NEW YORK (AP) — The tablet computer is without a doubt the gift of the season — just like it was last year. This season’s tablets are better all around. Intense competition has kept prices very low. If you’ve settled on a small tablet, here are some top choices.

Apple iPad Mini (starts at $329 for 16 gigabytes of storage)
The most expensive of the small tablets is also the prettiest. Its exquisitely machined metal rim sets it well apart from competing tablets clothed in plastic and rubber. It’s also thin and light, despite having a screen that’s 40 percent bigger than other “small” tablets. But the quality of the screen doesn’t quite measure up to the competition. It has fewer pixels than other small tablets, and they’re spread over a larger area, making for a relatively coarse, pixelated look. On the other hand, the Mini has two cameras, front and back, which is a rarity.

Where the Mini really wins is in third-party apps: it’s the only small tablet that has access to Apple’s App Store, with a superlative selection of high-quality apps. It’s an excellent addition to the household that’s already hooked on iPhones and full-size iPads. For those not wedded to the “Apple system,” the other tablets merit a close look.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD (starts at $199 for 16 gigabytes of storage)
A year ago, the Kindle Fire was the plucky, cut-rate tablet, the Dodge Neon to the iPad’s BMW. This year, the gap in quality and features has narrowed considerably. The Kindle Fire HD has a better screen than the iPad Mini, and now sports a front-facing camera. The original Kindle Fire had none.

In another nice touch, it has speakers on either side of the screen when it’s held horizontally, making for much better stereo sound when you’re playing a movie. The selection of content is narrower than for the iPad, since it’s heavily slanted toward Amazon’s services. Likewise, the selection of third-party apps. But there are enough games to thrill a kid for hours, and the Kindle can be configured with a special “kid mode.”

The Kindle Fire is especially useful for members of Amazon’s Prime shipping service, since they get access to free streaming movies. On the other hand, anyone could be annoyed by the ads that appear on the lock screen. Getting rid of them costs $15. There’s no option for cellular broadband, so you’re limited to Wi-Fi connections.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD (starts at $199 for 8 gigabytes of storage)
Barnes & Noble has paid a lot of attention to the screens on its Nooks. This year, it’s clearly outdone the competition, with a screen that packs the pixels tighter than any other small tablet. The Nook HD has a slot for a memory card, meaning you can expand the storage space for movies and music by 32 gigabytes for $25.

The Nook HD is less of a general-purpose tablet and more of a consumption device for books and movies. It doesn’t have a camera. The selection of apps is the smallest. There’s no option for cellular broadband. Still, the Nook is an excellent choice for avid readers, kids and others who won’t be frustrated by the small selection.

Google Nexus 7 (starts at $199 for 16 gigabytes of storage)
The Nexus 7 has a powerhouse processor and a screen similar to the Kindle Fire HD. It has access to hundreds of thousands of applications written for Android smartphones, and more sophisticated multitasking abilities than the competitors.

It has a GPS chip for navigation, and a front-facing camera for videoconferencing. The Nexus 7 is great for the technophile who would chafe at the restrictions imposed by competing manufacturers.


NEW YORK (AP) — Tablets are at the top of many wish lists this holiday season. But what to get? The choice used to be pretty limited, with the iPad dominating the latecomers. But this year, the field is more even, as tablets from Apple’s competitors have matured. In addition, Google and Microsoft are diving in with their own tablets, providing more choice.
If you've settled on a large tablet, here are some top choices.

Apple iPad, fourth generation (starts at $499)
Apple dropped a new iPad model in October, with a faster processor and the new “Lightning” connection and charging port, replacing the wide port inherited from the iPod, and an ultra-high-resolution “Retina” screen. It packs enough improvements to make the upgrade worth it. While other tablets are starting to approach it in terms of hardware, the iPad still enjoys the best support by far from third parties. The thoughtful giver goes for at least a 32-gigabyte model, for $100 more. Other than that, there are few downsides to the iPad: no one will frown when opening this package.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ (starts at $269)
The HD+ screen can show more detail than a living-room HDTV. You can create user accounts and restrict them from certain content. It can be expanded with a microSD memory card. That means another 32 gigabytes will cost you just $25 – a good deal.
But the Nook is the least versatile tablet in our roundup. The number of apps available is small, and it’s focused on Barnes & Noble content. It doesn’t have any cameras, while the competitors have two each. It’s best for someone who’s likely to stick to media consumption, and doesn’t need the latest apps and games.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (starts at $499)
The Galaxy Note 10.1 is comes with a “pen” that can be used to write and draw on the screen, though the number of apps that take advantage of the pen is still small. The Note 10.1 runs Google’s Android software, giving it access to a wide array of apps originally written for smartphones. The screen falls into the low-resolution category. Its storage memory can be expanded with cards. The appeal is somewhat niche, but it could be just the thing for the budding or established artist.

Microsoft Surface (starts at $499)
Microsoft’s first tablet is thick, heavy and rugged. It runs Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 adapted for tablets. It comes with a version of Microsoft’s Office suite and the ability to connect to wireless printers and some other peripherals, like USB drives. The covers for it have a functional keyboard printed on the inside. It’s the tablet for those who are wedded to Word and want to take their writing on the go.

The basic model starts out with only 16 gigabytes of memory available to the user, but accepts memory cards of up to 64 gigabytes.

Asus Vivo Tab RT (starts at $599 with a dock)
Asus has a quality line of Android tablets they call “Transformer” because they dock into a keyboard with an extra battery. The combination folds up just like a small laptop and has excellent battery life. The Vivo Tab RT essentially takes a Transformer and stuffs it with Windows RT instead of Android. The Vivo Tab is a good tool for those who want to get some work done on the commute or plane, or those who can’t decide whether they want a laptop or a tablet.

Google Nexus 10 (starts at $399)
This is Google’s first full-size tablet and the only tablet from any manufacturer that beats the screen resolution of the iPad. It’s also the only tablet in this roundup that has speakers on either side of the screen when it’s held horizontally. It has a grippy, rubberized back and widely rounded corners. There’s no memory card slot or an option for a cellular modem. The array of third-party software is wide.

The Nexus 10 is a snappy performer, and among the iPad’s competitors, it comes  closest to matching the versatility of Apple products.