Shipping is going to be the biggest problem faced by last-minute tablet shoppers. Orders placed online Saturday or Sunday probably won't ship until Monday, which is Dec. 24. Most, if not all, parcel carriers are likely to be closed or making limited deliveries on Dec. 25. If you're shopping online this weekend, the chances of having a tablet arrive by Tuesday are extremely slim. Shopping in retail stores is probably the best way to go at this point, but be sure to call ahead if you're looking for something specific.
Let's discuss your options based on the device you need to buy.
Apple iPad 2 And Retina iPad.
These two tablets are the most readily available. Apple lists both in stock and available for immediate shipping on its website. I checked with a handful of local retailers -- Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart -- and they all reported a good supply of Apple's full-size tablet in their stores.
[ Leaning toward Android? Read Samsung's 10-Inch Android Tablets: Which Is Best? ]
I have one thing to say about the iPad Mini: Good luck! Your loved ones probably aren't opening one of these up the morning of the 25th if you haven't found one already. Apple lists nearly all variants of the iPad Mini as available to ship in one week. I checked in with my local retailers, and only my Apple Store had any stock. I was told they had a "handful" at the moment, but were selling through their inventory each day. Call ahead and hope for the best.
Google Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.
This section updated to reflect corrections regarding Nexus tablet availability.
Google lists only one variant of the Nexus 7 as available, the rest are sold out. Even if you order the 16GB Wi-Fi Nexus 7, it won't ship for one or two weeks. The Nexus 10 is completely sold out. Google suggests you "come back later" if you're really interested in its $399, 10-inch tablet.
The Nexus 10 and Nexus 7 may be tough to score directly from Google, but they are available at scattered other online and brick-and-mortar stores. Some models can be scored from BestBuy.com, Amazon.com, Newegg.com, and other sites. Readers have also said that the devices are available at several retail stores, such as Staples. Your best chance is to call ahead to check availability.
Microsoft recently expanded the availability of its Surface tablets beyond its own outlets to several big box retailers, including Best Buy. Best Buy's website lists the Surface for sale with immediate shipping, but my local Best Buy did not have any in stock. The Surface can be picked up at Microsoft stores, but they are few and far in between. It also can be ordered directly from Microsoft's website.
Amazon Kindle And Kindle Fire.
Amazon sells its custom Android tablets directly via its website and through retailers all over the place. Aside from the Apple iPad 2 and Retina iPad, the Kindle tablets are among the easiest to find. The low prices don't hurt, either. The Kindle or Kindle Fire could be a decent substitute for the Nexus 7.
Barnes & Noble Nook HD And Nook HD+.
As with Amazon, Barnes & Noble sells its Nook tablets online and in its brick-and-mortar retail stores. The tablet is available for immediate shipping on Barnes & Noble's website. I called two local Barnes & Noble locations and both had an ample supply of the tablet/e-reader.
Random Android Tablets.
If you don't care about having a Nexus-branded tablet or a Kindle or Nook, there are plenty of other tablets available running Google's Android platform. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Tab 10.1, for example, or the Acer Iconia, Lenovo IdeaPad, Insignia Flex and Asus Transformer are all out there at electronics retailers. If any old tablet will do, just head to your nearest electronics store and snag one of these. It shouldn't be a problem.
Good luck, holiday shoppers!
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