Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display
A smaller version of the device that started it all, the Apple Mini packs higher-than-HD resolution (2048×1536) into a 7.9-inch Retina display. Its new 64-bit A7 chip has four times faster CPU performance and eight times faster graphics, according to Apple. The Mini uses two Wi-Fi antennas instead of one, and the cellular model supports LTE. From $419.
Apple iPad Air
Combine the design philosophies of the tablet and ultrabook markets and you get the iPad Air, a full-size, 9.7-inch tablet that breaks the magic one-pound barrier. It’s stiff, aluminum unibody frame is only a hair over a quarter of an inch thick. Apple has also shaved the size of the bezel, while keeping the Retina display the same size, and the iPad Air boasts the same performance improvements as the Mini. From $519.
Google Nexus 7 (2013)
Google’s ASUS-built Nexus 7 underwent a makeover in 2013, making some substantial improvements to an already-popular 7-inch. It got thinner and lighter, with a faster 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, double the memory (2GB) and storage (16/32GB), and an additional 5-megapixel front facing autofocus camera. It’s available in Wi-Fi and LTE models. From $229.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
If your primary use for a tablet will be to read books and magazines — or if you’re looking for more family-oriented fare — the newest Kindle Fire leverages Amazon’s subscription and delivery model to make it easy to get to your content. A subscription Free Time service allows parents to limit time children spend on the device and what they can access, while offering a large library of books, games and videos for kids. From $379.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2014
The Galaxy Note 2014’s S-Pen stylus sets it apart from other tablets for those who work with drawing apps or want to take notes old-school style. Samsung has doubled the screen resolution from last year’s model to 2560×1600, and slimmed it down to 1.18 pounds. Design touches like the faux-leather back and narrow bezels give it a stylish edge, and the octa-core processor is a significant improvement. From $549.
Microsoft Windows Surface Pro
With an integrated kickstand, available keyboard cover, full-sized ports Intel Core i5 processor and Windows 8 operating system, the Surface Pro is all business, allowing full-fledged Microsoft applications to run on the device. It’s almost a hybrid tablet/notebook. The 10.1-inch display full HD, and the AV package is fleshed out with front- rear-facing 720p cameras, stereo speakers and a stereo microphone. A microSD port expands the onboard storage. From $649.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
The only true hybrid on the list, the IdeaPad Yoga 2’s screen folds through 360 degrees, allowing it to be used as a laptop, tablet or kiosk. At 13.3 inches, this Windows 8 machine’s screen is also the biggest, and the highest resolution, supporting resolutions up to 3200×1800. The base model features a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of DDR RAM, and 128 GB of solid-state storage. From $999.
There’s no doubting the popularity of the tablet computer. Technology research firm IDC is forecasting that the holiday crush will sell 84 million tablets in the fourth quarter of this year. That would surpass PC sales for the first time in a quarter, a shift the company sales will be permanent by 2015. So what tablets will we be finding — or putting — under the tree this season?