By Christina Tynan-Wood
A little over one-third of U.S. adult consumers have a tablet—and over half (55%) have a smartphone that can run many of the same apps. If your family hasn't jumped into the pool yet, it's a great time to join the rush. A 7-inch Android tablet can be had for less than $200, but while prices start low, they can quickly climb over $500. If you're wondering whether you should spend more now to avoid having to buy again later, it's a good question. Of course, in the end, your needs and budget should drive the final decision. Before you buy, ask yourself:
Do we truly, madly, deeply want any iTunes-only apps?
It's possible—there are more than 375,000 native iPad apps available, many designed specifically for Apple's operating system. Android's Google Play market has lots too, but not every app built for Apple is available for Android or Windows. That may happen in the future, but not necessarily on your timetable. The leap to an iPad Mini (from $329) is not so far from a $150 7-inch Android tablet. So the question is: How much are you willing to pay for those iOs apps?
Should we consider a Windows RT tablet?
Maybe. These are very nearly a computer in a tablet body. They won't run all Windows software but will put the powerful and familiar Microsoft Office at hand. And they start at around $300. Add a keyboard and it's almost a laptop.
Is a tablet enough, or do we need a full-fledged computer?
A tablet delivers on the portability promise and has tons of functionality—but make no mistake, it isn't a computer. No keyboard, for starters, and inexpensive ones have nowhere to plug in your camera or printer. (Though, FYI, these peripherals are all going wireless at breakneck speed.) If you want a tablet for ease of carrying but need a computer with a keyboard, USB ports and an operating system that can run more-traditional software, consider a convertible tablet/PC like the HP Envy x2 (from $649). It's a laptop, but press a button and the screen separates to become a full-featured Windows 8 tablet. Sweet!