This year there is no mistaking the hot tech gift of the holiday season. Tablet computers have become the latest craze, and it seems as though there’s a new one coming out every week. That can make it difficult to decide which is the best tablet for that special tech geek in your life.
Can you go cheap? Or do you need to lay out half a paycheck in order to get a worthwhile tablet?
As with any tech and gadget issue, there are no stock responses to those questions. Instead we have to look at different tablet PCs to determine if they’ll fit our needs. Here are some of the newest, and best, tablets that you can grab this holiday season.
It might not be new, but the iPad 2 is the undisputed king of the tablet market. Many have tried to dethrone it, but they have all failed. You can even say that they failed miserably, as Apple retains more than two thirds of the tablet market share in the US.
Despite an increasing number of competitors, the iPad will remain the most sought tablet of the holiday season. That popularity does come with a price. Apple has competed on many levels, but it has never yielded on price.
When you buy an Apple product you are paying full price for a quality product, both in terms of functionality and durability. You’re also paying for access to an enormous app library. While Google also has a large library, Apple’s is more filtered, as to leave out the spammier apps. All of that costs money, and it’s all included in the iPad’s price.
But for that price you’ll get a state of the art tablet. Apple provides high-end hardware, including a lightning-fast processor and a high-resolution screen. That makes it a good device for both multimedia functions and basic computing tasks. There is a reason that it’s the most popular tablet on the market: you can do the most with it.
The iPad ranges from $499 to $699 for WiFi-only versions. You can buy a model capable of handling 3G data, but it costs an extra $130. In addition, to take advantage of the 3G data you’ll need to sign up for a prepaid data plan from AT&T or Verizon.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
While the iPad is the king in tablet market, Android as always is right in the game. But as was the case when Android smartphones first came out, Android tablets are playing a catchup game with Apple. That is, many Android tablets are as good, technically speaking, as the iPad.
They just haven’t gained enough market momentum to seriously compete. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, now available through multiple cell carriers and big box retailers, poses a strong technical threat to the iPad.
In terms of Android tablets, there is none that top the Galaxy Tab. It has the same large, vibrant screen as the iPad, and it seemingly runs faster. It’s also a little lighter than the iPad, which is a huge boon for people who plan to travel with the tablet.
Every little bit counts when your lugging around electronics. At the same time, it has Android’s enormous app library, which is growing rapidly.
Unfortunately, it’s the pricing that gets in the way. The T-Mobile version, the latest release of the Galaxy Tab, costs $399 up front, but that doesn’t include the $10 monthly payment that takes the full price to $650. Then there is the monthly data fee, which costs at least $40, which customers are required to pay every month for two years.
iPad users enjoy prepaid data, and so can opt to not pay for certain months. But in terms of non-Apple devices, the Galaxy Tab still destroys the competition. It’s definitely the best alternative on the market.
Asus Transformer Prime
While it might come from a lesser-known brand, Asus actually has the technical king of the market with the Transformer Prime. People might know the Asus brand from their Eee line of compact laptops, and those who do know the name probably associate it with positive vibes.
For a while now Asus has been an underrated gadget manufacturer, and with the Transformer Prime they’re poised to take the Android tablet market by storm.
It starts with software. The Transformer Prime, which will start shipping soon, will be the world’s first tablet to run Android’s latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich. It will ship with Honeycomb 3.2, but an upgrade will be immediately available. Such is the benefit of having a rapid development platform such as Android.
It also brings the world’s fastest mobile processor, the Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core, to the tablet. In other words, the Transformer Prime will crush the competition in terms of hardware and software. The large 10.1-inch screen might even put it past the iPad.
The Transformer Prime actually undersells the iPad, too. While the entry-level device is the same price, $499, the Transformer Prime has double the memory, 32GB. There is also a 64GB model for $599, which also undersells the comparable iPad by $100.
This tablet will be available at big box retailers, such as Best Buy and Amazon.com, so ordering one will not be a problem, no matter where you’re located.
While the Galaxy Tab might be the best iPad alternative on the tablet market, the Amazon Kindle Fire is the most sought one. There is good reason for that, too. The Kindle e-reader line was and continues to be a massive success. The Kindle Fire is just the next of these impressive devices. With a reputation set up, Amazon needed only a few killer features to let the Kindle Fire really take off.
It turns out they hit a home run, and they did it mostly using their own services. They provide streaming video, both free and via rentals, from Amazon Prime Video. They have their own MP3 store with storage locker service, so you can store your music in the cloud and keep your device memory free.
Not only does Kindle have its vaunted Kindle Store for e-books, but it has also inked deals with magazine publishers to get full-color and interactive periodicals. It really is an Amazon tablet in every sense of the term, even if it does run Android.
Oh, and Amazon hit it out of the park in one other important way: price. For some people $500 is just too much for a tablet, especially if it’s main purpose will be entertainment-based.
The Kindle Fire solves this by 1) advertising itself as an entertainment device, and 2) pricing itself as such. It costs just $200, which really is the sweet spot for tablet prices. At that price point it might sell nearly as well as the iPad this holiday season.
Barnes & Noble has some experience when it comes to tablets. Last year they released one, the NOOK Color, though they didn’t really sell it as a tablet. They sold it as a more powerful e-reader. Savvy users, however, figured out how to turn it into a less expensive Android tablet.
B&N eventually gave in and opened up more of the Android OS to users. They’re taking that a step further with the new NOOK Tablet, which will directly rival the Kindle Fire.
It’s fast — as fast as the iPad 2 from a technical standpoint, and it has plenty of other high-end hardware features. It trumps the Kindle Fire in terms of memory, offering 16GB of internal storage plus a microSD slot. Basically, you can get 48GB of information on there if you slide in a 32GB SD card.
As with Amazon, B&N has not only its regular e-book library, but also hundreds of periodical titles. In addition, it comes loaded with Netflix and Hulu Plus, making an even richer multimedia experience. The Kindle Fire might have the hype, but B&N came back with a solid counter offer.
They’re going to charge a bit more for the NOOK Tablet, $250 to the Kindle Fire’s $200. But the $50 difference can come in a number of ways. For instance, to get the most out of the Kindle Fire you need to have an $80/year Amazon Prime subscription.
That’s what gives you access to the 10,000 streaming titles on Instant Video. The NOOK Tablet, on the other hand, gives you Netflix right up front. It really is a big-time competitor for holiday purchases.
Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of BBGeeks, a site dedicated to helping BlackBerry users get the most out of their devices.