The Best Tablet for You

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Battery Life

Best: Apple iPad 2

If you spend much of the day away from power outlets, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 may be the best tablet for you. It finished on top in our battery-life tests, running for 10 hours, 42 minutes while continuously playing a 1080p video. The Tab 10.1 lasted 2 hours, 18 minutes longer than its closest rival, the Apple iPad 2, and 3 hours longer than the Motorola Xoom.

Unfortunately, the Tab 10.1 was slow to recharge: It needed 5 hours, 34 minutes, more than double the time that the best performers (the Xoom, the Thrive, and the Acer Iconia Tab A500, A501, and A100) required. The iPad 2 wasn’t the fastest at recharging; but at 4 hours, 10 minutes, it provided a better balance between battery run time and charge time than the Tab 10.1 did, so we think it’s a better choice in this category overall.

Productivity

Best: Asus Eee Pad Slider, Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Tablets may not be able to perform hard-core video or photo editing, or crunch macro-filled spreadsheets, but they will let you handle key productivity tasks such as responding to email, writing and editing business documents, and browsing the Web.

Our two picks here distinguish themselves for very different reasons. The ThinkPad Tablet stands out in one clear way: It’s the only 10-inch-class Android tablet on our chart to support pen input, which makes it useful for annotating, sketching, and writing free-form notes. It uses N-trig’s digitizer pen (a $30 option), and even offers a spot for you to tuck the stylus away. Yes, you can find numerous capacitive touchscreen pens, but none of them have the precision and accuracy of N-trig’s tech. The ThinkPad Tablet’s business-friendly security features and options, such as the terrific $100 Keyboard Folio case (pictured below), also make it one to beat in this category.

The innovative Asus Eee Pad Slider, our other selection for productivity champion, lacks business-specific options, and it’s the heaviest tablet we’ve tested. But it’s the only slate available that has a built-in physical keyboard--a terrific option if you plan to walk and type at the same time, or if you want the speed and convenience that only an integrated, slide-out keyboard can provide. The slide-out keyboard isn’t as roomy as some optional external keyboards, such as the ThinkPad Keyboard Folio Case, but the usefulness of having the keyboard present at all times is unmatched. I also appreciated the fact that the display was set at a comfortable angle when I pulled out the cramped but functional keyboard; the only thing I missed was having an integrated pointing device.

If a pointing device is important to you, consider the other Asus tablet on our Top 10 chart, the Eee Pad Transformer TF101. It pairs with the company’s $150 dock, resulting in a combo that folds together like a clamshell netbook. And when you don’t want the bulk and weight of the keyboard, no problem--just detach it and go. The dock also has a USB port and an SD Card slot, plus an extra battery and an integrated touchpad.

Although external Bluetooth keyboards and keyboard/case combos are options, it’s important to look at a tablet’s built-in software keyboard, too. An inefficiently designed keyboard can give you much grief in the long run--especially if you can’t replace it, as is the case with Apple’s native iOS keyboard.

Regrettably, Apple’s keyboard is one of the most awkward on-screen keyboards I’ve used. Other keyboard layouts and designs are far superior, with better key placement and spacing, and more-useful shortcuts. I can touch-type more quickly on the default Android keyboard than I can on the iPad 2 keyboard. The new split thumb-keyboard design available in iOS 5 is good, but you can add something similar to Android by buying one of several replacement-keyboard apps. That Android lets you replace the keyboard with a third-party app is a critical productivity difference between iOS and Android.

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet with Keyboard Dock
We love the laptoplike feel of the keys on the USB-connected Lenovo Keyboard Folio Case. Plus, it has a unique optical mouse pointer. Photograph by Robert Cardin
Many Android tablets come with a customized keyboard from the get-go. The Tab 10.1 has one of my favorite custom keyboards; I find it well designed and finger-friendly. The Asus, Lenovo, Sony, T-Mobile, and Toshiba models on our Top 10 Tablets chart also supply their own on-screen keyboards.

The iPad 2 is subpar in content creation as well, since iOS lacks a central file-management system. That means files end up associated with specific apps--and you can get those files out only if an app is written in a way that allows it. For example, if you use Dropbox to access a file, you can open that file only in an app that’s written to interface with Dropbox; the same condition applies if you open an email attachment. Bottom line: On the iPad 2, you don’t have full control over your data.

Android tablets permit you to access the central file system, messy though it may be. The advantage becomes clear the first time you want to, say, transfer a file from an SD Card, edit it in one app, rename it, open it in a second app, and then email it to a new destination. Or you might want to move images around into different folders, a task that’s quite easy to do in a file-manager app on Android, but not on iOS.

I also prefer Android’s included productivity software over the apps that iOS offers. I like the way the Android Web browser works, and the way the Gmail app is designed, too.

Productivity is one of the few areas in which Android tablets compete with the iPad in the availability of apps. You’ll find suites such as Documents to Go, Polaris Office, Quickoffice, and ThinkFree Mobile Office designed for Android tablets. The Android Market also features a plethora of file managers and remote control software.

For productivity, generally you should go straight to the larger models: The 10.1-inch Android tablets have roomy, widescreen displays that offer almost as much real estate as a netbook does. However, the 7-inch, 1280-by-800-pixel T-Mobile SpringBoard has one advantage: It’s the first of a new wave of high-resolution displays. In our tests, its smoothly rendered, nonpixelated text stood in sharp contrast to the text on most Android models. While text is certainly readable on other tablets, going from one of them to the SpringBoard reminds me of when an optometrist makes a simple adjustment and the eye chart goes from slightly fuzzy to crisp.

Next page: Best tablets for gaming

At a Glance
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