- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Flat, hard packages will be welcome this year. Tablet computers are extremely popular, and electronic reading devices such as the Kindle have matured and come down in price.

Which one to get? That’s mostly a matter of your budget. The iPad and other full-blown tablets are more expensive, but they do virtually everything better. Consider pooling money from friends or family for a better device.

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If you have more than $300 to spend, go for one of these full-size tablets. They have color screens that are about 9 inches diagonally, and they have built-in cameras:

_ Apple iPad 2 ($499)

The device that made tablet computing mainstream still reigns, outselling all others combined. It’s thinner than competing tablets and has access to an unparalleled array of applications: half a million, of which 140,000 are adapted for the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen.

That means more good games, more useful reference apps and more entertainment options. The range of third-party book apps also means the iPad beats dedicated e-readers at their own game by giving users the ability to read books purchased from any store. The large screen displays documents comfortably.

The basic model has 16 gigabytes of memory. More expensive versions have more memory and can also be bought with built-in access to AT&T’s or Verizon’s cellular network. Cellular service comes with a separate monthly fee of $15 and up, but there’s no contract requirement, so your gift won’t burden a loved-one with a big financial commitment.

_ Sony Tablet S ($500)

There are a slew of tablets from Samsung, Sony, LG and other manufacturers built around Google Inc.’s Android software. From a hardware standpoint, they’re not much different from the iPad, through most of them are thicker, and they’re available in a range of sizes.

The Tablet S stands out by including an infrared emitter, which makes it usable as a large universal remote control. It also plays some PlayStation games.

It has a 9.4-inch screen, slightly smaller than the iPad’s. It runs the latest version of Android, which is specially designed for tablets and is slick. But the selection of third-party applications doesn’t match the iPad’s in quantity or quality.

_ Asus Eee Pad Transformer ($389)

The Transformer is a reasonably priced Android tablet that doubles as a “netbook,” or small laptop, if you buy an accessory keyboard dock for $109. You can get an accessory keyboard for any tablet, but the Transformer’s attaches securely, and the combination folds up like a laptop. The keyboard has a touchpad, extra ports and an additional power pack, which prolongs battery life.

The keyboard makes this tablet a good choice for those who want to write a lot or just want the familiar feel of a keyboard and touchpad. Other tablets are typically better for reading and viewing content, not creating it.

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