USA TODAY - Tablet sales are expected to reach all-time highs in the coming months. With tablets available from Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft, Nokia and other manufacturers, how do you know what to buy?
Here are the features you need to know about before heading to the store.
Apple has two new iPads available this holiday season. The iPad Air has the same 9.7-inch Retina display as previous models, but sports a slimmer aluminum case, a 2x faster processor and weighs in at just one pound.
The iPad Air's baby sister is the iPad mini with Retina display. It has the same processor as the Air, but in a smaller package and with a 7.9-inch Retina screen. The iPad mini is expected to go on sale later this month.
Retina is Apple's marketing term for its high-resolution displays. However, rival tablets like the Nexus 10 and the Kindle Fire HDX tablets have similar resolutions. The iPad mini's Retina display has a higher resolution than its competitors, but at that screen size you might not notice.
If you already own an Apple gadget and love it, the iPad is a natural choice. You'll be able to access your library of Apple apps, music, videos and books from the iTunes store.
The Air starts at $499 and the iPad mini starts at $399. For bargain hunters, Apple still sells the older iPad 2 and original iPad mini for $100 less. If possible, I would spend the extra $100 to get the Air or second-generation iPad mini — they'll last longer.
Not everyone is an Apple fan, or wants to pay the iPad's price tag. That's why tablets running Google's Android operating system are gaining ground.
Google's Nexus 7 and 10 are popular options. They run Android smoothly, can access hundreds of thousands of apps, movies and music from Google Play, and cost $100 less than the equivalent iPad.
Android has some features that are missing from Apple's iOS 7, such as multi-user support. Several people can use the same tablet and keep their apps and media separate.
If you want an Android tablet that includes a cellular connection, take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 series.
AMAZON KINDLE FIRE
Amazon is hoping to turn up the heat with its new Kindle Fire HDXs. These rival the iPad and other Android tablets in weight, speed and screen resolution. And they're competitively priced.
The Kindle runs a custom version of Android. The interface has a sliding "carousel" hub, so it's easy to find books, videos or apps from Amazon's marketplace. There's also multi-user support and family-friendly features like FreeTime, which lets parents control the amount of time kids spend using the gadget.
If you already have an Amazon Prime Account or buy Amazon music, books or movies, definitely consider a Kindle Fire.
Microsoft just launched the Surface 2 running Windows RT 8.1 and Surface 2 Pro running Windows 8.1 Pro. Nokia has released the Lumia 2520 running Windows RT 8.1.
These have solid hardware and the keyboard covers are a nice touch, but I'd steer clear for now. Windows RT can't run regular Windows programs — although it does come with a special version of Office. And the Windows app store only has 100,000 apps compared to more than 1 million from Google and Apple.
If you really want a Windows-based tablet, get the Surface 2 Pro. It's more expensive than most tablets, but it's really a thin laptop. It runs the real version of Windows so you can use your programs.
Not everyone needs the latest and greatest tablet. If you're just testing the waters, there are low-cost options that offer decent quality.
Check out the Barnes & Noble Nook HD tablets. Thanks to recent price cuts, these are less than $150. Still, they'll be fine for light Internet, e-books, social media, email and even video.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.