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Battle of the Tablets: Who Will…Come in Second?

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Tablets are almost certain to be the hottest ticket of the holiday season. They start at $159, and some of the most powerful companies in tech are selling them. (Read More:Too Many Tablet Choices? How to Buy One This Holiday)

There are a lot of tablets available, so many I couldn't possibly touch on all of them, but let's have a look at some of the big ones:

Apple's iPad:

-iPad Mini: $329

-iPad 2: $399

-4th Generation: $499

First, iPads. There are three basic models: The mini starts at $329, the iPad 2 at $399, and the 4th generation iPad at $499.

The iPad is of course the gold standard of tablets; Apple created today's tablet category when it unveiled the original iPad less than three years ago.

Aside from the smart design of iPad hardware, the main selling point of the iPad over other tablets? Apps.

There are more than 275,000 apps in Apple's App Store that are designed specifically for the iPad, not counting the iPhone apps that will also run on the device.

The downside? Unlike most of the other tablet players, Apple actually plans to make a profit on its devices. So the cheapest iPad sells at a $129 premium above the cheapest offerings from Amazon, Google or Barnes & Noble .

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Amazon's Kindle Fire:

-LOW-RES: $129

-HD 7": $199

-HD 8.9": $299

Which brings us to Amazon's Kindle Fire lineup. Amazon is offering the standard, low-resolution Fire for $159, the 7" HD for $199 and the 8.9" HD for $299.

For pure discount bliss, you can't do better than what Jeff Bezos & Co. are offering — Amazon's CEO has said he's prepared to break even (or lose a little money) on the upfront device sale, and wait to make a profit as people use it later.

The pros here are obvious: fast, high-resolution hardware at unbeatable prices.

But the cons?

The cheapest hardware has advertisements on the lock screen, and Amazon doesn't include as many bells and whistles as Apple does (like high-resolution cameras and productivity software). Surveys suggest that people use Kindle Fires to surf the web at a much lower rate than iPads. Make of that what you will.

Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images

Google's Nexus:

-7": $199

-10": $399

Google occupies an interesting position in these tablet wars.

It's not the cheapest of the major brands — that distinction goes to Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet.

It's not the most full-featured; Apple's iPad has more tablet-specific apps. Google's tablets, though, have some of the best of both worlds.

While not quite as cheap as Amazon's, Google's tablets are close. And Google has spent a little more money to put high-quality components in its tablets, such as the Nexus 10 display, which by some measures is as good as or better than the iPad's.

It's hard to say how this will play out for Google. Will it win for having a great value, or lose from being neither the lowest priced nor the strongest app ecosystem? Time will tell.

Then we've got a bunch of other players including Samsung, which is bound to do well with its Galaxy Note 10.1 and other gadgets; and a number of Windows 8 entrants includingMicrosoft with its own Surface.

Chances are, Apple will sell about as many iPads (around 30 million units) during the quarter as all of its rivals combined. But if any one of them can edge out the others for a strong showing at second place, the rewards in 2013 and beyond could be huge.

email: tech@cnbc.com

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