THE BLOG
11/26/2012 09:41 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

Holiday Shopping Secrets: Three Money-Saving Tablet Tips Retailers Won't Tell You

The tablet wars are underway over brand new offerings from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Microsoft, Google and Apple. The pros and cons are ably described in a summary article at The Week magazine, concluding that of all the discount Android-based tablets, the Google Nexus 7 is the best. But they all have limitations either in screen quality, available apps or ability to play Flash videos.

What reviewers and retailers won't tell you is that there are three low-cost or free ways to get around the restrictions imposed by the current tablets. Two of them are easy to adopt, and the third, installing a Flash player on your Google Nexus 7 with its brand new "Jelly Bean" operating system is well worth doing -- but it's a bit complicated for people who aren't tech wizards.

But the bottom line is you're not necessarily limited to just the app stores at Amazon and Barnes and Noble if you want to use tablets. First, even though the slower-selling Nook Tablet HD has the best screen of all the seven-inch models, its app selection is limited to the meager selection at Barnes and Noble. But with a modest-priced SD card, the Nook-to-Android(N2A), you can transform your Nook Tablet for an extra $30 into a full-scale Android operating system with full access to the Google Play Store.

Second, for those Amazon users who feel they must buy the Kindle Fire HD to get access to the $79-a-year- Prime Membership benefits that include free streaming media, there's another option besides shelling out for the still-troubled Kindle tablets. They can get the remarkable free, for now, Plex software and media player in the Android store that allows you to stream all your media to any of your devices and share them with friends. And it includes a channel for Amazon Instant Video that you can use with your Amazon Prime membership.

The third approach involves just buying the Google Nexus 7 but figuring out how to adapt it to use Flash. This is done by downloading Firefox in Betta and the Flash application. If you're not comfortable with such workarounds, then you might have to pass on the Google Nexus 7 unless you can test it out yourself beforehand. Are there videos at your favorite websites it won't play? Then you'll have to skip the device or see if the website has an app from the Android store.

I'm currently using a Nook Tablet with a Nook to Android SD card, and I'm planning to stick with it. Why? Because I don't want to have to navigate complicated downloads just to watch videos on the numerous websites still using Flash. Meanwhile, with the N2A SD card, I can get all the apps available at the Barnes and Noble store through the Android store and plenty more -- including HBO GO, the app for virtually all HBO shows and movies ever, available for streaming for any HBO subscribers.

For most consumers, though, the Google Nexus 7 is the best bet, as summed up by The Week, but it's far from perfect (see this "Six Things We Hate" article for more details):

GOOGLE NEXUS 7
Base price: $200 for the 16GB model
The rundown: "Out of all the cheap 7-inch tablets, Google's Nexus 7 has the largest app store, the best web browser (Chrome), and the smoothest software," says TIME. Unlike the Kindle Fire or the Nook, Google partnered directly with Asus to ensure the pair turned out a premiere device free from the usual bugs that result from Android fragmentation. This is the go-to tablet for any Android user.
What to like: Best app selection for Android owners. Smooth interface. Great screen. Great price. Feels polished.
What not to like: Desktop-optimized websites can get laggy, not a lot of storage for space-gobbling media (like games)
Consider buying this for: Any Android user. Someone who spends a lot of time traveling.

In looking for tablets and other tech gear, your easiest to use guides are likely going to be those at Consumersearch , Findthebest, and Retrevo websites that aggregate reviews and often allow you to filer by price and operating system. You'll need a field guide to navigate the tech jungle this holiday season.