What do American consumers want more than money or peace and happiness this Christmas season? If you said a tablet, you’re correct, at least according to a Consumer Electronics Association poll.
The same poll also found that a year ago, 14 percent of American consumers owned a tablet. It’s more than double that now. And tablets are even more coveted than smartphones and laptops.
So why is tablet fever so high? For the first time since the iPad debuted in 2010, consumers have some really good choices among competing tablets made by Amazon and Google. You can see the iPad vs. its competition with this handy chart.
It’s a good time to review those choices and help you pick the tablet that’s best for you — or that special someone on your gift list.
Android tablets, which run Google’s Android operating system, are becoming a big threat to the iPad. Though Google has made Android available to all tablet makers, your best bets for now are Google’s own flagship tablets, the Nexus 7 ($199) and Nexus 10 ($399).
These gadgets run the latest version of the Android operating system, 4.2 or 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, but at a lower cost. In some ways, the Nexus tablets are actually better.
Android was once harder to use because it lacked a centralized content ecosystem like Apple has. 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.
A Nexus tablet is a good buy if you want a powerful tablet that isn’t an iPad.
Now, you will come across sub-$100 Android tablets when shopping. I don’t recommend them. They’re slow with low-resolution screens and don’t always have the latest software.
Amazon’s Android-based Kindle Fire tablet got a major upgrade recently, along with a few siblings, making it a more competitive option.
Amazon revised the original Kindle Fire with more RAM, faster Wi-Fi and a front-facing camera but dropped the price to $159 from $199. In addition, Amazon released the 7-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.
The main attraction of 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.
You can pay more for additional storage and an AT&T 4G LTE cellular connection. For example, the 32GB, 7-inch Kindle HD with 4G cellular is $499. A similarly equipped iPad Mini is $559.
If you want a tablet that’s simple to use but want to save some money or just buy something besides an Apple product, a Kindle Fire is a good choice.
Despite the inroads Google and Amazon are making, the iPad is still the most-recognized tablet around. It’s the one you’ll see most on Christmas wish lists.
The fourth-generation iPad with Retina display benefits from a new high-powered processor and graphics system that allows 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. Of course, it’s also great for watching movies, email and Web surfing.
The iPad’s $499 starting price, however, makes many potential buyers think twice. The 4G cellular version costs $130 more.
To save a little money, don’t forget that Apple still sells the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the iPad 2 for $399. You also can opt for the new 7.9-inch iPad Mini for $329. It has the insides of the iPad 2 and its non-Retina screen, but is much thinner and lighter.
If you do decide on an iPad, you’ll want to load it up right away with games and other apps. My list of the 20 best iPad apps will get you off to a great start.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.