So many tablets have crossed my desk in the past few months, I figured it was high time I tried to answer some of the questions I keep getting about them. “Which one is the best?” “Is iPad 2 worth upgrading to?” “Tab 10.1 or Eee Pad Transformer?” “Do you still love the Flyer?” And so on.
I decided the best way to go about this wasn’t to write full-length articles on each device, mainly because I have a tendency to turn a “quick review” into a 10,000 word opus before I realize what I’ve done. Instead I’m going to hit you with some lists this week, starting with the obvious: My Top Five tablets, in order of preference, with a little bit of Why ,What and How Much thrown in for each one.
1. Apple iPad 2, $499 and up, Apple.com
Still the cream of the crop
iPad 2 is not my favorite piece of tablet hardware, but it’s got the best software out there and so slots it at the top of my list. iOS is, to me, still much slicker and easier to use than Android 3.x, and while sheer volume of available apps is a silly way to judge anything, there are more polished and interesting apps available across more genres for iOS than Honeycomb. That gap is closing, for sure, but it’s still a gap worth noting. As for the device itself, the dual cameras, lighter weight and faster A5 processor make it worth the extra coin over a closeout sale first-gen iPad, though if you already own iPad 1, the new model isn’t a must-upgrade.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, $499 and up, Samsung.com
Best hardware on the market
If you don’t care what platform it runs and just want the best piece of tablet hardware out there right now, go with the Tab 10.1. Samsung’s finally-released Android 3.1 tablet is thin, light, and fast – even if it’s easily mistaken for an iPad (seriously, this thing really looks like an Apple product). My qualms about a 10″ widescreen making for an unwieldy handheld device were swept away by Sammy’s bangup job on the 10.1’s hardware: This device is incredibly balanced, making for a bigscreen tablet that’s actually easy to hold and use with one hand in portrait orientation. I love holding Tab “the long way” for reading and two-thumbed typing, and I love turning it “the wide way” for watching HD video and playing Tegra 2-optimized games. If only Android 3.1 were a bit more polished – and if only the thing had shipped with Samsung’s promising new version of the TouchWiz UX panels – and maybe Tab would have taken the top spot.
3. Asus Eee Pad Transformer, $399 and up, Asus.com
The value leader
Starting at just $399 for the 16GB, WiFI-only model, Asus’ Transformer represents the best specs-to-value tablet currently on the market. If Android 3.1 backed by Nvidia’s powerful dual-core Tegra 2 processor appeals to you and you can live with a device that’s just a wee bit thicker, heavier and browner (it’s actually brownish-copper in hue), Transformer offers basically the same platform and performance as Tab 10.1 but saves you a hundred bucks. I like Asus’ custom Android widgets, and while I found the optional keyboard dock a bit cramped for comfortable typing, many are sure to dig the quasi-laptop functionality it offers. Judging by how Transformer’s been sold out literally since it hit store shelves, lots of you already are digging its unique blend of versatility and value.
4. HTC Flyer, $499, BestBuy.com
There’s productivity potential in that pen
Android aficionados cried foul at HTC’s decision to go with Android 2.3 for Flyer, their first foray into tablet-land, instead of the newer, officially tablet-optimized, Android 3.0 “Honeycomb.” What the move enabled HTC to do, however, was leverage all of the work they’ve done customizing 2.x for smartphones and build a tablet that’s in many ways more polished and feature-rich than its 3.x competitors. Flyer features the newest version of Sense, the company’s extensive customization of Android, and the new Digital Scribe pen, which promises a level of handwriting and drawing-based productivity unavailable on other tablets built for finger-only input. I say “promises” because as interesting as the pen is, it’s currently only supported by a trio of native apps, and HTC has a lot of work to do getting developers to buy into the value of the pen before it realizes its full potential. But if you’re a heavy Evernote user and fancy a tablet with a 7″ display, Flyer’s got a lot going for it already.
5. Barnes & Noble Nook Color, $249, BarnesandNoble.com
“Tablet Jr” is still more than enough for many
Sometimes it’s not all about the spec sheet. For all the tens of thousands of apps, full 1080p video, and dual-core gaming that high-end tablets will boast about supporting, lots of people just want something small and easy to use that can handle the basics: Web, Email, custom content (maybe e-books, maybe audio) and a round of Sudoku or two. Enter Nook Color. Barnes & Noble took their successful color e-Reader and gave it a custom Android 2.2 platform, proprietary App Store and all, turning it into a baby tablet for baby boomers. As near to foolproof as technology gets these days, Nook Color won’t blow anyone away with its spec sheet, but its 7″ display, easy to use user interface, and tight integration with B&N’s giant book/periodical store is more than enough for many a reader who wants to stay connected in between chapters of the latest Alexander McCall Smith mystery. Bonus: You can run Android 3.x on Nook Color via ports bootable from microSD cards!
So there you go, my current Top Five Tablets. No doubt you disagree, so have at it already! What are your Top Five Tablets?