Aug 6, 2011

Test winner of Tablets: Class of 2011

Apple's iPad created the tablet market, then had it to itself for a year. Now it has company and we find out if they pass the test

What's new? For too long it was the iPad or nothing, but the game has changed with the tablet-specific Android Honeycomb OS and a brand new OS from BlackBerry. Has the iPad had its day?
The Big Decisions
Honeycomb vs iOS: Honeycomb is the version of Google's Android OS that has been designed specifically for tablets, rather than smartphones, and it allows you lots of scope for customisation. Apple's iOS is simpler, slicker and more userfriendly, but Honeycomb beats it on features. Look for the latest version of Honeycomb, 3.1.

3G vs Wi-Fi: Most tablets come in two flavours: one accesses the internet by Wi-Fi only, while the more expensive version has a built-in 3G modem (and often a GPS chip to go with it). Don't assume the 3G version is better: unless you're on the move a lot and don't mind spending extra on a SIM card and data, the Wi-Fi option is usually better value.

7in vs 10in: A 10in screen is much better for browsing and some games; a 7-incher will fit in your pocket.
What to look for

Operating system: Apple's iOS is the benchmark, but Android is catching up fast in both apps and functionality; BlackBerry's Tablet OS is impressive; Windows 7 is a touchscreen disaster.

Capacitive touchscreen: All the tablets here have one, but some cheaper models have old-school 'resistive' screens; give these a wide berth.

Connections: Some would say a tablet doesn't need more than a USB connection and a headphone socket, but extras such as video outputs and card readers will expand your options.

Apps: Beyond browsing and media playing it's all about the apps. iOS has the best paid-for apps but Android has lots for techie tweakers.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Cost: Rs 32,999 (16GB Wi-Fi with keyboard)


Display: 10.1in, 1280x800 OS: Android 3.1 Connectivity: 3.5mm, Bluetooth, HDMI, microSD, SDHC, GPS, USB2.0 (x2), Wi-Fi Battery: 8hrs/16hrs Cameras: 1.2MP/5MP

Verdict: * * * * *

Spanning the divide between netbook and tablet, amazingly the Transformer is a success in both modes. You could opt for a regular keyboard-less tablet, but you'd be missing out on a lot. That detachable keyboard overcomes the eternal frustration of text entry on a touchscreen, while the trackpad directs a mouse pointer around the Honeycomb OS, so you're not constantly jabbing the screen. Combined with memory card slots, USB ports and access to computerstyle files and folders, the Transformer is capable of simple document editing, blogging and cloud computing.

If you tell the browser to identify itself to websites as a desktop computer rather than a mobile device, you get a fully featured, Flash-enabled net experience. It's on the heavy side with a screen that's as smeary as the Xoom's . Unlike that tablet, though, Honeycomb ran faultlessly on our test model, and what's more, it's v3.1 which adds support for PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers, USB mice, resizable widgets, and offers better graphics performance. The keyboard combo isn't for everyone, but for a more computer-like experience, it's an iPad beater. If you want an iPad, get an iPad. If you want a deeper experience, the Transformer is for you

BlackBerry PlayBook

Cost: Rs 27,990 (16GB Wi-Fi )


Display: 7in, 1024x600 OS: BlackBerry Tablet OS Connectivity: 3.5mm, Bluetooth, HDMI, Wi-Fi Battery: 8-10 hrs Cameras: 3MP/5MP

Verdict: * * * *

While most iPad rivals are taking the Android route, BlackBerry is striking out with a new operating system of its own.It's a bold move from the brand known for its Bold email phones, and first impressions are that it's done a great job.

BlackBerry has adopted the Apple template and developed its own hardware and OS in tandem, and the result is an interface that glides around the 7in display with unfaltering serenity. Keen to show off its multitasking skills, its Tablet OS will even continue to play video in the thumbnail carousel if you minimise the media player.

It's not the most intuitive tablet to use at first, with few visual clues to guide you around its menus and app screens, but there are some neat ideas such as the touch-sensitive frame around the display. Apps are not in abundance but BlackBerry is currently conforming selected Android apps to work on the PlayBook, due to become available via its own App World later in the year.

The PlayBook is a class act. Browsing is cramped but fast and responsive with Flash support for video. There's clearly power in spades waiting to chew through those apps... when they arrive. Right now, it's a wasted opportunity of sorts. Powerful and full of potential, the PlayBook needs apps before it's promoted to the top tier
Motorola Xoom
Cost: Rs 34,490 (32GB, Wi-Fi )


Display: 10.1in, 1280x800 OS: Android 3.0 Connectivity: 3.5mm, 3G, Bluetooth, HDMI, Micro USB, Wi-Fi Battery: 10hrs Cameras: 2MP/5MP, dual-LED flash

Verdict: * * *

The first Android Honeycomb tablet to hit the global market no longer has that wow factor to fall back on, but it's still a quality slate.At the time of writing it's yet to be boosted from Android 3.0 to 3.1 with the update that's available to the US users. That puts clear daylight between it and the feature-rich Transformer, a gulf that's widened by the Xoom's paucity of hardware accoutrements. Sure, there's a microSD card slot, but the OS still can't see it's there. You get a dual-LED flash for the camera, HDMI output and a flat USB port for file transfer, but that's your lot.
HTC Flyer 
Cost: Rs 39,890 (Wi-FI + 3G, 32GB)


* Display: 7in, 1024x600 OS: Android 2.3 Connectivity: 3G, 3.5mm, Bluetooth Micro USB, Wi-Fi , GPS Battery: 7hrs Cameras: 1.3MP/5MP

Verdict: * * * While the others here have tabletspecific operating systems, the Flyer is based on the 'Gingerbread' Android 2.3 smartphone OS. The dated look and feel isn't helped by hollow plastic ends on the rear. While Android Honeycomb is still new, Gingerbread actually offers wider compatibility with apps, and at a push it can do most of what Honeycomb is capable of - just in a less intuitive manner. HTC's Sense skin jazzes things up but it can't resolve Gingerbread's shortcomings.

Rummage around the box and you might be surprised to find a stylus. However, try it out and you'll realise it's only compatible with a few specific apps and is completely ignored by the main interface.As a gaming tablet it's a hit. The 7in form is ideal for anything with on-screen virtual joysticks (big enough for you to see what's going on, small enough to be dual-thumbed ) and it has enough power to tackle 3D graphics. Video playback is up there with the best - Flash support for the web, and smooth frame rates and rich colours on quality rips.

For a near Rs 40,000 asking price, the Flyer doesn't seem so fly. Similarly priced rivals offer so much more, and lower-end tablets are too close for comfort. The Flyer would be tempting at half the price, but it smells too much like 2010 for us

Apple iPad 2
Cost: Rs 29,500 (16GB Wi-Fi )


Display: 9.7in, 1024x768 OS: iOS 4.3 Connectivity: 3.5mm, Bluetooth, dock connector, Wi-Fi Battery:Cameras: VGA/5MP

Verdict: * * * * *

In purely physical terms, the iPad 2 is easily the most desirable tablet. Simplicity remains the core principle, and if that's what you want then nothing comes close. In use, though, it's not such a clear winner. Where Honeycomb provides highly customisable homescreens with animated, interactive widgets, the iPad gives you grids of app icons, a permanent dock for frequently used apps, and that's it. There'll be no fishing around in file systems here, mister. No, instead you'll be too busy playing with the immense number of apps, and that's what the iPad is all about. In a fight, the iPad App Store would take the Android Market by the wingnuts and twist them until it pleaded for a hard reset.

It's an iPod too, of course, and if you have any AirPlay gear around the home, the iPad will stream music and video to it with no fuss. HDMI output is also possible, via an optional adapter. Widescreen video on its own 4:3 ratio screen is letterboxed, but colours and definition are strong.

The lack of Flash video support hampers silky-smooth web browsing but otherwise it's all good - so long as this is the way you want to play. If not, Honeycomb might be more to your taste. The iPad's quality and simplicity remain unmatched, but it's no longer the only option, especially if you love tweaking your gadgets.

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