iPad 2 vs Android 3: the 10 best new tablets for travellers

By danwarne, May 11 2011
iPad 2 vs Android 3: the 10 best new tablets for travellers

Trying to choose between an iPad 2 and one of the many great Android-based tablets out there? We've surveyed the field and analysed what the top 10 tablets have to offer business travellers.

Clearly, a good web browser and email client is essential — and all the different tablet platforms now have that. But in terms of downloadable content to watch on the plane or in a hotel — movies, TV shows, music, eBooks, newspapers, magazines and so on — there are big differences between the tablets.

In terms of productivity, there are enormous differences between the tablets, too. The iPad has been a smash success because of its first-to-market advantage and Apple's excellent iTunes store for getting apps and content, but some of its limitations have frustrated business travellers trying to get work done on it.

For example, the iPad's lack of a USB port for memory keys, the inability to print a document — except with a limited number of new printers supporting Apple's AirPrint wireless printing, lack of a good video output option for connection to hotel TVs, and the fact that you have to pay extra to get the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents are all things that get in the way of making an iPad the sole device a business traveller could rely on during a trip.

It's also frustrating that given the iPad's focus on doing everything via the internet, there's no easy way to share a file from any app with someone else except via email.

Another key difference between the various tablets is their ability to display websites with Flash animation on them. Flash is the tech used for those interactive/animated restaurant websites and most of the video on the internet.

Apple has staunchly refused to support Flash on the iPad, saying Flash's high computing load saps battery life. Apple hopes that websites will convert to HTML5 compatibility instead — a standard that all web browsers and mobile devices can theoretically display without needing the Adobe Flash software installed.

However, all the other tablet software makers -- Google, RIM and HP -- have jumped on this as a competitive advantage and added Flash support to their tablets.

In the meantime, brands like Blackberry-maker Research in Motion, Toshiba, Samsung, LG and HTC are stepping up one after each other and showing off their new tablets with specifications that — on paper — beat the iPad, but lack Apple's popular iOS software.

That's on top of the many tablets that were announced earlier in the year at the Consumer Electronics Show, like the Motorola Xoom tablet (pictured below, now available in Australia through Telstra) and the curious Motorola Atrix phone that can be docked with a clamshell keyboard and screen to become a laptop.

At the heart of most of the new tablets is Google's Android operating system, which has been gathering momentum against Apple's iOS as more and more manufacturers pick it up.

However, despite its rapidly growing popularity, Android is weak in terms of availability of content for it — movies, books, TV episodes, and so on. Most people who are using Android devices are having to make do with pirated downloads loaded onto memory cards. The one-click download options available on the iPad are largely unavailable on Android tablets.

Google did today announce a movie and music download service, but it's only entering the testing phase for US-based tablet users, and won't be available in Australia for some time yet -- we'd guess at least a year.

The other confusing thing about Android tablets is how to choose which one is right for you. Dozens of tablets are set to be released in 2011 running Android, with nothing much between them except slightly different dimensions, cosmetic tweaks and different button locations. However, like laptops that run Windows, there will be differences between them that may not be apparent until after purchase, like battery life, bundled free apps, quality of the camera, and software for your PC that helps you sync your desktop files with the tablet.

Not every manufacturer is jumping onto the Android bandwagon, though. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has created its own software platform (read on to see why that might not be as bad an idea as it sounds) and HP is using the WebOS software that it acquired recently as part of its purchase of embattled PDA and phone maker Palm.

iPad 2

Size: 9.7"
Platform: Apple iOS
Expected price: $579 (16GB Wi-Fi only model) to $949 (64GB Wi-Fi+3G model)
 Online: Apple
What you need to know:

The iPad 2 is similar to the original iPad, but slimmer and lighter, and with the addition of a front-facing camera for FaceTime video conferencing and a rear-facing camera for photography. (It's a pretty awful camera though!)

With an additional adaptor, the iPad 2 can output full HD video to a TV, which is very handy for using it in hotel rooms as a BYO entertainment device.

However, Apple has not budged on its ideological objection to adding a USB connector for memory keys, which continues to be a frustration for business users.

You can read our full review on the top 5 benefits in the iPad 2 for business travellers here.

BlackBerry PlayBook

Size: 7"
Platform: BlackBerry Tablet OS
Expected price: Likely to be around $500
Due: May/June
Online: Blackberry
What you need to know:

See our earlier article: BlackBerry PlayBook: the business-class tablet?

Full gallery: BlackBerry PlayBook from all angles

BlackBerry's first PlayBook -- yet to be released -- connects to the net only via a BlackBerry handset. However, a new version (to come later) has been announced in the last few days that will directly connect via 3G as well as new 4G (LTE) mobile networks (such as Telstra Next G, which will be upgraded to 4G in the CBD and select regional locations by the end of this year.)

The PlayBook will need apps created for RIM BlackBerry Tablet OS, but Research in Motion is reportedly working on a technology that will allow any of the 130,000 Android apps to run on the PlayBook seamlessly too.

The PlayBook can display websites using Flash animation/video, and also connect wirelessly with a BlackBerry handset to keep email, calendar, address book, task list and BBM messages in sync between the two devices (though, you can achieve the same result on other devices using Google Sync).

Unlike the iPad, the BlackBerry PlayBook is likely to come with a free office suite for editing Word/Excel/PowerPoint documents. (Apple makes an office suite for iPad — its iWork suite — but charges $39 for it, rather than including it free.)

Not much is known yet about what content will be available for purchase on the PlayBook, except that the Kobo eBook store will come with it.

HP's TouchPad

Size: 9.7"
Platform: HP WebOS
Expected price:
Due: TBA
What you need to know:

HP's TouchPad uses the WebOS software, rather than Google's, acquired by HP when it bought PDA/phone-maker Palm.

HP has already announced that it will be providing an HP Movie Store for the tablet, providing full movie downloads, and Amazon Kindle eBooks will be available, too -- a big advantage for it over the numerous Android tablets that generally don't come with any sort of iTunes-like store.

Support for Skype calling is built-in, and the WebOS Synergy software allows Gmail, Facebook, Exchange and other accounts to be easily connected to the phone, and viewed in one unified inbox.

The Android brigade

If you haven't yet seen what's in Google's Android 3.0 operating system, you can see a 90 second preview video from Google here. Essentially, it expands the small-screen design of Android out to make better use of larger displays. Unlike the iPad, which presents screen after screen of app icons, Android 3.0 makes use of the screen space with lots of informational widgets, showing your latest few unread emails, calendar appointments, chat messages, and so on.

LG Optimus Pad

Size: 9.7"
Platform: Android 3.0
Expected price: €999 in Europe ($1352)
Due: May/June
Online: LG Newsroom What you need to know:

The key difference in LG's take on the Android tablet is a 3D camera capable of filming 3D video and taking 3D still photos. However, the Optimus Pad screen is not, itself, a 3D display. You'll need to revert to using daggy red-and-blue glasses in order to see the 3D effect — something that doesn't sit well with LG's claim that it is a business-targeted tablet.

The Optimus Pad packs a higher-resolution panel than the iPad, at 1280x768 resolution, and the 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor inside is capable of playing back full HD 1080P video.

HTC Flyer

Size: 7"
Platform: Android 2.4
Expected price: €499 ($675)
Due: June
Online: HTC.com
What you need to know:

HTC's very first tablet has an uncommonly fast 1.5GHz chip for snappy performance, but is surprisingly built on the 2.4 mobile phone version of Android, not the 3.0 version designed for tablet size screens.

However, HTC says it will release a free upgrade to Android 3.0 after the launch of the tablet.

HTC says the older version doesn't really matter because it has HTC's custom "Sense" interface running on top with a scrolling carousel of info widgets.

HTC has also added a retro feature — the ability to use a stylus to write and draw on the screen. Pen-based computing on Windows tablets was spectacularly unsuccessful, despite tens of millions poured into marketing it by Microsoft and hardware makers, but HTC apparently thinks that its software, coupled with Google Android will make for a good experience.

Toshiba Tablet

Size: 10"
Platform: Google Android 3.0
Expected price: "competitive with iPad" - $629-$1049
Due: September 2011
Online: TheToshibaTablet.com
What you need to know:

Toshiba launched a stillborn tablet previous to this one with a poor quality screen and no access to the Google Android apps market.

The laptop giant has learned from its mistakes, and this tablet has a high-resolution 1280x800 pixel, 10" glass LCD display (higher detail than the iPad) with capacitive touch sensing.

This tablet bristles with connectors: HDMI full-HD output to a TV, full-size USB for memory keys, mini USB for syncing to a PC, and an SD card slot. It is, in other words, the opposite of the iPad in its connectivity options.

Toshiba says it will still provide its own apps market as well as its own ebook store — and it is not yet clear whether the standard Google Market will be included.

Samsung Galaxy 10.1

Size: 10.1"
Platform: Google Android 3.0
Expected price:
Due: March Online:galaxytab.samsungmobile.com
What you need to know:

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7" tablet was quite successful when it launched last year, and the big Korean electronics maker is expanding the range with a larger screen model. The screen is about half an inch larger than the iPad, in fact.

Unfortunately, the 10.1" Galaxy Tab will be tied to Vodafone globally — which means Australians will have to use it on the Vodafone network here, the subject of much recent outcry over poor network performance.

Despite this setback, it's a very nice device — it has a 1280x800 pixel screen, but is lighter than the iPad at only 599g.

It also has an uncommonly good camera: eight megapixels on the back and a two megapixels on the front for video conferencing.

Sony tablet codename "S1"

Size: 9.4"
Platform: Android 3.0
Expected price: around $100 more expensive than iPad
Due: Unknown - not officially announced
What you need to know:

Sony is soon to release an Android 3.0 tablet codenamed S1, and a second clamshell tablet called the S2. Sony reportedly had software engineers from its PlayStation, Sony Ericsson, Vaio and Sony Reader groups working together on these devices.

With all these groups pulled together, Sony is in a much stronger position than most companies to add a lot of extra value to Android in terms of ebook, movie and music downloads, and games that other vendors won't be able to offer. Sony is reportedly considering bundling a back-catalogue of PlayStation 1 games free of charge with the tablet.

Sony has also announced it is taking on iTunes full-steam with a service called "Qriosity" which promises "unlimited music".

Sony is also including an infra-red transmitter to allow the tablet to be used as a very expensive home theatre remote control for Sony Bravia TVs and components.

Huawei Ideos S7 Slim

Size: 7"
Platform: Android 2.2
Expected price: around $299
Due: April
Online: Huawei.com (PDF)
What you need to know:

You'll know the previous version of this tablet as the Telstra T-Touch Tab, an uninspiring, cheaply made, cut-price Android tablet with a pressure-sensitive touchscreen that misses keystrokes when you're typing.

The Ideos S7 Slim is — as the name suggests — a bit slimmer at 12.5mm than its porky predecessor, and Huawei has swapped out the nasty pressure-sensing touch screen with a more responsive capacitive one, like what's used on the iPad — and every other decent touchscreen device on the market.

However, it still runs an old version of Android - version 2.2 - designed for smartphones, not tablets, and its screen resolution is a lowly 800x480 pixels. This tablet is very much designed at the tablet-curious punter with a limited budget, rather than business travellers.

ZTE Light 2 Tablet

Size: 7"
Platform: Android 2.2
Expected price: around $299
Due: April
Online: ZTE.com.au
What you need to know:

The previous edition of this tablet was launched in Australia as the Optus MyTab. The same criticisms of the Telstra T-Touch Tab, above, apply -- cheap build quality (the pressure sensitive touch-screen is covered with a shiny plastic sheet to make it look like the much more accurate glass capacitive touchscreen, for example).

Like the upgraded Huawei Ideos S7 Slim above, the ZTE Light 2 Tablet has dumped the unsatisfactory old technology touchscreen and replaced it with a responsive capacitive touchscreen.

The Light 2 Tablet is still running the mobile phone version of Google Android though, so it's not in the same league as all the other Android 3.0 tablets with apps that are designed to make proper use of the tablet's larger screen space compared to a smartphone.

I wonder if Microsoft is taking its time and letting Apple/Google battle it out the way Lotus/Borland did over a decade ago. Microsoft let them destroy each other in the spreadsheet market, then it swooped in scooped up the entire office suite business and became ubiquitous.

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