Tablets are yet again set to be big items this holiday season, and shoppers will have the best selection they’ve ever seen. But this year, those cellular equipped models won’t be shipping in just 3G; LTE is the flavor of choice for those seeking anytime, anywhere connectivity. According to Strategy Analytics, fully 46 percent of global tablet shipments will include LTE connectivity, and that’s expected to increase to 53 percent next year. That’s a huge jump over last year, when just 2.5 percent of tablets shipped globally were LTE capable.

Given the larger screens of an iPad or a Galaxy Tab, you can bet that tablet users aren’t just checking their email. Tablet users are watching videos and streaming rich content to their devices, activities that will represent a significant surge in data traffic on carrier networks.   According to recent research from Citrix Bytemobile Mobile, fully 78 percent of data volume on Apple’s iPad is generated by the media player app. On Android tablets, the media player and browser generated 70 percent of data traffic. These are not lightweight applications and they indicate a demand for data plans that offer much more than 250 GB per month.

Tablets are set to be the gift this year, and there’s a variety of price ranges and screen sizes from which to choose. In the LTE-capable category most are sans subsidy and pitched with month-to-month data plans. Given the disparity in LTE markets available on each carrier, Verizon Wireless is favored to see the most tablet additions this holiday season. Granted, AT&T and Sprint have both announced availability of the new iPads, so they can also count on new slate subscriber additions in the fourth quarter. Here’s a look at some of the most popular LTE-capable tablets which carriers will be offering them.  


Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE - $499


In the same way that Apple needed to answer the 7-inch tablet category with the iPad mini, Amazon likewise needed an answer to Apple's dominance in the 10-inch space. Enter the 8.9-inch Amazon Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE. Since release, Amazon's new slate has received decent reviews for its 1920x1200 HD display and 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. While it might lack the iPad's rear-facing camera, Amazon's tablets come with one of the most cohesive content and storage ecosystems on the market today.

The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE, which starts at $499 for the 32GB model, comes with a year of 250MB per month of AT&T LTE for $49.99 at the time of purchase. That $49.99 also includes 20 GB of storage on Amazon's cloud. Those that need more data can purchase 3GB or 5GB plans through AT&T for an additional charge.


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 - 7.0 - $399

LTE (Verizon)

Not to be mistaken with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is Verizon’s smaller version of the 10-inch Tab 2 being offered by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. The lightweight, 7-inch LTE-capable Galaxy Tab 2 is unique to Verizon and comes running Android 4.0. It features front- and rear-facing cameras, 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of internal storage.  Verizon is currently selling the 7-inch version of the Galaxy Tab 2 for $420, with month-to-month prepaid data service.


Samsung ATIV Smart PC $799


The ATIV Smart PC is Samsung’s first Windows 8 tablet. It features an 11.6-inch HD display, 64GB of internal storage memory and a microSD card slot to support up to an additional 32GB of memory and the Intel Atom dual-core processor, up to 1.5 GHz. At $799, consumers should consider this more laptop than media tablet, as it will perform more of the functions of a Windows PC than a mere media tablet might. ATIV comes installed with Windows 8 (which can be upgraded to Windows 8 Pro).


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 - $499

LTE (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile)

While Verizon is offering the more portable 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile appear to be differentiating with a larger version. The LTE-capable (T-Mobile’s version is HSPA+ 42 Mbps instead of LTE) Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 competes directly with Apple’s full-size iPad. The Tab 2 10.1 comes running Android 4.0, and features front- and –rear facing cameras, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and 8GB of internal memory (T-Mobile’s version is 16GB). This one currently goes for $399 with a prepaid data plan.   


iPad mini - $449 (16GB)

LTE (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless)

Yeah, the high cost drove investors into a deep depression, and its screen has been heavily criticized, but consumers are still going to buy Apple out of its supply of the iPad mini in the fourth quarter (perhaps another reason investors are worried). This is Apple’s 7.9-inch shot across Amazon and Samsung’s bow. Steve Jobs wouldn't have liked it, but Tim Cook has to react to the market and the iPad mini is all about retaining market share. This is just what the name indicates: a miniature iPad, if an iPad without a retina display. It comes powered by a dual-core A5 chip and features front- and rear-facing cameras. Like Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE, it also comes with a mature content and storage ecosystem in iTunes and iCloud respectively.  Customers at all three of the major U.S. carriers can pick themselves up an iPad mini with LTE this holiday season.


iPad (4th Generation) - $629 (16GB)

LTE (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless)

The Fourth Generation iPad is not to be outdone in the media tablet market. Yes, $629 is a lot to spend on a media tablet, but it’s also the only tablet on the market that offers the complete package that Apple’s iPad has been offering since it was released. Forget the iPad mini for a second and let’s return to the fact that the original iPad still holds over 50 percent of the entire market globally. Even the Android faithful realized the superior experience Apple was putting out with the iPad, which is exactly the reason it has taken everyone else so long to catch up.

The Fourth Generation iPad comes with a 9.7-inch display, front- and rear-facing cameras, and a dual-core A6 chip, with quad core graphics. And yeah, I’ll go out on a limb and say there isn’t a more impressive display on the market.  Consumers could do worse this season than the very capable, if expensive, new iPad.