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.
TechRepublic review: Apple iPad 2 review: Why it’s still winning with business users
CNET review: Apple iPad 2 (16GB, Wi-Fi, black)
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)
ASUS makes the Eee Pad Transformer TF101, the Eee Pad Slider SL101, and the Eee Slate EP121, and each tablet comes with a keyboard.
The Eee Pad Transformer TF101 has a detachable keyboard accessory. At $400, it’s a fairly inexpensive tablet for what is included: dual cameras, mini-HDMI, and micro-SD. Plus, the keyboard dock ($150) includes USB ports and a full size SD card slot. The keyboard dock can be difficult to connect and could benefit from some markings to help you line it up properly.
The Eee Pad Slider SL101 is available in 16GB and 32GB sizes. The Slider is a relatively thick tablet, due to its slide-out keyboard tray. At prices between $500 and $600 (depending on storage), this tablet is still competitive and seems to be geared toward users who might be afraid of typing on the touchscreen.
The Eee Slate EP121 is available in 32GB and 64GB models. This is one of the few Windows 7 tablets on the market, but it comes with a huge price tag: $1,000 or more. Fortunately for the Windows 7 interface, this tablet has some super-powered hardware, including a Core i5 CPU and at least 2 GB of RAM (so it’s more of a laptop than a tablet) and a 12.1-inch screen. Also included is a Bluetooth keyboard.
CNET reviews: Asus 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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.