Tablet Buying Guide
In the world of tablets, the iPad reigns as king. The product has its detractors, sure, but you can't dispute the millions of iPads consumers have purchased and the startling rate of adoption--selling more than a million within the first month of release. The iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch all run a common operating system called iOS, lending a degree of familiarity across Apple's most popular products. The iPad's ease of use, along with its impressive selection of apps, games, and media, are generally considered its most prized attributes.
Read CNET's full review of the Apple iPad 2
Tablet's running Google's Android operating system come in all sizes and price points, available from dozens of manufacturers. If the iPad's size, price, or capabilities don't quite fit your needs, Android tablets offer the widest range of alternatives.
See CNET's list of top Android tablets.
Tablets running Microsoft's Windows software have been available since the 1990s and continue to improve and evolve. In the spectrum of products that fill the gap between smartphones and laptops, Windows-based tablets (also known as PC tablets) are about as close to a laptop experience as you can get. Models known as "convertibles" further blur the line between laptop and tablet by offering physical keyboards that either flip behind the touch screen or slide out--essentially converting from tablet to laptop as needed.
See CNET reviews for Windows tablets and convertibles.
Though the majority of tablet hardware manufacturers are running Android or Windows on their devices, some companies are looking to emulate Apple's successful top-down approach: building both the hardware and the operating system from scratch.
In 2011, the two most prominent examples of this are the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook and HP's WebOS-based tablet. Products like these may turn out to be key players in the future, but they are currently in their infancy. Obviously, if you're already a big fan of BlackBerry or the WebOS software HP purchased from Palm, then these products deserve your attention. That said, even at their best, offerings like these will need time to catch up to the app, game, and media selection available from the competition.
Dedicated e-book readers were once simple and straightforward. Generally, they used e-ink on high-contrast black-and-white displays with screen sizes of 5 to 10 inches. Most offer the ability to read e-books as well as magazines and newspapers, and the most popular ones are tied to specific content vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony).
There is a growing trend of inexpensive Android tablets being marketed as e-book readers. These devices include some or all of the functions of a traditional e-book reader, but can be used for a much broader range of purposes, such as Web browsing, e-mail, and video playback.
That said, traditional e-readers typically include niceties such as free 3G e-book store access and the e-ink screens, which many readers find to be easier on the eyes for long reading sessions. These dedicated devices still have a place in a tablet world, especially for frugal consumers shopping in the sub-$200 price range.