When the Apple iPad 3 hits the shelves next year, there could be several tablets that severely undercut its $500 price, but, until then, there are really only a few tablets that you would want to pick up to tide you over.

If you're itching for a tablet computer, but don't want to buy an iPad until iPad 3 makes it debut, you should check out the Amazon Kindle Fire, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and, to a lesser extent, the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the HP TouchPad.

The first two are the cheapest options and have the most features to go with those low prices. Both the PlayBook and Kindle Fire are $200 after the PlayBook's price was slashed early this month. On Amazon.com, the Nook Tablet is $250, and the TouchPad is about $300.

Even though the Nook Tablet and the TouchPad are much cheaper than the iPad, they have some real limitations that need to be considered. The Nook Tablet is really a device that will make it easier to buy stuff from Barnes & Noble, although it does have some apps. The TouchPad has been discontinued, but there are some real webOS enthusiasts (TouchPad's software) who are still making apps for it. There won't be any more updates or support from HP for the 9.7-inch tablet, but the HP App Catalog is not as empty as one might suppose.

The Kindle Fire is already selling very quickly, so Amazon is doing something right here. Kindle Fire is not as big as the TouchPad, and it also doesn't have a ton of apps, but it's got a decent amount of storage and gives you a gateway to Amazon's wealth of content.

The BlackBerry PlayBook is the recommended buy here for two reasons. The custom software delivers true multitasking, and a forthcoming update will give it access to the Android Market. It's a 7-inch tablet, has a solid build, and easily integrates with a BlackBerry smartphone. Let us know in the comments what features you are looking for in the iPad 3.

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