Almost a year ago, contributor Greg Shultz asked the TechRepublic community "Will 2011 be the year of the Windows 7 tablet PC?" Now that we're nearing the end of 2011, we can answer his question: No, this was the year of the tablet, though not necessarily the Windows 7 tablet -- it actually seemed more like the year of the Android tablet.
For TechRepublic's 2011 Geek Gift Guide, we are providing an overview of many of the tablets that hit the market (or were at least available) in 2011 and pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly for each device based primarily on CNET reviews of each product.
For reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos, download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2011.
Acer's ICONIA TAB A line features the slate-style tablets. The A100 has a 7-inch screen but suffers from a short battery life and narrow viewing angle. It runs about $330-350 MSRP. The A500 is a 10-inch tablet but is thick and heavy. It runs about $450-500 MSRP. Both tablets offer a fair number of outputs, including HDMI, USB, and Micro-SD.CNET reviews: Acer Iconia Tab A100 (8GB), Acer Iconia Tab A500
Amazon is a really late arrival to this party but will likely shake up this market with its release of the new 7-inch Kindle Fire on November 15th. As ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan stated, this will likely split the market into two groups: the $200 Kindle Fire-like tablets and the $500 Apple iPad-like tablets. The Kindle Fire has good specs, but some corners were cut, like the lack of photo and video, SD slots, Bluetooth support, and cellular data -- it's WiFi only.CNET review: Kindle Fire ZDNet review: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device
The Apple iPad is the device that rebooted the once defunct tablet market. The iPad 2 was released in March 2011, though it was so popular that it was several months before most stores had any stock on the shelves. While the iPad 2 comes with a variety of memory sizes (16 GB, 32 GB, and 64GB), it does not offer any SD expansion so you get what you buy upfront. The iPad's display is just shy of 10 inches, putting it in the "large tablet" category. One drawback is the iPad 2's cameras are a much lower quality than other similarly priced tablets.
The ARCHOS 70 is a 7-inch tablet priced as low as $130 for the 8 GB model and moves up to the $300 range for a 250 GB model (it has a hard drive instead of flash memory). There's also the ARCHOS 9, a 9-inch model, and the ARCHOS 101, a 10.1-inch tablet. The ARCHOS 9 is last year's model, and its pricing ($400) is actually higher than the ARCHOS 101 (about $300).
The ARCHOS tablets are simple-looking devices but contain mini-HDMI, USB, and micro-SD slots in most models. Unfortunately, ARCHOS is still using Android 2.2 and does not fully support the Android Market or Google Mobile apps. Also, the processors and screens are older, slower, and less-responsive hardware than other popular tablets that will leave a power user wanting more. It may be good for a family with kids or someone who needs a simple, cheap device for running apps.CNET reviews: Archos 70 (8GB), Archos 70 (250GB), Archos 9 PC Tablet, Archos 101 (16GB)
ASUSAsus Eee Pad Transformer (16GB, Wi-Fi), Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 (16GB, white), Asus Eee Pad Slider SL101 (32GB, white), Asus Eee Slate EP121 (32GB), Asus Eee Slate EP121 (64GB)
Even Coby, which usually imports cheaply built Chinese electronics, has entered the tablet market with the Coby Kyros. Coming in at under $150, it's neither a Google-authorized device (so no Android Marketplace or Google Mobile apps) nor does its include AppsLib marketplace contain very many popular apps. Fortunately for TechRepublic contributor Donovan Colbert, it's not too difficult to root the device and get the Android Marketplace installed. Even then, it has some difficulties with the hardware, including the touch screen and Wi-Fi.CNET review: Coby Kyros
Dell's Inspiron duo is a convertible tablet that has a simple interface for using music, photos, and video, or conversion into a full Windows 7 tablet. The hardware is netbook-like, which makes it seem sluggish at times; plus, it does not have the requisite ports that a netbook would. Also, a weak battery keeps long stints of use to a minimum.CNET review: Dell Inspiron Duo
Fusion Garage's Grid10 tablet comes loaded with its own proprietary OS and is larger than other tablets with similar screen sizes. Many operations in the OS require two-finger navigation gestures; however, the grouping style of the Grid OS makes it easier to find apps easier. In all, it sounds likes a tablet that should have been re-thought.CNET review: Fusion Garage Grid10 Wi-Fi tablet -16GB (10.1-inch)
HTC has the 7-inch HTC Evo View 4G, a fairly standard tablet for its size, though it's a little heavy. Unfortunately, the Evo View 4G does not run Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) and requires a data plan from Sprint to browse the web.
HTC's other 7-inch tablet, the HTC Flyer, is an Android 3.0 device, is less exepnesive than the Evo View 4G, and has built in Wi-Fi without the need for a data plan. Unfortunately, the $300 price tag is still a little more than the average 7-inch tablet, so most consumers will probably look elsewhere for their Android tablets.
HTC also offers the Jetstream, a 10-inch tablet that could be an iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab competitor, if it weren't $700. Again, HTC has created a tablet that is not as remarkable as its price tag says it should be.CNET reviews: HTC Evo View 4G (Sprint), HTC Flyer, HTC Jetstream Read more about tablets.