PM’s Top 10 tablets

HTC Flyer
Date:29 July 2011 Tags:, , , , , ,

Decisions, decisions. Having just committed our hard-earned cash to a spanking-new tablet, we hear of yet another, apparently better model offering amazing functionality, an improved operating system, better storage and all manner of cool apps. Before we lose the plot, let’s take a step back and consider a recent letter from a PM reader on the subject of early adoption: his radical suggestion (for our readers, anyway) was that it might occasionally be a good idea to hold off until all the technical teething problems have been resolved.

Does this mean you should postpone buying a tablet? Nope. Obey your genes and go for it. To help speed you along your way, we showcase 10 of the hottest contenders: some are already here, others are on the way…

Archos 80 G9 and 101 G9
Looking for a tablet with great computing power and serious memory capacity? Then check out the 8-inch Archos 80 G9 and 10-inch Archos 101 G9, both powered by Android 3.1 Honeycomb: would you believe a 250 GB hard drive? They come with Google’s full suite of mobile applications as well as Android Market, giving you access to over 200 000 apps, and they’re loaded with a 1,5 GHz dual-core OMAP 4 processor from Texas Instruments.

The tablets are able to decode 1080p H264 High Profi le videos, automatically organising them by title, actor, director, year, season and episode, providing a new way to experience HD entertainment.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Remember the 7-inch Galaxy Tab? Well, it’s just been joined by a bigger sibling. The Wi-Fi-enabled 10,1-inch tablet is just 8,6 mm thick, making it the slimmest in the world. What’s good is that the scaled-down case doesn’t compromise battery life: you get up to 9 hours of work between charges.

Powered by Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), Samsung’s latest tablet offers faster and smoother transitions between different applications, more intuitive navigation to and from home screens, and broader support of USB accessories, external keyboards, joysticks and gamepads. It’s powered by the nVidia Tegra 1 GHz dual core application processor, which delivers powerful gaming and multimedia performance.

A new version of Media Hub includes an HD Extender, which allows you to play back content on TV through an HDMI cable from a dock or adaptor. Other features include a 3-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera.

HTC Flyer
This 7-inch tablet features a single-core 1,5 GHz processor, a 5 MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, a 1,3 MP front camera for video chatting, a useful 16 GB eMMC memory plus microSD card slot, digital ink technology, and other goodies – all packed into an attractive case. Interestingly, HTC has opted for Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) rather than Android 3.0 (Honeycomb); the latter is reportedly on the way. The display offers multi-touch capability, and a digital pen enables you to take synchronised notes and annotate content. The Flyer also offers Flash 10.2 support, by the way, and its battery life is excellent. We’ve tried it, we like it.

Apple iPad 2
First of all, there’s not much wrong with the original iPad, so if you already own one, don’t get all hot and bothered because your best friend has an iPad 2. Okay, so it’s lighter and thinner than its predecessor, with a better (A5 dual-core) processor, a front-facing VGA camera for FaceTime and Photo Booth, and a rear-facing camera that captures 720p HD video… but that’s about it. The price of this must-have product remains very competitive, and the rapidly growing app library should keep you happy for years to come (yeah, we know a year is a long time in the consumer tech world, but still). Against that, still no Flash. Dammit.

Fighting on new fronts

BlackBerry PlayBook
For starters, it’s a 7-inch tablet: if you can live with this form factor, you’re already in line for conversion. The operating system is easy to understand and the tablet’s performance is downright amazing, especially for Web browsing (yes, it comes with Flash!) and multitasking (the touchscreen is really good). Having played with one for a couple of weeks, we admit to being mildly besotted.

You get dual HD cameras for video capture and video conferencing (they can record HD video at the same time) and an HDMI-out port for presenting your creations on an external display. If you own a BlackBerry smartphone, you can pair the tablet and phone using a secure Bluetooth connection, allowing you to use the larger tablet display to seamlessly and securely view e-mail, BBM, calendar, tasks, documents and other content that resides on the phone. But where are the cool apps?

HP TouchPad
Only just released in the United States, HP’s TouchPad tablet – powered by a dual-core 1,2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor – is available in 16 GB and 32 GB versions and comes with a beta version of Adobe’s Flash browser plug-in, a 9,7-inch multitouch screen and a 1,3 MP front-facing webcam. It’s the fi rst tablet to run WebOS, the operating system acquired by HP last year when it bought Palm, which means that this tablet uses the same cardstack system for organising its apps. This is good, by the way.

Samsung Sliding PC 7
It looks like a regular 10,1-inch tablet, but the slide-out keyboard turns it into something completely different, and strangely appealing. We have many friends and colleagues who’ve spent a few hundred bucks on Bluetooth keyboards for their tablets; is this a better solution? Anyway, this device comes with a 1 366×768 screen, a solid-state drive of up to 64 GB, 2 GB of RAM, and built-in 3G and WiMAX chips. That’s all good, but the price is less appealing.

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer
It may be signifi cant that when this device became available for online purchase in the US, it sold out within a day. In essence, it’s a 10-inch tablet (powered by a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU running Android 3.0) that features an optional keyboard dock. That alone sets it apart from the herd, but what makes it more interesting is that the dock provides an extended battery life of up to 16 hours. (We featured this tablet in our March issue).

Motorola Xoom
This Android 3.1-powered tablet could just give the mighty iPad 2 a run for its money (although when you look at the sales fi gures, this may be hard to believe). It comes with impressive specs and desirable built-in apps such as Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar; the downside is a sparsely populated library of other apps. It features the nVidia Tegra 2 Processor, 1 GB DDR2 RAM, Flash 10.2, and 32 GB of onboard storage. Other features include a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera capable of recording 720p video, a 2 MP forwardfacing camera, and HDMI output. We reckon the Xoom’s browser (think Chrome) is better than the iPad’s Safari.

Panasonic Toughbook
If you’re an outdoors type, you’ll enjoy Panasonic’s “ruggedised” Toughbook 10,1-inch tablet, which will run an Android operating system (we’re not being told which one) and is due for release later this year. Aimed primarily at enterprise users, it comes with GPS connectivity, a non-glare screen that can apparently be read easily in sunlight, and an optional 3G/4G embedded modem. We understand its security system will be embedded at the hardware level.

E-reader showdown

Amazon Kindle 3G
Amazon’s e-reader, with its 6-inch monochrome display and clear E Ink Pearl technology, has been the best-selling item in Amazon’s vast product line-up for two years running; this must be signifi cant. The Kindle stores up to 3 500 books, downloading your choice (we paid an average of about R70 each for bestsellers, or less than half of the regular paperback price in bookstores) via “Whispernet” in a matter of seconds.

The process is seamless, allowing you to carry on reading while your latest selection is downloaded via Wi-Fi or 3G (which is free, by the way; Amazon pays for it). Your credit card, linked to Amazon, is billed automatically. You can read your e-books in bright sunlight (we know, because we tried it) but unlike the backlit Nook, you’ll need a bedside light – or a folder with a built-in light – once the daylight has faded.

It gets better. Click on the “Experimental” menu item and you’ll discover a basic browser, an MP3 player (listen to podcasts or music) and a text-to-speech function that reads text to you in a Stephen Hawking sort of voice. If you’ve never tried an e-reader, you’re in for a thoroughly satisfying experience – and all for R1 300 (Wi-Fi and 3G model). If you have a wireless setup at home, you can buy the Wi-Fi-only version for about R955.

Did we mention free books? Well, Kindle (and Barnes & Noble, come to think of it) has a vast storehouse of out-of-copyright classics that can be had for nothing, zilch. We’ve already downloaded the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a couple of PG Wodehouse books we remember from our dad’s collection. In short, we love it.

Amazon also sell a largerformat kindle, the 9,7-inch Wi-Fi-only DX, for about R2 600.

Barnes & Noble Nook Color
Devotees believe this device deserves its own category in a space somewhere between e-readers and tablets, especially since its upgrade to Android 2.2 Froyo and the launch of a dedicated app store. The most signifi cant differences between the Nook Color and Amazon’s market-leading Kindle 3G are the display and battery life: the Nook has a fullcolour touchscreen and delivers around 8 hours of work/play, whereas the monochromatic Kindle has a physical QWERTY keypad and provides up to two months between charges (with Wi-Fi deactivated).

Aside from its seamless delivery of digital books, interactive magazines, newspapers and other stuff from Barnes & Noble’s vast database (over 2 million titles), you get popular apps, e-mail and enhanced Web browsing – and all in immersive, gorgeous colour. It’s a neatly designed device, with a graphite fi nish and a soft-touch back that makes holding it strangely pleasurable. Featuring a 7-inch display, it measures just 206 mm by 127 mm, and weighs 448 grams.

The Nook provides you with a perfectly adequate Web experience, whereas the Kindle’s “experimental” browser – though undoubtedly useful – is somewhat clunky. You also get an 8 GB memory (extendable via microSD card) that’s capable of storing up to 6 000 titles. Neat, sexy and capable… and according to converts, well worth the $249 (about R1 700) price tag.

However – and this is a rather signifi cant “however” for potential buyers from South Africa – Barnes & Noble say that in terms of their agreement with publishers, they may not deliver e-books outside the United States. So why have we bothered to feature the Nook? Two reasons: fi rst, we understand they are trying to negotiate a deal whereby they can make their titles available to the rest of the world; and second, although B&N’s system will recognise your non-American IP address and probably reject your approach, there are ways to circumvent this (check it out via Google; it’s a slightly grey legal area).

You can view personal fi les by transferring PDF, ePub, PNG, GIF and BMP fi les to the device, and Quickoffi ce software allows you to view Word, Excel and PowerPoint fi les. (For the record, one PM staffer has bought a Nook Color; others are tempted.)

The smaller (monochrome) Nook touch reader sells in the US for just under R1 000.



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