So the iPad has arrived to what can only be described as excessive fanfare. But will tablets become the gadget of choice for consumers who want to kick back and browse the Web, check e-mail, read an e-book or magazine, play games, or watch a movie? It's debatable: Tablets have tanked in the past. And yet a number of industry analysts believe that the iPad will kick-start a new category of media tablets that could become huge by 2015.
iPad rivals will struggle to equal its slick user experience (familiar interface, iBooks, iTunes, and the App Store), but Apple alternatives do offer a broad range of choices related to shape, size, and screen--not to mention Webcams, USB slots, and HDMI ports. Many tablets pair Windows 7 with an Intel Atom processor, or combine nVidia's Tegra 2 chip with Android, Chrome OS, or Linux. Multitasking? Check. Accelerated high-def Flash video? You betcha.
It wasn't the Courier tablet that many attendees hoped Steve Ballmer would pull out of his hat at CES in January, but HP's slate PC (don't call it a tablet!) is shaping up as a strong alternative to the iPad. It doesn't have an official name yet, but some of its specs--including a 8.9-inch multitouch screen, Windows 7, and support for hardware-accelerated Flash video playback--are public knowledge. Running Amazon's Kindle app could be pretty neat on this thing. HP reportedly is also working on a range of tablets, one of which is a miniature Android device intended to compete with the 5-inch Dell Streak.
Update: Engadget has posted what looks like an internal HP presentation that says the Slate will cost $549-$599. Listed specs include an 8.9-inch (1024-by-600-pixel) display, HDMI-output, 32- or 64GB storage, an integrated SDXC card reader and single USB 2.0 port, a SIM card slot, and a 3-megapixel forward-facing camera. If the listing is to be believed, the Slate is powered by a 1.6GHz Z530 Atom processor coupled with 1GB RAM, and you'll also get 802.11b/g (but not wireless-N) Wi-Fi.
OS: Windows 7
Key specs: 8.9-inch multitouch display, processor unknown, Atom processor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, possible back-mounted camera
Other features: 3D Accelerated Flash (unknown whether this means it has a Broadcom Crystal HD Accelerator or nVidia Ion graphics)
Size and weight: Unknown
Due: Later this year (June is the rumored target month)
Fusion Garage JooJoo
The notorious CrunchPad-turned-JooJoo tablet has just started shipping, and--as you can see--the interface has come a long way from where it was when we tested a preproduction model back in December 2009. The $499 slate has a big 12.1-inch capacitive multitouch display and runs Ubuntu Linux with a custom interface. It can play Flash video out of the box, and it will be able to handle high-def Flash once Flash 10.1 arrives. Unfortunately, the JooJoo only uses first-generation Ion graphics, its apps are all Web-based, and the $499 price fetches a machine with only 4GB of storage--albeit on a solid-state drive.
OS: Ubuntu Linux with custom WebKit-based browser interface
Key specs: 12.1-inch capacitive multitouch display (1366 by 768 pixels), 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, nVidia Ion graphics, 1GB of RAM, 4GB solid-state drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Other features: Built-in still/video camera, accelerometer, ambient light sensor
Size and weight: 12.8 by 7.8 by 0.7 inches (height by width by maximum thickness); 2.4 pounds
Due: Available now
Dell Mini 5 (Streak)
Dell is working on a "family of tablets," the first of which will be its Android tablet--perhaps under the model name Mini 5 or Streak. This unit's 5-inch multitouch display is more pocket-friendly than the ones on most upcoming tablets, but it's also larger than the displays on most smartphones (yes, the Mini 5 can make calls). It also has a front-facing camera (for video chat), voice recognition, a speedy 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, and various color options. Picture courtesy of Engadget, which recently posted Dell documents suggesting that Amazon apps for books, video, and music could come preinstalled as well. This is definitely a contender to watch.
OS: Android 2.x
Key specs: 5-inch LED-backlit, capacitive multitouch display (800 by 480 pixels), 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 405MB of DRAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G
Other features: 5-megapixel camera with dual LED flash, second front-facing camera (648 by 480 pixels), SIM card and microSD card slots, GPS
Size and weight: About 5.9 by 3.1 by 0.4 inches (height by width by thickness); 8 ounces
Due: Unconfirmed, but expected around June 2010
Lenovo IdeaPad U1
As a laptop, the IdeaPad U1 runs Windows 7 with a 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo SU4100 chip; but pop the screen off, and the machine instantly becomes a multitouch tablet running its own widget-style Linux interface. And get this: Some tasks, such as open Web pages, automatically continue between both modes. The keyboard base can operate independently, the screen includes 3G, and Lenovo rates the unit's battery life at about 8 hours. Sounds great, but the U1's popularity could hinge on its final price and on how responsive its resistive display is to touch. Image credit: Gizmodo.
OS: Lenovo Skylight Linux (tablet mode) and Windows 7 (laptop mode)
Key specs: 11.6-inch LED-backlit resistive multitouch display (1366 by 768 pixels)
Tablet specs: 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 16GB solid-state drive
Laptop specs: 1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU4100 CPU, 128GB solid-state drive, HDMI output, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, 3G
Other features: 1.3-megapixel Webcam, media card reader
Size and weight: 1.6 pounds (tablet only), 3.8 pounds (screen and keyboard base)
Due: June 1
Price: $999 without carrier subsidies
One tablet that might match Apple in user interface innovation is the mysterious Microsoft Courier, a folding dual-screen device that's more of a pen and touch-controlled digital journal/eReader than a media tablet along the lines of the iPad. Despite several leaks and supposed slip-ups, will the Courier make the leap from concept to consumer item? Maybe. Citing an "extremely trusted source," Engadget recently reported that the Courier is on track for the second half of 2010, will use nVidia's Tegra 2 chip, and will run the same OS platform as Microsoft's Zune HD and Windows Mobile 7 Series Phones. Fingers crossed that Redmond achieves something special here. Image credit: Engadget (where you can also watch a video of the Courier's interface in action).
Key specs: Twin multitouch screens capable of pen input, nVidia Tegra 2 processors
Other features: Pen-centric interface with handwriting recognition
Size and weight: Less than 1 inch thick, About 5 by 7 by less than 1 inch (height by width by thickness) when closed; weight will be a little over 1 pound
Due: Second half of 2010
Notion Ink Adam
Everything about this tablet screams innovation. Designed in India, the Adam uses a special multitouch-enabled 10.1-inch transflective screen from Pixel Qi that switches between sunlight-friendly e-paper and color LCD modes. It also has a 3.2-megapixel, 180-degree-swivel camera; a high-def-video-capable Tegra 2 processor; an HDMI port; 3G; and GPS. It has been previewed running Android 2.1. A cheaper (and thinner) standard screen version will also be available this summer when the Adam launches.
OS: Android 2.x (Ubuntu Linux and Chrome OS versions are expected, too)
Key specs: 10.1-inch PixelQi transflective display with dual modes (e-ink and color LCD) and multitouch (1024 by 600 pixels), nVidia Tegra 2 graphics and dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, 16GB or 32GB solid-state drive, Wi-Fi, 3G
Other features: 3.2-megapixel, 180-degree-swivel camera; reverse-side trackpad; HDMI output; microSD card slot; accelerometer; ambient light sensor; GPS
Size and weight: 9.4 by 6.2 by 0.5 inches (height by width by thickness); 1.4 pounds
Due: June or July 2010
Price: $327 to $800
If you like the idea of flicking through Web pages or e-books by touch, but you don't want to give up your physical keyboard, a netbook equipped with a swiveling screen could be a good compromise choice. Over the next few months, several new "netvertibles" (hmm, wonder if this means that the Internet's backbone will soon become known as the "netvertebrate"?) will emerge, including the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3T (available now), Viliv S10 Blade, Asus Eee PC T101MT and the Gigabyte Touch Note T1000P. Each will have a 10.1-inch multitouch display, run Windows 7, and cost around $500 bucks. That's cheaper than standard 12.1-inch convertibles such as the multitouch-capable HP TouchSmart tm2t and Lenovo ThinkPad X201T.
A Windows 7 device with a custom touch interface, an 8.9-inch multitouch screen, netbook-like specs, and Flash support--okay, you have our attention. The ExoPC Slate was scheduled to arrive at the end of March, but ExoPC recently told Engadget that it has postponed the launch to June or July. When the tablet arrives, you can expect improvements such as "better processor, graphics, battery life, thinner design, plus better screen and touch panel" compared to the current official specs listed here.
OS: Windows 7 Premium
Key specs: 8.9-inch LED-backlit " High Sensibility" resistive multitouch display (1024 by 600 pixels), 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU, 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM, Intel GMA950 graphics, 32GB solid-state drive, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 10/100 ethernet, 3G option
Other features: Front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for videoconferencing, SD/MMC card reader, SIM card slot (for 3G option)
Size and weight: 9.8 by 6.6 by 0.8 inches (height by width by thickness); 1.8 pounds
Due: Summer 2010
Price: From $599
Archos 9 PCtablet
On paper, the Archos 9 looks impressive. Specs include a 60GB hard disk, Windows 7, a front-facing Webcam, Flash support, and a price of $549. But its 8.9-inch display is resistive and lacks multitouch, and the company appears not to have made Windows 7 more finger-friendly. Archos sells 7- and 5-inch Android-based tablets/MIDs, as well, and the company recently announced the Archos 8 Home Tablet--essentially an 8-inch touchscreen photo frame that runs Android.
OS: Windows 7 Starter Edition
Key specs: 8.9-inch LED-backlit resistive single-touch display (1024 by 600 pixels), 1.2GHz Intel Atom Z510 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, 60GB hard-disk drive, Intel GMA 500 graphics, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Other features: Front-facing 1.3-megapixel Webcam for video conferencing, optical trackpoint, mouse-click and virtual keyboard buttons, mini backlight
Size and weight: 10.1 by 5.3 by 0.7 inches (height by width by thickness); 1.8 pounds
Due: Available now
Innovative Converged Devices' 7-inch Ultra tablet is yet another upcoming pairing of Tegra 2 and Android, but ICD's offering will emphasize affordability. The Ultra is expected to start at just $250 (without carrier subsidies) when it reaches the market at midyear. Its features will include 4GB of internal flash memory, HD video playback, and optional 3G. Interestingly, Verizon used an Ultra in January to demonstrate its next-generation 4G LTE wireless network; and the Ultra's big brother (the 15.6-inch ICD Vega) is headed to T-Mobile in the UK before the end of the year.
OS: Android 2.0
Key specs: 7-inch resistive single-touch display (1024 by 600 pixels or 800 by 480 pixels, capacitive versions are expected as well), 1GHz nVidia Tegra 2 (TegraT20) CPU, 256MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM, 4GB of internal flash memory (nonremovable), 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G option
Other features: Front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for videoconferencing, mini HDMI output, microSD card slot, SIM card slot, accelerometer, FM radio, ambient light sensor, GPS option
Size and weight: 7.3 by 6.2 by 0.7 inches (height by width by thickness); 1.3 pounds or less
Due: By June 2010
Price: Expected to start at $250, without carrier subsidies
Axiotron Modbook Pro
Ask Andreas Haas, the former head of Apple's Newton group, what he thinks of the iPad, and he'll tell you that "it's not a tablet; it's an extension of the iPod Touch." His company, Axiotron, is developing the Modbook Pro--a touch-enabled version of the pen-based, professionally finished Mac tablets that the business creates by converting MacBook laptops. Today you can buy pen-only Modbooks ready-made, or you can send your own MacBook to Axiotron, and the company will transform it into a Modbook for $700. The touch-capable Modbook Pro is should appear later this year, and it will probably cost quite a bit more than that.
MSI Tegra 2 Tablet
MSI is best known for netbooks these days, so it's no surprise that the company plans to produce an as-yet-unnamed tablet. The prototype Android "mPad" shown at CES had a 10-inch touchscreen, a Tegra 2 processor, HD Flash support, and an HDMI output. The finished tablet will probably cost around $500 and may arrive later this year. No doubt we'll learn more at the Computex Taipei Expo in June. Image credit and more information: DigiTimes.
OS: Android 2.x
Key specs: 10-inch touchscreen, nVidia Tegra 2 graphics and dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, 3G, Wi-Fi
Other features: HDMI output, SD Card slot
Size and weight: Unknown
Due: Possibly second half of 2010
Price: Expected to be around $500
Asus Eee Pad
This Tegra 2 tablet snapped at nVidia's CES booth isn't the sexiest prototype we've ever seen, but Asus has promised to launch a "killer product" in June. Will the final Eee Pad design be the first tablet to run Google's Chrome OS? Will it use Qualcomm's Mirasol display tech for paperlike readability, except in color and with a good refresh rate? Will Asus's Waveface concept (a dual-screen netbook that unfolds into a tablet) become a real product much sooner than imagined? Perhaps the answer to all of the above questions will be no; but we should learn more come Computex time. Image credit: JKK Mobile.
OS: Likely to be either Android or Chrome OS
Key specs: Likely to have nVidia Tegra 2 graphics and dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU
Other features: 3G, Wi-Fi
Size and weight: Unknown
Due: Expected in the second half of 2010
Price: Expected to be around $500 (unconfirmed by Asus)
Why would a tablet released relatively recently suddenly become 32 percent cheaper? Bad reviews: Complaints of slow performance, video playback issues, and sluggish single-touch response seem to have tarnished early hopes for the WebStation, a 7-inch Android 1.5 device designed primarily to run Web apps. For the $275 it costs (even after the price cut), you're probably better off looking at the upcoming 7-inch ICD Ultra.
OS: Android 1.5
Key specs: 7-inch resistive single-touch display (800-by-480 pixels), 624MHz Marvell PXA303 CPU, 128MB of RAM, 256MB of ROM, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, GPS
Other features: microSD card slot (8GB card included)
Size and weight: 7.87 by 4.72 by 0.57 inches (height by width by by thickness); 13.75 ounces
Due: Available now
Price: $275 (down from $400)
Freescale Smartbook Tablet Reference Design
Freescale makes the chips that most e-book readers (including the Kindle) use, and its upcoming i.MX508 processor--due later this year--could revolutionize eReaders. The company also envisions low-cost $200 tablet PCs, and has created this reference design for PC makers. The outline uses Freescale's ARM-based i.MX51 chip (capable of running Android, Chrome OS, or Linux), and includes a 7-inch tablet that can be docked with a keyboard base similar to Lenovo's IdeaPad U1.
OS: Chrome OS, Android, or Debian Linux with custom browser interface
Key specs: 7-inch resistive single-touch display (1024 by 600 pixels), Freescale i.MX515 (includes 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU and 720p video decoding), 512MB of RAM, 4GB to 64GB of internal storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, optional 3G
Other features: Front-facing 3-megapixel Webcam for videoconferencing, SIM card slot, three-axis accelerometer, ambient light sensor
Size and weight: 7.9 by 5.0 by 0.6 inches (height by width by thickness); 13.3 ounces
Due: Late 2010, if manufacturers pick up on the concept
Price: Reference design calls for retail prices to start at $200
What more is there to say? The iPad is a pleasure to use (despite some missing features and other faults), it hit stores on April 3, and Apple's iBooks pricing may match Amazon's. Here are the hardware specs.
OS: iPhone OS 3.2
Key specs: 9.7-inch multitouch display (1024 by 768 pixels) with IPS (in-plane switching, for better color reproduction and a wider range of viewing angles), 1GHz Apple A4 system-on-a-chip with PowerVR SGX graphics, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 3G option
Other features: Accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor, Bluetooth, GPS and micro-SIM card slot (on 3G model)
Size and weight: 9.6 by 7.5 by 0.5 inches (height by width by thickness); 1.5 pounds (1.6 pounds with 3G option)
Price: $499 (with 16GB solid-state drive), $599 (with 32GB solid-state drive), $699 (with 64GB solid-state drive); add $130 for 3G option
Due: Released on April 3 (preorders started on March 12)
Latest Tablet News
For additional information on the rapidly evolving product category of tablets, consult these PCWorld stories:
• "Google Pad: Search Giant Dreams of Chrome OS-based Tablets" (pictured)