper, but the difference is stark when you hold both tablets. Now, I know that the iPad Air is almost an inch bigger than the 8.9-inch HDX, but Amazon has still managed quite a design coup here, and they certainly know it.

The Fire HDX 8.9 will set you back $479.

What’s your favourite tablet for work or university? Let us know in the comments?

Top image via Shutterstock

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