Not sure what to buy a loved one for the holidays? Touchscreen tablets remain one of the hottest high-tech toys of the year.It’s easy to see the benefits of tablets compared to laptops: they’re super thin and light; they last more than 10 hours between charges; there’s no waiting to boot them up; and using fingertips on a touchscreen is incredibly intuitive. They’re ideal for reading ebooks, more affordable than a laptop (on average) and apps are easy to find, download and use (and they’re free or close to it).
• Beam me up, Scotty
The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro (from $469.99) is the first tablet with a built-in Pico projector. Press a button on the side and you can beam whatever is on your tablet, such as a movie or TV show, onto a nearby wall or screen (up to 50-odd inches). Built for entertainment buffs, this 13-inch Android 4.4 (“Kit Kat”) tablet also features 8 watts of JBL sound (including front-face stereo speakers and a subwoofer) and offers up to an industry-leading 15 hours of battery life. Along with two cameras – a rear-facing 8-megapixel and a front-facing 1.6-megapixel lens – this tab is powered by a 4th generation Intel Atom processor and offers expandable memory via a microSD card under the kickstand.
• Light, bright
Weighing less than a pound and just 6.1 millimeters thin, Apple’s iPad Air 2 (from $499.00) is the lightest and thinnest iPad to date. Truthfully, it feels lighter than a typical magazine. But that doesn’t mean it falls short in the performance department: the new A8x chip and M8 compressor deliver console-like graphics for gamers on the go. Now with Touch ID, so you can use your fingerprint instead of passcodes, Apple’s latest also adds better cameras, faster wireless (including support for cellular connectivity) and a new gold color option. Battery life still tops 10 hours. Along with access to iTunes and App Store, iPad Air also works seamlessly with iCloud for online backup, storage and synchronization. Those who prefer a smaller iPad might opt for the 7.9-inch iPad mini 3 (from $399.00), which adds Touch ID, as well.
• Windows workhorse
If you can’t decide between a tablet and a laptop, the Surface Pro 3 (from $799.99) is likely your best bet. Microsoft’s third-generation product is a powerful, 12-inch Windows 8.1 Pro tablet that supports multiple magnetic covers with an integrated keyboard and trackpad (unfortunately, sold separately, starting at $129.99). Surface Pro 3’s ClearType screen offers a sharp 2160 x 1440 (2K) resolution with multi-touch input, allowing you to swipe, pinch and drag (and on the trackpad, too). Like previous models, there’s also a kickstand in the back to prop up the tablet – but now you can choose the angle. Other features include a new aluminum Surface Pen (stylus), expandable memory, full-size USB port and a Mini DisplayPort to connect to a larger monitor, television or projector.
Available in 8.4- or 10.5 inches, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S (from $399.99) are the company’s most impressive tablets to date. These Android devices deliver a number of impressive features – beginning with a Super AMOLED screen that delivers exceptional color, contrast and clarity. Powered by a quad-core processor, Samsung’s thinnest and lightest tablet is just 6.6-millimeters thin and weighs just 294 grams (8.4-inch) or 465 grams (10.5-inch). Similar to other Galaxy tablets, you can do two things at once via split-screen view or by utilizing the picture-in-picture option, plus Samsung adds its own store with exclusive apps, the Papergarden e-magazine service, Galaxy Gifts freebies, and more.
• Making waves
Want a tablet you can take into the bath to read ebooks? Bring by the pool or beach? Sony’s thin and light Xperia Z2 (from $449.99) is waterproof (up to 30 minutes, as deep as three feet), plus it is dust and scratch-resistant. Powered by a quad-core processor and Android 4.4 platform, this 10.1-inch tablet has a built-in IR blaster to control your home theater like a master control center. Available in black or white, the Xperia Z2 also houses an 8-megapixel camera (and 2-megapixel front-facing HD chat camera), front surround audio technology and wireless tech like DLNA, Miracast, NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and optional cellular support (via Verizon).
Other worthy tablets include the affordable and portable Asus MeMO Pad 8 Tablet ($149.99). the Android 5.0 (“Lollipop”)-based Google Nexus 9 ($399.99) and Amazon’s versatile Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Tablet ($379.00)