Are tablets just a fad? That's the question we're often asked by readers looking to justify the expense of yet another pricey gadget. After all, they've already got a smartphone, a laptop, a desktop PC and possibly even a netbook, too. Two-and-a-half years after Apple blew wide open the tablet market with its iPad, we can safely say otherwise: tablets are a phenomenon. (See also: What tablet should I buy? iPad, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7...)
The next time you get on a train, count the number of people using a tablet to browse the web, watch an HD movie, fire off an email, play a game, listen to music, read a book or get on with some work. And it's not just adults and commuters taken in by these highly portable, always-on devices: my four-year-old nephew can barely read or write, yet he's more in tune with the ins and outs of Android and iOS than his thirty-something parents.
In fact, tablets have become so popular with the younger generation that a whole new category of devices has sprung on to the market. Children's tablets such as the Fuhu nabi 2, Leapfrog LeapPad 2 and VTech InnoTab 2 are not only brightly styled and come with tough designs, helping to prevent the inevitable in the whirlwind that is a child's tantrum, they're safe to be left unsupervised with your kids. What's more, the preloaded educational activities can keep them quiet for hours. We review all these children's devices and more. See also: Kids' tablets buying advice: choose a tablet PC for your children.
Tablet buyers' guide: no longer just the iPad
Despite what some Apple loyalists would have you believe, the incredible success of the iPad isn't the only factor in the rise to popularity of tablets.
The fact is Apple's products are expensive. Given that you usually get what you pay for, and the iPad is a premium device, that's understandable. But price is an important consideration when choosing a tablet, and in recent months we've seen exceptional devices from Google, Amazon and B&N that cost less than half the iPad's ticket. These are subsidised, of course, designed to encourage content sales and uptake of the Android platform, but we're easily bought. See also: Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD tablet comparison review.
Up your budget a little and there's the Nexus 10 from Google. For the first time, whether the iPad is the best tablet money can buy is a question for debate. The Nexus is not only much cheaper, and faster in our lab tests, it bests Apple's unique selling point: that awe-inspiring Retina display. Eventually, Apple stands to face competition from Microsoft, too, with its burgeoning Windows RT platform, and upcoming Windows 8 Pro tablets.
Whichever tablet platform or form-factor you desire, and whatever your budget, our tablet reviews and tablet buying advice will be your expert guide. (See also: Tablet or laptop for family: which is best?)