Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011: tablets

Welcome to the Engadget Holiday Gift Guide! We're well aware of the heartbreaking difficulties surrounding the seasonal shopping experience, so we're here to help you sort out this year's tech treasures. Below is today's bevy of 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.

Of all the electronic gifts you could buy someone right now, a tablet seems like one of the safer bets. It's a cheaper way of saying "I love you" than bestowing a $1,000 laptop, and it takes less chutzpah than signing someone up for a smartphone (along with two years of data fees). And let's be real here: what's more festive than flopping onto the couch in pajamas after opening gifts and lazily playing Angry Birds while It's A Wonderful Life airs in the background? Yeah, we can't think of anything either.

Sadly, we don't have any webOS-flavored tablets this time around, and we couldn't include some hotly anticipated numbers like the Transformer Prime, since they're not shipping yet and we don't even know much they'll cost. Still, we managed to find a slew of Android tablets (and one iPad) across a range of budgets. Been on the fence about what to get? Skip past the break for some ideas.

On the cheap

Amazon Kindle Fire

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Hear that? That was the sound of other Android tablet makers taking a big gulp. Though it undercuts its competitors by at least $100, the Fire still manages to offer a high-quality IPS display and a (heavily skinned) version of Android that covers the basics -- email, web surfing, watching movies. What's more, it's closely tied to Amazon's vast empire of books, movies and MP3s, giving it a tighter ecosystem than what most other Android tabs have to offer. Sure, it lacks a camera and anything that qualifies as beefy storage, but with a price that tempting, its value is undeniable.

Key specs: 7-inch (1024 x 600) IPS display, 1GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB of RAM, 8GB internal storage, rated for eight hours of continuous reading, weighs 14.6 ounces.

Price: $199 on Amazon

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Acer Iconia Tab A100

Like other 7-inch tablets, the A100 runs Android 3.2 and is far more affordable than most 10-inchers. We think you'll dig its fast performance, absence of annoying skins and its portable design. Be warned, though, that it has short battery life, even for a tablet this small.

Price: From $328 on Amazon

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

HTC Flyer

We're losing hope it'll ever run Honeycomb, but the Flyer is nonetheless a steal thanks to a steep price drop. After all, how many other Android tabs with pen support can you find for $300? For the money, it also has a solid, well-made aluminum design, though regrettably, the pen isn't included in the US.

Price: $300 from Best Buy


Archos 80 G9

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Though it's not the thinnest or lightest tab on the shelf, the 80 G9 offers the best bang for your buck. For $370 at the high end, it offers a 250GB hard drive, kickstand, full-sized USB port, healthy battery life and support for a raft of codecs. And if you could do without the HDD, you can step down to one with 8GB or 16GB of flash memory ($300 and $320, respectively). Either way, you get Android 3.2 while some similarly priced bargain-basement tabs run rusty old Froyo.

Key specs: 8-inch (1024 x 768) display, 8GB or 16GB of flash memory or a 250GB hard drive / microSD slot, USB port, 1 to 1.3 pounds, 1GHz or 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, rated for up to 10 hours of battery life.

Price: $280 and up on Amazon

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus

The original 7-inch Galaxy Tab finally has a successor in the Plus, which sports a 1024 x 600 display, dual-core 1.2GHz CPU and 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. Like other 7-inchers, it runs Android 3.2, though Samsung skinned it up with TouchWiz UX.

Price: $400 on Amazon

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

BlackBerry PlayBook

Back when the PlayBook cost $500, it was a tough sell: the OS was buggy and it still lacks a native email app. But after a stream of updates, the addition of Android app support and a steep price drop, this 7-inch tablet has suddenly become a lot more intriguing. Now let's just hope that email app is indeed coming soon.

Price: $332 and up on Amazon

Money's no object

Apple iPad 2

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

It's all about the apps, folks. While the Galaxy Tab 10.1 rivals the razor-thin iPad 2 in terms of build quality, Apple has maintained a wide lead in app selection. With 140,000 to choose from, the iPad 2 has become a veritable Swiss Army Knife, and even if you think Android's catalog is vast enough, many developers still write for iOS before they ever turn their attention to Honeycomb. Until Google's ecosystem can match Apple's, this remains the tablet to beat.

Key specs: 9.7-inch (1024 x 768) IPS display, 1.3 pounds, 16GB to 64GB of internal memory, 1GHz dual-core A5 SoC, rated for up to 10 hours of battery life.

Price: $499 and up from Apple

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Truth be told, we have a few favorite Android tabs, but if it's speed and a pinch-thin design you're after, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the one you want. We're enamored with its solid build quality and vibrant 1280 x 800 display, and if you like TouchWiz on Samsung's phones, you'll feel right at home using the 10.1: it runs the similar TouchWiz UX atop Android 3.1.

Price: $499.99 on Amazon

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 tablets

Sony Tablet S

Just another Honeycomb tab? Not exactly. The 9.4-inch S stands apart from garden-variety slates with an ergonomic shape meant to mimic a folded magazine. It also packs a raft of unique features, including a universal remote and access to Sony's vast music and movie catalogs. It also runs select PlayStation games and streams media through DLNA-enabled speakers and TVs, to boot.

Price: $499.98 from Amazon