How to choose an entry-level Windows 8 tablet

Unique keyboards and accessories are where these very similar PCs stand out.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read

If the current crop of Windows 8 tablets, at least the majority that run Intel's low-power Atom tablet, were put edge to edge in a police lineup, you'd have a hard time telling them apart. Nearly all are virtually identical slabs of glass over black metal and plastic bodies.

Upon closer inspection, some have more ports and connections built into their outer edges, but this stylistic similarity indicates a larger issue: they all run essentially the same components inside, namely an Intel Atom Z-series processor, 2GB of RAM, a 10- or 11-inch 1,366x768-pixel touch screen, and either 32GB or 64GB of SSD storage.

Despite the similarities, prices can be all over the map, from $499 to $799 for the basic hardware, plus hundreds more for accessories, from docking stands to clip-on keyboards. It's the accessories that help some of these tablets stand out over others.

Of the systems reviewed here, I'd lean toward the HP ElitePad 900 as having the best attachable keyboard, which also doubles as a travel case. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 has my favorite dock, which includes a keyboard and tiny pointing stick. None of these quite hits the heights of the Microsoft Surface Pro, which has a best-in-class magnetic keyboard cover, with actual physical keys and a small touch pad. But, that's a $1,000-plus Intel Core i5 tablet, and represents an entirely different class of (more expensive) product.

If you're considering an Atom tablet, you'd do well to read the full reviews listed here and pay careful attention to the add-ons on offer and how much they affect your total investment, and can hit $9,000 or more in some cases.

HP ElitePad 900
The HP ElitePad 900 could have been just yet another slablike Windows 8 tablet, but this business-oriented system offers the widest range of tablet accessories we've seen to date, making it very flexible for mobile, home, and office use. The best is a $200 keyboard jacket, which has the best tablet keyboard we've seen to date. Read the full review of the HP ElitePad 900.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Acer Iconia W510
Offering low-powered Intel Atom tablet/laptop hybrids for $750 or more is a dodgy proposition for budget-looking systems such as the Iconia W510, but all-day battery life is a great selling point. Connecting the optional keyboard makes it look and feel a lot like a laptop, but a very top-heavy one. Read the full review of the Acer Iconia W510.

Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx
The IdeaTab Lynx is a perfectly functional Windows 8 hybrid but lacks the lower price of some competitors, or better design and features of others. It's keyboard dock is functional, but far from our favorite. Read the full review of the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx.

Asus VivoTab Smart ME400
For a Windows 8 tablet, keyboard, and cover package for around $630, the VivoTab is a decent value, if you can get used to the nonstandard keyboard/cover combo, which features a standalone, very slim, keyboard. Read the full review of the Asus VivoTab Smart ME400.

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
The keyboard dock provides my favorite to-date Windows 8 tablet typing experience, even if it has a pointing stick instead of a touch pad. While I'm not likely to use it much, I like how the digitizer stylus is cleverly tucked into an inconspicuous slot on the left side of the tablet. Read the full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2.

HP Envy x2
The HP Envy x2's capacity to be a full Windows 8 tablet or dock with a keyboard works as well as advertised, provided you're willing to live with slower performance at a high price. It's the most laptoplike of these systems. Read the full review of the HP Envy x2.

Dell Latitude 10
At prices that aren't far off from midrange Core i-series ultrabooks with 500GB hard drives or 128GB SSDs, the combination of the Latitude 10 plus a dock and a keyboard feels expensive for the Atom experience.Read the full review of the Dell Latitude 10.