Tablets & e-book readers

Apple and Amazon get company at the top of our latest Ratings

Last reviewed: September 2011
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (left), Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch (center) and Nook Color (right)
Contenders
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, left, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch and Nook Color are fine choices.

A mere six months ago, choosing the best tablet computer and e-book reader was as simple as knowing two model names: iPad and Kindle. At that time, the competitors to Apple's tablet were mostly cheap and unimpressive, and each edition of Amazon's e-book reader set a new benchmark for performance and portability.

A different—and improved—picture emerges from our latest Ratings of tablets and readers (both available to subscribers). The iPad and Kindle still have high scores, and far more apps exist for the iPad than for its competitors. But some challengers match or even beat those market leaders on performance, price, size, and weight. Specifically:

  • The Galaxy Tab 10.1, a new 10-inch tablet from Samsung, almost matches the iPad and iPad 2 in screen quality. It's slightly lighter than the iPad 2, and like all Android-based tablets, it supports the Flash videos used by many websites.
  • A new version of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-book reader, the Simple Touch, is the first competitor to outscore the Kindle in our Ratings (available to subscribers). Both have black-and-white screens, but unlike the Kindle, the Simple Touch has touch-screen navigation, and it weighs a bit less. It also lets you borrow e-books from your public library, which is a feature the Kindle isn't expected to have until later this year.
  • Other strong entries continue to arrive on the market. They include an e-book reader that arrived too late to be included in our Ratings (available to subscribers) but performed well in preliminary evaluations: the Kobo eReader Touch, sold at Borders.
  • A few devices, sometimes dubbed "tablet readers," offer a promising combination of tablet and e-reader traits. Those hybrids place a heavy focus on reading but add some tabletlike features, notably a color screen and access to a selection of apps. The prime example is Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, the best color e-book reader we've tested. It costs $250, which is less than tablets in the same 7-inch screen size from major brands.