Opinion: Is it the right time to buy a tablet?

There are a number of great tablet options available now, but there are also some intriguing possibilities expected to come to market soon

The tablet market finally seems to have moved beyond a one-horse, Apple iPad monopoly. Google's Nexus 7 has made a splash in the tablet market, and Amazon's unveiling of the new Kindle Fire lineup will shake things up a bit as well.

With so many great tablet options on the table, many businesses and consumers who have been waiting patiently on the sidelines might be ready to take the plunge and buy a tablet. However, there are also some good reasons to hold off a bit longer.

Apple's iPad remains the dominant player in the tablet market. The iPad is used as the barometer against which all tablet rivals are measured in terms of both price and performance. Despite the fact that many competing tablets beat the hardware specs of the iPad on paper, and the fact that there are a variety of tablet options that are much cheaper than the iPad, the iPad continues to sell by the millions.

Up until Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, no other tablet seemed capable of making a dent in the iPad monopoly. Amazon's original Kindle Fire--a 7-inch tablet that cost a mere $200--was a huge hit. The Kindle Fire is built on an Android foundation, but the OS is a proprietary fork of Android developed by Amazon. That means the Kindle Fire is uniquely Amazon, but its also capable of running Android apps.

The popularity of the Kindle Fire forced Samsung to slash the price of its 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 to $250. At $50 more than the Kindle Fire, though, the Galaxy Tab 2 is still a great value. It has features and capabilities lacking in the Kindle Fire, like a camera, expandable memory via an MicroSD card slot, Bluetooth, and GPS. Feature for feature, the $250 Galaxy Tab 2 is a bargain compared to the Kindle Fire.

But, then Google came along with its own entry into the 7-inch tablet arena and upset the apple cart. The Google Nexus 7 starts at $200, and comes with the latest version of Android--"Jelly Bean". The Nexus 7 is a solid tablet with great hardware specs, and it quickly became the 7-inch tablet to beat.

Of course, there are a number of other contenders on the market. The Toshiba Excite tablet comes in a variety of sizes, and the Asus Transformer line has had its share of accolades.

So, with so many great tablet options available, in such a wide array of sizes, and diverse price points it might seem like it's a great time to finally get a tablet. It is. There's nothing wrong with purchasing one of the tablets on the market right now. But, there are some potential alternatives on the immediate horizon that might make you think twice.

Amazon just unveiled a new Kindle Fire lineup that includes slashing the cost of the base Kindle Fire model to $160, a new and improved 7-inch Kindle Fire for $200, and a couple larger models more on par with the Apple iPad, but undercutting the price of the iPad by $200. The new line of Kindle Fire tablets can be pre-ordered now, but won't ship for another couple weeks depending on the model.

Beyond the new Kindle Fires, though, there is also rampant speculation that Apple will enter the 7-inch tablet market with an iPad Mini. If that proves true, and if it is priced competitively (rumors suggest it will be $250), a smaller Apple iPad could turn the 7-inch tablet market upside down.

As for larger tablets, the Microsoft Surface RT tablet is expected to hit the street sometime around the official launch of Windows 8 at the end of October. There is no official pricing information available from Microsoft, but there has been some speculation that Microsoft could be very aggressive and price the tablet at $200.

My advice? Wait.

I realize that technology is constantly evolving, and that no matter how long you wait or which device you choose it's bound to be "obsolete" within weeks of months of your purchase. That said, I would discourage anyone from buying a tablet until we see how much the Microsoft Surface RT will cost, and find out whether the Apple iPad Mini rumors are true.

There are some major tablets rumored or expected in the next couple months, and you could easily end up regretting your decision if you buy a tablet right now. The world is not going to stop spinning if you wait a month or two to see how the iPad Mini rumors and Microsoft Surface pricing pan out before weighing your options and buying a tablet.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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