Tablets

UPDATED: The 10 hottest tablets to watch in 2011

There are an obscene number of new tablets coming to market in 2011. Plenty of them are safe to ignore. Here are 10 that are worth anticipating.

I have an announcement to make. I will not be releasing a tablet in 2011.

Feeble attempts at humor aside, nearly everyone has a tablet in the works.  It's 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 multitouch slabs of silicon.  From the world's biggest computer companies to obscure little parts makers, there will be an obscene number of companies releasing tablets this year.

So, which ones are safe to ignore and which ones are worth your attention? Here is my list of the 10 most significant tablets to watch for, at least until someone else announces another new one next week. The bottom line is that if you're feeling the urge to buy a tablet right now (currently, the two main choices are the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab) then my recommendation would be: Don't do it. Wait for one of these 10 instead.

Photo gallery

Photos: The 10 hottest tablets coming in 2011

10. Notion Ink Adam

The Adam tablet from Indian startup Notion Ink has been germinating for a long time -- maybe too long. Notion Ink finally unveiled the product in December and started taking pre-orders. It's an Android 2.3 tablet with a custom interface. It's Eden UI offers a drastic re-think of the Android interface, based on vertical panels (here's a demo from CES 2011). The other unique thing about the Adam is that it uses PixelQ technology, a low-power transflective display that is viewable in full sunlight.

9. HTC Flyer

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, HTC was remarkably silent on the tablet question in Vegas. However, the company officially launched its first tablet a month later at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It is the HTC Flyer and it's a 7-incher with 1.5 GHz CPU, 1.0 GB RAM, 32GB of Flash storage, an attractive unibody design, and a special version of the HTC Sense UI designed for tablets. Unlike most of the other Android tablets, the Flyer also includes digital ink technology and a stylus. However, the Flyer will not run Android 3.0. Instead, it will launch with Android 2.4. HTC is also reportedly working on a 10-inch tablet (the "Scribe") running Honeycomb and connecting to Verizon LTE.

8. Acer Iconia

Acer tried to beat the tablet deluge at CES by announcing its Iconia tablet at the end of 2010. Unforutnately, the Iconia is still getting lost in the shuffle, and that's a shame. The Iconia is a power tablet. This thing features dual 14-inch touch screens, a Core i5 CPU, and a full range of computer ports to match the average laptop. It also runs the full version of Windows 7, which will make better for productivity tasks but harder on battery life. The most innovative thing about this one is that the bottom screen has multiple input options, including a full virtual keyboard, a multimedia controller, and customizable touch gestures. Lots of companies have envisioned making the dual touchscreen idea work, we'll see if Acer can pull it off (and do it at a reasonable price).

7. T-Mobile G-Slate

Another promising tablet that's flying under the radar is the T-Mobile G-Slate, built by LG. This Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet will run on T-Mobile's new HSPA+ network. Also called the LG V-900, it features a 9-inch screen, a 1.0 GHz dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, 32 GB of flash storage, HD video capture, and a front-facing camera for video chat. Outside of the US, the LG will be marketing the G-Slate under the product name Optimus Pad. One of the best things about the G-Slate is that it runs the stock Android Honeycomb OS, without a custom UI layered on top. The most gimmicky things about the G-Slate is that it can capture 3D video (which you'll have to use 3D glasses to view during playback).

6. Samsung Sliding PC 7

Another Windows 7 tablet that is legitimately intriguing is Samsung's Sliding PC 7. It looks like a normal 10-inch tablet, but includes a slide-out keyboard that turns it into a fully functional laptop. The hardware manages to deftly combine slimness with keyboard usability, based on the demo at CES. For those who don't want to carry both a laptop and a tablet, hybrid devices like this could carve out a new niche. This one has a 1366x768 screen, up to a 64GB solid state drive, 2GB of RAM, and built-in 3G and WiMAX chips. Since it runs all of that hardware and the full version of Windows, battery life and cost could both be concerns.

5. 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, the company had demo units available to caress at CES (see demo) and the PlayBook looks like it could become a factor in the tablet market, especially for businesses that are already invested and committed to the BES backend infrastructure. This is a 7-inch tablet, so that limits its appeal a bit -- except for the vocal minority who claim to like the smaller form factor -- and it faces the same concerns about battery life and price as Windows tablets. Still, the hardware feels great and the QNX operating system appears to have been successfully adapted for tablets. BlackBerry die-hards alone could turn this one into a winner.

4. ASUS Eee Pad Transformer

ASUS believes that the iPad has two weaknesses -- lack of choice and limited productivity (content creation) -- so that's where the company is focusing its energy in tablets. At CES, ASUS unveiled its line of four tablets, and three of them were aimed at content creators. The most interesting was the Eee Pad Transformer, a 10-inch tablet with a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU that will run 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. If Android and ASUS can pull off a tablet UI that also plays well as a laptop when the Transformer is in dock mode, then this one could be highly useful. It will also be interesting to see if people prefer this dockable keyboard on the Eee Pad Transformer versus the slide-out keyboard on the Samsung Sliding PC 7 or even ASUS Eee Pad Slider (a cousin of the Transformer).

3. HP TouchPad

I think we can safely call this one the "X factor." Even after Hewlett-Packard officially unveiled its webOS tablet on February 9, there are still two big questions hanging out there - when exactly will it arrive ("summer" is all we know) and how much will it cost? This product has been in the works since HP bought Palm last summer. Putting the resources of HP behind the massive potential of webOS could be great combination. Also, don't forget that HP has a decade of experience building tablet hardware (even thought it was as part of the long defeat for Microsoft's Tablet PC). HP's new TouchPad is 9.7-inch tablet with lots of high-end features, but it doesn't have much to distinguish it from Apple or Android and that could hurt. The tablet will likely succeed or fail based on price. If it is comparable to the iPad ($500) while offering a stronger feature-set, it has a shot. If it's more expensive than the iPad then it could struggle.

2. Motorola Xoom

When Google is ready to make a leap forward with Android, it anoints a hardware partner to work closely with the company on the new software and produce a device that will be initial concept vehicle of what Google envisions. For its Android 3.0 tablet OS, Motorola is the chosen one. And, interestingly enough, the Motorola Xoom will not only be the first Honeycomb tablet, but it will also be the first tablet to run on Verizon's new 4G LTE network (a.k.a the new mobile superhighway). This 10-inch widescreen tablet has drool-inducing tech specs and is expected to launch by early March, although the 4G version won't land until mid-year. The one big drawback is that the Xoom could be pricey. It will reportedly cost $700-$800. There might be a lower subsidized price, but that would include a two-year Verizon contract and a data fee of at least $20/month. Keep an eye out for the Wi-Fi only version of the Xoom, which is expected to launch later this spring. That one might be more competitive on price.

1. Apple iPad 2.0

The iPad remains the king of the category and, even with the invasion of an army of challengers, it's difficult to see a scenario in which the iPad won't retain a commanding market share lead when we get to the end of 2011. It still has too many factors in its favor: usability, battery life, a massive catalog of apps, and price. The last factor might be the most important. Price has been the iPad's greatest marketing weapon, and rivals are having a very hard time meeting the iPad's price tag while still offering a comparable experience. The iPad 2 probably won't bring any revolutionary new changes -- it will likely be a little thinner and lighter, have an upgraded processor, and feature front and rear cameras -- but the most important thing about the iPad 2 is that it could give Apple a further advantage in price. After manufacturing over 15 million of the first-gen iPads, Apple will be able to squeeze out more efficiencies, and the component costs will have decreased over the past year. The result: Apple will be able to pack in more and better technology for the same price with the iPad 2. Meanwhile, the company could decide to drop the price on the first-gen iPad to further undercut its rivals.

Take the poll

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.

14 comments
suncatTR
suncatTR

Tablets are disposable, breakable consumables. I'm tired of seeing guys buy an iPad or other tablet, then carry it around in a man-purse. A small 6-9" notebook, with a touch-screen and keyboard can be just as light for about the same price and not need a man-purse to protect it since you can close the cover. An ultra-mobile PC [UMPC] makes a lot more sense than just a tablet, especially the new designs have a display that rotates to fold back so you can use the touchscreen. Hard drive? Not necessary as long as there are SD or microSD card slots. HD is nice, but unless it's the Toshiba tiny 1" micro hard drive, it's too big and heavy.

Bruce_B2
Bruce_B2

I wasn't aware Apple was still a manufacturer. Design? yes. Marketing:superb. Manufacturing: Thought they gave that one up years ago.

nfordtchrpub
nfordtchrpub

Somehow Archos put a 250GB hard drive into their WiFi-only 7" Archos 70-250G and kept the weight down and battery endurance very respectable, all at a low price. (I paid $338 and of course, no contract.) I don't understand why others aren't doing the same. I'm not interested in any other tablet which can't hold all my music and a large supply of movies or that costs 2x-3x more. Maybe that's why after CES, the demand for the A70 skyrocketed and everyone sold out for most of January.

tech_ed
tech_ed

You list 10 tablets and completely ignore the one single tablet that is perhaps the biggest game changer. I'm talking, of course, about the new Dell Inspiron Duo. Of course, it's not strictly a tablet, but that's what makes this thing great! It's far more than a tablet can ever hope to be! And it's cheap too! Under $550! No contract, simple to use and familiar to anybody who uses a real computer! Talk about a no-brainer!

pgit
pgit

Shame we can't see the total # of votes anymore. One more functionality lost in the name of progress. 42% of 14 people wouldn't matter. 42% of 3,277 would. Anyone else prefer the old forum format? The new comments format is particularly difficult to work with.

ScarF
ScarF

I was looking forward for the color eInk technology and Pixel Qi's is a promising one. I'm not very keen about an Indian startup though. I also hope to see some devices with Qualcomm's Mirasol technology and/or Philips's Liquavista electrowetting technology - now purchased by Samsung. It is my believe that the future will belong to the non-LCD (ePaper) screens with 5x-10x longer battery life.

btapp
btapp

But to me (meaning - my opinion, not necessarily yours) the Xoom is really the only compelling option other than iPad in this list...I hope the rumors are wrong about the price though. The reason? Not Android - I love Android on my Incredible. No, it's the ecosystem. The Android manufacturers are so busy pushing out 20 devices that all look identical with nearly identical features and no accessories, no vendor support, and little aftermarket vendor support. Look at car stereos - show me one that supports native Android integration and I will show you 100+ that support full iPod/iPhone integration. The situation is even worse with tablets - cases, docks, multimedia accessories - all for iPad. Heck, I saw iPad cases for sale in the grocery store this weekend. There are simply too many Android devices for any aftermarket supplier to get behind one much less the 50 new ones each quarter. If the manufacturer doesn't do it, then you are pretty well screwed unless you consider Taiwanese "one size fits all" junk on Ebay a good solution. Motorola is the only manufacturer it seems prepared to fully support their tablet with a small but at least existent line of accessories and that is why I think it is the only compelling Android alternative. Yes, Android has the app following - now what about the rest?

mlaneor
mlaneor

I can't wait to get a new slick laptop like this one that also runs full Windows 7. The current trackpads are kludgy and annoying and should have been obsoleted years ago. The solid state drive is also long overdue. It should be lighter than most notebooks also without the hard drive.

ScarF
ScarF

Thanks for sharing. I'm not sure about the reliability of the HDD, though, since it will be quite abused by shocks and vibrations - maybe even more than a normal laptop. The flash series, on the other hand, comes with a too small capacity: 8GB only, but it has a SDHC port.

dananotech
dananotech

I played with one of these yesterday and it is nicer than the old "convertible" tablet PCs. But, it is very heavy compared to an iPad or MacBook Air. You will get really tired of trying to hold it and use it like a tablet. On a table it isn't too bad.

nfordtchrpub
nfordtchrpub

For about the same price as the Duo, you can get a Dell Inspiron notebook with 17.3" screen, 500GB hard drive, DVD drive, full-sized keyboard with number pad, and tons more memory and processor power. If you want something that is "far more than a tablet can ever hope to be", it's called a "notebook". A 10"+ tablet is not significantly lighter or easier to carry than a notebook, so what's the point? At least a 7" tablet can go in a coat pocket, purse, or case which you can put on a belt, and you can hold it in one hand and use it for extended periods.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

This is something that isn't surfacing but will be fixed.

nfordtchrpub
nfordtchrpub

...but fortunately, mine has been working fine. I think that a certain percentage of gadgets are always going to have problems. I would hope that if a company was putting a HDD into a mobile device, they would have done some testing to make sure it would hold up, but who knows. Anyway, I didn't have much choice since I wanted something to hold all my music, and this is the only one that would do it. At this price, and with new tech coming all the time, I don't expect to be using the A70 more than a couple of years; hopefully, the HDD will hold up that long. This reminds me of a conversation with my brother -- I had just bought a 70" DLP TV and he bought a plasma. When I said "The DLP will last a lot longer," he replied that he didn't WANT his to last too long -- he wanted it to break down about the time something bigger and better came along.

Editor's Picks