At least several times each week, we get a reader inquiry via e-mail or Twitter asking which of the current crop of Windows 8 tablets is the best. The answer isn't so simple when you consider that tablets running full Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT: don't get us started) are split into two hardware classes: those with slower Atom processors, including the HP Envy x2, and those at the high end, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro.
What makes a high-end Windows 8 tablet? Generally, an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, giving it the performance of a full-fledged ultrabook-style laptop. The drawbacks tend to be a shorter battery life and a higher price tag. Many come with either a laptop-like docking station, or are compatible with a keyboard-cover accessory.
Those less-expensive Atom tablets are more plentiful, but the higher-end performance tablets are better at being your full-time work machine. There aren't a ton of options out there, but here are the top candidates we've reviewed to date.
Acer Iconia W700
The closest competitors to the Surface Pro are other tablets and hybrids with Intel Core i5 processors -- essentially full-featured ultrabooks squeezed down to tablet form. Acer's Iconia W700 fits the bill, and includes a space-age-looking dock, but the nonadjustable stand limits viewing angles, and you'll need an external mouse or touch pad for efficient Windows navigation. Read the full review of the Acer Iconia W700.
Microsoft Surface Pro
There's a lot to like here -- if not to love. While the Surface Pro isn't the first Windows 8 tablet, it may well be the best one to date, at least in terms of design. The magic here is in the details: the ingenious detachable keyboard cover and the included pressure-sensitive stylus both go a long way toward setting the Surface Pro apart from the other laptops, tablets, and hybrids we've seen so far. Read the full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro.
Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T
The top-heavy ATIV Smart PC Pro is a clever little device, but it feels too low-rent for its high-end aspirations. Samsung makes better-designed ultrabooks and better tablets. The Smart PC Pro feels best as a laptop...in which case, why not simply buy a laptop? Read the full review of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T.
Scott: If I were buying a high-end Windows 8 tablet, I'd go with the Microsoft Surface Pro. Its compact form and excellent little Type Cover give it a low profile. More laptop-like hybrids like the Samsung Smart PC Pro may feel better in a lap, but I don't do much lap-typing anyway...or, I'd simply use the onscreen tablet keyboard.
Dan: I have to agree. While most of the Windows 8 tablets we've seen so far are the less-expensive Atom-powered ones, of the handful of Core i5//i7 models we've reviewed, the Microsoft Surface Pro definitely stands out. It's still probably too expensive, but so are the other two choices (although the Acer W700 at least includes the dock and keyboard for its $999 base price). Still, the Surface wins based on its tighter, cleaner design, and that excellent Type Cover.
We both picked the Surface Pro as the best Core i-series Windows 8 tablet. If you agree or think we're crazy, let us know in the comments section below. In our next roundup, we'll debate which Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet is the best, and there are a lot more choices, so expect a heated exchange.