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Our favorite tablets

Even though it still dominates the sales charts, Apple’s iPad is no longer the only game in town when it comes to tablet computers. Although some manufacturers have tried and failed (think HP’s TouchPad), others have come through with innovative products, presenting a variety of options to the growing number of consumers who are looking to join the tablet ranks.

With the introduction of the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet late last year, there are now tablets at a variety of different price points. Here are a few of The Online Mom’s favorites, with a quick summary of what sets them apart from the burgeoning competition:

Apple’s iPad 2

It may be facing more competition but Apple’s market-leading iPad 2 is not giving up its crown anytime soon. With rumors of an upgrade in the works for the Spring, the iPad is likely to remain at the top of everyone’s tablet wish list.

Strengths: The stylish look, the easy-to-use interface, and the flawless operating system are what set the iPad 2 apart. Plus, its huge catalog of custom apps. The roll-out of iOS 5 and the iCloud storage service late last year further expanded the seamless Apple eco-system. Expect additional enhancements for the iPad 3 when it arrives later this year.

Weaknesses: While some may argue that you are getting what you pay for, the $629 starting price for the 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G iPad is still off the charts. And while it operates smoothly inside that Apple eco-system, the absence of any USB or HDMI ports means that the iPad 2 doesn’t play well with any non-Apple devices.

Sony Tablet S

Although Sony was late to the tablet party, it has come up with a winner in the Sony Tablet S. The 9.4-inch high-resolution display is perfect for the growing number of Android tablet apps, as well as Sony’s own integrated media offerings.

Strengths: The combination of Sony’s renowned engineering and Google’s Android Honeycomb operating system gives this easy-to-use tablet a durable but polished feel. All the usual Google apps come preloaded, along with a myriad of music, video, and gaming choices from the newly consolidated Sony Entertainment Network.

Weaknesses: The list prices of $500 for the 16GB version and $600 for the 32GB model are expensive for a Wi-Fi only tablet, although Sony is currently offering both versions at a discount of $100.

Kindle Fire

At just $199, the Kindle Fire is not trying to compete with the iPad 2 but instead carve out an affordable niche of its own. This robust, media-oriented tablet covers all the basic needs, and the 7-inch display is perfectly suited to its goals of simplicity over style and functionality over flair.

Strengths: Ultra-affordable and offering easy access to an impressive collection of Amazon-centric media, including music, video, books, and more.

Weaknesses: No 3G service, no camera, no GPS, and only 8GB of storage. The limited (for now) selection of apps might have you yearning for something a little more mainstream. A little patience is required as Amazon irons out the kinks in a sometimes sluggish operating system.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The best of the first wave of iPad copycat tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the complete package, incorporating the best that Android has to offer. Thin, light, and aesthetically pleasing, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the right choice for the person who wants an alternative to Apple but still demands the best.

Strengths: Well designed and stuffed with features. The gorgeous 10.1-inch multi-touch screen makes watching movies or playing games a delight. Super-fast 4G LTE version available from Verizon.

Weaknesses: At $500 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model and $530 for the 4G LTE version, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is still not cheap. At these prices, many tablet-buying consumers are still opting for the iPad 2, despite the comparable specs and the dramatically faster speeds associated with 4G.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Another excellent high-end tablet, the Asus Eee Transformer Prime displays a sleek design and a full set of features. An optional keyboard docking station gives it up to 18 hours of battery life.

Strengths: Top-of-the line Android tablet running the latest Ice Cream Sandwich operating software. Excellent 8-megapixel camera captures sharp still images and clear 1080p video. Comes with a choice of 32GB or 64GB of storage, plus extra cloud storage through Asus MyCloud. The mobile docking station can turn the Transformer Prime into a full-blown on-the-go workstation.

Weaknesses: Again, top-of-the-line means top of the price chart. The 32GB version costs $500, while the 64GB model comes in at $600. The docking station/keyboard will set you back another $150.

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble took its highly popular Nook Color and upgraded it into a full blown tablet. The Nook Tablet features a 7-inch screen and the added power under the hood means that you can now read books, watch movies, listen to music, surf the web, and check e-mail – in fact everything that you would expect from a basic tablet.

Strengths: At $249, the Nook Tablet is a customized Android tablet at half the price of its more expensive rivals. Access to great content, including “the world’s largest bookstore,” with over 2.5 million titles.

Weaknesses: No camera, no Bluetooth, no GPS, and only limited access to the Android Market.

Comment by Bre Dale aka Bresbaubles, posted 2/21/2012, 1:19 PM:

Nice list! I'm looking at a cheap Pantech Digital right now just for the basics

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