Mobility

Geek Gifts 2011: Tablet roundup

In the past 12 months, the tablet market has taken off, and many of those tablets are running the Android OS. Here's a look at some of the most popular and talked about tablets available.

Lenovo

PC maker Lenovo has come out the IdeaPad K1 and the ThinkPad, both of which have 10-inch screens. The IdeaPad K1 appears to be another standard issue Honeycomb tablet without any standout features, except for maybe the additional color choice of Red. The ThinkPad is a much more rugged tablet that looks and feels like it was designed by anIT department. Also, the ThinkPad has a built-in port for the optional pen stylus, which is fairly unique among tablets.

CNET reviews: Lenovo IdeaPad K1 (black), Lenovo ThinkPad

Motorola

The Motorola Xoom was the first Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet to hit the market; outside of that distinction, the Xoom's hardware specs and available ports are fairly standard when compared to other iPad competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Also, the launch version of the Xoom did not run Flash in the browser, and its micro-SD card slot didn't work, which makes it clear that Motorola rushed this tablet to market.

TechRepublic review: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing CNET review: Motorola Xoom

Research in Motion

Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet built on the BlackBerry OS. The PlayBook is either for BlackBerry smartphone users who love that OS, or users who want a tablet for web browsing. However, the smaller screen size may actually feel cramped in the powerful web browser. For its power and specs, this a very small and thin tablet, so RIM has done a great job of packing in a punch. The PlayBook is priced to match the iPad (starting at $499 and increasing similarly for more storage) but is Wi-Fi only; cellular data can be acquired by tethering to a BlackBerry phone or waiting for a 4G model to come out.

TechRepublic review: BlackBerry PlayBook review: The perfect tablet for two kinds of people CNET review: BlackBerry PlayBook (16GB)

Samsung

Samsung has a 7.7-inch, an 8.9-inch, and a 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab. The 8.9-inch and the 10.1-inch models have practically the same hardware and a similar price point. The only advantage the 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab has is that its diminutive size allows for easier in-hand use, whereas the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab will make you want to set it on a table or your knee to use. The 10.1 model is a close competitor to the Motorola Xoom. The 7.7-inch model will be the first Samsung tablet to offer a Super AMOLED Plus touch screen, but Samsung has yet to announce an official release date for that product.

CNET reviews: Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 (16GB), Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (16GB) TechRepublic review and gallery: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G is a worthy contender for power tablet users, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 teardown: Daintiest of the Android tablets

Sony

The Sony Tablet S stands out as the tablet with the wedge-shaped case. Whether you think that's awesome eye candy or unusable, you will remember it once you see a Tablet S. Other standout features include PlayStation mobile gaming and a built-in universal remote app that will allow you to control your home electronics. You can even push your content to DLNA-compatible speakers, PCs, and TVs a little like Tony Stark did in Iron Man 2. The downside is the charger is extremely proprietary and expensive.

CNET review: Sony Tablet S (16GB) TechRepublic cracking open gallery: Cracking Open the Sony Tablet S

T-Mobile

Many of the other tablets mentioned in this post offer 3G or 4G data services via various mobile service providers, but the T-Mobile SpringBoard is the first to be branded with a carrier's name and should be available "in time for the holidays" (the T-Mobile site currently says it will be available by November 16, 2011). Manufactured by Huawei, this 7-inch tablet has dual cameras, a micro-USB port, and a full HDMI port.

Toshiba

The Toshiba Thrive 7-inch tablet has practically the same hardware as its 10-inch counterpart — it's just packaged in a smaller device. The Toshiba Thrive 7-inch is slated to be available by December 2011.

CNET review: Toshiba Thrive (32GB) Photos on TechRepublic: Toshiba Thrive 7" tablet

Velocity Micro

Custom PC maker Velocity Micro also has several tablets to offer in its Cruz line. The Cruz T301 is a 7-inch tablet running Android 2.2. While its $150 price tag makes for an affordable tablet, the screen is dimmer and lower resolution than other 7-inch tablets, which will turn off some e-book readers and multimedia consumers. Also available are the Cruz T408 and the Cruz T410 — the only difference between the two models is the screen size (8 inches for the T408 and 10 inches for the T410). These tablets are running Android 2.3 and come with a common array of ports. Unfortunately, the tablets suffer from a dim screen with shallow viewing angles.

CNET reviews: Velocity Micro Cruz T301, Velocity Micro Cruz T408, Velocity Micro Cruz T410 Photos on TechRepublic: Velocity Micro Cruz T408 tablet and Velocity Micro Cruz T410 tablet

ViewSonic

Electronics maker ViewSonic has two tablets on the market: the ViewSonic G and the ViewSonic VPad (ViewPad) 7. The ViewSonic G came out at the very end of 2010 as one of the first 10-inch Android tablets hoping to be an iPad killer. While it didn't do that, it did help usher in the era of the 10-inch Android tablets, albeit without either the Android Marketplace or official Google mobile apps. The VPad 7 was released around the same time, and it's obviously a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 direct competitor — both in terms of its size and its hardware.

CNET reviews: ViewSonic G, ViewSonic VPad (ViewPad) 7

VIZIO

Coming in at a unique size (8 inches) and having a bulky and boxy feel, the VIZIO Tablet VTAB1008 is a powerful Android 2.3 tablet. The fanciest thing about it is the "magic" Android buttons that follow rotation so they appear below the screen when in portrait or landscape mode.

CNET review: Vizio Tablet VTAB1008

Notable mentions

HP

Unfortunately for HP, the TouchPad didn't get its day until it became defunct. Sales of this tablet actually rose after HP decided to cut out of the market and dropped the price to $99. Running webOS 3.0, the TouchPad (available in 16GB and 32GB models) was another unique item in the tablet market in that respect but is similar both in hardware and pricing to other higher-end tablets on the market. The TouchPad's standout features were its ability to multitask (thanks to webOS) and its high-quality, business user-friendly email app. There may be a light at the end of the TouchPad's tunnel, though; it could be re-released as a Windows 8 tablet once that OS hits the market. We'll have to see.

GameSpot

GameStop is also getting involved in the tablet market. GameSpot recently announced that it's offering four Android tablets — the ViewSonic VPad 7, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the Acer Iconia Tab A500, and the Motorola Xoom — that will include its new Kongregate Arcade app store, which is a system for playing higher-end games in a tablet platform. We'll have to see whether GameSpot decides to offer the Kongregate Arcade app for installation on other tablets or on these models when purchased from other retailers. I predict that not offering it for free would lead the service to an early death.

Summary

In all, the last year's tablet offerings fill a wide array of specs — from Android 2 to Android 3 to iOS and Windows 7; from no expansion ports to a full array of USB, HDMI, and SD; and from sizes between 7 and 10 inches.

Have you purchased a tablet in the last year or plan to buy one soon for yourself or for gift? If so, share with us which one and why you selected a particular model.

Also on TechRepublic: Jason Hiner's 10 best tablets of 2011

Note: CNET, ZDNet, and TechRepublic are CBS Interactive brands.

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