The best alternatives to the iPad Air: From the Microsoft Surface 2 to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Apple's new iPad Air is on sale today, and as usual, you can expect it to sell a storm (the reviews are already positive – and you can expect our review very soon). That said, the competition in the tablet world is tougher than ever now, and there are some great alternatives you might consider splashing your cash on.

Android tablets no longer look like amateurs – in fact there are some great Android-based slates around these days – and Microsoft has just brought out a genuinely competitive offering in the Surface 2. If you're shopping for a tablet, especially if you have a Windows computer or Android phone, it's time to look at models that might fit into your lifestyle better than an iPad.

Once you expand your vision beyond the iPad, a bunch of exclusive features start to come into view. The new Intel Bay Trail tablets, such as the Asus Transformer Book T100, run every app advertised for Windows with no compromises. Microsoft's Windows RT tablets, such as the Surface 2, feature a full version of Microsoft Office, and typically give you the option of an add-on keyboard for even better productivity.

With its pressure-sensitive Wacom pen support, Samsung's Galaxy Note is the go-to tablet for anyone who likes to doodle or scrawl. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX goes in an entirely different direction: It's super-easy to use, with unlimited on-demand 24-hour live video customer support. The iPad has none of these features.

In the world of non-Apple tablets, our major concerns right now are the issues of stability and system lag. Some of the tablets mentioned in this article served up occasional crashes as a trade-off for their unique features in our tests – but those kinds of issues can be fixed with firmware updates, and both Microsoft and Android tablet makers have been issuing bug fixes on a pretty regular basis.

Anyway, enough of the introduction, let’s get on with the show – here are the top tablet contenders to take on the new iPad Air (which, as we’ve already mentioned, is on sale today starting at £399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version).

Microsoft Surface 2

Price: £359 (32GB)

Operating System: Windows RT

Pros: Improves upon a great design with a high-res display and improved kickstand. Faster performance thanks to the Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. All-day battery lasts nearly 15 hours. Comes with Office RT 2013 (now with Outlook), Best of Skype package, and 200GB of SkyDrive storage.

Cons: TouchCover and TypeCover keyboards sold separately (at £100 and £110 respectively). App selection is still (relatively) small. Windows RT 8.1 is still limited.

Bottom Line: The Microsoft Surface 2 brings the Windows RT tablet back with better hardware, a refined design, and expanded productivity tools. Here's our full review of the Surface 2, if you want to read up more on the slate.

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700

Price: £329 (32GB, Wi-Fi)

Operating System: Google Android

Pros: Excellent snap-on keyboard. Sharp screen. Relatively light Android skin.

Cons: About to be replaced by a new model with better specs.

Bottom Line: The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity is a great buy for a sharp quad-core Android tablet, especially now that it's being sold for around £330 at some retailers. But its processor trails behind this year's Android and Windows tablet models, so it's being replaced by a faster, higher-resolution TF701 very soon (which is why it’s so cheap now). For our full review of the TF700, click here (and note the £599 price at launch).

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)

Price: £479 (16GB, Wi-Fi)

Operating System: Google Android

Pros: Multi-window multitasking. Pressure-sensitive stylus integrated throughout the UI. IR remote. Great display.

Cons: Somewhat buggy.

Bottom Line: The new Galaxy Note 10.1 excels at note-taking and productivity for an Android tablet, but application crashes and user interface lag prevented us from recommending it over the iPad. Hopefully those issues (or at least some of them) will be smoothed over in short order, though. Have a read of our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition).

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

Price: £399 (16GB, Wi-Fi)

Operating System: Google Android

Pros: Thin and light design. Waterproof. Impressive display. IR emitter.

Cons: Doesn't feel durable.

Bottom Line: Handsome and stuffed with entertainment features, Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z is an elegant and powerful Android tablet, especially for home use. You might want to check out our Xperia Tablet Z review, where it scores full marks.

HP Slatebook x2

Price: £380 (32GB)

Operating System: Google Android

Pros: Snap-on keyboard. Two memory card slots. Great price for a Tegra 4-based tablet.

Cons: Dim display. Short battery life. Buggy.

Bottom Line: The HP Slatebook x2 has a very useful convertible design, lots of ports, and great gaming performance, but we were annoyed by periodic freezes and crashes, and it does suffer from a somewhat dim display. We have a review of the HP Slatebook x2 right here.

Google Nexus 10

Price: £319 (16GB)

Operating System: Google Android

Pros: Sharp, very high-res display. Still an excellent price for the specs.

Cons: Sluggish and buggy for the hardware specs.

Bottom Line: Google's official 10in tablet has been out for a year now, and underperformed its spec sheet because of too many software bugs and an OS that didn't seem optimised for the hardware. Nothing's official, but we're hearing grumblings about a new large screen Google tablet on the horizon – indeed many thought we might see a new Nexus 10 alongside the freshly unveiled Nexus 5… but we didn’t. There’s still a good chance we will soon, though. In the meantime, at this price, the Nexus 10 is still a tempting offering – see our full review of the tablet here.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Price: £329 (16GB, Wi-Fi, with ads)

Operating System: Google Android/Amazon Fire OS 3.0

Pros: Super easy to use interface. "Mayday" tech support is revolutionary.

Cons: Constantly tries to get you to buy more things from Amazon.

Bottom Line: The Kindle Fire's excellent live video tech support, and its general user-friendliness make it the best tablet for kids and technophobes. If you want this one, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks (the official UK release date is 19 November), but you can pre-order now. We haven’t actually reviewed the 8.9in model yet, but the 7in HDX fared well in our tests.

Asus Transformer Book T100

Price: £350

Operating System: Windows 8.1

Pros: Amazing price for a full Windows 10in tablet. Attachable keyboard dock. Asus promises a long battery life.

Cons: 1,366 x 768 isn't the greatest screen resolution.

Bottom Line: You don't have to fork out a load of cash to get a real Windows tablet that runs the millions of Windows apps out there. The Asus Transformer Book T100 is one of the first round of new low cost Windows tablets running Intel's Bay Trail processor, which some believe is set to make Windows RT redundant. We’ve not reviewed the T100 yet, but we’ll have the full lowdown for you soon enough.

Those weighing up the iPad Air against other tablets might also want to browse through a couple of our recent spec comparisons featuring Apple’s new tablet. Check out the iPad Air taking on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), and our full spec comparison of the iPad Air and Surface 2.