November 25, 2012

Choosing a tablet

Here's a guide to the top options in large and small devices to help shoppers select the best one to give, or to keep.

By PETER SVENSSON The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Tablets are at the top of many wish lists this holiday season. But what to get? The choice used to be pretty limited, with the iPad dominating. But this year, the field is more even, as tablets from Apple's competitors have matured.

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A shopper reacts after buying a new iPad Mini in Seoul, South Korea, earlier this month. Apple has plenty of competition in tablet computers now, giving consumers a variety of good choices in sizes and capabilities.

The Associated Press photos

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The new Microsoft Surface runs a version of Windows adapted for tablets.

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In addition, Google and Microsoft are diving in with their own tablets, providing more choice.

The first step in the buying process is to decide on the size of the tablet. They fall into two rough categories: the full-sized tablet, pioneered by the iPad, and the half-size tablet, epitomized by the Kindle Fire.

Full-sized tablets, which generally have screens measuring about 10 inches on the diagonal, are better for surfing websites designed for PCs, and far better when it comes to displaying magazines and documents. Overall, they go further toward replacing a laptop. New ones cost $400 and up.

Half-sized tablets, which have screens measuring roughly 7 inches on the diagonal, are cheaper and lighter, but just as good as full-sized tablets for e-book reading. It's an excellent first computing device for a kid, or a gentle nudge into the digital world for an older adult with little computing experience. This year's crop costs $199 and up, but last year's models are available for less.


If you've settled on a large tablet, here are some top choices:

• Apple iPad, fourth generation (starts at $499)

Apple usually updates the iPad once a year, so it was a surprise when it dropped a new model in October, with a faster processor and the new Lightning connection and charging port, replacing the wide port inherited from the iPod.

Like the third-generation iPad launched in March, it has an ultra-high-resolution Retina screen. The model's resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels is surpassed only by the Google Nexus 10.

That means the current iPad is two generations ahead of the iPad 2 that was on sale last holiday season. It packs enough improvements to make the upgrade worth it. The iPad 2 is still on sale for $100 less, but it's not a very good value for the money: if $400 is all you can spend, there are better tablets out there than the iPad 2.

While other tablets are starting to approach it in terms of hardware, the iPad still enjoys the best support by far from third parties, both in terms of quality applications and accessories like cases.

One caveat: the base model of the iPad has only 16 gigabytes of storage, which fills up fast these days. The thoughtful giver goes for at least a 32-gigabyte model, for $100 more.

Other than that, there are few downsides to the iPad: no one will frown when opening this package.

• Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ (starts at $269)

For a book store, Barnes & Noble makes some amazing tablets. The HD+ is its first model that approaches the iPad in size, with a screen that's 9 inches on the diagonal. That makes it slightly smaller than the iPad, and the resolution is lower as well, but still very respectable. At 1,920 by 1,280 pixels, it can show more detail than a living-room HDTV.

The Nook is family-friendly too. You can create user accounts and restrict them from certain content, so there's less risk that your kids will stumble on your copy of "Fifty Shades of Grey."

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Additional Photos

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Hugo Barra of Google holds up the new Nexus 10 tablet, which beats the iPad’s screen resolution.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a “pen.”

Kindle Fire
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The Kindle Fire from Amazon now sports a camera and speakers on either side of the screen.

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Google’s Cheryl Pon shows off apps on the new Google Nexus 7 tablet. It has access to thousands of applications written for Android smartphones.


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The new iPad Mini has fewer pixels than other small tablets, but it has two cameras, front and back. It’s the only small tablet that has access to Apple’s App Store, with a wide selection of high-quality apps.



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