Tablets

The 10 best tablets of 2011 [UPDATED]

New tablets have hit the market week after week throughout 2011, but here are the 10 best that are worth your attention, and your money.

Tablets are the technology's industry's latest gold rush. With Apple selling 15 million iPads in 2010 and projected to sell as many as 45 million in 2011, everyone wants a piece of the public's sudden infatuation with these multitouch slabs of silicon.  From the world's biggest computer companies to obscure little parts makers, there have been an obscene number of companies releasing tablets this year and the number will only increase in 2012.

Which ones are safe to ignore and which ones are worth your attention? In February, I wrote a piece called The 10 hottest tablets to watch in 2011. Most of these tablets have finally come to market, a lot of them flopped, and other new tablets have popped up. In May, after reviewing many of these tablets, I wrote the first version of my leaderboard, with a lot of tablets moving up or down in the rankings. I updated it again in August.

Now that the holiday buying season has arrived, here is my latest assessment of the top tablets of 2011. You can view it as a slide show or as a list below.

Slide show

Jason Hiner's 10 best tablets of 2011

10. HTC Flyer

Over half of the tablets on this list are powered by Android and HTC is one of the powerhouses of the Android ecosystem. Unlike rivals Motorola, Samsung, and LG, who all unveiled high-end tablets at CES 2011 in January, HTC was remarkably silent on the tablet question. However, this spring, HTC announced the Flyer, a 7-incher with a 1.5 GHz CPU, 1.0 GB RAM, 32GB of Flash storage, and a special version of the HTC Sense UI designed for tablets. The Sense UI is by far the best Android skin on the market and it doesn't disappoint on the Flyer, even though it's running on top of Android 2.2 and not Android 3.0. Also, unlike most of the other Android tablets, the Flyer includes digital ink technology and a stylus -- and it's an excellent implementation. Unfortunately, the Flyer hardware leaves a lot to be desired. It is thick, awkward to hold, and feels like an oversized smartphone.

9. HP TouchPad

A lot of people will think I'm being extremely generous by putting the TouchPad on the list since HP has officially killed product. But, if HP hadn't killed it, I would have ranked the TouchPad No. 3 on the list (although keep in mind that my primary audience is people who use technology for business). Since you can still buy the TouchPad on eBay for $200-$300 and there are continual rumors about HP resurrecting the product, I'm going to keep it on the list for now. As I wrote in my review, the TouchPad actually trumps the iPad in productivity (especially messaging) and web browsing, but it lacks the entertainment and media options that most consumers want and the hardware feels cheap and clunky. Read my full review.

8. BlackBerry PlayBook

I was at the event last fall where RIM announced the BlackBerry PlayBook and my first impressions were not very good -- mostly because RIM kept it behind glass. However, after getting my hands on the final product, I was a lot more impressed. There are things to like about the PlayBook, especially for businesses that are already invested and committed to BlackBerry smartphones and the BES backend infrastructure. This is a 7-inch tablet, so that limits its appeal a bit -- except for the vocal minority who like the smaller form factor. Still, the hardware feels great, the tablet OS is easy to figure out, and the performance is staggeringly good. It's also one of the best tablets for Web browsing because of its excellent implementation of Flash, although the 7-inch screen is a drawback for trying to read text from most web pages. Also, if you don't have a BlackBerry smartphone to tether to this one, then it's difficult to recommend it over other tablets. Read my full review.

7. Motorola Xoom

In the past, when Google was ready to make a leap forward with Android, it anointed a hardware partner to produce a device that would be something of a concept vehicle for Google's vision. For the Android 3.0 tablet OS, Motorola was the chosen one and the Xoom was that device. This 10-inch widescreen tablet launched with drool-inducing tech specs but the Android tablet software was incomplete and desperately needed more apps. The other big drawback was the price. It launched at $799 without a contract ($599 for Wi-Fi version). Today, you can get the Xoom for as low as $429 for the Wi-Fi version. It's still the most industrial-strength Android tablet on the market, but it's also a little heavy and bulky compared to newer hardware. The Xoom rising again on this list because the 4G version is now available and the Xoom 2 is just around the corner. Read my full review.

6. B&N Nook Color

When the Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-reader got an update to Android 2.2 and its own app store earlier this year, it turned into a viable low-cost tablet. Some will argue against it, since it has a heavy-handed UI forced on top of Android and doesn't run the full Android Market app store. But, I couldn't leave this little 7-inch tablet off the list. It has a great form factor -- thin and easy in the hands -- and you can't beat the price at $249. Plus, if you're highly technical, you can hack it into a full Android tablet. The Nook Color tablet will get ahardware upgrade in November.

5. Toshiba Thrive

This is the Swiss Army Knife of tablets, and I'm talking about the big Swiss Army Knife that has a zillion tools including scissors and a plastic toothpick. The Thrive is all about the specs and ports. It's a 10-inch tablet running Android Honeycomb 3.1 and it features a removable battery, a full HDMI port, full USB port, Mini USB port, and full SD card slot. This tablet is a bit of a tank. It's bulky and a little heavy, but also feels very sturdy, similar to the Motorola Xoom. With all of these features and a price starting at $400, the Thrive is winning over plenty of technophiles and Windows enthusiasts.

4. ASUS Eee Pad Transformer

ASUS believes that the iPad has two weaknesses -- lack of choice and limited content creation ability -- so that's where the company has focused its attention in tablets. The Eee Pad Transformer is a 10-inch tablet with a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU that runs Android 3.0. The most innovative thing about this one is that it has an optional keyboard dock that also functions as an extended battery, giving the device up to 16 hours of life. With the Transformer's dock mode, ASUS has pulled off an Android tablet that also doubles as a laptop. Plus, the price is right. At $399, this tablet is one of the best values on the market, so it's no surprise that it it sold out in the US on its first day of online sales.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The original Samsung Galaxy Tab was a 7-inch tablet that jumped the gun on Android tablets before Google was ready, but it offered the first legitimate challenge to the original iPad. If it wasn't so expensive ($600), it might have faired even better than the respectable sales numbers it posted. Samsung's second try at the tablet market is a lot more potent. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a gorgeous piece of hardware. I usually don't like Samsung's plastic mobile hardware (it always feels cheap to me), but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks and feels great. It is razor-thin, light, and still feels sturdy. It has all the specs you'd expect for a high-end tablet -- great screen, dual cameras, solid battery life, and a dual-core NVIDIA processor. The only drawback is the software. It runs Android Honeycomb with the Samsung Touchwiz UX, which adds very little, doesn't have a very appealing UI, and doesn't have all of the experimental features (like browser thumb controls) as stock Android. But, Samsung is making these tablets very friendly for enterprise buyers and it can run on Verizon's 4G LTE network.

2. Amazon Kindle Fire

I've had the Amazon tablet on this list for most of the year, and I've taken a lot of heat for it since the product wasn't officially announced until September 28. I've maintained throughout the year that the Amazon tablet is destined to be No. 2 in the market by the end of 2011, and I still believe that now that Amazon has unveiled the Kindle Fire. The fact is that Amazon is better positioned to compete with Apple than any of the other tablet makers because of its strengths in content and cloud computing. Amazon already had the Kindle e-book library and Web-based music and video stores, but in 2011 it has added the Amazon Appstore for Androidand Amazon Cloud Drive. The Kindle Fire has one other huge asset going for it -- a $199 price tag.

1. Apple iPad 2

The iPad remains the king of the category and, even with the invasion of an army of challengers, the iPad will retain a commanding market share lead when we get to the end of 2011. It still has too many factors in its favor: dead-simple usability, long battery life, a massive catalog of apps, and a respectable price. The last factor might be the most important. The iPad's rivals have had a very hard time beating the iPad's price tag while offering a comparable experience. The iPad 2 doesn't offer any revolutionary changes over the original iPad. It's thinner and lighter, has an upgraded processor and display, and adds front and rear cameras. It's a nice refinement, and with its big advantages in apps and entertainment, it easily has enough value to keep it at the top of this list -- even for business users, who want the apps for business tasks and the games and entertainment for plane rides (and to distract the kids once in a while). Read my full review.

Which tablet would you pick?

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

168 comments
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ug123
ug123

looks like this review is biased. agreed apple ipad2 is good product but amazon kindle with all it bad press with security and ui flaws list goes on is rated#2 is bad. I did not see a disclaimer as to if any of the company has sponser this article for getting better grade for their product namely amazon.

DanielBailey
DanielBailey

I am little bit confuse to vote which one is the best tablet. I am a user of BlackBerry and Apple. I feel no other tablet is better than these two. Well, and one more thing is I can't judge that how can I vote for the Amazon. I never heard that Amazon has launched the tablet. They are the only owners of Kindle and no one is better that Amazon in Kindle. If I ask to vote my favorite tablet among the above list then I must choose a Apple.

pwilson
pwilson

A bit disappointed that you didn't review the Lenovo tablet. It looks like a very good corporate machine.

LovesongJ
LovesongJ

I want a tablet like the Asus Transformer, with wi-fi and internet cababilities but I am a writer so I need MSWORD. I like Asus's physical keyboard. Is there a tablet out there that's like the Transformer but not an Android?

Regulus
Regulus

Thank You so very much for presenting this in the form of a text-based article instead of freezing us to a Slide Show. Sheldon would be extatic !

cliff
cliff

I can't believe the iPad not only got number 1 spot, but it won the "most interested in" vote. Wow. I can see this happening on many other forums, but on TR?? I'm a geek, and so the Thrive was a no-brainer. Transformer was a very close second.

doug.montgomery
doug.montgomery

What is the definition of "Tablet?" A computer with a monitor that is flat? You can browse the web? Email? Pictures? Well I have a 56" tablet hanging in the wall of my living room then. The ipad, fire, and nook are appliances for content consumtion. . They are appliances, like your refrigerator. Who cares how the refridgerator runs. You just want cold food. They provide access to an store, and the content that you have purchased from that store. They do other things, but thats not thier intended purpose. People beat up Apple for being a closed environment, but thats what the product is. Its not computers, or cell phones. Its thier store, and the environment. Its kind of like Walmart charging you $200 for a shopping cart, but its a nice cart. The others are computers in the classic sense. Its not a shopping cart or an appliance, unless you want it to be. Its more general, and flexible. That was its intended purpose. There are two differnt demographics purchasing these devices, and they dont perform the same functions. Just as my TV is not tablet, an ereader or access to the Apple environment.

lemoon123
lemoon123

I suppose everyone think the one he is using is the best. :p Just as many android fans think the android is the best, and apple fans think the iPad is the best. BTW, Im an iPad fanboy, I used it to do my work, surfing, check email, facetime, playing games, and in the enolsoft's help to get all kinds videos&movies to play smoothly ;)

mkokinda
mkokinda

As an IT person in Health Care, we have been using real tablets for years. Computers that run real business apps as well as web apps. In my opionion I wish they would have named these products something else because now we have to convince those in power, but not in the know, that this technology IS NOT a viable business tool for anything besides general communication.

bmacshara
bmacshara

You have a list that includes $800 iPads vs. $200 Fires. Seems like different classes but I guess they all do the same thing. I can't believe anyone would rather use one of these vs. a netbook/laptop! If I'm going to check email and surf the web it will be on a $200 device. Hopefully Microsoft will come up with a partner for an ASUS like docking tablet.

AudeKhatru
AudeKhatru

I am not sure that I think you, or anyone, can accurately compare 7 and 10 inch tablets. They aren't exactly apples and oranges, but they are more like oranges and tangerines. They are different animals, and many people will only be choosing from the selections in one size or the other. I find the 10" tablets unwieldy for reading, so if I felt that reading was going to be a major part of my tablet usage, I wouldn't even look at the 10" models. On the other hand, many users, as seen in the comments, seem to barely consider 7" tablets as tablets. So, what you have is the top four 7" tablets and the top six 10" (roughly) tablets. And I will support the idea of the Kindle Fire being second to the iPad because it is the first competitor to actually get the idea that the tablet market is incredibly small. The iPad isn't part of the tablet market. People aren't really choosing between it and the many Android tablets. They buy iPads because they want iPads, not tablets. The Kindle Fire will get the same buzz. People might compare the Kindle Fire to the new Nook Tablet, but most will just decide they want the Kindle Fire and buy. Yes, what I am saying is that comparison lists like this are worthless. Most buyers are not trying to choose the best tablet. They want an iPad. The rest are probably trying to avoid Apple (like me) and so Android is what they look at. Well, until Windows 8 gets here.

debswit
debswit

Just received the HP TouchPad for my birthday, it's fast, easy to set up and my gifter loaded Android so I have the option of booting in either Web OS or Android. I've seen the iPad and what it can do; in my opinion the TouchPad has all that and more. I have access to all the apps I want/need, I have speed and versatility. HP dropped the ball with this and I hope they pick it back up. Web OS is amazing, simple, fast and is a much cleaner interface. They're missing out on a lucrative revenue stream...

jfuller05
jfuller05

Based on the reviews I've read, videos I've watched, and charts I've analyzed comparing the Galaxy tab and iPad 2, I can honestly say the only advantage the iPad 2 has is the amount of apps in the Apple store. Here is just one good review I read in the past comparing the two devices. Galaxy tab has more advantages, but people do like their apps so they'll most likely pick the iPad 2 for the App store instead of choosing the Tab. http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/397372/apple_ipad_2_vs_samsung_galaxy_tab_10_1_tablet_showdown/?

dgoodale
dgoodale

Heck, if we're going to vote for tablets that no one has even seen yet, I vote for the Tegra 3 tablets that MIGHT be out by Christmas.

ITassasin
ITassasin

Read the comments and compare the votes. You people are funny. Ipad 2, it's the peoples choice, get over it, no one is forcing you to buy it.

toonssites
toonssites

The good: Apple's iPad 2 is dramatically thinner and boasts front and rear cameras, FaceTime video chat, a faster processor, and 3G options for both AT&T and Verizon.?????? The bad: The iPad's screen resolution hasn't budged, photo quality is mediocre, there's still no Adobe Flash support, and ports for HDMI, USB, and SD all require adapters.?????? The bottom line: The iPad 2 refines an already excellent product. Its easy-to-use interface, vast app catalog, and marathon battery life bolster Apple's claim to being the king of tablets.??? thanks :) ???????????? ????????

Alan21
Alan21

What is required is a folding screen that opens to a round 12", and has OS that is compatable with standard computers. So you can use the same programmes and connect to it without problems.

raymond.langley
raymond.langley

I thing your forgetting the learning curve with the Ipad, not using it but with having new software and teaching users how to open documents and run programs. Not to mention the "I made this in Word 2003 at home then emailed it to myself, can you show me how to change it on my ipad?" Don't kid yourself I get this all the time.

rphillips18
rphillips18

Real computer for business. 2GB RAM & 62GB SSD with WIN7 OS

birumut
birumut

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mrskellyscl
mrskellyscl

The tablet I really want to know more about wasn't even considered. You reviewed an Amazon tablet that doesn't exist yet and not the Lenovo ThinkPad? With all the useful features on it for business and education I would think it would have been at least considered.

swilk
swilk

What a joke. The TouchPad is junk. I bought one in the firesale and it's BARELY worth the $100. And web browsing is NOT one of the strengths of this device. It's horrible. And how can it be the best for business users when the first 50-60 days it was available you couldn't even EDIT or CREATE basic office documents!? It's extremely slow and unresponsive. About the only thing it's good for is letting my 3 year old play angry birds. Save your money and get a real tablet.

ypsrudy
ypsrudy

I found the article interesting. When I finished reading the eval on the galaxy tab 10.1 I realized that you had left out one of the most important things People look for. I myself would not buy a tablet without a SD card slot integrated into the body of the tablet. I do home inspections and I need to load pictures off my camera in the field onto my tablet on the fly. So that's what I want to know in a review. I don't want to have to use airport type system to get my pic's onboard. I just want something that's going to work all the time fast and easy like an SD Slot.. Thanks..

Chrissharinbob
Chrissharinbob

I will recommend that if anyone wants a well made tablet do not buy anything other than the best...go iPad!

mleshia
mleshia

I just have a general question, Toshiba Thrive was it not up to par to make this list. I have had the opportunity to test one and found it very user friendly. I do agree these all need to be made printer friendly also.

Ray Olds
Ray Olds

I do not see how you can Rate the Amazon in second place when it is not even out yet - call yourselves a technology company - pah!

imb
imb

I find it very strange that the Toshiba thrive isn't mentioned. I compared the specs of a number of the current tablets and I believe that the toshiba is a better machine. i believe it should have made the list at either no.2 or no. 3

ahmad.alnusif
ahmad.alnusif

If you're going to include the Amazon tablet, you might as well have the iPad3 at #1 because I hear will be better than the iPad2!

ajscomputer
ajscomputer

I have an Android phone for fun and games apps. What I wanted from a tablet was a computer I could be as productive as a laptop running Windows programs like Office. That's why I choose the ASUS Eee Slate. Very versatile at home or at work, and doesn't skip a beat as a computer.

tdeslauriers
tdeslauriers

The Toshiba Thrive should not only be on the list but high on the list.

jfrankl1
jfrankl1

No Toshiba Thrive; and the vaporware Amazon Tablet made the list.

JXRICHA2
JXRICHA2

How are we suppose to trust assessments from TechRepulic when they boldly and blindly rate a non-existent device at #2 ? I can see maybe number 8-10, but right up there is the iPad will make me question how they evaluate anything. Who is the editor of this site? Did they even read that list?

ScarF
ScarF

On 6th, a dead tablet. On 2nd, a rumoured tablet. On 5th, an ereader. On 1st, a toy. And, talking about Nook, this is plain BS of market confusion and the raise of tablets as super-duper devices: tablets are not ereaders, and the ereaders are definitely more usefull than the tablets; actually, they really are useful at something.

capricorn116
capricorn116

A lot of household names in the tablet list. If I had to vote, I'd put my money on the Huawei Ideos S7. Combined with an AT&T SIM card it makes for a great on the road tablet. Another worthy mention is the Kiztek Socializer Pro - nice little 7 inch eReader.

jarzola
jarzola

Well he has a point on all of those future features. Amazon is in a position to compete. But I don't think you should jump the gun on this. This guy just called Amazon a winner #2 with out joining the race. Its like calling Cam Newton the next Payton Manning.

compubuild
compubuild

I dont see mention of the Toshiba thrive tablet which is comparatively better than a few of the tablets mentioned.

salgod
salgod

of tablets that don't exist. I would also say that at the top of my list is the iPad6 for Windows 8. A fully functioning iPad6 that runs a full version of Windows 8 (with SP 1&2), 64bit. This tablet also washes your car and spanks your kids! Oh oh, wait, sorry, no Windows tablets on this websites' top ten lists. Never mind, we'll all just have to spank our own kids . . .

xfactordx
xfactordx

The arguments aren't exactly good for any of the top tablets in this list. The Amazon at #2 is hilarious.

jayohem
jayohem

I wish someone would tell me where these low low prices are hiding. HP is advertising TouchPads for what they they've always cost; ditto for Amazon. I have my little rooted Nook Color and would like it to have a pet TouchPad, but obviously I don't want to pay MORE than the Nook plus tax and handling, the Micro SD, and the 3 Millenium Trilogy e-books cost me. :-)

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

The Xoom is the productivity device for me, but then, maybe things are different for bloggers and accountants. I love the Transformer. It has amazing endurance with the keyboard/extended battery. But, when my girlfriend decided she wanted to try a tablet, I sacrificed the Transformer instead of the Xoom. She loves it. She has a 14" Envy with all the bells and whistles, but the Transformer goes everywhere with her. The Touchpad is an incredible value at $99. It took over as my work e-mail/BS for management generator, but in terms of doing WORK. No. I have to charge the Xoom when I get home, because after an entire day of use in the lab, it's low. Reading on a 50% higher resolution screen is much more comfortable than on an iPad or the Touchpad. It's still not as good as the Kindle, but that's what whispersync is for. When the gf is lights off, the Xoom is backlit.

tekatras
tekatras

I am disappointed that you didn't include the Thrive in your list. I had been waiting for the right tablet offering to purchase. I already had a Nook Color and even rooted was not satisified with the hardware for a tablet. It is a fantastic reader but I did not like the browser on it nor the ones in the Android market place that would run on that version of Android. I wanted Honeycomb and looked hard at the Xoom when it came out. I still wasn't satisifed with the hardware capabilities that the Xoom offered and kept waiting for the next tablet manufacturer. I found the Thrive and ordered one before the release and it arrived on the 15th of July. I am very happy with it's capabilities. The features that sold me were the user replaceable back and batteries, the full size HDMI connection, mini & full size USB as well as the size. The viewable portion of the screen is not as big as the device, however the overall size is nearly identical to the Xoom. It is a little heavier at 1.6 lbs than most, but it is also sturdier as I would expect a device from Toshiba to be. It goes with me everywhere. While it is only available in WiFi, for my purposes that is more than enough. I rarely go to places that do not have WiFi available. If that ever changes, I will get a portable WiFi hotspot from my cellular carrier and have it available not only for my tablet but also my laptop. With the addition of a portable HD projector or HD TV, I can teach class or do a presentation. By the way, Toshiba has already put out 3 updates to the OS. As a tech who supports many, many models/manufacturers cell phones, I can tell you that one who updates the OS this frequently (and we all know how frequently Android changes), that is impressive to me. Just my 2 cents! :-)

BigFrankinDallas
BigFrankinDallas

Really? A comment about a non-existant peice of hardware and nothing about Vizio? Absolutely rediculous. The Vizio is the only one in the field with an IR Blaster. That, to me, makes it quite slick. Price as well; falling well below many of the other competitors. Amazon --- Indeed! Then there's the defunct HP... C'mon, get your hardware together!

jimtravis
jimtravis

The Acer W500 tablet is a nice Windows 7 tablet. It comes with a keyboard dock, is peppy with the AMD processor, and after customizing UI elements to a size friendly for your finger size, it is very finger friendly as well. Cost about the same as high end Android tablets, but runs Windows quite well. For office related tasks like MS Word, it is fine. Just be sure to look for the W500 tablet, not it's Android brother A500.

JJFitz
JJFitz

have you considered a Windows 7 tablet such as the Fujitsu Lifebook convertible tablets? It's Windows so there are no compromises for Word. I use one every day. It's heavier than the new lines of tablets but you cannot beat it for functionality.

NetSecTech
NetSecTech

Polaris Office suite and the word processor is 100% compatible with MSWord. I also write and have no problems moving from one to the other.

HckrAdm2005
HckrAdm2005

I also bought a HP touchpad in the fire sale and love it. I applied some home-brew patches that several articles online said to do and it's been rock solid since. Web browsing is fast, switching between cards is easy, viewing YouTube video's was great and speakers are very powerful (compared to other tablet speakers).Battery life is pretty good also and when I don't use it for a few days hibernation mode barely uses any power. When I'm at home I use it for work email (over my cell phone), web browsing when i'm not at my pc, I listen to music on it all the time and play several games on it. I've created word documents for work and sent them to the cloud to be further finished later when I'm actually at work. I'm really bummed that HP dropped this ball because this was and is still a solid product. I use this tablet daily and if Web-OS disappears i'll look into putting something else on it.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I looked for the same thing which is partly why the TF101 came up trumps for me. Micro SD slot on the tablet, USB and normal SD card slots on the dock and even a HDMI out on the tablet too? Love it. The ASUS isn't the only tablet with such connectivity options though - have a good look at the specs or better still go and have a play at your local PC World, Currys, and whatever the US electrical retailer equivalents might be and see what suits you. What I like might not be what you like, after all :)

tdeslauriers
tdeslauriers

I would have to agree 100% the Thrive should be on the list and high up on the list.