Apple products can be expensive, but they tend to offer unsurpassed quality. However, a raft of new Android smartphones and tablets show that you don't need to pay for Apple or accept an inferior product.
There's no bias here at PC Advisor. We review tech products based on their performance, design and build, and then consider value before coming up with an objective verdict and star rating. That doesn't stop readers accusing us of bias, however (usually because our view doesn't accord with their own highly personalised take on tech). Such is life in the post-web world.
One particular gripe of many long-term PC Advisor readers is a perceived bias toward Apple. There is of course no such thing - but you can see why the idea takes hold. Since the second coming of Steve Jobs, Apple's move to Intel processors and the iPod/iPhone/iPad access have seen the Cupertino company produce a range of excellent personal computers of all shapes and sizes. There have been miss-steps, of course, but usually these have been errors of conception rather than quality. That the Apple TV isn't a roaring success is more to do with what it is than how it is built or how it performs.
Those occasional errors speak to the reason Apple mostly succeeds. Where other PC or smartphone makers use the components available to build the best products they can to give users what they want, Apple conceives of a product it thinks people will love. It never uses focus groups, instead seeking to intuitively provide the general public with things they never knew they wanted. As Henry Ford (apparently) said: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Apple doesn't do faster horses.
The Apple price premium
This has tended to add a premium to Apple prices. Apple products aren't for everyone. The company makes a consistant profit on every product, based on the cost of components and a healthy margin. It's fair, if a little steep. But when considering, say, the Macbook Air against every other Ultrabook it makes sense to plump for Apple.
If the Apple premium is still just about worth paying in the worlds of laptops and all-in-one PCs, I'd argue that it definitely isn't in terms of smartphones and tablets. The iPhone and the iPad were for a long time a mile ahead of all rival smartphones and tablets. Android was a mess, and the hardware was only ever on a par with Apple. An Android often cost morem, too. Not the case any more.
A look at our smartphone chart shows that handsets from Sony, LG and Samsung are all capable of duking it out with the iPhone 5s, and all cost less. (And that's before the Nexus 5 launches.) Yes the iPhone 5s remains unsurpassed in terms of the responsiveness of the touchscreen and the beauty of the build, but with Android you have a choice of music- and movie stores, and most high-end Androids are sufficiently sturdy as to not require a case.
You don't have to choose an inferior product to avoid paying the Apple premium. Even less so in the world of tablets - although you have to know where to look. While basic Android tablets from no-name makers tend to be poor value at half the price, manufacturers such as Google, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have long subsidised their products to sell them much cheaper prices than competing Apple iPads. They do this for a variety of reasons.
Google is an advertising company that gives away cheap hardware to gather more data. Amazon and B&N want to drive sales of media through their devices. I would recommend Amazon Kindle Fire tablets only to those who for some reason really want to be locked into Amazon's world, but the Nexus 7 and B&N Nook HD really do offer a quality alternative to the iPad at a reduced price.
Tesco tablet: because every little helps
And now Tesco has entered the fray. The Tesco Hudl is not a no-frills basic. It's a well designed and -built tablet that offers full access to Google Play. And it costs less than half the equivalent iPad mini. Tesco's motivation for entering the tablet market is simple. It knows it can shift a load of these tablets this Christmas, and it has placed Tesco shopping and Club Card apps front and centre to encourage further purchases and data gathering. It also uses the Hudl to promote other services such as Blinkbox, but like the Nexus and Nook devices you aren't locked to the manufacturer's own services. You can even delete the Tesco apps if you want to ignore them.
This is an advantage over Apple products, which remain locked to iTunes. And in all other respects the Hudl offers much the same quality and performance as the iPad mini. I honestly can't see why anyone would buy the mini, given a straight choice. And if that feels like an odd thing to read it's an odd thing to write. But it is true, all the same.
Lots of people will, of course, and Apple's new iPad mini will no doubt sell in huge numbers. But for the first time in a long time the choice in the tablet and smartphone space is not pay Apple's premium or accept an inferior product. See also: iPad mini vs Tesco Hudl tablet comparison review: should you buy a Tesco Hudl tablet or an iPad mini?