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Will a Tablet Be Your New Best Friend?

Portability and features make these devices an alternative to your laptop

Screen Size Matters

You can perform almost all of the same functions on a smartphone, but the huge boost in screen real estate makes using a tablet a completely different experience.

I can barely read the icons on an iPhone or Android device. No such problem with the tablet. I can watch a full-length movie, read a newspaper or a book, or use my favorite travel, weather, email and productivity apps without needing to squint, strain or magnify. And now that Apple has enabled Skype video calls with its front-facing camera, it is also usable as a communications device.

Do You Need a Data Plan?

One of the reasons that cellular carriers have been eager to start selling tablets is that they figured many tablet buyers would also buy a 3G or 4G connection and a data plan. According to Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for NPD, that's not turning out quite as they hoped.

Many tablet buyers are never activating the 3G/4G service, finding they can get most of what they need in WiFi access. And if they do need a data connection where you can't find a hot spot, many of today's smartphones are capable of creating their own wireless hot spot.

It may not be the most efficient thing to do, but it's certainly cheaper than paying for two data plans.

Not All Tablets Are Created Equal

Many of the Apple competitors use the Android system, but some major differences exist among them. Screen size ranges from 5-inch diagonal on the Dell Streak (which some claim is more like a smartphone on steroids) to the 7-inch screens on the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and the BlackBerry PlayBook to 9 inches for the LG G-Slate and 10 inches for the iPad, the Motorola Xoom and the Archos 10

Among the other differences are speed, internal and removable storage, cameras, and the availability of an HDMI interface or a USB connection. The LG G-Slate even features dual rear-facing cameras for red/green 3-D recording, but you do need passive glasses to see those images. Several have a slot for a micro SD card, which gives you the ability to store more music, movies or documents. Battery life is another factor. LG claims the battery on its G-Slate will give you several days of use, while most of the others claim 8 to 12 hours.

Next: Tablets are part of an ecosystem. >>

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