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Tablets: Which One's Right for You?

Today's consumers have better options than ever before. Here's what to look for

Real Pad AARP Tablet

RealPad owners get access to free 24/7 customer service via an 800 number that's accessible with the touch of an icon at the bottom of the screen. — AARP

En español | Nonexistent as recently as 2009, the tablet market has exploded. Even as "phablets," such as Samsung's Galaxy Note and Apple's recently launched iPhone 6 Plus, have increased in popularity and nibbled at the market, sales of full-blown tablets have mostly held steady. Last year, nearly 200 million tablets were shipped worldwide, and in the first half of 2014, more than 100 million were sold. According to a 2013 Pew Internet study, more than a third of all Americans over the age of 18 own one. Among those between ages 50 and 64, 32 percent own a tablet, and 18 percent of Americans over 64 are tablet owners.

At this point in the tablet's evolution, most devices can reliably offer sharp screens, vivid cameras for photos and videos, and access to myriad video, music, apps and books. We've chosen these standout devices for overall functionality, reliability and price. But, you might ask yourself, which is right for me? Read on.

The tutor: AARP RealPad

Price: $189

With most tablets marketed to people under 50, AARP saw an opportunity and seized it. Working alongside Intel, the organization designed the RealPad, the first tablet specifically geared to tech-wary people age 50 and older. Preorders can be placed online now, with first shipments due in mid-October, at which point the RealPad will also be available at Walmart.

Created with the needs of the newbie tablet user specifically in mind, the RealPad boasts an intuitive interface featuring larger graphics and icons meant to be easy on the eyes. It comes loaded with a suite of apps — including AARP publications, brain and word games, news and media outlets, and social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Wi-Fi-only tablet also arrives equipped with more than a dozen tutorial videos that walk users through tasks such as connecting to Wi-Fi, using email, setting up accounts at social networks and using video chat services like Skype for virtual visits with far-flung relatives and grandkids. In addition, RealPad owners get access to free 24/7 customer service via an 800 number that's accessible with the touch of an icon at the bottom of the screen. Remote help is also available.

It may be aimed at tablet newcomers, but the RealPad packs technology to satisfy even savvy users: Powered by the Android KitKat 4.4 OS, it sports a 7.85-inch screen big enough for watching video content and reading e-books, 16GB of memory and front- and rear-facing cameras. Also included with purchase is a one-year AARP membership.

The can't-miss kids: iPad Air and iPad mini

Price: iPad Air: Wi-Fi-only versions run from $499 to $799, Wi-Fi/cellular from $629 to $929).

iPad mini with retina display: Wi-Fi only from $399 to $699, Wi-Fi/cellular from $529 to $829

Apple popularized the tablet market with the original iPad in 2010, then pioneered the small-tablet market with the iPad mini last year. Consumers have purchased more than 170 million iPads in the past three years. Competition is now stiffer than ever, but the iPad still sets the standard.

Upon its release last year, the iPad Air raised that standard. It's a slimmer, faster version of its predecessor, the now-discontinued iPad 4, and sports the same crystal-clear retina display. With a 9.7-inch screen, the Air lives up to its name, weighing in at a single pound, more than a half-pound less than the iPad 4.

The iPad mini also got a 2013 makeover, with a faster processor and the retina display of its bigger sibling. Both iPads can run iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's operating system. The benefits remain consistent: iPads are intuitive, hyperfast, useful and fun, at whatever size.

For those partial to reading, the mini may be a better choice (I can't be the only one with bruises on my nose where my iPad has whacked me after I've drifted to sleep while reading in bed), but for video consumption the larger screen offers fantastic clarity. The depth of inventory at iTunes and the App Store is nearly unmatched, and it's easy to navigate.

Next page: Check out tablets from Apple, Microsoft and Google. »

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