Business tablet shootout

None of the products were perfect, but in our testing, the Toshiba Excite 10 came out on top.

tablets

Finding the right business tablet can be a daunting task. Do you want a 7-inch display or a 10-inch? Built-in keyboard? Snap-on keyboard? Which operating system? What apps? How about ruggedness, style, battery life, price? We tested five business tablets, or four business tablets and the iPad Mini. Prices ranged from $429 for the iPad Mini to $2,000 for the ruggedized GammaTech. Each device had a different operating system, and a different app ecosystem. None of the products were perfect, but in our testing, the Toshiba Excite 10 came out on top.

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Toshiba Excite: Specs

Toshiba Excite: Specs

You’ll be excited by this $530 tablet which features a 10.1-inch screen with 1280X800 pixels, weighs only 1.1 pounds, runs Android 3.2, and is good for 8 hours of battery life in our testing, in which we ran video continuously until the machine died.

Toshiba Excite: Pros and Cons

Toshiba Excite: Pros and Cons

The Excite edges the competition because it draws upon the Android Market, Google Play and Amazon Store, which are rife with myriad business focused applications. Our major complaint with the Excite 10 was that it uses a proprietary charger connector that's huge, and doesn't give tactile feedback about its correct polarity position. The Excite 10 came preloaded with production apps such as QuickOffice Lite HD, LogMeIn, PrinterShare and Adobe Reader. A standard Gmail application is also included.

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT: Specs

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT: Specs

Microsoft packs a lot into this $499 device, including 64GB of storage, 2GB of memory, USB and MicroSD slots, in a 10-inch, 1366X768 display. The device runs Windows 8 RT and comes with a stripped down version of Office.

[RELATED: 10 reasons why Windows RT beats the iPad]

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT: Pros and Cons

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT: Pros and Cons

This is a very slick, easy to use machine. On the other hand, it suffers from a dearth of apps, especially compared with Apple products. And the version of Office that you get with the device is a "preview/beta" version not designed for enterprise use. The kickstand and extra keyboard, which snaps on magnetically, are nice touches.

Blackberry Playbook 2: Specs

Blackberry Playbook 2: Specs

The BlackBerry Playbook 2 is a 7-inch, $499 device that’s lightweight, at 15 ounces. It features better cameras than the other products tested, with a 3 megapixel and 5 megapixel camera, but in other respects it came up short. The device we tested had 16GB of storage, 1GB of memory, 7 hours of battery life and it was slow in our performance testing.

[MORE BLACKBERRY: First look: Blackberry Enterprise Service 10]

BlackBerry Playbook 2: Pros and Cons

BlackBerry Playbook 2: Pros and Cons

The BlackBerry Playbook 2, as you might expect, fits smoothly into a BlackBerry ecosystem. However, it uses the BlackBerryOS, which means users are captive to BlackBerry’s app store, which we found wanting. That said, the PB2's UI is very easy to maneuver, and running tasks can be switched to with simple swipes. Learning the UI took only seconds. The built-in apps were primitive but useful.

Apple iPad Mini: Specs

Apple iPad Mini: Specs

At $429, the iPad Mini was the least expensive product in our test. It was also the lightest (.68 pounds). The Mini has no ports of any kind, except for an audio jack. The Mini gave us a stunning 16 hours of battery life, just about double what the other products could muster. The 7-inch screen was big enough to view movies or media, but slim enough so that we didn't need to stretch our fingers across the screen in order to type on the keyboard, unlike the PB2.

Apple iPad Mini: Pros and Cons

Apple iPad Mini: Pros and Cons

Apps are available at the Apple App Store, which we felt was arranged in a cluttered and otherwise hideous way. There are no pre-loaded business applications, but we could obtain a staggering variety of them from the App Store. Apple includes a proprietary video player that doesn’t have simple standard features like 'repeat' or 'shuffle'. Is it for business? Not as it arrives, but IT managers probably didn't buy these for a business purpose, they were BYOD -- foisted upon you.

GammaTech Durabook: Specs

GammaTech Durabook: Specs

At $2,000, the GammaTech was the most expensive product in our test, and also the most rugged. The 7-inch device weighs in at 2.64 pounds, runs a full blown Windows 7 OS, has 64GB of storage and a USB port. Battery life is OK, at 6 hours, 17 minutes in our testing. The Durabook also features a replaceable battery.

GammaTech Durabook: Pros and Cons

GammaTech Durabook: Pros and Cons

At $2,000, this is Windows 7 Enterprise hockey puck of a tablet. You can install any payload that Windows 7 takes, subject to the limitations you'd find on a notebook. That said, it doesn't come with a business-focused software payload out of the box. It's heavy, square, not as easily held as the others. There is no physical keypad, only 10 function keys and six other keys for camera, num lock, and so forth. The screen is touch sensitive, but picky, and we found we had to have a deliberate touch. This is a very cool device, but best reserved for the people who actually need a ruggedized tablet.