By Ben Bowers
on 5.4.11

2011 is the year of the tablet, no matter how hard we and our wallets squirm over having another gadget thrust into our lives. But why now? A discussion on that topic could take longer than the birther diatribe if explored in full, but the short answer is we have our smartphones addictions to thank. Don’t be mistaken, men. These devices aren’t pulling a netbook — they are here to stay. So if you’re one of the many considering jumping on the bandwagon this year, hit the link below to find our full run down on the 2011 tablet playing field.

No guts, No glory

Comparing the hardware specs of the various tablets in the market is surprisingly uninteresting. That’s because most of the current devices are on par with each other in terms of sheer processing power, memory, and battery life. Instead, focus your attention on whether a lack of things like front/rear facing cameras, USB-connectivity, HDMI output, SD card slots and 4G connectivity are deal breakers. To make things easy, we’ve put together a helpful spec comparison chart to provide you with an overview on the tablet hardware playing field. You can thank us for our geekery at the tablet checkout counter.

Sizing Up the Landscape

Thinking long and hard about the size of the device you want is another easy way to eliminate the riffraff from your potential tablet prospects, and unlike other areas of life, inches really do matter. The iPad’s 9.7″ screen has set a precedent, but by no means is that a standard. For example, the 7-inch HTC Flyer and BlackBerry PlayBook are both viable options for users hoping to stash their tablet in coat pockets instead of a dedicated tablet murse. Plenty of other sizes in-between 10″ and 7″ are also out there. Here’s a breakdown of the tablet screen sizes.

Is the Price Right?

Prospective buyers should expect to pay anywhere between $400 and $850 dollars for a tablet worth their while — granted, we can’t speak for what they sell for on the streets of Chinatown. While brand names and internals have a bit to do with that $450 range in price, the biggest factors are internal storage and the ability to access cellular data over 3G or in some cases 4G. The table below breaks down these factors based on what we know today, but we’ve pulled out a few key points for those of you who are chart allergic.

Maximum Memory: If you want 64GB of built-in internal storage the BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad 2 are currently your only options. However, the HP TouchPad will supposedly come in this size, and other tablets can obtain this level of storage via additional micro SD cards.

Maximum Data Speed: If you want to access high speed 4G data networks, only the T-Mobile G-Slate and Motorola Xoom have that capability as of today. The HTC Flyer, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Sony S1 & S2 are reported to bring on this feature at some point later this year.

The App Store War

Slick hardware is only part of the equation when it comes to evaluating tablets. The rest comes from software. Technology pundits have bludgeoned us all to death with app store numbers and tales of Apple v. Android. All of that data is true, but it’s important to realize that smartphone apps don’t equal tablet apps. Sure, every program for the iPhone/iPod will run on the iPad, but it’s not an optimal experience. The situation for Android 3.0 tablets is even worse. While Google claims Honeycomb (3.0)should run and upscale all Android apps designed for the phone, testing shows this is far from the truth — many are buggy or don’t work at all.

The BlackBerry PlayBook as of now can’t run apps from the existing BlackBerry app store at all, and instead has access to a smaller group of apps designed only for it. RIM says they are working to let both BlackBerry apps and Android apps run on the device, which will be nice, but it’s not here yet. HP/Palm doesn’t even have a tablet device available for purchase, so it’s still a crapshoot as to how much of their current app catalog will work with the upcoming HP TouchPad. The point is, the application ecosystem for tablets is far less evolved than the smartphone jungle. So don’t expect the picture below to look the same six months from now. Remember everyone wants a piece of the pie and no one has any intentions of losing. The upside to all that competition is more choices for the buyer.

Which Tablet?

Like any other major purchasing decision you make, what works for you is a highly personal matter. We’ve tried our best to cut through the downpour of marketing nonsense and technical jargon to provide a few clear pros and cons about what we think are tablets worth your while. Most are on already sale or coming soon. All will be available by Christmas time this year.

Acer Iconia Tab A500

Pros:
- Features many of the same specs as the Motorola Xoom
- Price undercuts both the XOOM and the iPad 2
- Full-size USB port for connecting USB accessories such as thumbdrives or keyboards
- microSD slot
- HDMI output
- Browser supports flash

Cons:
- Thick and heavy compared to competing tablets designs
- Can be spotty with HD video playback
- Only 16GB of storage
- Rated at 8-hours of HD video playback versus 10 hours on some competing models
- Not compatible with 3G/4G cellular data networks
- What exactly is an “Iconia” besides rhyming with Outkast’s fourth album

Price: Wi-Fi Only 16GB: $400-$450

Apple iPad 2

Pros:
- Access to the largest (and arguably, best) collection of apps
- Super thin and solidly built
- Access to the iTunes music and movie stores
- Can be purchased with up to 64GB of internal storage
- Versions are available for both AT&T and Verizon
- Available in two colors of white and black
- Works great with other Apple products

Cons:
- Lacks an HDMI port
- Lacks expandable memory port
- Both front and rear cameras have poor video quality
- Browser doesn’t support Flash
- No support for 4G
- Everyone and their mom has one or wants one

Price: Wi-Fi: 16GB: $499, 32GB: $599, 64GB: $699 | Wi-Fi+3G 16GB: $629 | 32GB: $729 | 64GB: $829

Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Pros:
- At $400, it’s the cheapest legitimate Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet available
- It’s speakers have a louder volume level compared to the G-Slate
- Browser supports Flash
- $150 keyboard accessory with integrated touchpad and battery transforms the tablet into a functional netbook
- microSD slot
- microUSB connection
- HDMI output

Cons:
- It’s the Fat Albert of current Android 3.0 tablet market
- Not compatible with 3G/4G cellular data networks
- Sharp corners are slightly less comfortable to hold compared to other tablets
- Video recording is choppy
- Currently sold out at locations, including Amazon

Price: Wifi Only 16GB: $400 | 32GB: $500

BlackBerry PlayBook


Pros:
- 7-inch form factor is highly portable and blazer friendly
- Plays well with BlackBerry phones
- Allows Blackberry users to tether PlayBook without an additional charge
- Has the potential to access the Android app store along with the existing BlackBerry app store
- Wireless file transfer/syncing capabilities
- Browser supports Flash
- 3G/4G versions on both AT&T and Verizon are coming
- Can be purchased with up to 64GB of internal storage
- microUSB connection
- HDMI output

Cons:
- Currently lacks critical native apps for email and calendars (less of an issue for BlackBerry phone owners)
- Full functionality only comes with a Blackberry
- PlayBook app store is light, very light, on apps
- Small power button makes turning the device off and on a hassle
- 7-inch screen can be awkward for viewing the web
- New OS still has some glitches, though they are being addressed
- 3G and 4G versions aren’t available yet

Price: Wi-Fi Only 16GB: $500 | 32GB: $600 | 64GB: $700

HTC Flyr (aka EVO View 4G)

Pros:
- Ships with a unique N-Trig stylus for accurate pen-based input using the customized Scribe application
- Customized Android software for using said stylus
- 7-inch sizing makes it easily portable
- Sleek, aluminum backing and casing
- Browser supports flash
- Includes HTC Watch app for downloading HD movies
- Includes OnLive Cloud gaming service for wasting time when needed
- 4G versions will be available through Sprint
- microSD slot
- microUSB connection
- HDMI output

Cons:
- Runs Android 2.4 — not the latest generation Android 3.0 a.k.a Honeycomb
- Its stylus will wind up being one more thing to keep track of
- Cellular data versions are only available through Sprint.
- Its not available for purchase yet, so forget instant gratification

Price: Wi-Fi Only 16GB: $500 | Wi-Fi+3G/4G 32GB: TBA

T-Mobile G-Slate (aka LG-Optimus)

Pros:
- 5-megapixel 3D rear camera
- T-Mobile streaming TV is preinstalled as is an on-demand service called T-Mobile TV
- Cheaper than the Motorola XOOM when purchased using a subsidized plan
- Supports T-Mobile’s 4G network out of the box
- Browser supports Flash
- HDMI output
- microSD slot
- microUSB slot

Cons:
- Smaller, 8.9-inch screen
- Screen requires low tech red-and-blue (anaglyphic glasses) for 3D viewing with poor overall results
- Lower maximum speaker volume compared to Xoom and iPad 2
- No Wi-Fi only versions available
- Expensive compared to the iPad 2 or Xoom when purchased unsubsidized
- Only available on T-Mobile
- Could have been named by 50 Cent

Price: Wifi + 3G/4G 32GB: $800 (no contract), $530 (with T-Mobile contract)

Motorola Xoom

Pros:
- Large 10.1 inch, 1280 x 800 screen with a 0.5-inch bezel is optimized for video viewing like few other tablets
- 3G and 4G compatible
- Browser supports Flash
- Available from Verizon and Sprint (predicted), as well as from electronics outlets
- microSD slot
- microUSB connection
- HDMI output

Cons:
- Expensive, particularly when compared to some competing Android tablets with similar specs
- 4G compatibility won’t work out of the box, requires walking through an upgrade process
- Superbowl ad was terrible. 1984 meets Love Actually. Just terrible. Okay, we’re being nitpicky.

Price: Wi-Fi Only 32GB: $590 | Wi-Fi+3G/4G 32GB (contract): $599 | 32GB (no contract): $800

HP TouchPad

Pros:
- Runs Web OS 3.0, which appears to be highly capable mobile OS with multi-tasking and notifications
- Plays well will Palm Pre 3 phones (and presumably future HP/Palm phones), enabling “Touch to Share” across devices
- Users can also send and receive texts or answers calls from the TouchPad
- Integrated Dr. Dre beats audio and stereo speakers
- Dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon CPU is one of the most powerful on the market

Cons:
- Slated to release sometime this summer, so forget instant gratification
- WebOS has not been thoroughly tested or evaluated
- Palm/HP tablet app catalog will be small and is non existent now
- Relatively thick at 13mm
- Cellular data details are not yet available

Price: TDB

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1″ and 8.9″ Tablets

Pros:
- Thinnest Android tablet to be announced, besting even the iPad 2 by .01mm
- Lightest Android tablet to be announced running Honeycomb, weighing in at 1.03lbs
- 8MP rear camera is the most powerful on the tablet block
- Runs stock Android without some proprietary manufacturer UI on top
- Will be available in two sizes of 10.1″ and 8.9″

Cons:
- No USB port
- No HDMI port
- Not available until June
- No 4G support

Price: 10.1-inch Wi-Fi 16GB: $499, 32GB: $599 | 8.9-inch WiFi 16GB: $469, 32GB: $569

Sony S2

Pros:
- Dual 5.5-inch screens allow ADD users to view different content simultaneously
- Gaming potential of this setup is also intriguing and could be used like Nintendo’s DS
- Unique screen arrangement can be folded together for enhanced portability
- Will run PlayStation Certified Android gaming titles
- Features an integrated IR blaster for controlling other Sony hardware such as TV’s, Blu-ray players etc
- Access to Sony’s “premium network services”, like the Sony’s Qriocity download store and PlayStation network
- Sony Reader eBook titles will also be available
- DNLA compatible for streaming tablet content to other DNLA networked devices such as home theaters
- 4G support is planned

Cons:
- Dual screen design and burrito-like shape may be less appealing to those in love with the typical “slate” design
- Plenty of unknowns have yet to be revealed including official launch dates, pricing, carriers, and full specs

Price: TBA

Sony S1

Pros:
- S1′s 9.4″ screen is more traditional
- Will run PlayStation Certified Android gaming titles
- Features an integrated IR blaster for controlling other Sony hardware such as TV’s, Blu-ray players etc
- Access to Sony’s “premium network services”, like the Sony’s Qriocity download store and PlayStation network
- Sony Reader eBook titles will also be available
- Features an integrated IR blaster for controlling and interacting with other Sony hardware such as TV’s, Blu-ray players etc
- DNLA compatible for streaming tablet content to other DNLA networked devices such as home theaters
- 4G support is planned

Cons:
- Tapered back case design (like a folded magazine) may not appeal to all who hold it.
- Plenty of unknowns have yet to be revealed including official launch dates, pricing, carriers, and full specs.

Price: TBA

Vizio Tablet

Pros:
- Unique 8″ high-resolution screen size
- 3 speakers means stereo audio no matter what the device orientation
- Universal remote control capability via app and IR blaster
- 5MP rear camera
- HDMI video output
- microSD Slot
- Access to Vizio Internet App ecosystem
- Seamless device-to-TV capability for pause and resume experience

Cons:
- no 3G connectivity
- further information on device remains spotty (e.g. processors, price)


Our thanks to Lexus and the all new CT 200h for helping make this month’s features possible. Welcome to the darker side of green.