Now that the tablet market is maturing, pretty much any of the mainstream devices will offer decent performance. So how do manufacturers distinguish their products from all the rest on the shelves? Going Ultra is one of the best ways to stand out. Ultra thin, ultra fast, ultra big —pushing the boundaries gets attention and these Ultra tablets are all worth considering if you’re looking for one that stands out in a crowd.

Ultra Thin: iPad Air 2

Thin is a big deal when it comes to tablets. Thin means less weight and makes the tablet easier to hold for extended periods of time. But as you can imagine, designing a tablet that’s ultra thin without making compromises is no easy task. There are a lot of components that have to fit inside, while performance and battery life still have to meet expectations.

It’s even tougher to make a tablet that’s ultra thin, a top performer, attractive and keep its price affordable. But it can be done.

iPad Air 2 thin.jpg

Last year, the 7.5 mm thick iPad Air was the thinness champ. Samsung took the lead earlier this year with the 6.6 mm Galaxy Tab S 8.4-inch tablet, but Apple can once again lay claim to offering the world’s thinnest tablet with the 6.1 mm thick iPad Air 2.

That svelte profile —18 percent thinner than last year thanks to advancements like a laminated display— means the iPad Air 2 weighs just 437 g. And despite being ultra thin, it’s new A8X CPU makes it wicked fast and aluminum unibody construction means the device is still strong enough to survive everyday use.

galaxy Tab S.jpgUltra Display: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Most tablets sport at least a 720p display these days and Full HD is the norm in a full-sized tablet. But not all displays are created equal —even if they are the same resolution. Contrast and colour reproduction are big factors and the more pixels that are crammed into a display (pixels-per-inch or ppi) the sharper it’s going to look.

In previous years, the sharpest display hasn’t necessarily been the best looking one. A high ppi count doesn’t guarantee that blacks are black and colours are vivid.

This year, all of the best in display technology —an ultra display— is found in one tablet: the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 from Samsung. The 8.4-inch display is a Super AMOLED model which means incredibly deep blacks and rich colours. At the same time, it boasts class-leading resolution for incredibly sharp content. Among the bragging points of the Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s display:

  • 2560 x 1600 pixels (359 ppi), double the number of pixels in a 1080p display
  • 16 million colours
  • 100,000:1 contrast ratio
  • 94% colour accuracy (based on Adobe RGB)
  • Adaptive display technology dynamically adjusts the display to optimize it based on content and environment

Ultra Powerful: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

According to benchmarking websites the most powerful consumer tablet out there is Apple’s iPad Air 2. Its A8X processor beats even the new Nexus 9 (with the Nvidia Tegra K1 CPU) in both processing and graphics power.

However, there is another tablet that’s even more powerful. I just wouldn’t call it a consumer tablet so much as a professional one.

Surface Pro 3.jpg

This isn’t really a fair fight, because it pits the mobile CPUs found in most consumer tablets against the Intel PC processor in the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. This device is the definition of ultra powerful, especially when it’s equipped with a Core i7 CPU.

With a Surface Pro 3, you have the power to run Windows 8.1 Pro and PC software like the full Office suite. You can also play PC games like Civilization V or The Elder Scrolls Online.  Graphics-intensive applications like AutoCAD and the Adobe Creative Cloud are also at home running on the ultra powerful, Surface Pro 3.

Nabi.jpgUltra Durable: Nabi 2 Tablet PC for Kids

As a parent who has watched in horror as one of his children dropped an iPad onto a hardwood floor and witnessed the resulting screen fracture (kid was fine, iPad no so much), I can say with some authority that there is a large market for an ultra durable tablet.

Something that’s safe for kids and safe from kids.

The Nabi 2 Tablet PC for Kids gets the nod here. It’s a compact 7-inch Android tablet that features a big, grippy red bumper that makes it a lot easier for small hands to hold. And if they drop it, that bumper goes a long way toward preventing disaster. The Nabi 2 isn’t invincible —all tablets have glass and glass will shatter if it hits a hard surface— but when it comes to an ultra durable tablet for the younger crowd, this is it.

And in a worst case scenario, if someone drops it or smashes it with a wooden block hard enough to cause damage, the Nabi 2’s affordable price tag is a little easier on the wallet than having to replace an iPad. 

Ultra Connected: iPad Air 2 With Wi-Fi + Cellular

Apple’s iPad Air 2 takes another title, this time as the ultra connected tablet.

When connecting to a Wi-Fi network, the iPad Air 2 offers the latest wireless technology to ensure the fastest possible connection. It has dual channel 802.11ac (Gigabit) Wi-Fi and MIMO support. Apple says it can pull download speeds of up to 866 Mbps, or twice the speed of the previous generation model.

iPAd Air 2 oconnected.png

When you’re traveling, this model can access data from virtually anywhere (no Wi-Fi hotspot required) because of it has an LTE radio. You’ll need a cellular data package, but if your lifestyle demands an ultra connected tablet, the iPad Air 2 is a top candidate. 

It also features Bluetooth 4.0 which is a must-have for connecting with many wearables.

Galaxy note 12.jpgUltra Big: Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2

Finally, we come to the ultra big category. It’s really pretty self-explanatory. Some people like a compact tablet they can fit in one hand, others prefer the largest display possible.

When it comes to ultra big tablets, the Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is at the top of the heap. Where most full-sized tablets have displays measuring 10-inches or less, this one has a massive 12.2-inch display. Combined with 2560 x 1600 resolution, this offers enough screen real estate for multiple windows and it excels as a portable multimedia device.

Check it out this photo I snapped showing the ultra big Galaxy compared to a typical 7-inch tablet —the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 dwarfs the smaller Android tablet.

Despite the vast screen, this ultra big tablet still weighs just 750 g, making it easier to carry around than most Ultrabooks, Chromebooks or laptops.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. I have been writing about technology for several decades for a wide range of outlets including Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, MSN,, Kiplinger, and GeekDad. I’m in my 10th year as a senior contributor for Forbes with a focus on reviewing music-related tech, Apple gear, battery power stations and other consumer electronics. My day job is with the Malware Research Center at AI-native cybersecurity pioneer CrowdStrike.