Tablets are everywhere today, with multiple new touch-friendly models released by every major manufacturer. Spurred on by the tablet-friendly Windows 8 and new hardware that fits PC power into slimmer and lighter devices, these handy PCs won't be disappearing anytime soon. But just because they're the hot new thing doesn't mean that every tablet PC is great, which is why we're here in the first place – to weed out the clunkers and help you know what's best, and why.
We've seen several variations on the Windows tablet, from Atom-powered tablets that last all day long to beefy laptop alternatives with Intel Core processors. We've seen standalone tablets, dock-friendly slates, and a collection of accessories that range from keyboards to gamepads to variations on the simple stylus. The unifying thread that runs through all of these top picks isn't hardware, or even accessories, but software. Setting these tablets apart from all of the iDevices and Androids is Windows 8 and the updated Windows 8.1 – and not the hobbled lookalike Windows RT. This is full-blown Windows 8, with x86 support for all of your software.
The switch from laptop to tablet also brings some new features to these handheld PCs. Sensors previously seen in smartphones bring new ways to interact with your PC, with accelerometers, gyroscopes, and e-compasses providing positional awareness for automatic screen rotation and new immersive applications. And let's not forget touch – with capacitive screens that track 5 or 10 fingertips at a time, you can pinch, swipe, and tap your way through any task, even those that would have required a keyboard and mouse only a year ago.
It's a brave new tablet-filled world, but it's not without new concerns. The thin confines of a tablet cause concerns about heat build-up – especially when that heat is literally in hand. Touchscreens add a new opportunity for frustration when taps and touches won't register properly, and the opportunities offered by docks and accessories also open up the chance to misplace a valuable part of your PC while out and about – say what you will about tablets, but you'll never misplace your keyboard while using a laptop.
At any rate, we've gone wading through the tablet swamp so you don't have to, and here are our top picks for Windows 8 tablets.
Asus Transformer Book T100 (£320)
For not much more than £300, the Asus Transformer Book T100 is a fully functional Windows 8.1 hybrid tablet, and the natural successor to the netbook concept from a few years ago. It gives you a bright, usable PC at an affordable price, plus it avoids all of the compatibility issues that plague tablets running mobile operating systems like iOS, Android, or Windows RT. Read our full review of this tablet here.
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (£719)
The Surface Pro 2 is Microsoft's updated slate that's improved in every performance vector. It packs Ultrabook-class components into an innovative form factor with a sturdy chassis. Add in a wide range of useful accessories, and the Surface Pro 2 is the Windows 8 tablet to beat – providing you don't mind spending a bit more cash on your slate. Read our full review of this tablet here.
Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 (£1,900)
The Panasonic ToughPad FZ-G1 tablet is tough enough to survive the worst conditions you can use a slate under, but it still runs with the best tablet PCs on the market. It's far from cheap, mind you – but if you need a rugged Windows model, then this is your best bet.
Dell Venue 11 Pro (£410)
With its great battery life, 1080p IPS screen, and flexible mobile and desktop docking systems, the Dell Venue 11 Pro slate tablet means business. Read our full review of this tablet here.
Dell Venue 8 Pro (£230)
The Dell Venue 8 Pro is a Windows 8.1 entry-level tablet that certainly corrects the problems that can crop up when using mobile tablets like the iPad or Nexus 7. It's slim and light, and a nicely priced good performer. Read our full review of this tablet here.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro (£1,000)
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro hybrid tablet/Ultrabook addresses some of the shortcomings of the previous iteration, and boasts a superb screen and innovative hinge design. The downside here is that it's a little heavy and bulky.
Toshiba Encore (£200)
The Toshiba Encore, the company's first 8in Windows slate tablet, looks pretty good with solid performance, decent battery life, and it has come down in price since its launch, now sitting at an affordable £200. This makes it a more tempting offering for those who are really on a budget. Read our full review of this tablet here.