Here’s a roundup of tablets that have recently received price cuts, along with a discussion of why you might want to consider buying each of them now.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is Research In Motion’s 7-inch QNX-based tablet. QNX is the operating system that’s supposed to represent RIM’s future. The PlayBook originally started at $499 for the 16GB model, but you can now find it starting at just $299 at Best Buy.
Pros: Powerful multitasking capability permits apps to run in the background without restrictions, and swipe-based navigation works perfectly with the PlayBook’s small screen. The PlayBook also handles Adobe Flash better than many Android tablets.
Cons: It has hardly any noteworthy apps, performance is buggy, and there’s no native email or calendar (yet).
Verdict: RIM says that it’s not abandoning the PlayBook. This is probably true, given how crucial QNX is to the company’s future. This tablet is worth a look on the strength of its potential–but only after RIM adds email, a calendar, and Android apps to the platform.
A 7-inch Android tablet, the HTC Flyer runs Android 2.3 with HTC’s Sense interface on top. Its starting price was $499, but the going rate will drop to $299 on October 1. The Flyer works with an active digitizer pen (sold separately for $80) that allows users to draw and scribble notes in a handful of apps.
Pros: The Flyer is a bit chunky, but its rounded edges and aluminum finish feel nice in the hands. A set of capacitive navigation buttons rotate from portrait to landscape mode depending on the hardware’s orientation, reducing the chance of accidental presses.
Cons: Android 2.3 was meant for phones, not tablets. And because it uses that OS, the Flyer can’t run tablet apps from the Android market. Also, the Flyer’s single-core 1.5GHz processor seems outdated in a dual-core world.
Verdict: Its freshly lowered price enables the Flyer to edge out Samsung’s original 7-inch Galaxy Tab as the go-to tablet for anyone who wants what amounts to a blown-up Android phone. Not a terrible option by any means, but certainly not state-of-the-art.
HP’s first and only tablet was a failure when its starting price was $499, but the TouchPad quickly became a hit when its price plunged to $99 in August. The last we heard, HP had quickly sold a batch of these 10-inch tablets to its own employees, and it’s not clear whether any will be left over for the bargain-hungry public. On eBay, new TouchPads are on sale for Buy It Now prices of $239 and higher.
Pros: WebOS’s card-based multitasking is among the best on the market, and an active homebrew scene should keep the software in shape.
Cons: The tablet is thick and heavy compared to the iPad 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. The WebOS software isn’t as smooth or intuitive as Apple’s iOS, and no one has a clear idea the operating system’s long-term viability. Don’t expect much activity in the App Catalog from now on.
Verdict: Even at eBay prices, the TouchPad is the least-expensive 10-inch tablet you’ll find. It’s probably best suited for users who like to tinker; if all else fails, you can always install Android.
This 10-inch Android Honeycomb tablet is thick, heavy, and ugly–but it’s the only Android tablet on the market with full-size USB, HDMI, and SD Card slots. The Toshiba Thrive debuted at $400 for the 8GB model; today, the asking price has shrunk slightly to $380 at Best Buy.
Pros: Its trio of full-size ports makes this tablet more PC-like than any of its peers.
Cons: No points for style. Battery life is below average. And the Thrive comes stuffed with bloatware.
Verdict: Toshiba’s already working on a 7-inch Thrive and on a superslim 10-inch tablet known only as the AT200. We’ll probably see another price drop on the 10-inch Thrive before the holidays are over.
Acer Iconia Tab A500
There’s nothing special about Acer’s 10-inch Android Honeycomb tablet; but its single, full-size USB port lets you connect a mouse, a keyboard, a gamepad, or an external hard drive. The Iconia Tab A500 originally cost $450, but you can now pick it up at Best Buy for $400.
Pros: The full-size USB port comes in handy, and aluminum trim adds a subtle touch of class.
Cons: It’s big and heavy, and its display has some quirks according to our hands-on review.
Verdict: There’s not much to recommend at $400. But a $300 refurbished model at Best Buy? If you need a tablet that plays well with your external USB devices, the Iconia Tab is your cheapest option.