Surface vs iPad vs Galaxy vs Kindle Fire HD: Battle of the $500 tablets

Tablet pricing will be all over the map this holiday season, but when it comes right down to it you don't want a tablet that skimps on specs, or one that will bust your budget. Microsoft's $500 Surface entry keeps things interesting, offering consumers another option in what might be the tablet "sweet spot" when it comes to just the right price for a tablet.

While Android tablets are feeding at the lower end of the tablet market with $200 or lower price tags, the real battle for profits will be at the higher end, around the $500 price mark made popular by the Apple iPad. This holiday season, for $500, you’ll have more options, with different operating systems, screen sizes and specs, but which tablet will be the right one for you?

Starting at $500, the Microsoft Surface comes with 32GB of storage, compared to the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, which come with 16GB storage at their lowest price point. The advantage the Note and Surface have over the iPad though is that you can expand the storage with memory cards.

The Surface is also the biggest tablet of the bunch with a 10.6-inch display, but it does not match the sharp display of the iPad’s 264 ppi pixel density. The Surface has the lowest count in the comparison, just after the Galaxy Note, which has a lower resolution but also a slightly smaller screen.

The iPad, Surface or Note do not come with built-in 4G LTE connectivity at the $500 price point (a 4G iPad starts at $629), but if you’re looking for such connectivity at this price, then you might want to consider the Kindle Fire HD 8.9. For the price, it comes with 32GB built-in storage and 4G LTE. The screen is smaller at 8.9-inch, but its quality is only second to the iPad at 254 ppi density.

All the tablets are relatively thin, but there’s no clear winner, since the iPad and Surface come in at 0.37-inch thick, and the Note is slightly thinner at 0.35-inch. The Surface is the heaviest of the bunch, but only marginally over the iPad.

Unlike the stripped-down $200 tablets, you’d expect to get a bit more oomph for your buck when it comes to specs, and these tablets don’t disappoint. Dual-core processors are the norm, up to quad-core for the Note (Microsoft is yet to specify the clock speed of the Surface chip). Except the Kindle, you get two cameras, too, and good ones: the iPad has a 5MP shooter on the back, same as the Note, which tops it up with an LED flash, not usually found on tablets. Microsoft said the Surface cameras would be capable of 720p HD video, but didn’t give a megapixel count.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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