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Lifestyle

November 29, 2012

IPad and beyond: a tablet gift guide

(Continued)

SAN FRANCISCO —

An alternative is Barnes & Noble's new Nook HD. It lacks some of the Kindle's extras, like a front-facing camera. But it's got a better screen and no ads — unlike the Kindle, where you have to pay an extra $15 to escape what it euphemistically calls "special offers."

Amazon and B&N have also introduced bigger, 9-inch models — $269 for the Nook, $299 for the Kindle ($499 with a discounted LTE plan from AT&T). While they're positioning themselves mostly against the full-sized iPad, they also face competition from a legion of devices running off-the-shelf versions of Android.

Flush from its Nexus 7 success, Google has launched the Nexus 10, a Samsung-manufactured 10.1-inch tablet with a truly iPad-worthy screen and a starting price, $399, that's $100 cheaper than the comparable Apple device.

The Nexus 10's big drawback is a lack of apps designed specifically to take advantage of its size and capabilities. Blown-up smartphone apps are annoying enough on the Nexus 7; here, they can be downright exasperating.

The market is also full of Android tablets from manufacturers including Samsung, Asus and the now-Google-owned Motorola. While many are largely interchangeable, Sony's Xperia Tablet S ($400-$600) sets itself apart.

Last year's version of the Xperia had an eccentric teardrop shape, cheap construction, poorly placed controls and connectors and sluggish performance. This year, the design has been toned down, controls are more user-friendly and a new processor from Nvidia helps move things along.

It also includes a passel of special Sony apps, some really good — like the one that turns it into a super-duper universal TV remote — and others not so much.

You could probably start an argument about whether the Microsoft Surface ($499-$699) even belongs in a roundup about tablets. Yes, it weighs about the same as an iPad, has a touch screen and runs apps under a colorful new operating system called Windows RT.

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