To look at them, there's not much difference between the HP TouchPad announced Wednesday, Motorola's Xoom (arriving later this month), and the Apple iPad. But if you look beyond the roughly 10-inch touchscreens, you'll find some significant differences.
In physical size and weight, the TouchPad is nearly identical to the iPad; its screen size (9.7 inches) and resolution (1024 by 768 pixels) match the iPad's specs, too. The Motorola Xoom has a slightly larger screen (10.1 inches) and resolution (1280 by 800 pixels), making it a bit bigger, though just as heavy. Together, the three tablets represent the top end of modern tablet computers. See how they compare at a glance by clicking on the chart at the side.
The TouchPad runs on a speedy dual-core Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm. The Xoom is also dual-core, with an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip. Only the iPad runs on a single-core (Apple-customized) A4 processor. The iPad also has the least amount of RAM (256MB), while the TouchPad and Xoom run on four times more memory (1GB). The speedier processors should help the tablets open and run apps faster, while more RAM aids in multitasking (both improvements take a toll on battery life, however).
Although the TouchPad will come in 16GB and 32GB versions, the Xoom will come in just one 32GB version. The iPad also has a 64GB version. Only the Xoom offers expandable storage via an SD Card slot.
Initially the TouchPad will support only Wi-Fi connections, with a 3G version to come later. Motorola is taking the opposite approach with the Xoom, which will initially launch only in a 3G version, with a Wi-Fi-only version to follow. The iPad comes in both Wi-Fi and 3G models. Motorola says the Xoom will work with Verizon's network, while the iPad works on AT&T's network out of the box.
The TouchPad has only a front-facing camera for video calling. The Xoom will have two cameras (one on the back and one on the front), and the iPad has none. The iPad also lacks stereo speakers and a gyroscope.
Other perks from the iPad competitors: The TouchPad can charge wirelessly with a separate accessory, and the Xoom can output HD video.
But the biggest differentiator between the tablets will be their OSs.
The HP TouchPad will be the first tablet running WebOS, the operating system that HP acquired in its purchase of Palm last year. The TouchPad will employ the same card-stack metaphor for organizing apps found on Palm smartphones. That interface looks even more at home on the larger screen of a tablet. Right now we've heard few details about changes to the OS for the tablet, and reviewers got no hands-on time with it.
Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") on the Motorola Xoom is also new. The OS, specifically designed for tablets, brings several new interface elements previously unseen on Android smartphones (for more, see an in-depth tour of Honeycomb).
Lastly, iOS on the iPad (due for an upgrade soon) is familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone or iPod Touch.
Because of its massive head start, the iPad has the most apps available for it (over 60,000 at this writing). Presumably, only a small selection of programs will be available for the TouchPad and Xoom at their respective launches. Of course, both will likely be able to run apps designed for WebOS or Android smartphones, but experience with the iPad has shown that running smartphone apps on a tablet is generally unsatisfying.
Perhaps the most important unanswered question is how much these new tablets will cost. You can buy an iPad for as little as $499. Early rumors are that the Xoom may start at $799 (ouch!), and HP didn't give any information about price at its Wednesday event.
Finally, let's not forget that the iPad is a year old, and it's due for a refresh any time now. This means that by the time the TouchPad and Xoom arrive on the market, they will have to fight not only the old iPad (which may remain on sale at an even lower price) but also a freshly revamped iPad 2.
Which big tablet are you thinking of buying? A TouchPad, a Xoom, an iPad? Or will you wait for the iPad 2? Sound off in the comments.