With so many tablet developments in the last week, we decided it was time for a by-no-means-exhaustive summary. If you've got a new tablet in your sights, these are some things that might be worth keeping in mind.
If you've grabbed the new issue of PC & Tech Authority, you'll see we've given the current version of Google Android on the tablet a firm thumbs down when compared with iOS in the iPad. It's not built for tablets and it shows. Overnight, Google unveiled more detail on Android 3.0, and has the Web seething with excitement. First off, the look and feel is entirely updated for the larger screens of tablets. The biggest difference you'll notice at first is the inclusion of live data feeds (or widgets) on the homescreen showing things like incoming emails. We've already raved about how Android bucks the Apple approach, and the way the little things in Android make a big difference like notifications. There will be apps written specifically for Android 3.0 tablets, and you'll see fancy new menus applied to well-known apps - the wall of Youtube videos is one popular example doing the rounds online. The other big news is the arrival of a Web store where you can browse and buy apps on the Android Market on your desktop PC, and have them appear on your tablet.
Impressive tablets not yet seen in Australia
Every manufacturer and their dog is making a tablet. Amidst the crowd are some standouts. On our trip to CES in Las Vegas, we saw many, and since then even more have been announced. Recent announcements include the LG G-Slate, which will bring 3D video and 4G wireless data speeds. On February 13 Samsung is expected to launch a new version of one of the best Android tablets we've seen so far - the Galaxy Tab. Then there's Toshiba's 10.1in Tablet, with removeable battery and the ability to upscale video. Motorola's Xoom is also 10.1in and will include dual facing cameras and Android 3.0. Another option will be the Blackberry Playbook, one of the smaller 7in devices and weighs significantly less than the iPad at 400g. That's not to mention Dell's 5in streak, which blurs the lines between phone and tablet completely. Or there's the Nook Color, an Android eBook Reader with colour screen (not eInk) which has already been seen in the wild running Android 3.0.
The dark horse….
On February 9, HP will be holding an event which may or may not be the unveiling of a new tablet running WebOS. The OS is something of a dark horse - a touchscreen platform for devices with ARM chips, with a webkit browser. Browser navigation can be one of the more frustrating problems with using a smartphone or tablet, so if HP can nail this they'll have at least won part of the battle. When we reviewed the Palm Pre phone with WebOS a year ago, we were mostly impressed with the way the OS worked, just not the phone hardware. With so many me-too Android tablets coming, HP's tablet has a real opportunity to stand out.
The next iPad
From the possible font facing camera, Facetime, thinner design, faster CPU, SD slot, more RAM, camera app, display that uses less power, there are plenty of ways Apple can improve on the current iPad. Current rumours say the company will make an announcement in February or March, and shipping may take place in April. This is all speculation of course. Based on our own experience and anecdotal feedback, better performance is high on our most-wanted list.
Up till now Android's major advantages have been choice of hardware, choice of price, Flash, customisation, as well as certain OS features that just work better. As we've noted above, 2011 brings a swathe of new Android devices and OS features that leapfrog the current iPad. The big question will be whether Apple's iconic design, OS integration and app support is enough, or whether they have something up their sleeve that the competition hasn’t thought about.
Either way, while there's little, if any, detail about which new tablets we'll see in Australia and when, we'd suggest that plonking your money down right now on a tablet that's already been out for a few months, like a current generation Galaxy Tab or iPad, might result in some post-purchase regret in the next couple of months.