The Best Tablet for You

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Best: Apple iPad 2

A great gaming tablet needs to have capable hardware and a terrific selection of games. On both criteria, the iPad 2 can’t be beat. In its sheer ability to process frames per second, it leads all comers. The iPad 2 produced 52 fps on our gaming test with antialiasing off, scoring 27 percent higher than the nearest Android rival, the 7-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel Acer Iconia Tab A100, which hit a frame rate of 41 fps. (The test we run, GLBenchmark 2.1, is representative of a 3D game using OpenGL. We run the test at the tablet’s native screen resolution; if a slate has a comparatively low resolution, it could do better in this metric.)

We saw a wide variance among the test results for Honeycomb tablets. In fact, among Android 3.1 and 3.2 models with the same core components (Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 1GB of memory), the difference was as large as 77 percent. Some of that variance might be attributable to the tablets’ different screen sizes, while some might stem from the optimization changes that manufacturers make to the Android software. However, most of the tablets with Tegra 2 chips averaged between 20 and 30 fps. (On desktop and laptop PCs, we consider 30 fps the minimum playable frame rate for games, although some games may play acceptably at lower frame rates.)

The benchmark we use stresses a given tablet’s 3D-graphics performance, but few games available today will push an Android tablet to anywhere near its limits. (If you’re interested in such games, however, take a look at titles optimized for Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor.) Popular games such as Angry Birds and Bejeweled, for example, won’t stretch your tablet’s graphics capabilities.

In fact, you’ll find relatively few games available for Android tablets at all. A far larger selection of games is available for the iPad, and more marquee developers are working on iOS games than on games for Android. And as with Android apps in general, you may not be able to tell from the Android Market description whether a game will even work on a particular Android tablet, let alone whether it’s optimized for a tablet.

Now that Android 4.0 has arrived, however, the situation may begin to evolve. We expect to see more tablet-friendly games, since, as noted earlier, Ice Cream Sandwich changes how Android scales apps for different-size screens. Additionally, by default the new OS enables hardware graphics acceleration for smoother gameplay.

Sony Tablet S
Sony's Tablet S is the only tablet that's PlayStation Certified. Sony expects to grow its classic-game offerings, and you'll be able to use a physical controller, too. Photograph by Robert Cardin
Sony’s Tablet S, in particular, has the potential to play a wider variety of games than other Android tablets because it has access to Sony’s PlayStation Store, which is gradually ramping up its selection of titles (about a dozen are becoming available through the fall, and more are expected by year’s end). The company intends to provide Android versions of classic PlayStation and PlayStation Portable games. For instance, the Tablet S comes preloaded with Crash Bandicoot, which was a hoot to play once I got accustomed to the on-screen replica of the PlayStation controls. The graphics of this 1996 title seemed ragged in my tests, but the game remains entertaining. Sony plans to open access to its PlayStation Store to more tablets; for now, though, this is Sony’s secret weapon for game lovers.

In our gaming tests, the Tablet S tied with the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, achieving an average of 30 fps, enough to handle challenging game graphics smoothly.

Looking ahead in gaming, Android has one wild card in its favor: The OS supports physical game controllers connected via USB or Bluetooth. This capability is a big boon, assuming developers take advantage of it. Apple’s offering has no similar feature: The iPad 2 lacks a USB port, and iOS doesn’t allow Bluetooth game controllers to interface with the tablet.

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