NEW YORK - Tablets are at the top of many wish lists this holiday season. But what to get? The choice used to be pretty limited, with the iPad dominating the latecomers. But this year, the field is more even, as tablets from Apple's competitors have matured. In addition, Google and Microsoft are diving in with their own tablets, providing more choice.

The first step in the buying process is to decide on the size of the tablet. They fall into two rough categories: the full-sized tablet, pioneered by the iPad, and the half-size tablet, epitomized by the Kindle Fire.

Full-sized tablets, which generally have screens measuring about 10 inches on the diagonal, are better for surfing websites designed for PCs, and far better when it comes to displaying magazines and documents. Overall, they go further toward replacing a laptop. They cost $400 and up.

Half-sized tablets, which have screens measuring roughly 7 inches on the diagonal, are cheaper and lighter, but just as good as full-sized tablets for e-book reading. It's an excellent first computing device for a kid, or a gentle nudge into the digital world for an older adult with little computing experience. This year's crop costs $199 and up, but last year's models are available for less.

If you've settled on a large tablet, here are some top choices. A review of smaller tablets ran Monday.

- Apple iPad, fourth generation (starts at $499)

Apple usually updates the iPad once a year, so it was a surprise when it dropped a new model in October, with a faster processor and the new "Lightning" connection and charging port, replacing the wide port inherited from the iPod. Like the third-generation iPad launched in March it has an ultra-high-resolution "Retina" screen. The model's resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels is only surpassed by the Google Nexus 10.

That means the current iPad is two generations ahead of the iPad 2 that was on sale last holiday season. It packs enough improvements to make the upgrade worth it. The iPad 2 is still on sale for $100 less, but it's not a very good value for the money: if $400 is all you can spend, there are better tablets out there than the iPad 2.

While other tablets are starting to approach it in terms of hardware, the iPad still enjoys the best support by far from third parties, both in terms of quality applications and accessories like cases.

One caveat: the base model of the iPad has only 16 gigabytes of storage, which fills up fast these days. The thoughtful giver goes for at least a 32-gigabyte model, for $100 more.

Other than that, there are few downsides to the iPad: no one will frown when opening this package.

- Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ (starts at $269)

For a book store, Barnes & Noble makes some amazing tablets. The HD+ is its first model that approaches the iPad in size, with a screen that's 9 inches on the diagonal. That makes it slightly smaller than the iPad, and the resolution is lower as well, but still very respectable. At 1,920 by 1,280 pixels, it can show more detail than a living-room HDTV.

The Nook is family-friendly too. You can create user accounts and restrict them from certain content, so there's less risk that your kids will stumble on your copy of "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Like the basic iPad, the basic Nook HD+ comes with just 16 gigabytes of storage memory, but it can be expanded with a microSD memory card. That means another 32 gigabytes will cost you just $25 - a good deal.

But the Nook is the least versatile tablet in our roundup. The number of apps available is small, and it's focused on Barnes & Noble content like e-books, magazines and movies. It doesn't have any cameras, while the competitors have two each. It's best for someone who's likely to stick to media consumption, and doesn't need the latest apps and games.

- Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (starts at $499)

If the Nook is for the avid reader or movie watcher, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is for the creative type. It's the only tablet in our roundup that comes with a "pen" that can be used to write and draw on the screen. In our test, this worked well, though the number of apps that take advantage of the pen is still small. (Other tablets, like the iPad, only respond to finger-like objects, so third-party styluses for them are of necessity thick and clumsy.)

The Note 10.1 runs Google's Android software, giving it access to a wide array of apps originally written for smartphones. The selection is not on par with the iPad's but better than other alternatives.

The Note's screen falls into the low-resolution category, sporting 1,280 by 800 pixels. That's a third of what the iPad musters.

Like the Nook, the Note 10.1's storage memory can be expanded with cards.

The Note's appeal is somewhat niche, but it could be just the thing for the budding or established artist.

- Microsoft Surface (starts at $499)

Microsoft's first tablet seems at first like a throwback to the first iPad. It's thick, heavy and rugged. But it's really doesn't have much in common with the first iPad or any Apple- or Google-powered tablet. It runs Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 adapted for tablets. It comes with a version of Microsoft's Office suite and the ability to connect to wireless printers and some other peripherals, like USB drives. The covers for it have functional keyboard printed on the inside.

The screen resolution is 1,366 by 768 pixels, placing it in the low-resolution category.

The Surface screams "work, work, work." It's the tablet for those who are wedded to Word and want to take their writing on the go.

One thing to note about the Surface: the basic model starts out with "32 gigabytes" of memory, but of that, only 16 gigabytes are available to the user. It accepts memory cards of up to 64 gigabytes, however, so expanding the memory is cheap.

Note that even though it runs Windows, the Surface doesn't run standard Windows applications. It will run only programs specifically adapted for Windows RT. The selection is, for now, quite limited.

- Asus Vivo Tab RT (starts at $599 with a dock)

Asus has a quality line of Android tablets they call "Transformer" because they dock into a keyboard with an extra battery. The combination folds up just like a small laptop and has excellent battery life. The Vivo Tab RT essentially takes a Transformer and stuffs it with Windows RT instead of Android.

The tablet part is smaller and thinner than the Surface. Together with the keyboard, it makes for a familiar little setup: a tiny laptop running Windows. Like the Surface, it has a memory card slot and a USB port. The screen resolution is the same.

The Vivo Tab is a good tool for those who want to get some work done on the commute or plane, or those who can't decide if they want a laptop or a tablet.

- Google Nexus 10 (starts at $399)

This is Google's first full-size tablet and the only tablet from any manufacturer that beats the screen resolution of the iPad. It boasts 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, a third more than the fourth-generation iPad.

It's also the only tablet in this roundup that has speakers on either side of the screen when it's held horizontally, making for good stereo reproduction when you're watching movies. It has a grippy, rubberized back and widely rounded corners. There's no memory card slot or an option for a cellular modem.

The array of third-party software is wide, just as it is for the Note 10.1. Most people don't associate Google with online books, music or movies, so it may feel odd that the Nexus steers buyers to Google's Play store. Of course, given the open nature of Google's Android operating system, there are apps available for other entertainment stores, including Amazon's, and for streaming services like Netflix.

The Nexus 10 is a snappy performer, and among the iPad's competitors, it comes the closest to matching the versatility of Apple products.

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WHAT'S OUT THERE

There are plenty of choices for buyers of tablet computers with screens measuring about 10 inches diagonally. Here's a look at how the iPad and other tablets of similar size compare:

Apple Inc.'s iPad:

- Price: Starts at $499 for 16 gigabytes of storage, goes up to $699 for 64 gigabytes, more for versions with cellular data access. (Apple still sells the older, iPad 2 for $399.)

- Screen size: 9.7 inches diagonally

- Screen resolution: 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, at 264 pixels per inch.

- Weight: 1.44 pounds

- Cameras: 5-megapixel camera on back and a low-resolution camera on front, for videoconferencing

- Battery life: 10 hours.

- Operating system: Apple's iOS

Pros: Unmatched access to third-party applications, high-quality Apple software and the iTunes store. Widest range of cases and accessories available. Available with access to fast 4G wireless broadband networks, starting at $629.

Cons: Data storage cannot be expanded with memory cards, and the base 16 gigabytes doesn't go far.

Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook HD+

- Price: $269 for 16 gigabytes of storage; $299 for 32 GB

- Screen size: 9 inches diagonally

- Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,280 pixels, at 256 pixels per inch

- Weight: 1.14 pounds

- Cameras: None.

- Battery life: 10 hours of reading, 9 hours of video

- Operating system: Modified version of Google's Android

Pros: Cheap and portable. Storage is expandable with microSD memory cards. Easy access to Barnes & Noble book store.

Cons: Selection of third-party applications is small. Barnes & Noble lacks wide range of content. Lacks cameras and option for wireless broadband.

Samsung Electronic Co.'s Galaxy Note 10.1:

- Price: $499 for 16 gigabytes of storage, $549 for 32 GB

- Screen size: 10.1 inches diagonally

- Screen resolution: 1,280 by 800 pixels, at 149 pixels per inch

- Weight: 1.3 pounds

- Cameras: low-resolution front camera, 5-megapixel back.

- Battery life: 9 hours.

- Operating system: Google's Android

Pros: Comes with a pen, for jotting notes and drawing on the screen. Slightly thinner and lighter than an iPad. Longer, narrower screen better suited to movies. Storage is expandable with microSD memory cards. Can act as a universal remote control for an entertainment center.

Cons: Selection of third-party applications not as good as iPad's, but wider than Kindle. Screen resolution lower than iPad's. No option for wireless broadband. Pen sensor slightly shortens battery life.

Microsoft Corp.'s Surface:

- Price: $499 for 32 gigabytes of storage, $100 extra for keyboard cover. $699 for 64 GB version, includes keyboard cover.

- Screen size: 10.6 inches diagonally

- Screen resolution: 1,366 by 768 pixels, at 148 pixels per inch

- Weight: 1.5 pounds.

- Cameras: Front and back cameras

- Battery life: 8 hours.

- Operating system: Microsoft's Windows RT.

Pros: Storage can be expanded with microSD memory cards. Comes with free Microsoft Office software. Models running full version of Windows 8 coming soon, offering compatibility with programs available for traditional Windows computers.

Cons: Operating system lacks good track record on tablets. Selection of tablet-adapted third-party applications small. No option for wireless broadband.

Google Inc.'s Nexus 10

- Price: $399 for 16 gigabytes of storage, $499 for 32 GB

- Screen size: 10.1 inches diagonally

- Screen resolution: 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, at 300 pixels per inch.

- Weight: 1.33 pounds.

- Cameras: 5-megapixel camera on back and a low-resolution camera on front, for videoconferencing

- Battery life: 9 hours for video playback, 7 hours for Web browsing.

- Operating system: Google's Android

Pros: Access to a variety of games, utilities and other software for Android devices, though not as extensive as apps available for iPad. Longer, narrower screen better suited to movies. Cheaper than newest full-size iPad.

Cons: Integrates with Google Play store, which is still new and isn't as robust as Apple or Amazon's stores. Data storage cannot be expanded with memory cards. No option for cellular wireless broadband.