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Apps and ecosystems
I pretty much covered the differences between the Android, Amazon, and Apple ecosystems in my previous article, so rather than repeating what I said, just go read the. Go ahead, I'll wait. Just click in, read those pages, and hit "Back" on your browser.
Welcome back. I'll assume you now know that Android is a little more open but slightly riskier, Apple's iOS is a bit more closed but somewhat more secure, and Amazon lives somewhere in-between, but it's mostly about access to the Amazon ecosystem.
The Nook uses the Barnes & Noble ecosystem (such as it is), rather than the Amazon one, and is really best if you're reading books purchased from B&N (although there's also a Kindle app on the Nook).
UPDATE: Apparently, there is not a Kindle app for the Nook, which makes this a far less compelling device.
Finally, the Surface RT uses the new Windows Store user interface, and while there are relatively few apps available, I'm sure there will soon be quite a few more, simply because developing for this interface uses many of the Windows development tools developers are so very familiar with.
My recommendation is this: if you're all about apps, you probably should buy the Nexus or the iPad. If you're about saving money, buy the Nook. And if you mostly want to consume Amazon content, buy the Kindle.
UPDATE: Apparently not. Too bad: Just a quick note about Kindle and Nook: there's a Nook app for the Kindle and a Kindle app for the Nook. Nice. So you're not particularly tied to the bookseller if you buy books from one or the other supplier. This is really smart and is something Apple should consider for iBooks. I like Kindle books (a lot), but because Nook books can be read on everything as well, they're a nice option.
While there are pleasantly functional Office clones that run on each of the tablets, they're not real Office and do have limitations. Get the Surface RT if you need a super-light machine that runs true Microsoft Word and Excel. Those are the RT's killer apps.
Sharing the tablet
Here's something new that I wish we'd seen a few years ago. Now, many families are multi-tablet homes, especially since many of us have upgraded, adding a second or third tablet.
In any case, the Nook HD+, the Surface RT, and the Nexus 10 (along with the Nexus 7, although I didn't mention it in the last article) support user profiles. What this means is that -- just like Windows and the Mac -- you can log into your own, personalized tablet UI and others in your family can log into theirs.
That means you can share a tablet in front of the TV, for example. Mom would have her apps and bookmarks and such, all arranged just so. Dad would have his. And even little Jane would have hers, with parental controls suitably employed.
Obviously, the big player missing out on user profiles is Apple. There's no such thing in iOS. Will there be? Who knows. It's Apple, after all. I wouldn't count on it.
Bottom line: if you want to be able to share your device and have it customized for each user, consider the Nexus, the Nook, and the Surface.
Not all these devices have a cellular communications option. If you want to take your device on the road, and be able to go online where you don't have WiFi, a cellular communications option will be your friend -- sort of.
I paid an extra $130 for the Verizon 4G option on my third-generation iPad. Unfortunately, Verizon has almost non-existant service here at home, and there's no 4G service for probably fifty miles. So while I have the option, it won't work because the local infrastructure won't support it.
While all cellular programs have two cost components: the extra cost for the cellular circuitry and a monthly fee, Amazon has a unique $49 for the first year service program, detailed here:
The iPad and Kindle Fire HD 8.9" devices are your only options. The Nexus 10, the Nook HD+, and the Surface RT don't have the option to add cellular service.
Next up, iPad considerations and your tablet purchasing decision tree...