Truth be told, if I purchase a tablet in the next few months, I'll be buying Apple's new 2012 iPad. Haters gonna hate, but from Bluetooth 4.0 support to the improved camera, incremental changes like this will likely lead to the best tablet on the market getting even better.
Even without the "I am the alpha and the omega" 2,048x1,536-pixel-resolution screen, I'd still choose the latest iPad. The ecosystem, app availability, and smooth and fast performance make it an easy choice for me.
That said, people have different tastes, and the new iPad, despite the hype, doesn't do everything. In addition, not everyone can afford to pay a minimum of $500 for a tablet, and even if you can, you may want a few features Apple doesn't natively provide.
That's where these five tablets come in. Each tablet on the list is a quality tablet that sports at least one feature the new iPad doesn't, be it a more affordable price or better port or feature support.
The Toshiba Thrive is kind of the anti-iPad, with features that would be much more appropriate on a laptop than a tablet, while retaining a tablet's touch-screen convenience. It's a honking behemoth of a monster, though, nearly twice as thick as the iPad 2. As for those laptop-y features? How do a full USB port, full SD card memory expansion, and a full HDMI port strike you? Not good enough? All right, well the removable (and replaceable) battery should destroy your last remnants of resistance.
While the Thrive ships with Honeycomb, Toshiba says to expect an Ice Cream Sandwich update by the "end of spring" 2012. Still, at its current $400 price it could stand a discount; the Thrive can easily claim a feature set the new iPad can't. Read the full review of the Toshiba Thrive.
Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet
Ah, the e-reader/tablet...thing. Smaller, cheaper, with pared-down features (no camera), but for some (and especially for such a relatively low price), that's not necessarily a turn-off. The new 8GB "Hey look, now I'm as cheap as the Kindle Fire, why did I originally launch at just $50 higher?" version of the Nook Tablet is $200. It also has microSD-based memory expansion, and includes built-in access to the Barnes & Noble store.
Though it also includes optimized access to Netflix and Hulu, there are no actual video rentals available and it doesn't give access to the full Google Play store. Still, it's a small, capable, and cheap tablet with memory expansion. Read the full review of the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.
Amazon Kindle Fire
The best-selling tablet not sporting an Apple logo, the Kindle Fire is the $200 7-inch tablet that could. Like the Nook Tablet, there's no camera but unlike the Nook, there's also no memory expansion. What it does offer is an ecosystem that outclasses anything on any Android tablet before it, supporting Amazon music, apps, books, and movies. I also appreciate that Amazon took some time to build an approachable interface that feels like an expansive media hub where I can access most any book, movie, or song I want. Easily.
If you're not sure about this whole tablet thing, the Fire represents the best, easiest, and cheapest way of dipping your toe into the sea of possibilities. Read the full review of the Amazon Kindle Fire.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
The Transformer Prime is essentially the Android version of the iPad 2, but trumps it by being thinner and lighter. Also, the Prime's camera is 8-megapixel while the new iPad's is only 5-megapixel, and Asus even found a way to fit Micro-HDMI and memory expansion via microSD into the base chassis.
The Prime is the first tablet to house the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU and was the first to receive the Ice Cream Sandwich OS update. It has a superbright screen mode for outdoor use, and the CPU speed can be throttled to save on battery life.
The piece de resistance? The Prime easily snaps into a $150 keyboard, transforming (...ahem) it into what is basically an Android ultrabook.
While there have been some GPS speed issues thanks to its aluminum unibody design, and at $500 it's certainly not cheap, this is still the best pure Android tablet experience you can have. Read the full review of the Asus Transformer Prime.
Apple iPad 2
That's right. The best alternative to the new iPad is the old iPad, or as it prefers to be called, the iPad 2. It's thinner and lighter than the new iPad and has the smoothest and most responsive touch interface of any tablet on this list.
What the iPad 2 offers is tons and tons (and still tons) of software in the form of apps and games and Apple's world-beating ecosystem for as low as $400 ($530 for 3G). If you want the best tablet experience, while saving a few bucks and not having to wait weeks for your tablet to ship, the iPad 2 is for you. Read the full review of the iPad 2.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these tablets head-to-head.