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Processor Speed and Touchscreen Performance

Android tablet reviews indicate that two elements in particular separate a good tablet from a mediocre one: the processing speed and the screen. Reviews note that the CPU does more to affect performance than any other single component.

Fast processing speed allows apps to open quickly and run smoothly and to zoom in on a photo or swipe to a new page with little, if any, lag. A high-quality tablet screen is essential for good-looking images and text and for interacting with the device. Most tablets today have high-definition screens, so in general videos and photos appear crisp and clear.

Tablet Speed.

In Android tablet reviews, experts say the budget devices on our list deliver sufficient to very good speed. Google has upgraded the new Nexus 7 (starting at $229) to a nimbler 1.5GHz chipset for 2013, and the original 1.2GHz quad-core processor was already fast, according to reviews. An expert from Engadget described the 2012 Nexus 7 (starting at $199) as quick and snappy, and a reviewer from PC World reported that it "excelled" in performance tests. The Amazon Kindle Fire ($174 without ads; $159 with ads) also contains a 1.2GHz CPU, but of the dual-core variety. Reviews say the Kindle Fire tends to lag when opening apps and an expert Android tablet review at PC Mag concludes that its performance is not quite on par with the newest crop of budget tablets -- a point that's also made about the Kindle Fire HD (starting at $214 without ads; $199 with ads).

The Barnes & Noble Nook HD (starting at $129) runs on a 1.3GHz dual-core processor and a review at CNET asserts that its processing muscle shines while playing games. A 1GHz dual-core CPU graces the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (starting at $199), resulting in performance that Laptop Magazine asserts is slower than competing models. Still, reviews contend the Galaxy Tab 2's performance is decent even though the CPU is hardly a speed demon.

Somewhat mixed assessments of tablet speed attach to the Acer Iconia A110 (starting at $200) and Coby Kyros MID9742 (starting at $160). The quad-core 1.2GHz CPU guts of the Iconia A110 should be pretty quick, and reviews generally say its performance shows no lags, but in testing Computer Shopper found it a tad slow compared to others in its class. Inside the Kyros MID9742 is a 1GHz single-core CPU that isn't always up to the task. Posts at Amazon say this model has a tendency to lag and applications sometimes crash. Similarly disappointing results were recorded by an expert Android tablet reviewer at PC Mag.

Tablet Screens.

A high-quality tablet screen is essential for the best user experience, be it movie watching, photo viewing, online surfing, or text reading. Generally, the higher the tablet screen resolution, the better the display will look.

Among the tablets we researched, the new Nexus 7 boasts by far the highest resolution, at 1920x1200 -- good enough for 1080p HD video. At Ars Technica, closeup images show how sharply the tablet renders text relative to a certain pricey competitor, as well as its 1280x800 predecessor. Reviewers also pay tribute to the 1440x900 display on the Nook HD. An expert from Slashgear says video looks "awesome" on this tablet screen and goes on to commend the all-around vibrant and crisp display and wider-than-average viewing angles. A review by CNET declares that the Nook HD delivers excellent clarity for both text and HD movies.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Kindle Fire, and Acer Iconia A110 all feature a resolution of 1024x600. An Android tablet review at Laptop Magazine says the screen on the Galaxy Tab shows nice contrast in video but displays some fuzziness around text. A CNET review concludes that the Kindle Fire's display is OK but bested by both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD (no surprise, there). At PC Mag, an expert pans the Acer Iconia A110 tablet screen for its muted colors and poor viewing angles. The display also fails to impress a reviewer at Computer Shopper who notes that it lacks the clarity and detail of competing, higher resolution tablet screens.

Review continues below

In reviews of the Coby Kyros MID9742 by PC Mag and Computer Shopper, experts complain about the tablet screen's 4:3 aspect ratio. Most tablet screens use the familiar wide 16:9 aspect ratio, which is ideal for widescreen video such as HD movies. The 4:3 aspect ratio on the Coby Kyros MID9742 means you'll see space-wasting sidebars on the top and bottom of the screen while watching widescreen video. Reviewers are also lukewarm about the display's 1024x768 resolution.

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