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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Buying a tablet by Kim Komando

Tablets are taking over the computing industry. For media consumption and light computing tasks, they're easier to use and more convenient than computers. However, choosing the right one can still be confusing.

The best tablet for you depends on how you plan to use it. Will it primarily be for media consumption, business or playing games? Do you want it to be safe and unchangeable or customizable? Keep these questions in mind before heading to the store.

Android tablets
Android tablets - which run Google's Android operating system - are the biggest competitor to the iPad and there's a lot of options. Even I got in on the tablet game with my Limited Edition KomandoTab™ Tablet ( $199.95). It includes a vibrant 10.1 inch touch-screen display, front and rear cameras, mini USB and Micro SD Card ports, all powered by a quad-core engine with 16 GB of memory. It's an affordable full size tablet option that I created with you in mind. It runs the Android operating system powered by Google. Though Google has made Android available to all tablet makers, the most consistent gadgets will be Google's flagship tablets, the Nexus 7 ($199) and Nexus 10 ($399). However, the Samsung Galaxy line is also very good.

These gadgets run the latest version of the Android operating system, Jelly Bean, and are the first to receive updates. They can go neck-and-neck with the power, features and usability you'll find on similarly sized iPads, too. In some ways, the Nexus tablets are actually better.

Android was once harder to use because it lacked a centralized content ecosystem like Apple. Thanks to Google Play, however, all the content you need is at your fingertips. In addition to 700,000 apps, Play includes movies, music and e-books.

Of course, you can still download content from multiple app stores and even from individual developer websites. This gives you greater freedom in where you get your apps. You can also find apps that give you more control over your tablet than you can with the iPad.

The drawback is that it's easier to download malicious apps. Additionally, not all apps work on all tablet hardware. Your tablet might not have enough power or a non-standard screen size.

If you're new to the mobile gadget market, Androids are a good choice if you like to customize. They give the user a little more options when it comes to tinkering with your gadget.

Apple iPad
The iPad is the tablet that started it all, and it's my personal favorite. The gadget, now in its 5th generation, continues the tradition of excellence.

Apple has dubbed it the iPad Air, a reference to the MacBook Air. Like the Air laptop, the iPad Air is thinner, lighter and sleeker than its predecessors, weighing in at less than a pound.

It has a high-grade aluminum body with ultrathin side bezels surrounding the standard 9.7-inch Retina display.

Despite its smaller size it packs more speed thanks to the new A7 64-bit processor from the iPhone 5s. Apple says it's eight times faster than the original iPad.

The new, high-powered processor and graphics system allow gamers and content creators more flexibility on the go. Gamers can download apps that rival home game consoles. Content creators have access to video editing, photo editing and drawing apps that nearly match computer-based programs.

The iPad Air sticks with the 5MP camerafrom the last iPad and the front FaceTime HD camera stays the same at 1.2MP, though. And it lacks the 5s' fingerprint scanner.

The battery life hasn't changed - it's still billed at 10 hours - but Wi-Fi performance for the iPad Air is two times faster than previous models.

One of the best things about the iPad is how easy it is to use. The new iOS 7 is very intuitive for first-timers. You have instant access to Apple's App Store, with more than 700,000 apps. Plus, it connects to the iTunes store for simple downloads of movies, music and e-books. Not only is it good for media consumption and gaming, the iPad can also be used for business. If you want a safe, dependable, all-around useful tablet, this is your choice. For some people, the new iPad will now replace the need for a laptop.

The iPad Air comes in your choice of Silver or Space Gray finish. It has several models available starting at $499 for the Wi-Fi-only 16GB version.

If you're staying around the house, you can get the iPad with the smallest storage size of 16 gigabytes and Wi-Fi only. For using it on the go, consider 32GB if you're storing mainly music and 64GB for storing primarily movies. And definitely pitch in the extra $130 for 4G cellular.

If that seems a little pricey, Apple sells the 16GB version of the iPad 2. It's still an excellent tablet for watching video, Web surfing and email. The Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad 2 is only $399.

But if you can afford the extra $100 I would definitely get the iPad Air. It's lighter, thinner, significantly faster and will most likely last you longer.

If you want to save even more and don't need the biggest screen, you can opt for the new iPad mini with Retina Display. It packs an amazing 2048 x 1536 resolution into the 7.9-inch screen. That's a huge improvement over the original iPad mini's 1024 x 768 display.

The iPad mini with Retina display also includes the blazing fast A7 chip, and most of the other hardware specs from the iPad Air.

It starts at $399 for the Wi-Fi only 16GB version. If you're really in the mood to save, the original iPad mini is still for sale.

It has the insides of the iPad 2 but is thinner and lighter. The Wi-Fi-only version is $299 for a 16GB model. For a Mini with 4G LTE connectivity, you'll pay $429.

Unless you are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem and need a smaller tablet, however, I wouldn't make the original iPad mini my first choice. You'll do better with a regular-size iPad or one of the mini's competitors.

Amazon tablets
Amazon launched the $200 7-inchKindle Fire a while back, which created a new segment of budget tablets. Now, however, Amazon has Kindle Fire tablets spanning the entire spectrum of prices.
Amazonrevisedthe original Kindle Fire, withmore RAM, faster Wi-Fi and a front-facing camera, but dropped the price to$159. In addition, Amazonreleased the7-inch and 8.9-inch Fire HDs.

The $199 7-inch Fire HD has a 1280-by-800-pixel screen, 16 gigabytes of storage, dual Wi-Fi and stereo speakers for movies. The 8.9-inch version starts at $299 and has the same specs but upgrades the screen to 1920 by 1200 pixels.

You can pay more for additional storage and an AT&T 4G LTE cellular connection. For example, the 32GB Kindle HD with 4G cellular is $499, whichmatches thecomparable iPad.

The cellular connection relies on an Amazon-exclusive data plan that's only $50 a year. Although that's an incredibly low price, that plan tops out at 250MB of data a month. That's going to be good onlyfor very light browsing.

While there are more expensive plans with more data, you'll want to stick mainly with the Wi-Fi connection.

Of course, the main draw on the Kindle Fire is that it ties in closely to the extensive Amazon ecosystem of music, movies and e-books. Amazon even has a dedicated Kindle app store.

If you want a tablet that's simple to use, but want to save some money or justbuy something besides anApple product, a Kindle Fire is a good choice.

Windows Tablets
Microsoft's Surface tablets running Windows RT and Windows 8 didn't get off to a good start. The hardware was solid, but the app support was weaker than it should have been.

Now Microsoft is trying again with the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro. These run Windows RT 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro, respectively. The original Surface RT is also still for sale.

Nokia has also launched the Lumia 2520 tablet which runs Windows RT. It's more expensive than the Surface and Surface 2, but has better hardware and includes 4G cellular.

The Surface and Lumia tablets are competitively priced and the Windows 8.1 update is anice step. However, your favorite apps and programs might still be missing.

Note that while Windows RT 8.1may look like Windows 8.1, it's made for tablet processors and won't run Windows programs. It will only run apps from the Microsoft App Store. You won't be able to find many of the computer programs you're used to.

If you're looking at a Surface tablet, I would consider the Surface 2 Pro. It's themost expensive, but it's a real computer in tablet form. The Windows RT tablets won't have nearly the range of use until more apps are available.

Want a more detailed tablet comparison? Visit the always-up-to-date tablet chart on my site.