2012 Apple iPad (current generation a.k.a. iPad 3)

Specs

  • iOS 
  • Weight: 23.3 ounces / 660g
  • Screen size and type: 9.7-inch 2048 by 1536 retina display
  • Camera: 5 megapixel rear camera
  • Battery life: Reports of the iPad’s battery life vary; testing showed about 8 hours of battery life—but that’ll depend on your brightness, volume and data settings.
  • Price:
    • Wi-fi only models: $499 (16 GB), $599 (32 GB), $699 (64GB)
    • Wi-fi and Cellular models: $629 (16 GB), $729 (32 GB), $829 (64 GB)

Best Feature for Photographers

The hype around the high-resolution retina display on the iPad 3 is justified. Simply put, this is the sharpest looking tablet display on the market. Whether you’re showing off your work with a client or editing your latest creation, this display is vibrant and crisp in a way that no other tablet matches. You won’t see any pixelation when you zoom in on a screen and looking at high-res photos on this tablet is a joy. With almost double the resolution of any other tablet on the market, the iPad3's display alone does a lot to justify its price.

Camera and Display

The iPad’s built-in 5 megapixel camera takes high-quality shots with little fuss. You won’t find a lot of native features, just an overlay grid, basic zoom and tap-and-hold focus settings, but that’s okay: with an Apple device, you also have access to the largest and most prolific app market in the world. 

You may feel a little funny holding it, but the iPad 3’s 5 megapixel camera can produce a high resolution image, and also record 1080p video, ideal for making one of those cool time-lapse videos of a shoot in progress, which has quickly become a popular marketing tool for many photographers to share a behind-the-scenes look at their business.

Usability and Portability

Apple’s award-winning design is known for making waves, and for good reason: Apple products are some of the easiest consumer electronics to use. The new iPad is no exception. All the familiar swiping and tapping functions that you’ve come to love in previous iPads and iPhones are here. The native camera lets you swipe between the camera screen and your photo album, which is a welcome usability feature. However, I do think there’s merit to the Samsung Note’s multi-tasking feature, and would like to see something similar in future iPad products.

In the meantime, you get a dead simple interface that leaves no guesswork as to what you should do next. I also love the reintroduction of the physical home button on the bottom of the iPad’s frame. It does wonders for switching quickly between apps in lieu of a multi-tasking function. Because Apple basically invented the tablet market, online functions like sharing photos and finding apps to support your business (like apps that digitally sign documents and release forms) are quick, intuitive and second-to-none. Combined with a gorgeous screen and enough space for editing photos, the iPad is a serious contender for the most valuable addition to your kit.

 Core to the iPad's photographic potential is the Apple Camera Connection Kit. The kit itself is fairly basic, and consists of two adapters for the iPads's connector port, one to attach an SD card, and the other a standard USB port. Despite appearances, the USB adapter is only designed to connect the iPad to a digital camera (or iPhone). 

It loses a few points on portability, though. The new iPad weighs more than previous versions, and you can feel it. Reading text, and viewing or taking photos can become cumbersome if you’re holding the device up for long periods of time. That’s the real drawback to the iPad as a photographer’s companion. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it doesn’t help.

Other Considerations

Apps, apps and more apps. The App Store is a photographer’s best friend, with thousands of apps for editing, retouching and taking photos (though the Google Play store for Android apps isn't far behind).

And if you’re using a Mac for at-home photo editing and manipulation, the iPad’s native integration and iCloud file storage functions just make sense. Android systems may be more open and customizable, but Apple is second to none when it comes to a seamless ecosystem across its product line. Because it’s so useful for keeping all your photos and edits synced across devices, it might tip your decision towards the iPad if you’re an Apple user already. You may also be tipped in the iPad’s direction by the available 3G/4G models. Photographers who can afford a 3G/4G model need to take it seriously: the iPad is the only tablet here that can truly liberate you from relying on a wi-fi hotspot.

The Verdict

On quality alone, the only real contender to the iPad is the Samsung Note. Both are fantastic choices. If you’re a little light in the wallet, the Note is the better play. With the wi-fi and cellular-enabled iPad (if you need connectivity when you’re on the go), you’re looking at spending significantly more money on Apple’s tablet. If you can afford it, that money is well-spent. The iPad is the highest quality tablet on the market, sports a stellar camera and even better apps, and seamlessly integrates with other Apple products. 

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Toshiba Excite 10 LE

Specs

  • Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • Weight: About 19 ounces / 535g
  • Screen size and type: 10.1-inch 1280 by 800 display
  • Camera: 5 megapixel rear camera
  • Battery life: About 9 hours
  • Price: $529.99 (16 GB model), $599.99 (32 GB model)

Best Feature for Photographers

The Excite 10 LE wins points for presentation: it mimics the display and camera functions of the Note 10.1, but improves on the camera’s interface. Instead of the standard arrangement of icons and functions seen in the Note, the Excite uses a smart and functional option wheel to present many of the photo features in the Note: flash settings, white balance, exposure (+3 to -3, compared the Note’s +2 to -2) and a few screen settings (night shots, sunset and party shots).

Camera and Display

It’s clear Toshiba wants to produce a tablet that rivals its Samsung counterpart. They’ve made it part of the way there, but not on camera features: after taking the Note for a test drive, I’m sold on the panoramic functions, additional filters and settings like the Smile Shot—none of which appear in the Excite. Toshiba’s tablet does look great: pictures are crisp, clear and vibrant, namely because it’s got the exact same resolution as the Note.

The Excite’s intuitive option wheel lets you toggle everything from white balance and exposure to flash and lighting settings.

Usability and Portability

The Excite wins out slightly in portability. It’s a little lighter and a good deal thinner than the Note, which makes it an even better field companion. The Note’s main interface is a little better designed, with bigger icons and better use of home screen space than the Excite. The difference, however, isn’t dramatic.

The Excite’s physical buttons along the right-hand side of the tablet aren’t as easy to use as the iPad or Note buttons; they’re a little too flush with the tablet’s side. The Excite does win points for that option wheel in camera mode: it’s more intuitive and less distracting than buttons along the sides of the screen. You can’t customize your options, though—so the design comes with tradeoffs.

Other Considerations

Unfortunately, price is a “notable” feature—but not in a good way. The 16 GB Excite is $30 more than the 16 GB Note, and the 32 GB Excite is $50 more than its Note equivalent. Without 3G/4G support, those kind of prices bring the Excite near the price point of the cheapest wi-fi/cellular iPads. On the specs end, you’re getting the exact same camera and display as a Note for more money. For a little more than an Excite, you can buy an iPad that blows Toshiba’s tablet out of the water.

The Verdict

The Excite’s draw is its thin design and light body. It’s more portable than the Note and iPad, with a bigger screen and better visuals than the Nexus or PlayBook. Because you’re getting the same features as the Note (but for more money), it makes more sense to go with Samsung’s tablet or splurge on an iPad. If this tablet was priced lower, much lower, it would be worth taking a second look at.

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Logan Kugler is a technology writer based in Silicon Valley. He's written for more than 60 major publications. He's loved taking pictures ever since his parents gave him a giant plastic kid camera when he was 5. He vividly remembers the day he bought his first digital camera the very first year they showed up at Circuit City: a top-of-the-line Sony Cyber-shot with all of 2 megapixels.