A guide to tablet computers as you plan holiday shopping

Surface (Source: eBay stock photo)
Surface (Source: eBay stock photo)

(RNN) - Tablet computers are a hot tech item for holiday gifts this season, and there are so many choices it's easy to get confused.

With Cyber Monday fast approaching, here's a basic primer as you shop around for the best buys and the tablet computer that best suits your needs.

First, think about what you want it for.

Do you want to read books? Are magazines and newspapers important to you? How about watching movies or TV? Do you want to email, tweet, do Facebook? Do you need to write reports, do PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets?

There's a right choice depending on what it'll be used for.

If you just want to read and store books, get a cheaper model with a matte screen. You can grab one of these for about $80 to $150.

If you want more, you'll need to spend a little more.

For face-to-face communication like Skype or Facebook video chat, make sure the tablet has a front-facing camera.

A back-facing camera is a nice addition if you want to shoot and do basic editing of video and photos.

For watching TV, movies and playing games, get a high-resolution, color screen, and you might want get one of the bigger-screen models if that's your main purpose.

Get more memory if you want to store photos, movies or video on your device.

If you want it to store and listen to music, it'd be a good idea to go to the store to actually listen to the sound quality rather than shop online.

For "heavy lifting," like writing reports, get the more expensive models and spend extra for a keyboard. Remember, a tablet is more an entertainment device than a work computer, so your needs might lead you to consider a netbook, an ultrabook or a laptop.

Here's a quick look at a handful of the more popular models:


The new mini is $329 for the entry-level model, with 16G of on-board memory. It has the same resolution as the iPad2. If you want the retina display, you'll have to buy an iPad3, which starts at $499, but has the bigger screen and amazing resolution. An iPad2 has more stuff than the iPad mini and a bigger screen and costs $399 for the entry-level model.

You can read on it and download books. You can write emails, edit, sort and catalogue photos. If you want it for text-based chores – like writing a report in Google docs, say – get a keyboard, which will run about 100 bucks, and maybe a magic mouse, which is another $70 or so.

It's not cheap, but it's well designed, well-made, good looking and it's an Apple. There are tons of apps that are reasonably priced. If you want to run a lot of different apps, get more memory.

Microsoft Surface

You can't get one yet with Windows 8. Right now, you get it with Windows RT. There are rumors of a 7-inch version of the Surface and a Windows 8 phone around the corner, so you might want to wait.

The entry-level model starts at $499 and comes with hefty 32G of memory. You can get a 64G for another 100 bucks. For yet another $119, you can get a keyboard you can snap onto your Surface that also comes with a protective cover. The keyboard is really a must-have to maximize the features of this computer.

For another $99 you can get virus protection. For another $99, you can get software support and for $49 more, you can get software training that will "unleash the potential of Office or Windows."

It has a front-facing camera, a big, 10.6" display, you can read, type, do all the stuff you want to do.

The Surface works with Office, Windows, Xbox, Skyping is easy, and the kickstand is a simple, useful feature. It's a solid, well-made machine - it's also pricey and the add-ons can really add up.

Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 is made to compete with Kindle Fire and like the iPad mini, is smaller than its beefier and more expensive cousin, the Nexus 10.

It costs $199 for a base model with 16G, $249.99 for 32G. Shop around, and you may be able to find it cheaper.

It was developed by Google with an Android operating system, a high-resolution, 7" screen and Bluetooth.

It runs Google apps, you can watch TV, movies and videos, read ebooks, play games and music on the high-resolution screen.

Affordable, powerful with a Nvidia quad core chip and 1GB RAM, the sound is good, resolution is excellent, and the battery life is good.

Less sturdy than higher-priced products, but the rubbery back is easier to hold on to than metal pads. If you like the product but want more stuff, buy a Nexus 10 for about $399 for the 16GB model. You may encounter problems running certain apps on the bigger screen, though.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2

It has a 10.1" touch screen and runs on the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system.

The entry level tablet with 16GB of memory, webcam, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth runs $349.99. For $549.99 you can get 32GB of memory and the S Pen, a neat tool that allows you to draw, doodle or write right on the screen. You can also take notes in the margins of ebooks, if you are a student. It's a nice addition.

You get a lot of the usual stuff for a high-end device, with a 5MP webcam and a front 1.9MP camera, as well as access to tons of apps including Polaris Office, Google Maps, Google+, Adobe Photoshop Touch. The split-screen function is nice because it allows you to watch videos or read on one screen while taking notes with your pen on the other.

Amazon Kindle Fire

A popular alternative to Apple products, Kindle controls about 22 percent of the market and has a wide range of products in different price ranges.

The 7" model with LCD display, Wi-Fi and 8GB of memory is $159 on Amazon.com. The 8.9 inch model is $299 and the 32 GB model is $369. The basic model that is closest to the experience of reading a book without the distraction of emails, tweets or Facebook, runs about $79.

The higher end product provides access to movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, games and apps available through Amazon. Also, cloud storage for Amazon content, support for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, et cetera.

Good battery life, the new processor is quick, it fits in your hand and the sound is good. Consumer Reports rated it as the best tablet for the price.


The Nook Simple Touch is a $99 device with an outstanding battery life – two months on one charge - and the experience is very close to reading the printed page. You can borrow books from the library, and you have access to millions of books for purchase, most for $9.99 or less.

It has 2GB of onboard memory that will hold about 1,000 books – as well as the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

If you want to upgrade, the Nook HD begins at $199, and has a nice, color screen, Word, XL and PowerPoint support.

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