Entertaining the idea of getting (or giving) a tablet computer this holiday? Why not? Tablets like the iPad 2 will be the hottest hi-tech gift this holiday season. Tablets give you the world on a platter, compressing all the processing muscle of a laptop computer into a handy-dandy slate that you can hold in your hand — and which is light and portable enough to take anywhere.
The real question is which tablet computer is right for you? Apple’s iPad 2 is the market leader but other tablets have come along that solidly compete with it. It’s debatable if these contenders match the iPad’s grace and power. Still, these other devices may prove attractive to consumers since they are priced well below the iPad.
We’ve evaluated the leading tablets and have a side-by-side tablet-comparison chart below for your holiday shopping, but we’ve also listed our picks in order of preference:
1. iPad 2
Pros: Apple’s iPad 2 expands upon the original iPad in several ways. For starters, it has two cameras for FaceTime (video chat) and HD video recording. It’s powered by Apple’s dual-core A5 chip and features a 10-hour battery life. The latest iOS 5 adds more than 200 new software features. With the iPad 2 you also have access to Apple’s iCloud. Apple’s App Store showcases games and productivity. Apple has also added more apps (some 140,000 in all) to the store, making it the largest library of content for any tablet. It’s the market leader — and our top pick — for a reason. The interface is graceful, intuitive, easy to use and beautiful. If you’ve never owned an Apple product, this one will make you a lifelong fan.
Cons: The iPad 3 is scheduled for release next year.
Overall Dimensions: 9.50 inches (height) x 7.31 inches (width) x 0.34 inches (depth)
Weight: 1.33 pounds
Display: 9.7-inch diagonal LED-backlit glossy widescreen
Screen Resolution: 1024 x 768 pixels; 132 pixels per inch
Screen Display: Multi-Touch display with In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology. Screen treated with fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Manufacturer: Apple, Inc.
2. Kindle Fire
Pros: Incredibly compact (small enough to slip in a purse), the Kindle Fire is as small as its price. Enhanced with Amazon Silk, a “split browser” that divides the tablet’s web-browsing chores between the tablet and the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), the Kindle Fire boasts its own dual-core processor. And since it’s made by Amazon, it’s backed with an incredible amount of content, including 18 million movies, TV shows, apps, games, songs, books, newspapers, magazines and more (with comics provided by DC Comics). The Kindle Fire offers 8 GB of internal storage; Amazon figures that’s enough for some 80 apps plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books.
Cons: No camera for video chat or taking pictures.
Overall Dimensions: 7.50 inches (h) x 4.7 inches (w) x 0.45 inches (d)
Weight: 14.6 ounces
Display: 7-inch diagonal
Display Resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels; 169 pixels per inch
Display Screen: Multi-Touch display with IPS technology and anti-reflective treatment
Pros: When you’re the world’s largest bookstore, it’s assumed that content won’t be in short supply and Barnes & Noble estimates its book holdings at more than 2.5 million titles. And at 16 GB of internal memory, the Nook Tablet has twice as much storage as its closest competitor, the Kindle Fire. (We still like Kindle Fire’s resemblence to the iPad.) The Nook Tablet also contains a microSD card slot that offers extra storage, which is noticeably lacking in other tablets, like the iPad 2. Interested in the Nook Tablet for reading purposes? You’ll be happy to know the adjustable fonts customize your reading experience (eight text sizes and six font styles). In addition to what B&N calls the largest digital collection of newspapers and magazines, the Nook Tablet is the tablet home of Marvel Comics.
Cons: No camera for video chat or taking pictures. Interface is sometimes clunky.
Overall Dimensions: 8.1 inches (h) x 5.0 inches (w) x 0.48 inches (d)
Weight: 14.1 ounces
Display: 7-inch diagonal
Screen Resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels; 169 pixels per inch
Screen Display: VividView Touchscreen, fully laminated for remarkable clarity and reduced reflection and glare-read indoors or outside
Manufacturer: Barnes & Noble
4. TIE: Xoom / Galaxy Tab
Pros: Sporting a hefty 10.1-inch display, the Xoom is able to take advantage of hundreds of thousands of apps from the Android Market. Through Google eBooks, the Xoom is able to draw upon a library that ups the ante at more than 3 million titles. To enable video-chat capabilities, the Xoom has front and rear-facing cameras. It’s powered by Google’s Android and has plenty of horsepower. A MicroSD card slot allows for addition storage or moving your media, and it performs more than adequately.
Cons: At 1.6 pounds it’s one of the heaviest tablets out there. Google’s operating system has stability issues and it has other issues like images displaying properly in the Gallery viewer. An added insult, almost all of the Android games in the Android app store aren’t optimized to run on the tablet. (FAIL!)
Overall Dimensions: 9.81 inches (h) x 6.61 inches (w) x 0.51 inches (d)
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Display: 10.1-inch diagonal
Screen Resolution: 1280 x 800 pixels; 150 pixels per inch
Pros: Like the Xoom, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 also boasts a 10.1-inch diagonal screen. Samsung claims faster and more stable online connection thanks to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 having both HSPA+ and Wi-Fi access. Also on-board: front- and rear-facing cameras that support video chat functions. Also powered by the Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) platform, which Samsung claims allows quicker processing times because the platform excels at multi-tasking. And speaking of multi-tasking, the Mini Apps used with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 let you perform multiple key functions while working with other applications. It is one of the thinnest Honeycomb tablets available and it comes packaged with earbuds(!).
Cons: The App selection is subpar. During our tests, even with a full Wi-Fi signal the online video playback had issues.
Overall Dimensions: 7.48 inches (h) x 4.74 inches (w) x 0.47 inches (d)
Weight: 13.6 ounces
Display: 10.1-inch diagonal
Screen Resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels
5. Kobo Vox
Pros: Love to read? The Kobo Vox has a library that exceeds 2.2 million books.The Kobo Vox is focused on the reading experience and Kobo claims a total library of more than 2.2 million books, as well as more than a million free titles. Magazine content is supplied via thousands of popular magazines from Zinio and newspapers from around the world. Kobo is marketing the Vox as a “free reader,” meaning that once you purchase a Kobo Books title, the user/owner can then enjoy it on any opened reading device. Should you need more external stimulation, the Vox offers unlimited web browsing and open access to Android 2.3, including more than 15,000 apps. It’s a new entry to the tablet world.
Cons: It’s a cheap alternative to the big boys by a relatively unknown tablet maker, which could make for technical-support nightmares. Kobo’s books are more expensive than Amazon’s.
Overall Dimensions: 7.57 inches (h) x 5.06 inches (w) x 0.53 inches (d)
Weight: 14.2 ounces
Display: 7-inch diagonal
Screen Resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels; 150 pixels per inch
Screen Display: Multi-touch screen optimized for reading outdoors. Features extra-wide viewing that its makers say is ideal for shared reading.
Manufacturer: Kobo, Inc.
Apps Make the Tablets
In the end, it comes down to two things: a good operating system and (just as important, if not more so) apps. Making apps for the iPad isn’t easy but it is fun. Creative app developers are really driving tablets. Ultimately, buyers should decide which applications or what they intend to do on the device first, then find the tablet that fits their needs.
Bottom line: If you already own Apple products, like the iPhone 4S, you will probably want to get the iPad, mainly because of the App Store, iTunes and iCloud support. If you prefer the Android operating system then the Xoom might be best for you. If you want a much cheaper tablet that kind of feels like an iPad, then Amazon’s Kindle Fire is your best bet. Whatever you choose, one thing is for certain: you’ll most likely be giving or getting a tablet this holiday season.
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