In the past few years, there has been a revolution in the small screen world. We’ve gone from chunky flip phones to sleek touch screens, big desktops to light-as-a-feather laptops, regular old television sets to high definition, even 3D, flat screens. And now, we’ve gone a step further, putting all these features and functions into one small, portable slate we lovingly call the tablet.
As with many technological innovations in communication, Apple was on this one first, with the release of the iPad in April 2010. It had its flaws and almost seemed like a blown-up version of the iPod Touch, but even before the release, competing companies saw the potential in such a product and started creating tablets of their own. One of Apple’s biggest competitors, Google, started applying their Android operating system to tablets, but ultimately needed to invent an operating system that could stand up against iOS, which was designed specifically for the tablet.
Just a little over a year after the first tablet was released, we have more tablets on the market than we know what to do with, and the iPad is already on it’s second version. Granted, Apple has the tendency to leave important functions off the primary version of any product so consumers are forced to upgrade, but is the iPad 2 more advanced than other tablets? What are the major differences between all these tiny computers, or are there any at all?
Before you start shopping and comparing brands, decide if you really need a tablet. Mike Smith at Tekserve on W 23rd in Manhattan told me that, in reality, a tablet does not replace a computer or laptop. There are significant differences between the two devices- a CD drive, for example- that make tablets only 10% necessary and 90% luxury. Some companies are making tablets that have a keyboard attachment or that are convertible to a laptop-like device, so this is a step in the right direction, however for purposes of style the major brands have stuck with the slate form.
Looking at brands across the board, there are a few factors that should be kept in mind: storage space, size, operating system, app selection, of course, price, and other things. Luckily, Mike was able to help me differentiate between the brands and gave me some key pointers, for example, HTC’s webOS has been discontinued, so while those products may be cheaper, they’re no longer an effective alternative. He also said any Google powered tablets without the Android HoneycombOS are basically Droid phones that don’t make calls, so keep that in mind when deciding on your tablet.
Let’s look at some of the top selling brands. (I did not include devices like the Kindle or Nook because, while the tablet can function like an e-reader, the e-reader cannot do the same.)
iPad 2- runs on iOS, the most extensive tablet operating system yet; 3 storage size options; AT&T or Verizon service; front and back camera for video chatting and taking pictures; over 425,000 applications, plus 100,000 more designed specifically for the tablet; costs up to $829; no way to expand storage space once you chose; GPS only works with a 3G network; does NOT support flash, so some of your favorite websites and videos may not be accessible.
Samsung Galaxy- biggest screen (therefore best resolution) on the market; 2 size options; runs on Android HoneycombOS; Verizon service; built-in GPS; 12+ hour battery life; flash compatible; up to $600; 200,000 apps but only 230 built specifically for the tablet.
HP Touch Pad- a discontinued product, though the cheapest tablet on the market; webOS operating system; AT&T; up to $599 with the new operating system, which hasn’t been tested extensively; 6,200+ apps; can’t record video or voice; no front (screen side) camera.
Motorola XOOM- bigger in size, therefore better screen resolution; Android HoneycombOS; highest quality camera in the tablet market; option for 4G network; up to $729.
Blackberry Playbook- lightest tablet on the market; BlackberryOS, which means less chance of getting a bug; up to $699; works best with a Blackberry phone; no GPS; no expandable storage.
Other viable options include the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, which has phenomenal quality and is more affordable, and the ViewSonic ViewPad10, which has a Dual operating system (Droid 2.2 and Windows 7), and therefore more functionality.
When it comes down to purchasing time, what you really need to do is go test the product. Talk to each salesmen, consider their pitch, and compare for yourself. Depending on your needs for the tablet, the brand you chose will be different, for example, like with the cell phones, Blackberry tablets are more work oriented, while the iPad is geared towards recreational usage. Also keep in mind that the prices listed above are the highest possible option. The discontinued Touch Pad is now sold for about $200 or less, and you can get a Galaxy for as little as $350. Explore your options, don’t rush to drop cash on a tablet because, as has been the trend in communication technology the last few years, there will be another advancement made soon and someone will come out with something better.
Readers, do you know of a better brand? Had a particularly good or bad experience with any of these products? Do tell, in the comments section!
 Name changed for privacy purposes; his views do not represent the views of Tekserve or Apple.