Which tablet is for you?

The season of the tablet computer has arrived. Sparked eight months ago by Apple Inc. debut of the iPad, every major computer company is now trying to get one in stores in time for holiday shopping.

But just what is a tablet, and why would you want one?

It's part laptop and part smart phone — a mobile computer that enables consumers to watch video, read books, talk on the phone and play games, whether on the couch, at the desk or somewhere in between.

But because nearly every one of those features is already available on mobile phones or PCs or both, the tablet is still struggling to show why it's special. That's partly because a "killer app" — which would make the tablet indispensable — has yet to emerge.

What is clear is that the tablet, with its touch screen, allows for a more visual approach to computing.

Professionals who deal heavily in video and images — interior decorators, Web designers, surveyors — can easily carry around large portfolios to show colleagues and clients.

As more models come with built-in cameras, the tablet will allow for mobile videoconferencing — so that users can show each other rooms, job sites or documents in real time.

But for most consumers, the tablet is still so new that it's not clear where it fits into their day.

The motley crew of iPad competitors now hitting stores shows that even tablet makers aren't sure what consumers want in a tablet.

Should the screen be large enough to read a screenplay at full size, or small enough to comfortably fit in the pocket of your jeans? Is $800 too expensive? Is 2 pounds too heavy? Does it need to have a camera? To make phone calls?

We look at a few tablets that will be available for the holidays. But these are just the first wave: Many more tablets are expected next year from electronics heavyweights like Hewlett-Packard Co., Google Inc. and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.


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