Recommended Tablets for Android Development

Last week, I discussed the different handsets that I recommended for Android development. Today, I want to recommend tablets for Android development.

Why tablets?

Tablets are a big growth market currently. The iPad is the current king of the hill, with a roughly 60% marketshare. Android tablets make up most of the rest. Microsoft is coming out with its own tablets as well.

From a user’s perspective, tablets are the more leisurely counterpart to the phone. You use a phone while you are out and about, traveling, waiting in line, etc. You probably use a computer while you’re at work. But at home, if you can afford it, you can relax with a bigger screen on your couch in the form of a tablet. Some people call this the lean-back experience.

Android has a wider variety than the iPad

Currently, the iPad has a 9.7” screen and there may be a smaller brother coming soon, AKA the iPad Mini. However, the Android world currently defines everything 5” and larger as a tablet. The largest Android tablet that I know if is the 13” Toshiba Excite 13. We may see even larger ones in the future – imagine a newspaper-thin Android tablet that imitated a real newspaper. So keep in mind that because of the potentially infinite variety of sizes of Android tablets, that you will need to have responsive design in your apps.

5 inch is a tablet?

I actually don’t consider 5” devices to be a tablet. The current winner in this category is the Galaxy Note. It was reporting itself as a large screen when it debuted, but when it got the Ice Cream Sandwich update, it started reporting itself as a normal sized screen. There will be more entries here, but I think most users want a larger phone experience here, since there isn’t really that much more room than the latest 4.5”+ phones. I fully expect more 5” handsets in the future.

The two main sizes: 7” and 10”

Although there are an infinite variety of possibilities, there are actually 2 sizes that users have come to love: 7” tablets and 10” tablets. I’ll spend the rest of this review talking about 7” tablets since that market is better defined. There is also a dark horse size: 8.9”/9” represented by the Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD+, which may be important in the future.

7” Tablet: Runner-ups

The most important 7” runner-up is the Kindle Fire HD. Amazon is in a unique position due to its online retail dominance, its media catalog and that it has directly challenged both Google and Apple with its own Amazon Appstore. If you want to sell your app in the Amazon Appstore, then you will probably want to get this tablet as well as the Nexus 7, since it has unique capabilities and also a different “skin” that you’ll want to test against and optimize your app for. Note the latest Kindle Fire HD runs on an ICS variant (4.0), while the original Kindle Fire ran on Gingerbread (2.3).

Next up is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7”. This is starting to show its age already, but is a good tablet if you want to do pure ICS (4.0) testing, with the TouchWiz skin.

Soon there will also be the Nook HD, running on an ICS variant (4.0), which will have the best display of the bunch. Barnes and Noble has its own Nook Apps store, so if you are targeting that store, you’ll want to get a Nook as well.

Note that all these tablets are retailing for $199 currently. The Tab 2 was $249, but seems to have dropped in price to remain competitive with its rivals.

7” Tablet Winner: Nexus 7

The tablet to get right now is the (Asus) Nexus 7, which is manufactured by Asus but marketed and sold by Google. It is a pure Google Experience device, meaning there are no manufacturer skins. It is has a quad-core processor so it is fast. It runs the latest, Jelly Bean (4.1), so it is smooth like butter. Since it is a Nexus device, you can create custom ROMs for it, flash it back to a factory ROM if you need to reset it, and it will get OS updates faster than any other tablet. Probably the only downside is that there is no microSD slot nor a rear facing camera, but I think Google wanted to make it sleek and inexpensive.

You can buy a Nexus 7 for only $199 direct from Google at the Google Play Store. I bought mine at Staples, where it has limited availability. You only need to get the lowest one, which is currently the 8GB, with a rumored bump to 16GB in a week for the same price. Since it is a development device, you probably don’t need to store too much on there and most of the media apps are cloud-based, there’s not as big a need for storage.

Note that the Nexus 7 is an interesting device also for developing Google TV apps, since it uses TVDPI (TV density) and has the same width as a 720P TV, with only 80 pixels more in height. More on that in the future.

Speaking of the future, we may be seeing a Nexus 10 at the October 29th event by Google. I certainly hope so and will pre-order one if it becomes available. I will probably hold off on doing 10 inch tablet recommendations until after that event. In the meantime, if you need a 10 inch Android tablet right now, I would point you towards the Asus Transformer Infinity 700, which is the top of the line at around $500. If you want to save some money, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 is a good bet and retails for less than $400.