Alternatives to the iPad

Not everyone wants an iPad. Shocker, we know. Either you've already invested your technology in another ecosystem, you can't stomach the Apple walled garden or you're just bitter and will hate Jobs and all he stands for to the very end. Whatever your reasons, you're probably on the look out for the inevitable rush of alternative tablet computers and, if you're not, you will be when they arrive.

As it happens, we saw plenty of prototypes and concept designs at CES, and long before the Apple unit was on the front pages and the tips of all technologists' tongues. So, what's in the pipeline and how long do we all have to wait to get a piece for ourselves? Well, this is the story so far in the take down of tablet town.

 

HP Slate

By far and away, the most known about product is the HP Slate and we're expecting it to hit in June. It's slightly smaller than the iPad with an 8.9-inch multitouch display and, rather than the iPhone OS, it runs the touch-enabled Windows 7. At the core is a 1.6GHz Intel Atom 530 processor with 1GB DDR2 of non-user upgradeable RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of SSD storage expandable with SD cards.



On top of the Microsoft OS sits the HP Touch UI, found on the company's all-in-one products, with app support for programs like Firefox, Skype and others. The Slate has full Flash compatibility, so you get full and complete web access and videos and games as well. It'll come with a front and back camera (VGA and 3-megapixel respectively), take video footage and cope with 1080p playback courtesy of the Intel UMA PowerVR SGX 535 graphics chipset.

It's not thought to have 3G connectivity but there's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as USB 2.0 and HDMI-out as well. It will come with a stylus that hopefully won't ruin it and from the promo videos it certainly has a dock which looks to play the content straight onto your TV. Whether it can stream that content wirelessly or not has not been confirmed. And all that is set to cost in the region of $549 - $599 depending on if you go for built-in GPS as well. A nice looking proposition so long as it's well made.

Additionally, there also happens to be a rumour that HP is developing a 6-inch version known as the Half-Pint.

 

Dell Mini 5

Somehow the Dell Mini 5 seems a little less exciting given this is just a half iPad at 5-inches but the action hots up when you realise it runs on an Android OS. Like the iPad, Android is going to mean lots and lots of apps to play with. What we do know about the Mini 5 so far is that, again, there's full Flash support, a back and a front camera - this time with the bigger being at 5-megapixel resolution and with a dual LED flash - and there's both Wi-Fi and SIM-powered 3G connectivity as well as Bluetooth and A-GPS as well.



It has a 480 x 800px multitouch display, a 3-axis accelerometer, two microSD card slots and the whole thing is powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU and 405MB of RAM. On paper it smacks much more of a big phone than a home-style tablet but the specs certainly sound good. Perhaps not quite the same niche as an iPad but definitely worth considering.

 

MSI Dual Screen

Officially speaking, this is the product with no name but that's because, officially speaking, MSI will only be releasing their 10-inch dual screen tablet device if people are really interested. Well, we are interested and have been since it was first showed off at CES 2010 but if the company doesn't get a move on, the world might lose interest.



What people have managed to glean is that it runs Windows 7, has SSD storage, a virtual keyboard and is also part eReader. Now, whether that involves any e-ink/ePaper is unknown but the fact it has two "pages" will certainly add to the book look and feel. Like the HP Slate, it runs on the Intel Atom 530, so should be nice and quiet but, as for price, it's only been stated as probably very expensive. Expect to hear more of it, or something like it by the end of the year. No breath holding for this one please.

 

Notion Ink Adam

The genius of this 10-inch tablet is that it is both an e-ink panel and LCD display depending upon how much light is falling onto its surface. It's powered by the Nvidia Tegra 2 chip, which runs at 1GHz and acts as both a CPU and graphics card in one and, on the software front, you'll use Firefox or Chrome to browse the Web, both of which support Flash.

Notion Ink seems at great pains to point out that you can multitask on it too.
It has an HDMI-out, 3 USB ports, outputs 1080p resolution, has a 3-megapixel camera and they reckon they can still get 16 hours of life out of the battery. When the backlight's off and the sunshine is bright, that should go up to a whopping 160 hours. 

There's Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, a pile of sensors and accelerometers, GPS, an SD Card slot and, fingers crossed, Notion can get it down to less than 1kg and 14mm thick in time for a summer 2010 launch. As for the price, well that's to be expected anywhere between $327 and $800 depending on your choice of additional trinkets. Definitely one to watch out for if the its bite is as serious as all the bark.

 

Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid

It's a laptop but not as we know it. Many thought the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid was the stuff of science fiction when it was unveiled at CES but it seems the company is good to they're word. It's arriving in June. There's even a "sign up for more information as we release it page", look.



There's not an awful lot new to know about it just yet but the idea is that it's a Windows 7 laptop powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo chip that you can take off the 11.6-inch 16:9 touch display and then walk around with it using it as a 1GHz Snapdragon powered 3G tablet with Lenovo's own interface called Skylight. Quite nice idea really.

The tablet head weighs just 750g and offers 10 hours on a single charge. The whole machine is powered by 4GB RAM and has 16GB of flash memory but just how much of those are accessible to just the tablet part are not yet know. More details when it arrives on 1st June at an expected price of $999.

Microsoft Courier

As with the MSI concept, the Microsoft Courier is a dual screen device that's part tablet, part eReader. According to leaks, rumours and word on the intertubes, it'll be around 5" x 7" when closed, run on the Nvidia Tegra 2 platform and feature the same OS as found on the Zune HD.



It was initially marketed at designers and professionals but has since moved on to be a consumer focused device. Whether or not it will still come with stylus remains to be seen as does the price. Both will be revealed by early 2011 according to a recent article in the New York Times.

 

Google Pad

The same NYT piece talks of a mysterious but rumoured device from Google - this time actually made by Google rather than put together by HTC as the Nexus One was.



It's said to run Android, which will please a lot of people looking to synch their non-Apple phones, and the company is apparently working through talks with all sorts of publishers to deliver books, magazines and newspapers in much the same way as the Apple device. Doubtless, it'll be the "iPad killer" that most will be waiting for. The word, though, is that the search giant is running in stealth mode on this one.

 

Asus

Never one to miss out on a craze, Asus has also confirmed that it'll be launching at least two tablet PCs in 2010.

The Taiwanese company's chairman, Jonny Shih, told Forbes that Asus will be showing off their efforts at the Computex trade show in June. The really good news is that it's likely that one of these devices will run Windows 7 and the other either Android or Chrome OS. All bases covered.

 

Acer & Nokia

Finally, there's very rough talk about both Nokia and Acer getting in on the tablet game as well. Nokia is said to be coming up with something Linux-based but, as for Acer, no one knows. It's probably a safe bet that, as one of the leading laptop makers out there, Acer is unlikely to be missing out on the party.

So which of this lot floats your boat? Or were you just here to check you still wanted an iPad? Let us know.