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Buyers guide: Why you should buy a tablet PC

What you need to know about the new spate of slates

Tablet PCs bridge the gap between what PCs and Mobile phones do. Unlike earlier, arguably premature efforts to transform tablet computing into a mass-market reality, today's models are here to stay. The new wave of slates is rolling in fast and furious, here's just what you need to know about the new generation of tablets.

Tablet PCs: Great expectations

For all the chaos and confusion that the first round of slates is sure to create, the new de­­vices promise some pretty fantastic opportunities as well. Coupling the mobility and connectivity of a smartphone with elements of a laptop - in particular, larger screens, more-powerful processors, and room for more and better cameras, ports, and accessories - tablets invite mobile users to discover lots of new things to do with them.

Just as the iPhone and its ilk caused an explosion of rich, location-aware social media interaction that few industry prophets predicted, the arrival of a category of even more-powerful, more-versatile machines will undoubtedly spur another furious cycle of innovation in web-connected activity. After all, most of these new tablets come equipped with a camera for snapshot photography and video, as well as a front-facing camera for videoconferencing on a heretofore unimagined scale.

Aside from better cameras, the larger format of the tablet makes room for improved GPS components with more-powerful antennas, which should support new capabilities for location-based services such as Facebook Places, Foursquare, and Layar. In time, the coupling of massive, socially driven photo and video services will let users visit a destination, pull out a tablet to capture their own photos and videos, and then share that content dynamically. Mobile gaming, meanwhile, will receive a powerful shot in the arm from tablets. Both Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market already teem with high-definition 3D games such as EA's Madden 11 and Firemint's Real Racing. Multiplayer casual games like Air Hockey and Scrabble are drawing people together over tablets, and it's only a matter of time before massively multiplayer titles like World of Warcraft find a home on slates as well. The room for advancement in mobile-app development is practically inconceivable at this early stage.

Perhaps the new wave of tablets will finally bring the dream of always-connected devices to fruition. Many of these tablets offer both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity and are available on subsidised data contracts from mobile networks. It remains to be seen whether consumers will flock to these Wi-Fi and 3G models, or whether they'll balk at the idea of shouldering yet another service contract and instead opt for the unsubsidised, pay-as-you-go 3G approach.

NEXT PAGE: A few more hurdles

  1. The new spate of slates
  2. A clean slate
  3. Great expectations
  4. A few more hurdles

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