While the iPad 2 remains the most popular tablet computer available, consumers with particular interests who don’t want to spend $500 or more on a new device now have compelling alternatives to consider.

Whether you are an avid book reader looking for additional interactivity and features on your e-reader, a business user who wants to securely access a corporate IT system, or an iconoclast who doesn’t like the iPad’s one-size-fits all hardware and operating system, there is no greater time than now to explore tablet alternatives.

Any of these options deserve a place on your holiday shopping list.

Amazon Kindle Fire and B&N NOOK (Price conscious/avid readers)

After months of anticipation, Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is finally available to purchase. With a number of Kindle e-reader devices already under its belt, Amazon is upping the ante with the new Kindle Fire. In addition to being a best-in-breed reading device, the tablet has all the basics — apps, web surfing and email. Even better, you can purchase one for $199. That price point may forever change the tablet landscape. With a 7-inch color display, this is a tablet that combines the functionality of an e-reader with great multimedia capabilities for streaming video or listening to music. It runs Android, but a very customized version, uniquely tailored to the Amazon experience with its own app store, free cloud storage, a fast web browser, and of course millions of books and magazines. Expect this to be one hot item this holiday shopping season.

Barnes & Noble is getting in on the tablet wars too. The company’s new NOOK Tablet also runs Android and is priced at a competitive $249. That’s a little more than the Kindle Fire, but still half the price of the cheapest iPad 2. The NOOK offers less of an integrated multimedia experience than the Kindle Fire, but some customers will appreciate this. It is still a very capable e-reader, but offers plenty more including a dedicated app store, HD movies from Hulu and Netflix (with a subscription, naturally) and a vivid 7-inch touchscreen. For those seeking more flexibility than the all-encompassing Kindle Fire experience, the NOOK is worth a look, despite the slightly higher price tag.

Samsung Galaxy Tabs (Variety seekers/Android smartphone owners)

One thing the Samsung Galaxy Tab series offers is variety. Available with 7-inch, 8.9-inch or 10.1-inch screens, there is probably a tablet to fit any lifestyle at a variety of prices. The Samsung Galaxy is a fine and powerful alternative to the iPad 2 and offers a number of useful features. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 on Verizon, for example, allows customers to use Big Red’s super-fast 4G LTE connectivity when away from a Wi-Fi signal. All the Samsung Galaxy tabs have access to hundreds of thousands of apps from the Android Market and are great for gaming or business. Also, Samsung Galaxy tablets allow for a great deal of customization and tweaking. This is one of the advantages many Android users prefer over Apple’s slightly more ‘closed’ (though stable) iOS operating system. In addition, if you’re already an Android smartphone user, you may find staying in the same stable helps when it comes to syncing data and sharing apps. The brand new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is a great deal with some retailers offering it for $299.

HP Slate (Business users)

After the underwhelming debut of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, business-focused users have few options for tablets that conservative IT compliance managers can embrace. The HP Slate, which is powered by Microsoft’s Windows 7 software, is suitable for professionals who need the flexibility to work away from their traditional desktop or laptop setup. The secure, familiar environment of Windows (and its ubiquitous Office suite) is essential in certain corporate realms, and the Slate allows use of both the touchscreen or a digital stylus. It’s a pricey item though, available for $799. But that’s what business accounts are for, right?

If your corporate network does allow for Android devices, a good alternative to the Slate is the Lenovo Thinkpad, which starts at $499. This has a nice stylus for taking notes, and offers the rugged dependability of the IBM/Lenovo brand, as well as easy sharing and optional accessories like a fold-up keyboard.

Asus EE Pad Transformer Prime (Alternative gamers/multimedia power-users)

OK, we know what you’re thinking. It’s going to be hugely difficult for another tablet to come anywhere close to the gaming prowess and flexibility of the iPad 2. But, if any tablet has the potential of at least matching it when it comes to high-def graphics and plenty of power, the upcoming Asus EE Pad Transformer Prime could have a shot. Sure, it’s unlikely to be as successful as the iPad, but alternatives are great for competition and should keep Apple on its toes. The Android-powered Transformer Prime is set to hit stores next month with a $499 price tag. It sports NVIDIA’s hugely powerful (and efficient) Tegra 3 processor, boasts a vibrant 10.1-inch 1280×800 touchscreen, 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage ($599 for the 64GB model). It also offers a neat keyboard and trackpad dock for extra versatility. Perhaps if Asus and NVIDIA are smart, they will launch the tablet with some gaming exclusives to show-off that new chip. This is one powerful beast which should be able to handle any task thrown at it.