iPad and alternative tablet gifts: 2012 holiday guide

The definitive guide to getting the perfect tablet gift for Black Friday and the holidays!

If you're looking at getting someone a tablet this year, chances are you're looking to get them an iPad. For most people, most of the time, the iPad remains the best combination of technology, experience, and content on the market. But which iPad should you get, the latest, greatest iPad 4 or the thinner, lighter, iPad mini? Should you consider an iPod touch instead? And what about alternatives? I Apple isn't the right answer, should you look at the Nexus 7 or Nexus 10, or an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, or a Microsoft Surface instead? Lets break it down.


iPad 4: Everything you need to know about Apple's late 2012 iPad with Retina display

If you need a tablet powerful enough to get things done, get an iPad 4

The iPad is the first, successful, mainstream tablet. If you're considering getting a tablet for yourself or as a gift, this is where to to start.

Pros: High density screen. 720p front camera, 1080p rear camera. 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB options. Available with black or white front plates. Plays audio and video, reads ebooks. Runs iOS, all App Store apps, including hundreds of thousands of tablet-specific iPad apps. Weighs 652 grams. Starts at $499. Cellular/LTE available.

Cons: Heavier than iPad mini, not as powerful as a full-on laptop.

Bottom line: If you want something more accessible, enjoyable, and portable than a laptop, but still want a big screen and plenty of power to get things done, get an iPad 4.

More info: iPad 4 review & feature guide

Note: If you don't care about the latest and the greatest, you can grab the 2010/2011 iPad 2 with a worse screen, no LTE, and really bad cameras, and save $100.

iPad mini

Everything you need to know about Apple's smaller, thinner, lighter, 7.9-inch iPad mini

If you need a companion tablet more than a productivity machine, you want an iPad mini

The iPad mini is just like the full-sized iPad, only a little smaller and a lot lighter. It's a great alternative for people for whom the big iPad would be perfect... if only it wasn't so big.

Pros: 1080p rear camera, 720p front camera. 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB options. Available in slate (black) or silver (white). Plays audio and video, reads ebooks. Runs iOS, all App Store apps, including hundreds of thousands of tablet-specific iPad apps. Fits in purses, large jacket pockets. Weighs 308 grams. Starts at $329. Cellular/LTE available.

Cons: No high density Retina display, less powerful than iPad 4.

Bottom line: If you want a tablet but already have an ultralight laptop (like the MacBook Air) to lug around, or the full-size iPad is just too big and heavy, save some size and weight and get the iPad mini.

More info: iPad mini review & feature guide

  • Starting at $329 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

iPod touch

If you need an incredibly small tablet to keep in your pocket, you want the iPod touch

While you might not think about the iPod touch as a tablet, it does everything a tablet can do, and still manages to fit in even very small pockets.

Pros: 720p front camera, 1080p rear camera. 32GB and 64GB options. Available in slate (black), silver (white), pink, blue, and red (Apple Store exclusive). Runs iOS, can play audio and video, read ebooks, and run hundreds of thousands of App Store apps and games.

Cons: No cellular option (3G/LTE). Can't run iPad apps. Smaller screen than iPad line.

Bottom line: If even the iPad mini is still too big, and you want your computing literally in your pocket, along with access to the App Store, get the incredibly mobile iPod touch.

  • Starting at $299 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Note: If you don't care about the latest and the greatest, you can grab the 2010/2011 model with a worse screen and really bad cameras, and save $100.

BlackBerry Playbook

If you need a name-brand tablet at the absolutely lowest price on the market, you want the BlackBerry Playbook

If the most important feature for you in any tablet is price, the BlackBerry Playbook is absolutely the cheapest 7-inch tablet from a major player on the market.

Pros: 720p front camera, 1080p rear camera. Upgradeable to BlackBerry 10 in 2013. Wi-Fi version can be found for as little as $150 if you shop around.

Cons: No high density display, less software choice than iPad.

Bottom line: If price is your only concern, get the BlackBerry Playbook

  • Starting at $150 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

More: BlackBerry PlayBook review

Google/Asus Nexus 7

If you need a small tablet that still has big Android power, you want the Nexus 7

If the iPad mini is a little too big, and the iPod touch is way too small, and you prefer Google to Apple anyway, the Google/Asus Nexus 7 is the best small Android tablet on the market.

Pros: Higher density display than iPad mini. Excellent integration with all Google services. Starts at only $199 for 16GB. Cellular option.

Cons: No rear camera. More like a big iPod touch than a small tablet (paucity of tablet-optimized interfaces/apps). No LTE.

Bottom line: If you use a lot of Google services, and Google Play has a lot of content in your area, the Nexus 7 is the best small Android tablet on the market, and a good "bigger" alternative to the iPod touch.

More: Complete Nexus 7 review

  • Starting at $199 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Kindle Fire HD 7

If you want a small, cheap media device totally tied to Amazon's ecosystem, you want the Kindle Fire HD 7

The Kindle Fire HD 7 is more media appliance than tablet, but if you're in the U.S. and all-in on Amazon's ecosystem, the Kindle Fire HD 7 is a low-cost iPad alternative.

Pros: Excellent for media. Cellular/LTE option. Starts at only $199.

Cons: Lower density display than iPad 4. Not as good for general computing. Only available in a handful of countries.

Bottom line: If you're looking for small, cheap device to read, listen to, watch, and play Amazon content, you want the Kindle Fire HD 7.

  • Starting at $199 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

If you want a cheap media device totally tied to Amazon's ecosystem, with a bigger screen, you want the Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Like the Kindle Fire HD 7, only bigger -- though not as big as a full-sized iPad -- and with a cellular option, if that's important to you.

Pros: 8.9-inch high-density screen. Cellular option available. Starts at only $299.

Cons: Not as good for general computing. Only available in a handful of countries.

Bottom line: If you want to read, listen to, watch, and play Amazon content, but you want to do it on a bigger screen, get the incredibly cheap Kindle Fire HD 8.9. .

  • Starting at $299 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Google/Samsung Nexus 10

If you need a full-sized tablet with all the latest specs and Android software, you want the Google/Samsung Nexus 10

The Nexus 10 is slightly bigger than the iPad, and while it still lacks consistent tablet-optimized interfaces and apps, it's also slightly more like a traditional, multi-window computer than iOS.

Pros: Higher density screen than iPad 4. 720p front camera, 1080p rear camera. 16GB/32GB options. No LTE option (yet). Starts at $399.

Cons: Paucity of tablet apps, inconsistent tablet interface.

Bottom line: If you really want an Android tablet, and a big screen, get the incredibly cheap Nexus 10.

  • Starting at $399 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Microsoft Surface RT

If you need something closer to a netbook than a tablet, you want the Surface RT.

While Microsoft's tablet remains confusing and confounding, if you absolutely can't decide between a Windows netbook and a tablet, the Surface might be worth checking out.

Pros: Has elegant Metro interface. Lots of ports. Can run Office. 32GB/64GB options.

Cons: Product line is needlessly complex. Requires touch-unfriendly Windows under-layer to run Office. Office is also touch-unfriendly.

Bottom line: The Surface is brand new and it usually takes Microsoft 2 or 3 generations to nail a product. Still, if you absolutely have to have something that's part tablet, part netbook, get a Surface with a Type cover.

More: Complete Microsoft Surface review

  • Starts at $499 - Buy now (opens in new tab)

Which tablet are you getting?

If you're shopping for a new tablet this Black Friday or holiday season, are you sticking with the tried-and-true iPad? Going small with the iPad mini or even smaller with the iPad touch? Or are you zigging instead of zagging and getting something by Google ro Amazon or Microsoft instead? Let me know what you bring home, and why you chose the way you did!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I'll be getting my girlfriend an iPad mini (16GB, white) for Christmas. It's at the top end of the budget, but I've been trying to hook her on the Apple ecosystem (she just took over my iPhone 4S) and this way she won't steal my iPad 3 anymore. The mini makes more sense as she wants an iPad that fits in her purse and is useful for notes and books at school, as well as some reading and web browsing on the couch at home. She doesn't want to store any movies, music or lots of photos, so 16GB will be plenty for her. My retina iPad is better for movies as we travel, anyways.
  • Still can't believe the price. I was hoping for something close to $199.
  • I have the iPad mini and thinking about getting my mother one too and I'm sure she will love it as she now has the original Kindle Fire.
    On a side note, I also have the PlayBook and the camera on the front also shoots video in 1080p and not just 720p as your article states.
    Both are great and serve me well. Otherwise good comparison article by the way.
  • I bought a surface. Didn't seem needlessly complex - just had to choose 32gb or 64 gb and whether I wanted a type or touch cover. Seems to be an easier choice than all the iPad varieties (talk about needlessly complex - mini or full, new or newer or 2nd gen, WiFi or 3g, black or white, att or Verizon, 16 or 32 or 64, what color cover, etc). MY wife even likes her surface now more than her iPad, and that is saying something.
  • and Ur wife is earning 10 000$, while working on her Surface from home...ait ???...here is the wrong place to run promotions... DUDE... U should contact Oprah for that... WART is DOA
  • I will assume you have never used a surface. I still have an iPad but will sell mine as I haven't touched it since I bought my surface. Yes, it was more complicated to learn than my iPad - my 2 year old girl could work the iPad. But being able to get on my home network and have access to a true file system and my peripherals (external hard drive, printer and scanner) has made the difference for me. Plus it just feels nicer. I'm just expressing my experience from using both an iPad and a surface. I don't game and don't need a million apps, those would be the only reason I would go back. But I'll continue to recommend to my mom or friends with young children that an iPad would be better suited to them. But for my friends and work colleagues that are looking to get a tablet, I will recommend this.
  • OK...I will assume U're not an ad troll....I will also assume U & friends are heavy windows users,...than it would be much more useful to get some cheap net-tops instead... and not the DOA WART...Ur friends and work colleagues.. are going to hate U.... DUDE
  • all my gifts to friends and family are white iMinis... as iPads are the only real tablets and not just over-sized phones as their's clones !!!
  • Please tell me you are joking. Look at the full reviews and specs of the Nexus 7, then compare them to the iPad mini. The Nexus 7 beats the iPad Mini in almost every aspect. And its cheaper.
  • I wish I can get them the cheap staff and just feat them with specs afterwards.... DUDE... but they'll just call me an fkng Cheap-skate and throw it in this green garbage bin to all the other sweet waste there... I guess its because they rather like to enjoy 280 000 tablet app-choise... and not just 17 tablet optimized on andrOS.... i'm joking....of course: there are actually 19... and that just beats your spex argument in every aspect !!!
  • I ordered an iPad 4 32 GB this morning on the apple sale. My wife was gonna order it for Christmas, but called me and said go ahead and order the one you want and the case since you know you're getting it anyways. :) I look forward to my first real tablet. Last year she bought me the Nook Tablet and with stock software it was very frustrating. I did end up rooting it and installing a beta version of cyanogen mod android making it a little more useful, but it's buggy at times.
  • Definitive guide, more like subjective. I know this is an apple fans site but the way it talked about the playbook is just poor. They didn't even say it plays flash websites, which the ipads til now can't do. Don't get me wrong I have my sights on the ipad mini I think it's cool but for the playbook which was released 2011 and is still kickin it, upgradeable in 2 month's time. I'll get 2 playbooks for the of 1 ipad mini.
  • upgradeable in 2 month's time.... U wish .. .if u think Rimm will (after spending all the bio$$$ on new software) upgrade old hardware, which they sell in a loss ...than U must be dreaming... not in this world .... DUDE
  • Flash thing is old news only because there's literally an app for that. It's called Puffin and will run most flash sites, including games. And it's universal so it'll run on all iOS devices.
  • My brother said he would get me a Nexus 7 (hoping for 32GB). I may get the Surface/Surface 2 next year, after the app store matures. I was really impressed with the Surface at the Microsoft Store. There was a learning curve with the type cover, but nothing too bad. For perspective, I owned an original iPad, upgraded when the 3rd generation came out, then got just as bored with it as I did my iPhone. One thing this guide (and every article on the site) has failed to mention is how stale iOS has grown. Visually, Android and Windows RT are more appealing. And once you take some time to learn the settings, it's not hard at all to use the software.
  • I'll say it again for all the Rtds in the back row.... *Windows RT is a dead born operating system*... comprendo hombre ? ...no matter how hard u troll about it ...DUDES !!!
  • I've got an iPad 3, I really Ike the look and feel of the Mini but since I have an iPod Touch, Android Phone and the 3 its hard to justify the purchase to my wife. In the last couple of weeks I've sold 3 people on getting the refurbished 3 from Apple for $379. All of them wanted ipads and this represents a great value to them. The Playbook 16 gig is going for as little as $70 on eBay, it's not my first choice in a tablet but that's a steal. The Nexus 7 and 10 both have great specs and a good price but I'm done with Android on tablets for the foreseeable future. Ice had a rooted Nook Color and an Acer Icona. The hardware was okay but the software was buggy as hell and the app selection was meager at best.
  • I can't for the life of me figure out the "meager app" android argument. There is nothing that I cannot do with ease on my Android tablet, including running my business remotely, drafting documents, dictating letters, reading spreadsheets, etc etc. As soon as someone can identify for me some valid activity that I cannot do with my Android tablet due to a lack of programs, I will become an Apple convert. I won't be holding my breath.
  • Gift recommendation website giftivo.com has a nice selection of the most popular non-Apple tablets and accessories: http://www.giftivo.com/giftideas/Tablet