Tablets may seem like a fad to power PC users, but their success last year has turned heads in the industry. Tablets are not only here to stay, they’re commanding far more interest from consumers than was previously thought. Although Apple’s iPad still reigns in the tablet market, many princes have come forward to try and claim the throne. Some of those smaller fiefdoms, like ASUS and Samsung, are more than trying to unseat Apple—they’re playing musical chairs with the throne, and gaining market share at an amazing rate.
But what does that mean to you? Your wish list has "tablet" on it, but would you be satisfied with a lesser-known tablet? Do you want speed, gaming or computing? As tablet technology progresses, there are far more considerations to make. Storage? Connectivity? Screen size? Operating system? Do you need Flash-enabled functionality? Do you want to look cool?
If you’re buying the tablet for someone else this season, then you also have to ask, what are they using it for? E-reading? Watching videos? Gaming? Or a combination of all of those? Your decision should be made according to price and usage. In the following article, we’re going to look at a variety of tablets that engage a large part of the market—everything from serious tableteers to casual users to children.
Although Apple defintiely has a following, there are tablet users that have not migrated to Apple’s iOS system and are far more comfortable with a more traditional PC-like operating system. These users will want to look at Android operating systems for their tablet experience. Android operating systems are built for ARM processors (used in a wide variety of tablets), but not all Android systems are the same.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1” tablet features a powerful quad-core processor, a 1280 x800 TFT multi-touch display, and the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. ICS, as it is known among serious tableteers, is one of the best operating systems outside of iOS and is designed specifically to empower the RAM chips to further their gaming, video and computational power. For a tablet to be taken seriously, it should have Android 4.0 as its operating system (unless it is using iOS or Windows 8, more on that later). Tablet standards like front- and rear-facing cameras,
a Gorilla glass display and Internet Wi-Fi connectivity are all here. But this tablet adds a couple of extras that you may appreciate: a microSD card slot that allows for an additional 32GB of storage capacity, and the S Pen stylus for both pen and finger input. You can use it to edit photos, sketch, make notes and draw, or share handwritten notes and annotations. Perfect for college students who don’t want to lug a laptop to class. There are even apps for photographers who want to edit and manipulate images, but don’t want to carry around a full-sized laptop.
Apple sold almost 3 million of the new iPads in the first three days of launch, and just as many iPad Minis. Why? Because the iPad (4th Generation) features top-tier construction, beginning with its 9.7” LED multi-touch Retina display that features a 2048 x 1536 native resolution, and its dual-core A6X processor. The extra resolution is not slowed in the least thanks to the processor, and all functions of the tablet still respond smoothly and effortlessly. As with previous models, you can find these new iPads configured in black or white with 16- or 32- or 64GB storage, dual rear- and front-facing cameras and Wi-Fi support. You can also purchase these models with new Wi-Fi + 4G LTE plans from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. A small note to casual users: although the Apple iPads don’t support Adobe Flash, many applications and websites are moving toward optimizing their websites and content for non-Flash systems.
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If you ‘re looking for something a little less affluent that still contains many of the features of the iPad, consider picking up the iPad 2. Most casual users won’t notice the difference in the displays (the iPad 2 features 1024 x 768 resolution), but will still be able to enjoy the same features of the iPad and the iOS operating system. These models also feature Wi-Fi, but the data support is limited to 3G, not 4G plans from AT&T and Verizon. From gaming to watching videos to intuitive apps, the tablet experience was founded on the iPad setup—it’s the reason so many people purchase iPads. These also come with 16GB of internal storage, so you have plenty of room for apps and games.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 also features a high resolution PLS TFT screen (1280 x 800), a 1 GHz dual core processor and 16GB of internal storage. With the included microSD slot, you can expand an extra 32GB. It also uses Android 4.0 ICS as the operating system, and includes front- and rear-facing cameras. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a bevy of applications available through the Android App Marketplace, this is a great starter tablet for fans of Samsung’s products.
When is a tablet not a tablet? When it becomes ambitious and shoots for the stars, like the Transformer Pad Infinity from ASUS. The ASUS Transformer line has always been at the forefront of bridging tablets with a traditional notebook experience, and the Infinity goes a step further—it dares you to call it a tablet. Although it has many standard tablet features like aforementioned front- and rear-facing cameras, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and a microSD slot, it also adds HDMI connectivity, a 1.6GHz nVIDIA Tegra 3 Quad-Core processor (one of the first high-end quad core processors for tablets) and a 10.1” high resolution (1920 x 1200) IPS display. An IPS display (in-plane switching) ensures higher gain and viewability, even in outdoor situations, and a wider viewing angle. But what really sets this tablet apart is the optional (sold separately) docking keyboard, which turns your Infinity into a tablet/notebook hybrid. Although you shouldn’t pound out your latest screenplay on any tablet, it offers some flexibility when you want to input information without using an annoying virtual onscreen keyboard.
And speaking of pushing the envelope on tablet-type computing, ASUS also has another innovative product on the horizon. The ASUS TAICHI Ultrabooks are dual tablets connected by a keyboard. They feature dual 11.6” IPS capacitive touch screens at Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and dual-core i5 or i7 processors. The solid state hard drives distinguish them as real Ultrabooks, but those dual displays scream tablet all the way. When closed, the rear-facing display sets the unit up as a tablet. When opened, it’s a total Ultrabook.
How can ASUS improve the tablet experience for you? By integrating the new Windows RT operating system. The ASUS VivoTab TF600 10.1" Tablet with Windows RT features a 1.3 GHz nVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB of internal Flash storage. The 10.1” capacitive widescreen touch display is a Super IPS+ panel with 1366 x 768 resolution and 178-degree viewing angles. It includes a microSD card slot and HDMI port and front- and rear-cameras. But the difference here is the Windows RT OS. Thanks to Windows RT, which is optimized for tablets, you can download tons of apps and games from the Windows Store. If you think that the Android operating system isn’t enough for your tablet, then check out the Vivo.
Samsung also wants to push the tablet/notebook envelope with the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T. This full-featured PC hides behind a tablet’s design and form, but it offers an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 11.6” Full HD 1920 x 1080 LED backlit screen and 4GB of RAM. It also sets itself apart from tablets with a 128GB hard drive and Intel Graphics HD 4000 GPU. But the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and front- and rear- facing cameras give it definite tablet leanings. It crosses the fence again with an HDMI port and WiDi-capable (wireless digital) streaming to a TV or monitor.
The optional dock accessory turns this into an Ultrabook, but without the dock, this is a very powerful tablet. It also features the full Windows 8 (64-bit) operating system, making it a very powerful tablet, one that is able to run native Windows applications such as the Microsoft Office Suite.
The Acer Iconia W510 10.1” Tablet is another Windows 8 tablet that features the full functionality of Windows 8. It also features a 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Z2760 dual core processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The screen is a 10.1” capacitive touch screen with native 1366 x 768 resolution and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator with 64MB of dedicated system memory. It also includes a USB 2.0 port for extra peripheral connections. The fully functional Windows 8 is what will set this apart from other tablet considerations this season.
Of course, tablets are going the way of Ultrabooks—consumers want smaller, better and faster. A crop of sub-10” tablets features a less hefty price tag, solid functionality and a tablet experience that still features games, video and more.
Looking for a sub 10” that uses Android? Take the ASUS 32GB Google Nexus 7" Tablet with Wi-Fi out for a spin. You’ll appreciate the slim feel and light weight (less than a pound), but once you power it up, you’ll be impressed by the quad-core nVIDIA Tegra 3 1.2 GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. Games, videos and applications run smoothly, thanks to the Android 4.1 ICS operating system, code-named "Jelly Bean." A step up from Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean further optimizes the OS for even better performance. You have full access to the GooglePlay store, and you can read books, watch videos and listen to music, because of the integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and the 7” LED backlit 16:10 capacitive touch screen, with a resolution of 1280 x 800. The tablet has a 32GB internal storage capacity but lacks a micro card slot.
The iPad mini reportedly sold 3 million units in three days. Once you hold one of these in your hands, you’ll see why. Its 7.9” form factor makes it smaller and thinner, but the reduced size also compacts the pixels so that the screen seems sharper. It also makes on-screen text reading a lot easier on your eyes. The LED multi-touch display has a native resolution of 1024 x 768, and the mini uses a dual core A5 processor. The Wi-Fi has dual band (2.4 and 5.0 GHz) support for faster download speeds, and Siri, the familiar iPhone narrator, now makes its appearance on a tablet. The mini is also available with Sprint and Verizon 4GE LTE plans. The mini uses the new Lightning connector, so be careful when buying accessories and cables. It is available in black/slate or white/silver.
Samsung also gets in to the small-sized tablet market with their 8GB Galaxy Tab 2 7.0" Tablet. It features a WSVGA 1024 x 600 PLS TFT touch display, a 1 GHz dual core processor and 8GB of Flash memory. It also uses Android 4.0 ICS as its operating system, and standards like front- and rear-facing cameras, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and a microSD card slot for an additional 32GB of storage.
Sometimes plunking $400+ on a tablet just to keep your young ones entertained is not always in the budget (although if you are going to buy them a handheld video game system, you should consider one of the following tablets). You have to be a little more judicious when purchasing tablets for kids. You should also know the difference between a true tablet and a toy tablet.
A true tablet, like the Archos 4GB Child Pad 7" Tablet includes tablet standards—a capacitive touch screen (you input commands with your fingers), the Android 4.0 ICS operating system and a 1 GHz ARM processor. So far, so good. It also includes 1GB of RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity, a 0.3MP front-facing camera and 4GB of storage. The microSD and microUSB slot add another layer of connectivity and expandability. As you guessed, the tablet comes pre-loaded with kid-specific apps, and more than 10,000 others are included at the AppsLib, a proprietary apps store. But is it a tablet? While the screen is not as high quality as others, and the internal storage is frightfully low, this “kids” tablet makes the mark as a true tablet. The Android 4.0 OS definitely helps, as it optimizes game play, which is what 99% of this tablet’s life will entail.
Another standout is the Ematic Funtab Pro Internet Tablet with a 7” capacitive multi-touch screen (at 800 x 400 resolution), a 1 GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. It has 8GB of internal memory, but the included microSD slot will boost that by another 32GB. Mini USB? Check. Front and rear cameras? Check. Wi-Fi connectivity? Check. Android 4.0 ICS OS? Check. So what does the FunTab do that’s different? The FunTab Pro is aimed at a child’s educational skills, rather than just being a game portal. It utilizes the award-winning Zoodles Kids interface, which is an adaptive educational tool. Preloaded with well-known games like Angry Birds, Where’s My Water? and Fruit Ninja, the interface adapts to your child’s age and skill level and provides progress reports for parents to review.
But the questions remain: which tablet is for you? Which tablet makes a great gift? Which tablet gives you the most for the money?
The honest answer is that all of these tablets make great gifts. Once you determine whether you need flexibility, processing power, a notebook-like experience or just simple fun and games, the choice is really a matter of personal taste. Make a plan, shoppers: who is this for? What do they need? How much should I spend? Then base your choice on the options listed above.