Rarely does a day pass anymore when I don’t use my tablet for something. And never do I regret not leaving it at home. If anything, I usually regret not bringing it with me. It doesn’t matter if I’m headed to work, the park, a museum or my music studio—it always comes with me and it usually comes in handy. For everything my tablet does, I ought to start paying it a personal assistant’s salary. It’s an extraordinary device with amazing flexibility. Tablets are digital factotums. Devices with a hundred useful, or at least, entertaining masks. There are dozens of tablet manufacturers and literally hundreds of different models. Although it appears as if one is identical to the next, they each come equipped with different features for different lifestyles. Let’s take a look at a handful of tablets that cover a range of price points. We’ll begin with the most affordable and work our way up.
If you’re like me, then I’ll bet you thought you had to pay at least a few hundred dollars for a tablet with some sort of touch screen and perhaps if you were lucky, a Gigabyte of flash memory. Amazingly, Coby has broken the century mark in reverse, finally offering a tablet for well under $100. Although this tablet has an ultra-low price tag, two or three years ago the same tablet would have cost closer to three times the price.
The 7-inch MID7033 Resistive Android 4.0 Touch Tablet features 4GB of flash storage and a widescreen, WVGA 7-inch resistive touch display. It features the user-friendly Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and it’s powered by a 1 GHz ViMicro Cortex A8 processor. There are even 512MB of internal RAM that facilitate near-seamless multitasking. It’s also Wi-Fi enabled and affords access to an app marketplace so you can fill your life with helpful apps, or distract yourself with entertainment, sports, news and social-networking apps. You can use it for all the important stuff, including Web browsing, watching movies and videos, listening to music, checking email, sharing photos and reading from your choice of more than 1,000 downloadable books.
One of the reasons this tablet is under $100 is its resistive display. Today, there are two main types of tablet displays: resistive and capacitive. A resistive touch screen registers your finger swipes and taps by sensing pressure. As you press down on a resistive display, you push one layer into another, essentially completing a circuit. A capacitive touch screen features electrodes that sense the conductive properties of objects (like your finger). In general, capacitive displays have a much “lighter” feel because it takes much less pressure to activate the touch screen. A resistive touch panel requires more of a finger “drag,” while a capacitive display needs only a quick and smooth swipe or tap. You can use anything to control a resistive screen, but a capacitive screen requires something that can conduct electricity like your finger or a capacitive stylus. The rest of the tablets in this roundup all feature capacitive touch displays.
The most affordable new capacitive tablet is the Aluratek 4GB Cinepad, which features a 7-inch display, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and a 1 GHz Texas Instruments ARM Cortex A8 processor. The tablet is truly an amalgam of quality processing power, user-friendly control and ultra affordability. The reasonable price tag definitely isn’t something to scoff at either, as it offers Wi-Fi connectivity, 4GB of flash storage, 512MB of internal RAM memory, a webcam and an integrated speaker.
The Cinepad supports all forms of media including photos, music, video and eBooks. Plus, you can use it for email and downloading apps from the GETJAR app marketplace. The 7-inch multi-touch capacitive display has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and an 800 x 480 native resolution. The tablet even has an HDMI output for sharing your video content with others on an HDTV. There’s also a USB 2.0 port, a microSD card slot for memory expansion, and a lithium-ion battery that supports up to six hours of continuous use.
Aluratek also makes an 8GB Cinepad with a 10-inch capacitive display that features a 1024 x 600 widescreen resolution. Besides a larger screen and double the flash storage, this Cinepad also features a 1 GHz Texas Instruments ARM Cortex A9 processor and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR wireless connectivity. Most of the other features and specs are the same as on the smaller 4GB model. It supports Wi-Fi, email, GETJAR, microSD memory expansion and HDMI connectivity.
For Coby fans who desire a slightly larger, slightly higher-end tablet with a capacitive display, there’s the 4GB MID8042 8-inch Multi-Touch Tablet. This model features Android 4.0, an Allwinner Cortex A8 1 GHz processor and 4GB of flash storage. The 8-inch LCD screen has a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio and 800 x 600 native resolution. It offers microSDHC memory expansion as well, so you can add up to an extra 32GB of external memory for storing all your media files. Coby also invites users to fill their tablets with apps through the compatible app marketplace.
Like the other tablets in its price range, this model features Wi-Fi connectivity and an HDMI output for sharing video and photos on a larger HDTV screen. Although this tablet seems similar to the other models discussed so far, it has a few hidden gems that set it apart from its peers. Under the hood, it features nearly double the RAM of similarly priced devices. Most have 512MB, but Coby equipped its capacitive model with a full Gigabyte of RAM memory. Translation: seamless multitasking.
Another highlight is the tablet’s front-facing VGA webcam, integrated speaker and built-in microphone. While it’s nice to have a camera and speaker, including an internal microphone allows you to use the device for video-chatting or video-conferencing. As long as you’re using your home wireless network or are near a Wi-Fi hotspot, you’ll be able to chat with friends and family, as well as attend business meetings and conferences remotely. This is the kind of mobility and flexibility that make tablets truly unique in how they can change our lives—both at work and at play.
The last tablet in this roundup that sneaks in under $200 is Lenovo’s 16GB IdeaPad A1 Internet Tablet. Now, although the tablets by Coby and Aluratek are both affordable and loaded with great features, this offering from Lenovo is really where you’ll begin to see a more extensive features list, sharper design, plentiful flash storage and other traits that models like the iPad have standard. However, this tablet is still ultra-affordable at under $200.
The 7-inch IdeaPad A1 has a capacitive touch screen with LED backlighting and a widescreen 1024 x 600 resolution. It’s also bright enough to use outside under intense sunlight, comes packed with pre-loaded applications and provides access to Google Play. It features an Android operating system, Bluetooth capabilities and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. You can use it for video-chatting or video-conferencing thanks to its built-in speaker, microphone and multiple cameras. In fact, this is the first model to have two cameras. In the front there’s a VGA 0.3-megapixel webcam and in the back there’s a 3-megapixel camera that also shoots 480p video. The IdeaPad A1 only has 512MB of RAM memory, but it hosts an impressive 16GB of Embedded MMC flash storage, which is enough to hold a ton of music, pictures, eBooks and even a few movies. Its internal lithium-polymer battery supports about seven hours of use between charges and it’s equipped with both a Texas Instruments OMAP 3622 graphics card and OMAP 3622 processor.
It doesn’t have an HDMI output, but it does have a very cool feature that even most $500 tablets don’t have—stand-alone GPS! Basically, stand-alone GPS is an embedded GPS device in the tablet that doesn’t require Wi-Fi connectivity to register your location. The GPS device is run via satellite, so even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, completely lost in the Arizona desert, you should still have GPS capabilities. I can’t stress enough how truly ingenious this function is and it’s really a mystery why every tablet manufacturer doesn’t make this feature standard issue. The IdeaPad A1 is a savvy, adroit device that definitely accommodates most budgets.
One company completely immersed in the world of affordable mobile technology is Archos. It has several new tablets including the just-over-$200 8GB 80 G9 8-inch Android Tablet and the slightly pricier 8GB 101 G9 10.1-inch Android Tablet. Both are part of the Archos G9 series and share most of the same features including an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, 1 GHz ARM Cortex A9 OMAP 4 dual-core processor, 8GB of flash storage, USB 2.0 port, micro USB port, mini HDMI output, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The only difference is their display sizes and native resolutions. The 80 G9 has an 8-inch capacitive display with 1024 x 768 resolution and the 101 G9 has a 10.1-inch capacitive display with 1280 x 800 resolution. Both tablets also feature built-in GPS (although not stand-alone GPS), a microSD card slot, integrated speaker, microphone and 0.7-megapixel front-facing camera that can shoot 720p HD video. The speaker-microphone-camera combo is great for video-conferencing or video-chatting with friends. Plus, the HDMI output lets you share movies, as well as your own 720p HD videos (shot with the tablet) on a large screen in high definition.
All of the tablets discussed up to this point have been fairly or even very affordable, and most share pretty much the same set of core features with minor differences between them. Having such a deep pool to select from is a good thing. Most people are looking for a specific combination of features, and with so many tablets out there, everyone will be able to find the perfect digital companion. This next batch of tablets is priced above $300, but as the cost goes up, so do the features, design and storage capacities.
Sony released its first tablet fairly recently. Although it was a little late to the party, Sony made up for this tardiness by offering unique and feature-packed tablets that have reinvigorated the Sony brand. The 4GB Tablet P is a truly one-of-a-kind, portable, foldable gem that features not one, but two 5.5" capacitive touch screen displays with TruBlack technology. TruBlack is Sony’s LCD dark screen technology, present on almost all of its LCD screens, which ensures you’ll be able to enjoy a movie or comfortably surf the Web even if you’re outside under direct sunlight.
The dual-screen concept is great because you can open the tablet up flat and the two screens join to become one, which is ideal if you’re watching a movie. But if you’re typing an email, you can use one screen to view the email and the other as your virtual keyboard. It’s really a clever and novel idea—a breath of fresh air among the monotony of many Android tablets. The Tablet P is also 4G ready; all you need is an AT&T broadband plan and you’ll be able to surf the Web from anywhere you choose. If you don’t want to buy a wireless plan, the tablet supports Wi-Fi connectivity as well. It also supports Bluetooth and is the only tablet you’ll want if you’re into playing PS3, PSone or PSP games.
Sony endowed the Tablet P with 4GB of flash storage, an Android Honeycomb operating system and 1GB of RAM memory. This is also the first device to feature either an Intel or NVIDIA processor (the Tablet P features a 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra processor). It has a front VGA webcam and a rear-facing, 5-megapixel camera. There’s even a microSD card slot for up to 32GB of external memory expansion. And of course, you’ll have access to the always-expanding list of apps available from Google Play.
Another tablet that’s competitive with the iPad in hip factor and usefulness is the hugely popular Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. The Tab 2 costs just under $400 and is worth every penny. No matter if you’re a social butterfly, artist, dedicated corporate worker bee or student, this multitasking monster is adaptable to any situation. It runs the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and is equipped with a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of flash storage, microSD card memory expansion and a full Gigabyte of RAM memory. The Tab 2 display is a stunning 10.1-inch PLS TFT multi-touch screen with WXGA 1280 x 800 HD resolution. It also supports Full HD playback and Full HD recording via its rear-facing, 3-megapixel camera. The tablet has a front-facing VGA webcam as well.
One of the Tab 2’s key media features is the Samsung Hub. The Hub consists of a Video Hub, Readers Hub, Music Hub and Game Hub. Each one functions as your own private store with all the media content you could ever want. Another feature specific to the Tab 2 is S Suggest, which compiles a rotating selection of highly rated apps personalized according to what you like and use most often. This is a very accommodating and collaborative feature that helps you take advantage of all the apps available from Google Play.
Samsung equips all of its tablets with a 30-pin docking port, similar to the Apple iPad. And it makes several accessories, including a docking station with an integrated tactile keyboard, which allows you to use your tablet as you would a notebook or laptop. One last feature worth mentioning is the Smart Remote powered by Peel. Smart Remote maximizes your Samsung Hub experience by providing direct access to the apps you use all the time. It’s essentially a tool that you can use to customize your home screen. The Tab 2 is also equipped with a Voice Call function, accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor. For around $400, it’s hard to imagine money better spent.
The last two tablets in this roundup are both new releases and they each feature the very latest in tablet technology. Both can definitely stand toe to toe with the iPad as well.
The ASUS 32GB Transformer Pad Tablet is a beautiful, well-designed tablet with a crystal clear, 10.1" widescreen HD multi-touch capacitive display. It features the user-friendly Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and it works with an optional keyboard dock, which (if purchased) affords notebook functionality through your tablet. It features 1GB of RAM memory, 32GB of flash storage, micro HDMI output, docking port, microSD memory expansion, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and front- and rear-facing cameras. The Transformer Pad has a stunning 10.1" capacitive multi-touch IPS panel display with WXGA 1280 x 800 HD resolution that’s protected by scratch-resistant glass. The Transformer Pad is powered by a 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, so multitasking is no problem. Plus, with a full Gigabyte of RAM memory, you’ll rarely find yourself waiting on the Transformer Pad to load an app or run a program—even if three are already open and in use.
One benefit of a tablet that costs around $400 is all the extra programs that come with it. The Transformer Pad is preloaded with Polaris Office, which enables users to edit various types of office files including documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The fact that it comes with Polaris Office and features an optional full QWERTY keyboard dock only increases its appeal for working professionals and students. Another perk is the ASUS Launcher and ASUS Waveshare interface. The convenient Launcher allows users to easily launch software, manage content and access online services. It also helps you connect to devices. The Waveshare interface hosts a variety of unique applications such as MyNet, MyLibrary and MyCloud. Higher-end tablets also tend to have some sort of improved audio technology as well, and the Transformer Pad is no exception. It supports built-in SonicMaster technology, which provides a dynamic 3D stereo audio experience, with maximum bass response and a wide sound field from the two integrated, discrete stereo speakers.
ASUS wanted to create a tablet that would be stylish, feature-packed and perfect for everyone, so the Transformer Pad has a range of features and functions that make it useful for business, great for school, and ideal for entertainment. It’s a tablet that works hard and plays harder. In many ways it’s superior to the latest iPad. In fact, if there were a high-school for tablets and the iPad was the popular kid in class, the Transformer Pad would definitely not be intimated by the iPad. I’m sure they’d be more like rivals with a reticent admiration of one another.
The last tablet in this roundup is the Slate 2 Tablet PC from HP. It’s available in a 32GB model and a 64GB model. The Slate 2 is the most expensive tablet in this roundup as well. The 32GB Slate 2 costs just over $600 and the 64GB version costs just over $700. One major difference between the Slate 2 and all the other tablets discussed in this roundup is the Slate 2’s Windows 7 Professional (32-bit) operating system (instead of an Android OS). This makes the Slate 2 a dream for business or school—especially if you work with Windows at your office or write your school papers on a PC. However, the Slate 2 is no slouch when it comes to entertainment.
Both the 64GB and 32GB Slate 2 models are outfitted with stand-alone GPS, as well as an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 600. And both are adorned with beautiful 8.9-inch capacitive multi-touch displays that support either 1024 x 600 or 1024 x 768 HD resolution. The resolution changes depending on the application you’re running. The Slate 2 also features an impressive 2GB of DDR2 RAM memory and it’s powered by an Intel Atom Z760 1.5 GHz processor, making it the fastest tablet of the bunch. It’s the only tablet in the roundup to have Bluetooth 4.0 + HS capability, and it also supports Atheros Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless connectivity. The 32GB and 64GB models each support an integrated solid state drive flash module via a SATA interface, instead of the more common flash storage.
The Slate 2 also supports several accoutrements that improve functionality. It even comes with the HP Slate Digital Pen, so you can input data using your fingers or the Slate Digital Pen. Also included is Evernote software, which allows you to handwrite emails, messages and notes directly onto the tablet display—then it turns your writing into typed text. This is a very cool feature that makes working with your tablet that much more convenient and flexible. And, as I’ve been stressing throughout this article, convenience and flexibility are really what tablets are all about; maybe fun and creativity as well. But anyone who’s just using their tablet to find restaurants, play games and watch YouTube has severely missed the point and failed to unlock their tablet’s potential.
If you’re looking for a business tablet, the Slate 2 is probably the best choice of this bunch, mainly because of its Windows 7 OS, expanded touch capabilities, enhanced multitasking performance and embedded security features. Plus, the Intel processor and solid state module deliver faster boot-up times. So if time is money, then this is your tablet. The Slate 2 features plenty of optional accessories as well. If you buy the HP Slate Cradle Dock (sold separately), you’ll be able to use your tablet like a desktop or laptop computer. The Slate Cradle Dock also provides an additional two USB ports, HDMI port and SD card slot. The tablet itself is equipped with a single USB 2.0 port, SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot and dock connector port. The Slate 2 offers everything you’d need in a good business or school tablet. You even get front- and rear-facing cameras, integrated stereo speakers and a built-in microphone, which makes video-chatting with friends and family or video-conferencing with colleagues in Asia as easy as finding a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The great thing about the explosion of tablets over the past couple years is that the fallout should enable you to find the perfect one for you. Many seem the same, look the same and cost about the same. But if you look closer, you’ll realize that they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. They each offer different combinations of features and functionality that focus on different aspects of daily life. If you know yourself and what you really want the tablet for, then picking the perfect one shouldn’t be a problem. And it’s important to note that this roundup barely scratches the surface of B&H’s tablet selection, so good luck and happy hunting!