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

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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.

Additional Photos Below

There's no memory card slot or an option for a cellular modem.

The array of third-party software is wide, just as it is for the Note 10.1. Most people don't associate Google with online books, music or movies, so it may feel odd that the Nexus steers buyers to Google's Play store. Of course, given the open nature of Google's Android operating system, there are apps available for other entertainment stores, including Amazon's, and for streaming services like Netflix.

The Nexus 10 is a snappy performer, and among the iPad's competitors, it comes the closest to matching the versatility of Apple products.

• Asus Vivo Tab RT (starts at $599 with a dock)

Asus has a quality line of Android tablets they call Transformer because they dock into a keyboard with an extra battery. The combination folds up just like a small laptop and has excellent battery life. The Vivo Tab RT essentially takes a Transformer and stuffs it with Windows RT instead of Android.

The tablet part is smaller and thinner than the Surface. Together with the keyboard, it makes for a familiar little setup: a tiny laptop running Windows. Like the Surface, it has a memory card slot and a USB port. The screen resolution is the same.

The Vivo Tab is a good tool for those who want to get work done on the commute or plane, or those who can't decide if they want a laptop or a tablet.

SMALL TABLETS

If you've settled on a small tablet, here are some top choices.

• Apple iPad Mini (starts at $329 for 16 gigabytes of storage)

The most expensive of the small tablets is also the prettiest. Its exquisitely machined metal rim sets it well apart from competing tablets clothed in plastic and rubber. It's also thin and light, despite having a screen that's 40 percent bigger than other "small" tablets.

But the quality of the Mini's screen doesn't quite measure up to the competition. It has fewer pixels than other small tablets, and they're spread over a larger area, making for a relatively coarse, pixelated look. On the other hand, the Mini has two cameras, front and back, which is a rarity.

Where the Mini really wins is in third-party apps: it's the only small tablet that has access to Apple's App Store, with a superlative selection of high-quality apps. It's an excellent addition to the household that's already hooked on iPhones and full-size iPads. For those not wedded to the "Apple system," the other tablets merit a close look.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD (starts at $199 for 16 gigabytes of storage)

A year ago, the Kindle Fire was the plucky, cut-rate tablet, the Dodge Neon to the iPad's BMW. This year, the gap in quality and features has narrowed considerably. The Kindle Fire HD has a better screen than the iPad Mini, and now sports a front-facing camera. The original Kindle Fire had none.

In another nice touch, it has speakers on either side of the screen when it's held horizontally, making for much better stereo sound when you're playing a movie.

The selection of content is narrower than for the iPad, since it's heavily slanted toward Amazon's services. Likewise, the selection of third-party apps is smaller than on the iPad or Google's Nexus 7.

But there are enough games to thrill a kid for hours, and like Barnes & Noble's Nook, the Kindle can be configured with a special "kid mode" that shields them from racier content -- and from messing up your settings.

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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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

 


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