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Tablets and E-readers — A Gift-Buying Guide

By Teisha Collins |

Are you thinking of buying a tablet or ereader for someone this Christmas?

How do you know which is best for your spouse, children or friends? Which will give you the biggest bang for your buck? Stay tuned, because The Hunt unleashes the pros and cons of some of the season’s popular electronics just in time for Black Friday.

iPad 2

iPad 2

According to Apple, “There is so much to iPad, it’s amazing there is so little of it.” At 1.33 pounds, iPad 2 is only 0.34 inches wide, making you forget sometimes that it is even there. Not only does this tablet boast an innovative design, it maintains a battery life of 10 hours. If you are planning a road trip, or being on campus all day, iPad provides everything from entertainment through movies and books to a note-taker, the web and email. This amazing multitasker makes bulky desktops and PCs dissolve into obsolete dust.

Two powerful cores in one A5 chip make it one of the fastest tablets out there, allowing apps to load quickly, and anything you touch to respond instantly. Apple says, “And with up to nine times the graphics performance of the first-generation iPad, everything on iPad 2 is even more fluid and realistic, from game play to scrolling through your photo library.”

The iPad 2 has two cameras, one frontfacing and one backfacing, but even though they are tiny, “they are a big deal,” claims Apple. They are made for facetime video calling, which makes the transition for parents of new college students easier, allowing moms and dads to still see their son or daughter’s beautiful smile from miles away. The backfacing camera is great for monitoring your kids when they are out with friends. Just have them turn the iPad around, and it will show you exactly where they are, and who they are with.

Both cameras are also perfect for those Youtube blogger and photography fanatics. Video shoots in 1080p HDMI, making for spectacular quality, while the Photo Booth feature of iPad allows you to edit your pictures.

Adobe estimates that 80 percent of all rich media is flash-based, and the International Business Times claims that iPad 2 still does not have Adobe Flashplayer, meaning websites will not load fully. International Business Times also points out that the camera shoots still images at less than one megapixel, meaning it is probably not the most reliable for capturing memories.

Moreover, there is no USB or SD port, making transferring information to or from the iPad nearly impossible. The iPad 2 only offers Wi-Fi and 3G Wi-Fi, while other tablets such as Motorola Xoom were made to operate at 4G speed. The iPad retina display is poor, still only having a 1024×768 pixel display, which is less pixels per inch than the iPhone 4.

Although the iPad 2 starts out at $499 for a 16-gig Wi-Fi-only model, such a small hard drive space could be maxed out quickly, plus, having only Wi-Fi does not ensure an Internet connection anywhere. Prices for this lucrative tablet skyrocket up to $829 for a 64-gig, 3G model, but the cost doesn’t stop there. In order to access the 3G data, you must pay AT&T or Verizon another $15-$50 monthly. So, do the cool features and capabilities of this device outweigh its several drawbacks?

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

Ars Technica claims, “Amazon’s Kindle Fire is likely to be the first successful tablet not sold by Apple, and there are several good reasons for it: the low price of $199; the convenient, portable size of 7 inches, and a rich catalog of books, movies, and music offered through Amazon’s web-based services.”

Its vibrant color touch screen brings magazines, movies, and children’s books alive in a high-res display, and its in-plain switching (IPS) technology allows for extra-wide screen viewing, making it perfect for sharing, allowing mommy or daddy to read a bedtime story with their young one.

“You can get to all your favorite content with a single touch,” says Amazon. Book titles, music, websites, and games are easily accessible straight from the home screen. The Kindle Fire also features a dual-core processor, making for fast performance and efficient multitasking. Watch a movie while downloading a new book, or listen to music while browsing the web.

According to Amazon, the Kindle store offers more than one million titles, more than 800,000 of which are less than $10. Additionally, more than two million out-of-copyright titles can be downloaded for free. Or become an Amazon Prime member and enjoy unlimited streaming of more than 100,000 movies and TV shows, including new releases. All consumers who purchase the Kindle Fire automatically receive a one-month free membership to Amazon Prime. For those of you who are obsessive downloaders, don’t worry. This small device can store up to 100,000 films or 17 million songs.

Although its price is half that of the iPad 2, and it has a 2.0 USB port, the Kindle Fire falls short because it was only developed for Wi-Fi, meaning movies, books, and music are only accessible where a wireless Internet connection exists. Additionally, the Kindle Fire’s battery life is only 8.5 hours compared to iPad’s 10 hours. Moreover, the Kindle Fire lacks the distinctive feature of all Kindles, in that it does not have an e-reader; the reading experience is like that on a computer screen rather than e-reader. Kindle customers who want an e-reader and a tablet will have to own two Kindles. So, does the Kindle Fire really beat the iPad 2? Is it really just a cheaper tablet?

Verizon’s Motorola Xoom

Joshua Topolsky writes in Engadget, “The Xoom is equipped with formidable hardware … 32GB of internal storage, 3G connectivity … along with front and rear facing cameras, HD video capability, and loads of wireless options.”

Xoom

The display size for the Xoom is slightly larger than the iPad 2’s since it is 10.1 inches while the iPad 2 is only 9.7 inches. Furthermore the resolution of the Xoom is 1280×800 compared to the iPad’s 1024×768. The device also features both a USB and HDMI port, meaning it has TV and PC compatibility.

Unlike the iPad 2, the Xoom is more flexible in prices, ranging from $329 online to $499 at local retail stores including Staples, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy. This means that you can get the Zoom, which is basically the same device as the $729 iPad, from Verizon for about $400, And given that Verizon boasts that the Xoom can get 10 hours of battery life, too, this isn’t a bad deal.

According to Topolsky, the black metallic casing of the Xoom shows fingerprints. Furthermore, even though the Xoom is longer than iPad, it makes using the device in portrait (vertical) mode quite uncomfortable compared to landscape (horizontal) mode. Additionally, Topolsky reports that while the sound quality at a median rate is decent, when the volume is cranked up higher, it creates distorted cracklings, especially for e-mail notifications. Furthermore, the volume buttons are awkwardly positioned, making them hard to find/use.

BlackBerry PlayBook

“The PlayBook has unique features that make it ideal for a business tablet,” writes Tony Bradley in PC World Business Center. It has an advanced tethering system allowing communication between the tablet and a BlackBerry smartphone, and the cool thing is that the tethering connection automatically terminates when the phone exceeds a certain range.

Additionally, when the connection is broken, there aren’t traces of the BlackBerry phone’s information left on the tablet, making for a secure interaction. Thus, the tablet could be passed from co-worker to co-worker without the fear of risking personal data.

Bradley also points out some disadvantages of the device. The PlayBook is offered in 16-, 32-, and 64-gig models, which basically parallel the prices for corresponding iPad 2 models. Yet, the PlayBook is only 7 inches; so you pay the same price to have a smaller device. Bradley compares the PlayBook to an oversized smartphone, explaining that you cannot do much more on it than you can with a smartphone.

Moreover, the BlackBerry PlayBook is only equipped with Wi-Fi, meaning that in order to use it, tethering to a BlackBerry smartphone is a must, not an option. Finally, accessing e-mail is quite inconvenient, requiring that you either activate it via your smartphone, or use the web to turn on Outlook.

Velocity Micro Cruz E-Reader

Amazon says, “Cruz through books, magazines, and newspapers” with Velocity’s e-reader. It is sleek and light, a half an inch thick and weighing just under a pound. This full-color touch screen is 7 inches, and offers crystal clear viewing.

“The Velocity Micro Cruz reader is a multimedia player that offers tablet-like features for a lot less money,” reports Ereaders Reviews. One of the perks of the Cruz is that you are not limited to a single book retailer as with the Kindle or Nook. Enjoy browsing through and downloading more than two million great titles with the built-in Borders application. Plus, Velocity has its own book market for you to shop from. Be sure to take Cruz with you to college because it comes pre-equipped with a dictionary, alarm clock, calendar, contacts center, notepad, and other useful apps.

The Cruz is quite efficient with its 10-plus hour battery life, which extends to 24 hours when in standby mode. Additionally, each Cruz e-reader comes with a USB port and a pre-installed 4GB SD card, which can transfer all of your favorite music and movies to the device.

This device falls short because of its small hard drive. With only 256MB, there isn’t much room for storage, and thus, hard drive expansion is more a requirement than an option. Although it is quite compact and portable to take with you on bus travels, for instance, you cannot enjoy all the features experienced on full-fledged tablets like iPad or the Xoom. So its $80-$150 price tag seems fair, but is it worth it?

Nook Color E-Reader

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color is a gift suited for every reader. Its 8.5-inch touch screen illuminates your reading and web experience with vivid, full-color images. The Nook has a “Just for you” feature that keeps track of your book shopping in order to create a personalized recommendation of titles you might like. Furthermore, Nook Color allows you to keep up with what your friends are reading by letting you see how they rate books, and by allowing you to lend books to them.

With the Nook Color, even the beginning reader isn’t left behind. The Nook Kids trademark allows kids to interact with stories and characters, or to enable the read to me function, which allows them to be read to, perfect for those who are still learning all the words.

Nook Color and Nook Touch

It is also a great device for watching Youtube videos, checking your e-mail, and browsing and reading tons of popular magazines such as People.

The Nook Color has an 8GB harddrive, which means tons of room for book and media storage. It also features a micro SD card slot, allowing Nook users to transfer information to and from the device.

Costing on average $250, the Nook Color has several disadvantages. One drawback is that it was only developed for Wi-Fi. Barnes and Noble club members also point out that Barnes & Noble imposes several restrictions on the device, including not being able to change the font size on non-B&N downloads, and limitations on certain applications. Furthermore, unlike the Velocity Micro Cruz, Nook owners are limited solely to the Barnes & Noble retailer for book purchases.

Nook Touch

Featuring the same Expert Recommendations and Friends trademarks as the Nook Color, the Nook Touch takes reading to a new level. According to Barnes & Noble, it has the longest battery life, giving users up to two months per charge. With more than 50 percent more contrast than Nook first edition, this new souped-up device features text as “crisp and clear as a printed page,” claims Barnes & Noble, allowing readers to see perfectly even in the brightest sunlight. If you are a beach reader, you no longer have to deal with glare.

Weighing only 7.48 ounces, the Nook Touch is “lighter than a paperback,” says B&N. It is also extremely thin, making one wonder how it can hold thousands of books and magazines, but it does. Just as with the Nook First Edition, Nook Touch connects you with more than two million books and magazines, many of which are less than $9.99. Plus, as with all Nook devices, you can also borrow e-books from your local public library.

Forgot your Nook but want to read? With Nook free reading apps, you can access your library from your smartphone or any computer, allowing you to pick up reading from where you left off.

There are a few flaws with this device, though. Unlike iPad 2 or the first-edition Nook, it was not equipped for 3G Internet. Also, according to CNET Reviews, there are other disadvantages. Many customers find issues with the fact that parents cannot set controls or filters for their kids. Additionally, its relatively small 6-inch screen does not always present the best visibility when the font size of books is increased, making it hard to read. Finally, the Nook Touch is not great in landscape mode. But with a great price of $139, and loads of other amazing features, are these drawbacks a deal breaker?