Pro: Light, portable
Con: Less-than-premium display at a premium price
Best for: Bed-readers and e-mail junkies
Retail price: $329 and up
At first pass, it may seem like there’s not much to say about the iPad mini. It’s the iPad but smaller — 7.9 inches to the full-size 9.7 inches.
It’s much easier to say what the iPad mini isn’t. It’s not a computer replacement. It’s not an ideal reading device because of screen glare. It’s not a phone. But as you use the device, you find that it is ideal for in-between moments. Think of it this way: Most people might pull out the iPad when they don’t feel like lugging their laptop around. The mini is just right for those moments when the iPad seems like a bit too much. You might use it on the sofa for light e-mail or Web browsing.
If you have a third-generation iPad with the high-quality “retina” display that Apple says is the best the human eye can see, you’ll be disappointed by the iPad mini’s fine but not fantastic screen. It’s also one of the more expensive tablets, starting at $329 for the WiFi models and $429 for tablets that run on cellular networks.
There are lots of people for whom the iPad mini probably isn’t the best fit. If you love e-reader screens, need to watch video on a bigger screen or want to get some serious work done on a tablet, then you should look elsewhere. Even the new, larger iPad, which starts at $499 and has a faster processor than its predecessor, may be a better fit for you. But if you find you want a tablet good for transitioning from the hectic workplace to your sanctuary at home, the iPad mini is worth a look.
Barnes & Noble Nook HD
Pro: Tablet with the best reading screen
Con: Limited apps
Best for: Readers
Retail price: $159 and up
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Barnes & Noble’s latest tablet is great for reading. It’s clear from the way the tablet functions that it was built with the reader in mind, from the screen that reduces (but doesn’t eliminate) glare to the simple design that puts content front and center.
This strength is also a weakness, however, since the tablet covers the basics of non-reading apps but doesn’t have the rich ecosystem of apps that other tablets do. If reading isn’t the primary reason you want a tablet, then this probably isn’t the right choice for you.
As you may expect, books and magazines look fantastic on this 7-inch device, especially the large collection of children’s books that the company has made available for the device.
Barnes & Noble has made a point of marketing this tablet to families, adding in features such as parental controls and the ability to support multiple accounts at once — just to make sure that the kids don’t get an unintentional peek at your copy of “50 Shades of Grey.”
Kindle Fire HD
Pro: Cheap; seamless access to Amazon.com.
Con: Can be a bit unpolished
Best for: Content consumers, not content creators
Retail price: $199 and up
When Amazon released its first Kindle Fire for $199 last year, the tablet quickly shot to the top of many shoppers’ holiday wish lists. Hoping to strike gold again this year, Amazon released several tablets that offer better features than the original Kindle Fire, but with the same low-price pitch.
Amazon improved a lot about the device, which in its original form was little more than a souped-up e-reader. The screen is designed to have less glare and has a higher resolution, so video looks even sharper. The redesign also addressed many of the complaints that users had with the original Fire. For example, the power button was in a place that was too easy to hit by accident, so now Amazon has made it flush with the edge of the tablet and added volume buttons.
The new Kindle Fire HD also has more storage at 16 GB, and — of course — access to all the Amazon books, movies, music and other stuff that you could possibly want. That seamless shopping largely makes up for the occasional lags and rough edges that Amazon is still working out with its software.
The 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions of the Kindle Fire HD are out now.
Pro: Near laptop-replacement quality
Con: Is best with accessories
Best for: Those who are always working
Retail price: $499 and up
Most tablets are tweener devices, but the Microsoft Surface edges closer to the ultrabook category than the pure tablet. The company clearly put a lot of thought into this tablet’s design, adding intuitive touches such as a kickstand so pretty it’ll make your bicycle jealous. Its USB and HD video ports are a welcome addition for those who want to connect the tablet to other devices.