Up until now the tablet market has been Apple's lonely playground. The company sold 32 million iPads in the last fiscal year and grabbed close to 70 percent of the pie in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, Android seems to be making inroads as a tablet platform but no manufacturer comes close to the market leader when it comes to unit sales. Needless to be mentioned, other alternative operating systems have crashed and burned in little time.
Apple is not likely to lose its throne anytime soon, but its dominance could face some challenges ahead with the arrival of Amazon's Kindle Fire, which is expected to ignite the entry-level tablet segment and attract more mass-market consumers. The introduction of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the first Android release specifically designed for both phones and tablets, could also help drive tablet adoption among Android smartphone users.
We've compiled a comparative table with what we consider are the hottest tablets either currently available or announced so far. You should know that specs only paint part of the picture, so we've also included metascores from our Product Finder engine and review links to help you dig deeper and narrow down your next purchase.
|Apple iPad 2||Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||Asus Eee Pad Transformer||Amazon Kindle Fire||Sony Tablet S||Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9||Motorola Xoom||Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet||Acer Iconia Tab A500||HTC Flyer||MSI WindPad 110W|
|Processor||1GHz dual-core Apple A5||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2||1.5GHz single-core Qualcomm MSM8255||1GHz dual-core AMD Z-01 Fusion APU|
|Resolution||1024 x 768||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1024 x 600||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1280 x 800||1024 X 600||1280 x 800|
|Storage||16GB, 32GB, 64GB||16GB, 32GB||16GB, 32GB||8GB||16GB, 32GB||16GB, 32GB||32GB||16GB, 32GB||16GB||16GB, 32GB||32GB|
|USB||No||Yes||(with $100 dock)||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|HDMI||(with $40 cable)||(with $40 cable)||Yes||No||No||(with $40 cable)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Wireless Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G/4G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|GPS||(on 3G models)||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Operating System||iOS 4.3||Android 3.1 Honeycomb||Android 3.2 Honeycomb||Custom Android fork||Android 3.2 Honeycomb||Android 3.2 Honeycomb||Android 3.2 Honeycomb||Android 3.1 Honeycomb||Android 3.2 Honeycomb||Android 2.4 Gingerbread||Windows 7|
|App Marketplace||iTunes||Android Market||Android Market||Amazon Appstore for Android||Android Market||Android Market||Android Market||Android Market||Android Market||Android Market||None|
The iPad 2 remains one if not the best tablet options out there. This second-generation model hit store shelves in March, taking the same $500 starting price as its predecessor while sporting a slimmer design and a faster dual-core A5 processor and graphics. Furthermore, with the arrival of iOS 5 the tablet gained more than 200 new features, including wireless sync, a new BBM-like messaging application, and iCloud storage and synchronization.
Competing in the same price range from the Android camp are the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Sony Tablet S, both of which have received favorable reviews and high marks for their thin or otherwise ergonomic design. Considering most Android tablets pack the same hardware under the hood, this is one of the details that might tip the scale one way or another. Sony has kept the UI tweaks to a minimum rather than doing a major overhaul a la Samsung's TouchWiz.
The smaller Galaxy Tab 8.9 starts at only $30 less than the entry-level iPad 2 or Tab 10.1, which might be a bit hard to swallow given the reduced screen real estate and resulting cramped keyboard. Further down the price ladder the Motorola Xoom is now selling at around $450 for the 32GB model and $400 for a 16GB variant selling exclusively at Best Buy. Tablets from Asus, Acer and Lenovo start at around $400 and offer similar specs as well as optional keyboard docks.
Lastly, the HTC Flyer is a good alternative if you are looking for a full-featured but smaller tablet. With Amazon's Kindle Fire arriving in November for $200, however, HTC will have a hard time competing. Amazon's tablet forgoes 3G access, microphone and front/back cameras to achieve this price point, but even though it won't break any records in terms of hardware it will definitely compete as a consumption device as it is tightly integrated with Amazon's services and stores.
We're not big fans of Windows 7 on tablets since it's not really optimized for touch interfaces. That said, if you are bent on sticking with Microsoft's platform, the WindPad 110W is a fairly solid product and if you are of the tinkering kind you'll also be able to run the more touch-firendly Windows 8 betas on it until the OS goes final. At $600, it's a bit pricey compared to Android tablets and its battery life is not that great.
Honorable mentions: The Eee Pad Slider stands out in a world of me-too devices with its innovative design and integrated keyboard, but it's a tad bulky for our taste and for some it may prevent a "pure" tablet experience. If you are looking for something more reading-oriented but don't fancy the Kindle Fire then the Kobo Vox might also be worth a look.
The awaited sequel to the popular Eee Pad Transformer will be officially announced November 9, though that doesn't necessarily mean immediate availability. The Transformer Prime will be a quad-core netbook/tablet hybrid powered by Nvidia's Tegra 3 SoC running Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Also, if you already own an Android tablet you'll want to keep your eyes peeled for an upgrade to Android 4.0, unfortunately no concrete information is available for now.