It’s been a great year for tablets, and not just for iPads. Yes, Apple Inc. continues to dominate. The newest full-sized iPad came with better cameras, a sharper screen, and a faster processor, with the same starting price of $499. Its follow-up, the downsized iPad mini is an even better value for money. It runs all the same apps, but is lighter, easier to handle, and starts at $329.
But these days there’s plenty of credible competition. Amazon.com upgraded last year’s Kindle Fire tablet. For $199, the Kindle Fire HD offers a brighter, sharper screen and a front-facing camera for video conferencing. Bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. offers the Nook HD tablet for the same price. It’s got a better video screen than the Kindle Fire, and smart software that lets up to six users customize it to suit their own tastes, making it a fine tablet for families.
But my favorite non-iPad of the year, again priced at $199, is Google Inc’s Nexus 7. It’s got a very fast quad-core processor, a vastly superior video screen, built-in GPS navigation, and Google Now, a superb personal assistant program with outstanding speech recognition.
I’d have loved to recommend the Surface, Microsoft Corp.’s daring bid to create the ideal tablet for its new Windows 8 operating system. Indeed, the $499-and-up Surface is an impressive piece of hardware — a tough, elegant machine with good performance, crisp video, and that clever optional snap-0n keyboard. But Windows 8 is a confusing mess, whether running on a tablet or standard personal computer. Perhaps next year, Microsoft will give its tablet the operating system it deserves.
Fans of classic black-and-white e-book readers were treated to new devices with screens that light up for reading in bed. Barnes & Noble got there first, with its very good Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, priced at $119. But Amazon.com has since delivered an even better offering, the $119 Kindle Paperwhite, which has smoother, more even lighting. While I prefer the Kindle, avid readers will be happy with either of them.
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