If you’re looking for a portable computer that is smaller and lighter than a laptop or notebook, more user-friendly than a smart phone and more powerful than a netbook, then a tablet could be just the thing for you. Tablet PCs come in a variety of sizes and price ranges, and capabilities are increasing fast now. These convenient and practical mini-computers are also known as MIDs (mobile internet devices), and are sometimes also labeled UMPCs (ultra mobile personal computers), although many vendors reserve this term for mini-notebooks.

In contrast to notebooks and laptops, tablets come with touchscreens that typically range from 7 inches to just over 10 inches in size, but you can also attach an external keyboard if you prefer to type longer documents or emails the traditional way. Depending on the model, you’re also likely to get all the usual computer features such as wi-fi and 3G or 4G connectivity, an internet browser, a media player, games, spreadsheets and word-processing programs, a camera, and the ability to install a growing range of apps – all in a streamlined, handheld device.

The best known tablet is probably the iPad, but it does come with a hefty price tag, and not everyone is a Mac fan. The release of the iPad around a year ago set off a frenzy of competing devices, most of which run on Google’s Android operating system. A lot of manufacturers both large and small are now bringing out tablet computers in varying specifications, and the choice is expanding fast while prices are falling too.

The explosion of tablet PCs onto the market was definitely in evidence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, 2011. With big-brand producers such as Samsung, HP, Dell, Asus and Lenovo showing tablets of all kinds, you can be sure that this product type is here to stay, and that the fierce competition among them is great news for consumers.

However, the best value can generally be found among the many different tablet computers produced in China and sold online under various brand names that might not be so familiar to Western consumers. For a fraction of the price of an iPad you can now buy a tablet that offers a dazzling array of features that make it a truly portable communications device and information center. Chinese manufacturers are quick to adopt the latest technological advances and incorporate them into a steady stream of new electronic gadgets that combine stylish looks with function and durability.

So are we going to swap all our laptops and PCs for tablets now? No, say most experts, that won’t happen just yet, especially since tablets still don’t pack anywhere near the computing power of their larger cousins. That might, of course, change pretty quickly as the technical wizards figure out how to increase the memory and storage capacity of a tablet PC to adequate levels, as well as when new, improved operating systems are launched. For the moment, however, a tablet is an excellent complement to your standard computer, and can take on a number of its everyday functions too. With convenient on-the-go access to the internet and a multitude of other functions, a tablet is the ideal portable device for both professional and leisure users.