NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Literally millions of tablet computers are likely to sell this week, as consumers rush to embrace the year's hot consumer electronics. The questions fly in: Which tablet should I buy for my girlfriend? My mother? My son? And of course for myself?
The answers vary, and the final decisions are not entirely based on budget. Who you are and how you will use it are big factors.
"Simply the best tablet is the one that works for you," said Chris Dancy, creator of the popular ITSM podcast for IT professionals. "I think people need to stop and look at tablets as an extension of their life."
If it's a gift, it becomes your job to look at the person, his needs and the resulting right tablet.
Here are three options, with the focus on frugal, with a self-indulgent kicker at the end.
For the media consumer in your gift circle: Kindle Fire HD, $139, WiFi only.
There is no better tablet buy for media consumption and Amazon, which brands the device, throws in a free month of "Prime," its two-day shipping service on most purchases plus acres of free videos (such as "Alpha House," the Garry Trudeau Senatorial comedy that is winning viewers). To boot, there also is a free lending library with tens of thousands of e-books (and the built-in e-reader is very easy on the eyes).
The 7" screen's quality is acceptable, as is the Dolby sound. It works for light gaming (hardcore gamers will crave more processing power and a sharper screen).
Yes, heavy-duty content creation apps are available - Fire runs on an Android variant and most Android apps will run on it - but only a masochist would do more than write a brief email on Fire. It is okay for light content creation, but don't even think about doing more.
Spend a few more dollars - $154 - and Kindle Fire HD ships without Amazon's "special offers" (advertisements to you and me), but that's your call. If money is tight, the offers are not onerous.
For the user with many possible uses: Nexus 7, $229 for 16GB, WiFi only.
There is no better all-purpose tablet at this low price-point than the Google branded 7" slate which runs Jellybean (the late model Android OS), comes with Near Field Communication (NFC) for making point of sale buys with Google Wallet, and employs just about any app you can find in Google Play.
A bonus: it squeezes into the back pocket of jeans.
It's excellent for watching video - and Google offers plentiful freebies on Play (lots of cooking shows right now, for last minute turkey prep). It suffices for listening to music. But probably its strongest suit is handling email, taking notes eyeballing small spreadsheets.
For gamers, it rocks, with fast processing speeds and a sharp screen.
The Nexus 7 is not extraordinarily good at anything, but it also is wretched at nothing. And there is that delectable price. Many reviewers insist it is the best Android tablet regardless of price. We can quibble about that, but factor price in, and it unquestionably is the best.
You want to unwrap the self-indulgent item?
First: What not to buy. Don't even think about gifting Microsoft's Surface or Blackberry's PlayBook. Only bosses hand them out, only to reluctant (and grumbling) underlings. These are not gifts, they are work tools, period.
Lastly: what to buy yourself? Or hint around and hope others buy it for you?
"If you come home with an iPad, everybody's happy," said David Needle, editor of TabTimes.
This reporter will admit to buying, on release day, the iPad Air, a fullsize slate with a jawdropping price ($799 for the 128GB WiFi model, and do note: you will buy videos, movies and songs, and it is shockingly easy to fill an iPad which, for all practical purposes, has no way to expand memory). Ultra-thin, ulta-light, with a dazzling screen, there just is no better tablet on the market.
Is it worth nearly $1,000, once sales tax and a case are added in?
That is the question, and here is how it shakes out. If your answer is no, go into heavy hinting mode among the well-monied in your acquaintance.
If the answer is yes, just put a stop to this debate. Buy it for yourself. You won't regret it.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet