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Dec 01, 2013

LTE Tablet Holiday Face-Off

The price gap between cellular and Wi-Fi-only tablets stands prohibitive to most folks scooping up a slate with an LTE chip. But with Verizon rolling out its $5 daily tablet data plans, the LTE airwaves are starting to hit higher comfort, less commitment price points for tablets. In case anyone’s thinking about picking up a cellular-ready tablet—on/off contract or month-to-month—we put a few LTE slates up against one another and see how comes out as the winner of a spot on a holiday wish list.

Nokia Lumia 2520 – LTE (AT&T, Verizon)

Nokia’s first Windows RT tablet offers a bright 10.1-inch Full HD display, monster 8,120 mAh battery and a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor for $499 or $399 on contract. Interestingly enough, Nokia was able to squeeze LTE capability into its Windows tablet before Microsoft itself could build an RT Surface with an LTE chip. But Microsoft, Nokia and Windows are all blurred together following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s device division, a strengthened relationship that will hopefully work out to better support and a stronger ecosystem for Windows-powered Nokias like the 2520.

vs. Asus VivoTab RT – LTE (AT&T) 

Preferring a steely enterprise look over the 2520’s colorful façade, the Asus VivoTab might be a better LTE Windows RT tablet option for the business professional on the shopping list. At $599, the 32 GB version is expensive but includes a keyboard dock, making it useful for doing actual work.

iPad Air – LTE (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) 

Even with only 16 GB of internal storage for $529 on contract, the iPad Air will be the LTE tablet holiday shoppers cheerily step over each other to grab this season. It’s sparkling Retina display and 64-bit processor make it a machine for quickly processing and spitting out beautifully rendered media of all kinds. Its new lighter, smaller form factor is basically a result of being engineered to look like a big iPad mini.

vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 – LTE (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile)

Although the Galaxy Tab 2 represents a step down from the iPad in terms of display quality and processor speed, it’s a definite step in the wallet-friendly direction with its $349 price on contract. At 20.5 ounces, it’s got a good deal more heft than the iPad, too, but part of that extra weight comes in the form of a battery that gives you 2-3 more precious hours of normal use.

Verizon Ellipsis 7 – LTE (Verizon)

After the dust up over activating the LTE Google Nexus 7 on its network, Verizon discreetly showed its cards by rolling out the Ellipsis, a 7-inch Android LTE tablet that runs just $149 on contract and $249 straight-up. That price puts it well below comparable LTE options like the Nexus and the Kindle Fire HDX. Altair, who makes the chip for the Ellipsis, says the goal is to drive the cost of LTE chips down to Wi-Fi levels.

vs. ASUS MeMO Pad 10 – LTE (AT&T)

Not to be outdone by Big Red, AT&T also has a competitively priced tablet, but in the more traditional size range. The Asus MeMO Pad is priced at $299 on contract ($399 month-to-month) and wears a 1920 x 1200 resolution on its 10.1-inch display. It’s got twice the memory as the Ellipsis which is nice but unfortunately it also weighs about twice as much as the Ellipsis.

iPad mini with Retina – LTE (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) 

The original iPad mini was a big success despite one of the main gripes against it being a lack of a Retina display. The second-generation model has fixed that but at $529 month-to-month, the LTE version is a lot more than the $399 Wi-Fi model. The $429 on-contract price is better and could be enticing, especially for travelers, if the FCC decides to open up flights to mobile data.

vs. Kindle Fire HD – LTE

A step up in size but not quite full-grown, the Kindle Fire HD presents an intriguing 8.9-inch display option. At $399 free from contract, it also stands as a bigger, LTE-ready 32 GB alternative to the Wi-Fi iPad mini that costs the same. The app and entertainment ecosystem might be confusing to anyone locked into Apple’s digital storefronts, but the price difference might make it worth it.