With more than 80 models on show, tablets led the charge at this year’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Here’s our pick of the pack.
The handful of tablets currently available will soon be joined by models from Samsung, Toshiba, Panasonic, Asus, Sony, Viewsonic, MSI, Acer, NEC, Dell, BlackBerry, Sharp and Motorola, promising richer and more varied pickings for buyers who’ve been holding out against today’s dearth of options.
Dell’s Streak 7 will arrive with Android 2.2
Many of the forthcoming models will run Android’s 2.2 Froyo operating system, a platform designed for mobile phones, but in just a few months Google will release Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb. This sweet-sounding release (all Android releases are named after desserts) is Google’s first made-for-tablet platform, meaning it’s the first real tablet solution Google will support.
Manufacturers using Android 2.1 in their tablets miss out on the Adobe Flash support and built-in free Google Navigation found in 2.2, but still gain access to Google’s Market for software downloads.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is unlikely to receive an upgrade to Google’s Honeycomb OS.
What does this mean for the current crop of tablets such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or Telstra T-Touch? These will still work and upgrades are likely to become available, but not to the Honeycomb platform. Current tablets use similar hardware to that found in Android mobile phones available right now making Honeycomb an unlikely upgrade path.
But with an iPad refresh on track for April, manufacturers are looking for any way to steal ground from territory dominated by Apple.
Android on Asus, Samsung, Motorola
The Eee Pad Slider, one of two models from Asus to feature a keyboard.
Asus, for example, is working on four devices, two of which will come with tablets attached. Designed to smooth the way for netbook users looking to make the jump to a tablet, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Eee Pad Slider will be 10 inch tablets powered by the very capable Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and running Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Both will have keyboards.
Samsung’s heading down this road too, with the netbook spec’d Sliding PC 7. Dell, too, is convinced of the merits of the tablet-with-keyboard approach, and will look at bringing out the hybrid Inspiron Duo, as previewed last year.
Motorola’s entry in the tablet game (shown above) is one of the more interesting implementations, with the product – the Motorola Xoom – being voted by many industry know-it-alls as the best thing shown at CES this year. The first tablet to be shown running the yet-to-be-released platform, Motorola has thrown everything into the mix: HDMI output, two cameras, dual-core processor, a high resolution widescreen 720p-friendly screen (1280×800), 720p video capture, and multi-touch screen. This looks set to be benchmark other marques will need to chase.
Android devices will not be the only game in town, outside of the Big Fruit, with both BlackBerry and Windows vying for a piece of Apple pie.
BlackBerry’s PlayBook (above) will finally make its way to Australian retail shelves this year, offering customers an experience different to a BlackBerry phone and – according to some – better than what is currently found in the BlackBerry line-up.
Customers who want their tablet to perform more like their Windows PC will find comfort in the large range of tablet devices that will run Windows 7. Samsung, Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Viewsonic are all aiming to release Windows 7 tablets this year, with some due to arrive as early as February. Many of these new tablets will shed their netbook specifications, something that has held the Windows tablet movement back with slow speeds and poor performance. It’s a fair bet too that, with Intel launching its new Core processors for 2011, we’ll see faster speed tablets that work just as well as a full-sized laptop.
The Asus Eee Slate EP121 running Windows 7 and featuring a Wacom digitiser.
Tablets aren’t just about finding a middle ground for computers; sometimes they can take on new potential uses such as television remotes, video game systems, and even large newspaper-styled devices.
Taking a cue from the Wi-Fi remote supplied with the Samsung Series 9 TVs last year, Panasonic’s Viera tablets will perform as a remote for its new line of televisions, as well as a streaming device for cloud-based apps and content. Available in sizes ranging from 4 to 10 inches, the Panasonic tablet is intended to fill the gap between tablet and TV.
The Kno is a huge dual-screened tablet designed for students.
If Australia ever receives the Kno, high school and university students are in for a treat. A large dual-screened tablet that folds up like a book and runs Linux, it looks very much liked a super-sized ebook reader. How big? Each screen is 14 inches, so it’s like carrying around a newspaper-sized digital book.
NEC’s take on the dual-screen design, the LT-W Cloud Communicator, is much smaller. The pair of 7 inch touchscreens provide the most book-like reading experience you’re likely to get from a tablet. It runs Android 2.1.
Razer’s Switchblade tablet (above) is unlike anything else, being a computer designed exclusively for gaming. While the exterior reminds us very much of a 7 inch netbook running Windows 7, the included touchscreen and the device’s ability to run games – including World of Warcraft and Portal – impresses. So too does the keyboard, which uses LCD technology and software to change the letters on the keys to images, providing different keyboard layouts offering more control and faster actions in video games.