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Why buy iPad when you can gift so much more?

All signs point to an iPad Christmas, for many people this year. But it’s a pricey gift, starting at $499, and Apple isn’t giving much away. Over the past 24 hours, I stumbled onto some unexpected Android alternatives that will put more than just a shiny new tablet under the Christmas tree.

Simply put: If you’re looking for a tablet but need to accessorize, iPad 2 will tighten your gifting budget. Meanwhile, competitors serve up some sweet deals that will let you give more for about the same price, or even less. If you think nothing compares to iPad 2, you’re wrong.

Bundle Up Some Sony Style

Last night, a friend told me she was thinking about getting her partner an iPad. She wanted my advice. My immediate question: “Does he have an iPhone?” No. Android? Yes. I suggested the Sony S tablet instead, because it would be more suitable to his lifestyle; for example, setting up with an existing Google account syncs calendar, contacts and email. Starting price is 99 cents more than iPad 2, but SonyStyle Store has a holiday special — I got an email about it yesterday. For the regular $499.99 price, she can get a discounted bundle, which includes: docking cradle, screen protector, spare AC adapter and free movies (up to 7), music (180 days) and ebook (limited selection).

She will get nothing free from Apple, which means shelling out extra for a case ($39 or $69 smart cover), at the least. Among the Android tablets, Sony S is by far most comparable to iPad. Slate and screen sizes are similar. Sony offers extensive entertainment options (movies, music, etc.) and good selection of accessories (although third-party products put iPad choices way ahead). The $499.99 bundle comes with the 16GB S tablet, which memory is expandable (iPad 2’s is not). There’s a $599.99 bundle for the 32GB tablet, which is the same 99 cents more than the comparable iPad 2.

By the specs:

Sony S: 1GHz dual-core nVidia Tegra 2 processor; 9.4-inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution; 1GB of RAM; 16GB internal storage, expandable to 32GB with MicroSD card; 5-megapixel back-facing and 0.3-megapixel front-facing cameras; 720p video recording; mico-USB port; WiFi N; Bluetooth; accelerometer; barometer; gyroscope; Android 3.2 (Honeycomb). Rather than HDMI, S2 uses DNLA to stream content.

iPad 2: 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor; 9.7 inch display with 1024 x 768 resolution; 512MB of RAM; 32GB internal storage (non-expandable); front-and-rear cameras; 720p video playback; WiFi N; Bluetooth; accelerometer; barometer; gyroscope; and iOS 5. There is no HDMI port and external USB connector costs $29 extra.

Come on and XOOM, XOOM, XOOM a XOOM

Late Monday, I bought the XOOM LTE from Verizon for $199.99. It’s a deal I wrote about here, asking if you’d spend that much on the tablet. I drank my own Kool-Aid. The tablet arrives on Monday. Arguably, XOOM LTE will be obsolete soon as Moto Mobility unveils what’s next during the Consumer Electronics Show in January. But this tablet is just what I need now, and because XOOM is a “with Google” device, it will soon receive the Android 4.0 update. Verizon still offers XOOM LTE cheap — $299.99, which is still $429.01 less than the comparable iPad 2 (with 3G, not 4G LTE).

XOOM LTE: 1GHz dual-core nVidia Tegra 2 processor; 10.1-inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution; 1GB of RAM; 32GB internal storage, expandable to 64GB with MicroSD card; 5-megapixel back-facing and 2-megapixel front-facing cameras; 720p video recording; 1080p video playback; HDMI and USB 2.0 ports; WiFi N; Bluetooth; accelerometer; barometer; gyroscope; Android 3.2 (Honeycomb).

I ordered accessories from Moto Mobility’s Cyber Monday deals website, which I unexpectedly found while searching for something else last night: Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, $39.99; portfolio case, $19.99; and car charger, $14.99. Amazon sells the same kit, respectively: $53.99, $28 and $16.99 — without the mouse, which is an extra $29.99. That’s $84.78 from Motorola, tax and shipping, versus $128.97 from Amazon, with no tax and two-day free shipping. Moto’s discount won’t last the holidays — hell, maybe not the weekend, if you’ve got XOOM and want to accessorize.

Samsung, like Apple, is more Scrooge than Santa. Galaxy Tab prices aren’t much moving downward. Verizon offers an instant discount on Galaxy Tab 10.1 32GB — $529.99, which is same price as 16GB model. So why not take double the storage for the same price? The tablet is 4G LTE, but $230 more than XOOM’s regular price. If you want to spend the most money on a tablet this holiday, Samsung gives you an option to go alongside Apple.

Perhaps you’d like to see the future of Android tablets while shopping this weekend. GameStop has it. You can try out the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime — yeah quad-core and Tegra 3 — in select stores.

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