SAN FRANCISCO — At long last, the phrase "tablet worth buying" isn't automatically synonymous with "iPad."
Unlike years past, this holiday season presents the gift buyer with a real choice of sizes, prices and capabilities.
Not that the iPad itself is any less desirable. The latest edition of the iconic 9.7-inch tablet ($499-$829) features Apple's gorgeous Retina display and the new, smaller Lightning connector introduced on the iPhone 5. In addition, models with cellular connections run over the ultrafast 4G LTE networks.
Plus, of course, there's the new, 7.9-inch iPad mini. The screen isn't as nice as big brother's, but it's incredibly thin (barely a quarter of an inch) and light (11 ounces), and has access to the iPad's 275,000 applications and huge collection of movies, music and other content.
And at prices ranging from $329 for a Wi-Fi-only model with 16 gigabytes of storage to $659 with LTE and 64 gigabytes, it's also the most affordable iPad.
Meanwhile, after two years of struggling to establish Android tablets as direct competition for the big iPad, Google this year tried a different, and more successful, tack. Working with Asus, it launched the compact Nexus 7.
Starting at $199, the Wi-Fi-only Nexus 7 features a bright, seven-inch display and swift performance. Newly upgraded to 16 gigabytes of storage, its big drawback is the limited selection of content in some of the Google Play online stores.
Lack of content isn't anything that afflicts Amazon.com's seven-inch Kindle Fire HD, which also starts at $199. Indeed, it functions best as a gateway to Amazon's enormous stock of e- books, videos and music.
It's heavier and slower than the Nexus 7, and although it runs a version of Android, it doesn't have access to the vast universe of Android apps. But if you've got a confirmed Amazon- lover on your list — especially one who already belongs to Amazon Prime and can take advantage of features like the Kindle Lending Library — this may be the tablet that warms her heart.