Employers might be surprised to learn that a growing number of employees admit to logging in after hours and on holiday using their personal communications devices, which they rely on as a supplemental device to a laptop/PC to maintain a work/life balance.

Smaller than a laptop and bigger than a smartphone, tablets represent the latest device to bridge the worlds of both home and office, in part because of their convenience, ease of use and portability. Tablets are versatile devices that make it easy for employees to keep information with them and utilise business apps, no matter where they go. They are conveniently mobile and many owners would probably admit to using a tablet in bed, in the bathroom, and even at a restaurant.

But with the rise of tablets being used as a business device, there is concern about security. As with any device, good security and data protection practices should be used to guard against data loss or malware. Tablet owners should also regularly back up data on their devices. With the advent of hosted cloud services, businesses should look to store data on a remote server as well as on the tablet itself. This way, if the device is lost or stolen, work documents and other data are not at risk (as long as the device and its sensitive data are password protected).

For employers, the benefit of deploying tablets is having a more productive workforce that’s always connected to what’s happening at the office. However, businesses looking to deploy tablets have a different set of requirements than the average consumer. Security and application compatibility are both top priorities for any business, thereby eliminating some of the more consumer-friendly choices.

If your business has decided that it’s time to choose a tablet, it’s worth considering what kind of things you are going to use it for. This way you know that you’ll match the right machine to your needs.

The major decisions are pretty easy: Which OS do you prefer: Apple, Android, or something else? Next, how big do you want the screen to be? The difference between a 10-inch screen and a 7-inch screen may sound minimal, but the latter will slip into your coat pocket while the former will require a bag or a briefcase. Finally, which features do you need? Expansion ports? 3G wireless capabilities?

Here is my list of the Top 5 tablets for business. Choosing any of these can help your employees to be more productive when out the office.

#1 – Apple iPad 2

Available in a choice of black or white, Apple’s iPad has already seen widespread acceptance in the business world. The iPad 2 addresses most of the complaints that users of the original model had, but it keeps the same screen size (9.7 inches), battery life and pricing as before. Key enhancements include front- and rear-facing cameras (for photos and videoconferencing), a faster CPU and increased RAM. Graphics performance has also received a welcome boost, making high-definition video output to a TV a possibility. Presenters will also appreciate the optional Digital AV Adapter, which can be used for video output including mirroring. Just 8.8mm thick—much slimmer than the original iPad—and backed by the market-leading App Store, the iPad 2 offers pretty much everything for everyone. The biggest criticisms are that it does not offer Adobe Flash compatibility (nor is it planned) and its fragile design makes a protective case compulsory.

#2 – Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Due to an on-going legal dispute with Apple which has seen the product banned in some countries (Germany included), Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the next best thing to the iPad 2. A really nice device, the 10.1-incher runs Android ‘Honeycomb’ v3.1 and is more portable than the iPad 2. It also includes a rear-facing 3-megapixel autofocus camera with flash (there’s also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera), a gorgeous IPS display (1200×800) and full Flash support. By including Android Honeycomb v3.1, Samsung has one-upped the competition—users can now resize widgets and scroll through open apps in the pop-up thumbnails for the “recent apps” list. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is by far the best Android tablet on the market right now. The biggest problem is the range of apps for Android—there are only a few dozen that are seriously worth downloading, compared to thousands of worthy iOS (iPad) apps, and you can’t easily browse apps design specially for tablets (those designed for smartphones are thrown in there too).

#3 – RIM BlackBerry Playbook

The tablet market is currently a race between Apple (iOS) and Google (Android), but RIM wants to join the party with the BlackBerry PlayBook. And with such a strong foothold in the enterprise, RIM might be able to capitalise on BlackBerry smartphone users who’ve been sitting out the tablet dance for far too long. The 7-inch device can play high-definition video and motion-sensitive video games—at the same time thanks to dual-core support—and also supports videoconferencing, Flash and integrated BlackBerry Server support. Other highlights include a high-resolution (WSVGA) display and two HD cameras: a 5-megapixel camera for shooting video and snapping pictures and a 3-megapixel camera facing the user for video conferencing. Not only is it smaller and more powerful than the iPad 2, but the BlackBerry PlayBook is designed to work well with corporate e-mail systems, offering better security and encryption. From the ground-up, the PlayBook is tailor-made for travelling executives and mobile sales forces. If your business already uses BlackBerrys as part of its everyday operations, the Playbook is a practical choice—stupid name and all…

#4 – Motorola Xoom

Motorola’s Xoom was one of the most talked-about products at CES 2011, mainly because it was the first tablet on the market with Google’s Android ‘Honeycomb’ 3.0, a key upgrade to the operating system that made it more suitable for tablets. At 10.1 inches, the Xoom is sized similarly to Apple’s iPad 2, but offers a slightly larger screen (useful for multitasking) with a resolution of 1280×800 pixels for native 720p playback. It also supports Flash and has HDMI output, has a barometer built in and, most significantly, the Xoom will allow 4G high-speed connections, where it appears the iPad will not. Under the hood the Xoom is more powerful than the iPad 2 and has greater potential for 3D graphics, thanks to the paring of nVidia’s 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. Motorola has even managed to keep battery life up with the iPad 2, at around 9-10 hours. Still, the high price may put off many.

#5 – Lenovo IdeaPad U1/LePad

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U1/LePad is different. The soon to launch, two-in-one mobile device speaks Android and Windows. That’s right. The unique device combines the mobility of a media-rich slate featuring access to Android applications and a keyboard base that provides a full Windows 7 computing experience—a Hybrid Switch dual mode capability switches between two different operating systems. Users can use the lightweight slate when they’re mobile, and then simply slide it into the U1 base when they need to create and edit content. Running Android 2.2 and weighing under two pounds, the extremely portable IdeaPad U1 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and keeps users incredibly mobile all day with up to 8 hours of battery life. The 10.1-inch widescreen IdeaPad runs in landscape and portrait modes, so users can consume content such as video, surf the Internet and access social networks, as well as tap out messages and e-mail. It also has a front camera for taking pictures or for video chat. It’s different, but it’s worth considering.