Holiday Gift Guide – Tablets

Thanks to their ease of use and low cost of entry, tablets have quickly become a popular computing item among consumers.

After its coming-out party with Apple’s iPad in 2010, it took the tablet market just 18 months to reach a household penetration of 11%. The NPD Group, a technology research firm, predicts that tablet sales will pass laptops by 2016.

Tablets are expected to be a hot item this holiday season; new offerings from key manufacturers have produced the deepest field of tablet products yet.

Here’s what to look for if you’re in the market for a tablet:

Size

The full-size tablet class includes products with a 9” screen or larger.  These tablets are a little harder to hold for long periods of time, but generally work better for viewing larger-format content like magazines and illustrated books.  The mid-size class describes tablets with screens around 7”.  These devices are easy to stow away and work well for book reading.

For most users, it’s a matter of preference, like paperback or hardcover (differences in price notwithstanding).

Products

Apple’s iPad remains the most complete choice in the larger-class, coupling solid hardware (4th generation, $499) with the premier app store.  Users not worried about top-end speed might be able to find a deal below $400 for the 3rd generation version, which runs a bit slower but is elsewise virtually the same.  Apple smaller tablet, the iPad mini, successfully brings the iPad to a smaller form factor, but is a little underpowered and doesn’t have a retina display.  The iPad mini isn’t a bad product, far from it, but there are very competitive options for the price in the 7” space.

Android tablet fans have a few solid choices, all with high pixel-density (retina-like) screens. In the large-tablet class, the Nexus 10 ($399), Kindle Fire HD 8.9” ($299) and Barnes and Noble Nook HD+ ($269) all come in affordably priced and with great features.  All also have a 7” class alternative, which include the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD, all priced starting at $199.  Of these, only the Nexus devices have full access out of the box to the complete Android experience and Google Play app store, while the Kindle Fire and Nook products run customized versions of Android that are a little more limiting.

Microsoft joined the fray this year with its Surface line of tablets, which currently only compete in the larger screen class.  Surface with Windows RT ($499) contains a 10.6 screen and runs a customized version of Windows 8.  It also has exclusive access to Microsoft’s own app store, which includes tablet-friendly versions of the Microsoft Office apps.

Data and accessories

While all tablets include Wi-fi access, make sure you get a tablet with compatible data connectivity if the end user requires it.

Unlike most phones, data plans for tablets go month to month and don’t require a contract, so users aren’t locked into anything if they find they’re not using cellular data as much as they thought.

Also consider key accessories for your tablet gift target. Stylish smart covers help protect the tablet screen and make an inexpensive gift.  Bluetooth keyboards, docking stations and typing covers are a functional gift for users that type extensively on their tablet.

As always, you can never go wrong with a gift card for the tablet’s associated app store.

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