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Engadget's Holiday Gift Guide: Tablets

Welcome to the Engadget Holiday Gift Guide! The team here is well aware of the heartbreaking difficulties of the seasonal shopping experience, and we want to help you sort through the trash and come up with the treasures this year. Below is today's bevy of hand curated picks, and you can head back to the Gift Guide hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the holiday season.

You didn't think we'd let the holiday season go by without an official Engadget Tablet Gift Guide did you? Hey, give us more credit -- we know it's not 2009 anymore! The past year has seen an explosion in the tablet category, and while the iPad may still be the market leader, there's no shortage of Android and Windows 7 alternatives out there that let you surf the web, read books, and watch videos with just a flick of a finger. Sure, more are on the way, and all signs point to Apple updating the iPad in early 2011, but if you've got to have a touchscreen slab before the end of the year, we're here to lend a helping hand. Hit the break for a rundown of the best choices by price category.

Stocking stuffers... sort of

Let's be honest: There are loads of Android tablets out there for under $300, but the majority of them are just utter crap. Archos, however, has elevated itself above the others, and has mastered the art of creating cheap tablets with decent specs. The 7-inch 70 and 10.1-inch 101 both boast capacitive touchscreens, Android 2.2, 8GB of storage, and front-facing VGA cameras. Okay, so you don't get the Market or any of Google's Apps preloaded, but you can always peruse the AppsLib store or sideload the Market apk for your giftee. Oh, and did we mention both of them are only .4-inches thick?

Key specs: 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU, WiFi b/g/n, mini-HDMI

Price: $299.99 / $299.99

Stream TV Elocity A7
- $356.97

Stream TV came out of nowhere with its Android 2.2, Tegra 2-powered Elocity A7, and we're certainly not complaining with its under $400 pricetag. The 7-inch tablet is thicker than the Archos 70 and only has 4GB of storage, but this one can handle 1080p video, and thanks to its mini-HDMI port, output it to the big screen.

Viewsonic G Tablet
- $379.99

When you consider that the Viewsonic G Tablet has an NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, Android 2.2, and a 10.1-inch capacitive touch display, you'd assume it's the bee's knees. However, like most other Android tablets these days, it doesn't have access to the Android Market or have those preloaded Google apps -- if you can live with that, it's worth a look.
Editor's Note: Since publishing this guide, a Viewsonic G Tablet manufacturing defect has been reported. We'd go with another option in this guide.

Oh, you shouldn't have

We highly doubt you need an introduction to the iPad -- Apple's 9.7-inch tablet basically transformed the gadget world in the last year. But, while the hardware itself is stunning, the appeal really comes in its snappy operating system and plethora of apps. With thousands of iPad apps now in the App Store (including our very own!) and iOS 4.2 bringing multitasking to the platform, there's no arguing that it's the best tablet on the market. The WiFi / 16GB version may be the lowest end model, but there's really nothing low end about it.

Key specs: 1GHz Apple A4 CPU, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1

Price: $499.00

Samsung Galaxy Tab - $600
(VZW, Sprint, T-Mob, AT&T)

Hands down, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the best Android tablet around. The 7-inch Gorilla Glass screen makes it the perfect size for holding with one hand, and the TouchWiz Android 2.2 layer has been spruced up to take advantage of the larger screen. You also get, not one, but two cams! Unfortunately, there's no WiFi-only version yet, but you do have your pick of 3G models from an assortment of carriers.

Dell Streak - $550

We're still not sure what to call the Streak -- a megaphone? A phonelet? But if you're looking for a mini-tablet for surfing the web, reading, and watching videos, the Streak's 5-inch display and Snapdragon processor can absolutely get the job done. We've loved the design and size ever since we laid eyes on it, but the recent Android 2.2 update has made it even more enticing. Oh, did we mention it can also make phone calls?

We can't afford the rent now, can we?

Sure, there are more affordable WiFi versions of the iPad, but nothing says "I really care" like some more storage and 3G. Whether you spring for the iPad and a MiFi or go for the integrated AT&T 3G version, you can give the gift of ubiquitous web connectivity in a beautiful aluminum tablet form factor. Believe us, they'll never forget this one... especially when they have to pay the monthly data charges.

Key specs: 1GHz Apple A4 CPU, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, 3G (data only)

Price: $729.00

HP Slate 500 - $800

If you're shopping for someone in search of a tablet with Windows 7, the HP Slate is your best bet at the moment. The 8.9-inch capacitive display has an active digitizer, which means you can use a finger to navigate but also take notes with the included stylus. It also boasts a VGA front-facing camera and a 3 megapixel one on the back. HP is not promising that orders will ship in time for the holidays, so be prepared to deliver an IOU.

ExoPC - $699

Recently added to the Microsoft Store, the ExoPC is certainly the most consumer friendly Windows 7 tablet out there. The ExoPC UI or "Connect Four" layer, as we like to call it, adds a lot of spice on top of the stock Windows experience and with a Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator it can push along HD video rather nicely. Sure, you still have to live with less than four hours of battery, but with 64GB of storage and a 1.3 megapixel cam it's a pretty sweet deal.

Tegatech Tega v2 - $800

We can't say we're completely sold on any of the 10-inch or 11.6-inch Windows 7 tablets we've seen -- mostly because of the weak Atom performance and battery life -- but the Tega v2 has a very solid aluminum build, 32GB of flash storage, 2GB of RAM, and dual boots Android 1.6 and Windows 7 Home Premium. The software layer is a bit slow, but pick up a a Bluetooth keyboard and stand, and it could be a decent netbook alternative.