Shopping headaches today? Take two tablets...or perhaps four. Tablet computers, the ones you control with your fingers, are considered the big gadgets of the season. The fresh iPad from Apple, Amazon's Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus and the Surface from Microsoft are key options. The Surface is the new kid, and along with Marketplace Tech producer Ben Johnson, I went to a temporary Microsoft pop-up store in New York to poke at the Surface and the thin keyboard that can be torn clean off of it.
That removeable keyboard is one of the tablet's biggest selling poings. Don't take my word for it. Just check out this commercial:
The basic keyboard is impressively thin and responsive. But can you actually type on the thing? You can... and I can see myself getting used to it. You also have a few different options for detachable keyboards as well, one of which is more old-school, with actual keys that you can click and press down. The Surface available now comes with a version of Windows that uses either built in programs or apps from the online Microsoft store. To run older Windows programs will require the Pro version of the Surface, out next year. One of the shop assistants said there are about 5000 apps with more on the way-- just a fraction of what's available for Apple or Android.
Slate Magazine's Farhad Manjoo has spent time with the Surface as well as the new iPad. He says he's sticking with Apple for now, in large part because of all the apps.
"In my opinion it's just a better device for most people," says Manjoo. "If you really love Microsoft Office and you need it everywhere you go, then the Surface is probably your bet. But I don't think that's true for a lot of people, especially for the kind of uses they want for something like the iPad."
Many of those people trying to figure out what tablet would suit them have been pestering CNET executive editor Molly Wood.
"I've had a couple of those emails and Tweets recently yes," says Wood. "It's becoming a much harder decision."
Wood seems to like Google's tablet offerings the best, in part because the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 are a little more open: for instance, they have Amazon and Kindle apps that allow you to tap into that giant market, which currently offers a lot more content than Google's Play Store. But she points out that this is really the crux of the issue: the fact that the search for the right tablet for you is really all about deciding how you want to get your content as much or more than the hardware itself.
"It's all about the stuff you have on the tablet, where you got it and where you want to keep it," says Wood. "If you have already bought a bunch of stuff from Apple, it's going to be a lot easier for you to buy an Apple tablet. And the same goes for Amazon or Google or whichever ecosystem you choose to live in."
So choose your ecosytem wisely. Just remember this on Black Friday: Holiday cheer doesn't come in a box -- as humans, we already have that software preloaded.