3. How will I connect?
Since the point of having a tablet is to be connected to a full-fledged, app-laden Internet experience wherever you are, the way it hooks up to the Net is extremely important. Options range from Wi-Fi—only, typically cheapest, models to ones that also have a 3G (fast-ish) or 4G (fast!) cellular data connection. The advantage of Wi-Fi alone is that you don't get socked for a monthly data plan. If you are almost always near a Wi-Fi connection, this may be a solid choice. If not, you could end up frustrated. Still, the easy fix is to buy a portable Wi-Fi device like the Novatel MiFi (bestbuy.com, price varies with service provider). A 3G or 4G tablet lets you access the Net from any place with a decent cell connection, without having to hunt down a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you occasionally travel, a smarter option may be a pay-as-you-go data plan (available from most carriers), so you don't have to fork out $30 or more every month. But keep in mind, as with cell phones, there's a deep discount if you commit to a two-year data plan.
4. How much do I want to spend?
Prices are all over the map. Even if you have narrowed your choices to a particular tablet, you still face decisions about how much storage and speed you need, two major determinants of cost. A basic Wi-Fi–only iPad, for example, is $499, but the 3G model (with 64 GB of storage) is $829—a gigantic jump. Getting the Galaxy Tab for $200 with a data plan might seem like a superb deal—until you add up the $30 to $85 a month that the plan will cost over two years and then compare that with the $350 Wi-Fi model.
To Buy or Not to Buy an iPad A not-insignificant number of people believe that the only tablet to buy is the one manufactured by Apple. Initially, the iPad was the only game in town, giving it a major head start in capturing consumers' hearts and imaginations. Though that's no longer the case, it still enjoys a certain cachet, as much (or more!) about emotion than functionality. I liken it to that yearning for, say, a certain pair of shoes or a purse. You can't articulate why exactly, you just want it. If that's the case, you may not care about the iPad's failure to support Flash animation or its sizable dimensions. The fact that you are getting the "it" device may supersede any other consideration. If that's the case, by all means enjoy.
Originally published in the September 1, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.