Which tablet should I buy?

Since CES 2011, there are officially a lot of tablets out there and now that the Apple iPad 2 has hit as well, anyone asking themselves "which tablet should I buy?" has plenty of thinking to do. Thankfully, here at Pocket-lint we have lined all the major players up back to back to see how they compare. So, while it's a bit of a mouthful, this effectively is the Apple iPad 2 vs Motorola Xoom vs HTC Flyer vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V vs BlackBerry PlayBook vs HP TouchPad vs LG Optimus Pad. If you don't fancy one of these, then you're probably not after a tablet at all.

 

Form Factor

1st: PLAYBOOK
193 x 130 x 10mm, 400g
2nd: iPad 2
241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm, 601g
3rd= HTC Flyer
195.4 x 122 x 13.2mm, 415g
3rd= SAMTAB 10.1V
246.2 x 170.4 x 10.9mm, 599g
5th: OPTIMUS PAD
243 x 149 x 12.5mm, 654g
6th: XOOM
249.1 x 167.8 x 12.9mm, 730g
7th: HP TOUCHPAD
240 x 190 x 13.7mm, 740g



Size is a very important consideration for any mobile device, and dimensions that offer portability are a must for a tablet. Apple's iPad was previously one of the largest tablets around, but thanks to a few nips and tucks on the second-generation model, it's not the most unwieldy device around anymore. That title goes to HP's TouchPad which sports the same slightly square shape as the iPad along with the thickest profile and the largest mass.

Not much better off is the Motorola Xoom that's got a serious bloat of its own but, fortunately, it all begins to slim down once we get to the LG Optimus Pad - shedding the best part of 100g on its nearest rival.

Unsurprisingly, it's the BlackBerry PlayBook that comes out top. As one of the two 7-inch tablets, it was always going to be light but it also happens to be the second thinnest of the bunch as well. The real shocker is that its fellow diminutive device, the HTC Flyer, has been bumped down into third by the heavier iPad 2. The reason is all about the profile. At less than the thickness of the iPhone 4, the Apple tablet is seriously impressive at just 8.8mm and, when you compare that to an unnecessarily chunky offering from HTC, it makes more of a difference than that 186g extra in mass.

While the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V is also thinner than the Flyer, it's less pronounced. So, this time, the difference puts it more on a par. From the Optimus Pad upwards, you're probably doing okay on form factor. It's only the TouchPad and the Xoom that might extract the odd giggle from friends who own one of the others.

 

Display

1st= XOOM
10.1-inch, 1280 x 800px, LCD
1st= SAMTAB 10.1V
10.1-inch, 1280 x 800px, LCD
3rd= IPAD 2
9.7-inch, 1024 x 768px, LCD
3rd= TOUCHPAD
9.7-inch, 1024 x 768px, LCD
3rd= OPTIMUS PAD
8.9-inch, 1280 x 768px, LCD
6th= PLAYBOOK
7-inch, 1024 x 600px, LCD
6th= FLYER
7-inch, 1024 x 600px, LCD



The display is one of the key considerations when shopping for a tablet - a smaller screen certainly allows for a more portable device, but if it's not that much bigger than a smartphone, then is it really worth it? By their very nature, the prime purpose of a tablet is to consumer content, so this is really one of the more important categories out there.

The HTC Flyer and BlackBerry's PlayBook come in last in this round thanks to their relatively small 7-inch screens, which do tend to make them look a little like comically large mobile phones. LG's Optimus Pad is next up the list with its 8.9-inch screen, but it manages to shift itself up into joint third place with the iPad 2 and HP TouchPad thanks to not only a better aspect ratio for watching movies but also a higher pixel density at 168ppi, compared to the 132ppi of the others, which makes up for the small loss in actual screen real estate.

Sharing the crown in this round, though, are the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V, which both sport a 10.1-inch display with the same 1280x800-pixel resolution. Although there are clear winners and losers here, what the tablet market is really crying out for is someone to come up with a super hi-res panel or even OLED technology but, presumably, there's the serious issue of pricing to consider.

 

Engine Room

1st= ipad 2
A5 dual-core 1GHz CPU, 512MB
1st= touchpad 
Dual-core Snapdragon APQ8660, 512MB
1st= optimus pad
Nvidia Tegra 2, 1GHz dual-core CPU, 1GB
1st= xoom
Nvidia Tegra 2, 1GHz dual-core CPU, 1GB
1st= Samtab 10.1V
Nvidia Tegra 2, 1GHz dual-core CPU 1GB
6th= Playbook
1GHz dual-core CPU, 1GB
7th: FLYER
Single-core Qualcomm 1.5GHz CPU, 1GB



In terms of processors, tablet manufacturers have seriously upped the ante in 2011. Most new tablets, and even a few mobile phones now, boast dual-core processors for speeding up operation and bundled in GPUs capable of plenty of gaming and the like.

One of the few companies that hasn't jumped on the dual-core bandwagon for its new tablet is HTC, with its Flyer sporting a single-core CPU, albeit a one with an impressive 1.5GHz of processing power and a decent wedge of memory to back it up. All the same, that puts it bottom of our league table for this category.

From here on in, it starts to get a bit tricky. CPU-wise, they're all much of a muchness beyond this point. While, then, one might be tempted to compare them on the basis of RAM, the problem lies in the silent statistic which is the graphics processors. The Tegra 2 set up uses an Nvidia GeForce GPU, the iPad has a PowerVR SGX 543 and HP TouchPad an Adreno 220. RIM has given nothing away about what's inside the PlayBook.

Technically speaking, the GeForce GPU appears to be the least powerful of the lot with the one inside the Apple A5 chip supposedly edging it over the Adreno. Practically speaking, however, the argument runs that Nvidia has optimised the graphics unit in the Tegra 2 system to work just as well for games as both the Adreno and the PowerVR do. For other jobs such as media playback, though, the Tegra 2 could be around twice as slow.

Quite how all this ties in with the two most powerful engine's graphically also having half the memory is another thing altogether. Ultimately, though, the take-home message is that HTC Flyer is the least impressive of them all. The others should all be fine for gaming but one might expect the iPad 2 to have the edge when it comes to video editing - perhaps why iMovie has been included for it and not the original iPad as well.

Storage

1st= flyer
32GB + SD
1st= xoom
32GB + SD
3rd= iPad 2
16/32/64GB
3rd= TOUCHPAD
32/64GB
3rd= SAMTAB 10.1V
32/64GB
6th= PLAYBook
16/32GB
6th= OPTIMUS PAD
32GB



The biggest difference between tablets, in storage terms, is whether they have expandable memory or not. You could argue that if a device has 64GB of built-in memory then surely that's enough for most people, and indeed, for most people it probably is. However, there are always going to be plenty of gadget lovers for whom the lack of an add-on storage option simply won't cut the mustard. 

Trailing back in joint 6th place in the storage round are the LG Optimus Pad and BlackBerry PlayBook which offer a maximum of only half as much storage as all of the others and no way of making it any bigger.

Joint third place goes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V, HP TouchPad and Apple iPad 2, each of which takes the user up to a possible 64GB of fixed space. But, it's the HTC Flyer and Motorola Xoom that mean the most flexibility with a current top level of the same 64GB plus as many spare SD cards as you care to carry around.

Connectivity

1st= OPTIMUS PAD
3/4G, BT, Wi-Fi, USB, HDMI-out
1st= xoom
3/4G, BT, Wi-Fi, USB, HDMI-out
3rd= iPad 2
3G, BT, Wi-Fi, HDMI support
3rd= FLYER
3G, BT, Wi-Fi, some DLNA, USB
5th: SAMTAB 10.1V
3G, Wi-Fi, BT, USB
6th= TOUCHPAD
(3G), BT, Wi-Fi, USB, NFC
6th= PLAYBOOK
Wi-Fi, BT, DLNA, HDMI



Without any 3G support for the time being, the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad sit at the foot of things for connectivity. Both have promised updated models at a later date but seeing as they're still struggling to get out the Wi-Fi only versions, that could be some time away. And that's quite a shame given that the PlayBook comes with DLNA and HDMI support and the TouchPad with some interesting wireless connection action if you happen to have a Palm smartphone.

One could argue that the PlayBook gets around its connectivity issue with its smartphone tethering ability, but that's going to chew through both your phone's battery and its data in double quick time.

Next up the list at 5th is Samsung's tablet, which offers surprisingly little - just 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a USB. Standing on pretty much even ground in joint 3rd are the iPad 2 and HTC Flyer. Both have the regulation 3G and Wi-Fi along with Bluetooth, while the Flyer also offers a USB and a degree of DLNA support. Apple's tablet balances this out with the provision of HDMI support for hooking up to an HD TV, albeit through an accessory, as well as some good wireless action if you happen to own an Apple TV set up.

Fighting it out at the top, though, are the Motorola Xoom and the LG Optimus Pad, both of which have all the usual suspects along with USB and HDMI. They also have 4G support - no use at the moment in the UK, but this could be a key feature a year or so down the line. You'll have to rely on your Android apps for any wireless streaming.

Software

1st= playbook
QNX BlackBerry Tablet OS
1st= touchpad
webOS 3.0
1st= optimus tab
Android 3.0 Honeycomb
1st=: xoom
Android 3.0 Honeycomb
1st= samtab 10.1v
Android 3.0 Honeycomb
6th: iPad 2
iOS 4.3
7th: flyer
Android 2.3 Gingerbread



The software round is a very tricky one to call, largely because much of it comes down to personal opinion, however, there are a couple of major flaws in one or two of the systems worth being aware of. Last place is easy enough to work out because the HTC Flyer is the only one of the bunch using an operating system that isn't optimised and dedicated to running a tablet at its core, although HTC has optimised its Sense UI to fit in with the new screen size and form factor. Gingerbread is a mobile phone OS.

In 6th place is the iPad 2 which suffers from the now famous trio of weak spots - no Flash browsing, no personalisation options, and notification issues that will drive you around the bend. Otherwise, of course, it's a cracking bit of software.

That leaves the five other tablets to occupy top spot. Although no one has really had a good play with the likes of the QNX OS and webOS 3.0 in anything other than demos, there's plenty to get excited about. The Synergy system of integrating your internet accounts and the cloud syncing on webOS are well documented, and the multi-core, multi-threading capabilities on the PlayBook should mean it can run anything you can throw at it.  

At the same time, there's nothing in those others to necessarily put them above the made-for-tablet Android Honeycomb 3.0, which brings you all the flexibility and support you could need.

Imaging

1st: OPTIMUS PAD
5MP rear, 2MP front, 1080p video, 3D
2nd: SAMTAB 10.1v
8MP rear, 2MP front, 1080p video
3rd: PLAYBOOK
5MP rear, 3MP front, 1080p video
4th: XOOM
5MP rear, 2MP front, 720p video
5th= HTC FLYER
5MP rear, 1.3MP webcam, 720p video
5th= iPad 2
Rear cam, front cam, 720p video
7th: TOUCHPAD
1.3MP front-facing webcam



This is one area that has a fair bit of variation, and things have changed a lot since the original iPad hit the shops in 2010.

Even the last on the list, the HP TouchPad, manages to come up with a 1.3MP front-facing cam for video calling, although sadly that's where its imaging credentials stop. Sharing the number five spot are the iPad 2 and the HTC Flyer, with the latter offering a relatively basic 5MP rear camera, 1.3MP front-facing cam and 720p video capture. Apple hasn't released specific details on the iPad 2's cameras (one rear, one front), but we'd be very surprised if they were any lower-specced than those offered by HTC. The iPad 2 also enables you to take high-def videos at 720p. Motorola's Xoom does a little better, with all the same attributes, but with a 2MP front-facing camera.

BlackBerry's tablet ups the ante even further, boosting the front-facing cam's megapixel count to three and throwing full HD 1080p recording into the mix. Samsung's device also offers 1080p capture, along with an 8MP rear cam but taking the top spot has to be the LG Optimus Pad. Not only does it have a rear 5MP cam, 2MP front cam and 1080p video capability but it can also capture 3D video, setting it apart from all other tablets currently on the market. Just a shame you can't actually watch it back in stereoscopic format on the tablet afterwards.

Battery

1st=: iPad 2
10 hours
1st=: SAMTAB 10.1v
10 hours (probably)
1st=: XOOM
10 hours
4th: OPTIMUS PAD
9 hours
5th: TOUCHPAD
8 hours
6th: HTC FLYER
4 hours
DISQ: PLAYBOOK
Unknown



Battery life is fairly high up the list of priorities when it comes to tablet shopping. Carrying a fancy mobile device around is all well and good, but if the battery is likely to conk out halfway through the day, then it might not seem so cool.

We've left the PlayBook out of this one, as BlackBerry hasn't been forthcoming with the battery details. HTC sits in 6th place, with its quoted 4 hours of video playback, which is a fair way behind most of its rivals. The HP TouchPad takes the next spot with 8 hours, while the Optimus creeps ahead with 9. Bedded in at the top spot are the iPad 2, Samsung and Motorola, although with roughly 10 hours of video playback (or at least those are the numbers currently quoted or estimated). We'll know more about how the tablets stack up against each other in this category once we can get them in for a full review.

Apps (updated)

1st: iPad 2
Lots and lots
2nd=: HTC FLYER
Quite a few
2nd=: OPTIMUS PAD
Quite a few
2nd=: SAMTAB 10.1v
Quite a few
2nd=: XOOM
Quite a few
6th=: PLAYBOOK
Not that many (but maybe quite a few)
6th=: TOUCHPAD
Not that many modern ones



You might have the fanciest piece of tablet hardware around but these devices are nothing without apps. It's been well documented how Apple has led the way with the iTunes app store and the massive amount of apps on offer (over 65,000 for the iPad alone, at the last count). Android is making steady progress in playing catch-up, but it hasn't quite got there yet, either with the amount of apps on offer or with the usability of its Android Market. That's why the HTC Flyer, LG Optimus Pad, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V and the Motorola Xoom - all Android-powered devices - sit in joint second position.

The BlackBerry PlayBook offers a relatively small selection of BlackBerry apps, although it has now been confirmed that the tablet will support Android apps, via a special app player that will be available from the BlackBerry App World store. Although this is certainly good news, don't get too excited, as the PlayBook will only be able to run apps made for the mobile versions of Android, rather than the tablet-angled Honeycomb. That means that some apps will probably have to be stretched to fit the screen.

HP has struggled somewhat when it comes to gathering the support of third-party developers which is why it sits at the bottom of our table. Naturally, webOS 3.0 will have the benefit of lots and lots of more old school apps from the Palm homebrew set up .

Price (updated)

1st: htc flyer
£420 (Wi-Fi) £560 (3G)
2nd: Xoom
£499 (Wi-Fi only) £599 (3G)
3rd: iPad 2
£399/£479/£599 (Wi-Fi) £499/£579/£659 (3G)
4th= PLAYBOOK
$499/$599/$699
4th= touchpad
£699
4th= optimus pad
$529.99
4th= samtab 10.1V
£600-900



Pricing is a bit of a tricky one for the moment as the only two which are actually official on this front are the iPad 2 and the Motorola Xoom. However, there are some solid rumours on how much the HTC Flyer is set to cost which puts it at the top of the tree. (Remember that, at 32GB of storage, it needs to be compared to the equivalent size Apple model). Next down is the Xoom which is, once again, cheaper than the equivalent iPad by a matter of £11.

Beyond those are the odd and fairly spurious claims, which makes neither of the last four world beaters much different from the other. We've heard US prices for some of them, but it's usually impossible to predict what the UK price will be from this. Either way, it's something we'll update as the announcements come. For now, though, we'll have to leave the bottom of the table as a tie.

 

Conclusions

There's a few different ways you can use all of this data to work out which is the best tablet, and, in the name of fairness, we'll run through the lot. Pay close attention now:

Ranking

Calculated purely on total of the rank positions, the table looks like this:

1st: Xoom
20 points
2nd: SamTab 10.1v
23 points
3rd= iPad 2
28 points
3rd= Optimus Pad
28 points
5th: PlayBook
40 points
6th: HTC Flyer
41 points
7th: TouchPad
43 points

The problem withthis method, though, is that it ignores the fact that some categories might be more important than others and, indeed, the fact that some of the losses or wins might have been narrower or larger than others. What is clear very quickly, however, is that there seems to be a large gap between the top four and the bottom three meaning that it was more than just a one off heavy loss in a single category for the Flyer, PlayBook and TouchPad to find themselves where they are. Something to bear in mind if you're thinking of going for one of them.

Considered

Probably a more realistic way to look at the results is by considering which areas are more important than others. Naturally, this is going to vary from one person to the other depending upon your priorities. However, looking at it as objectively as possible, something like imaging is not very important at all for a tablet. So, as long as it has a front facing camera - which they all do - you've always got your phone on you to shoot video and stills for which a smaller device is far more convenient anyway.

The price is fairly irrelevant too. None of these things are cheap and, if you've got your heart set on one, you'll find the money for it somewhere. So, taking those two out of the equation and the picture changes a little, but not a lot.

1st: Xoom
14 points
2nd: SamTab 10.1v
17 points
3rd: iPad 2
20 points
4th: Optimus Pad
23 points
5th: TouchPad
32 points
6th: PlayBook
33 points
7th: HTC Flyer
35 points

The only real shift around has been in the bottom order but there's still two distinct packs. So, is it still a fair idea of which you should be spending your cash on? Perhaps a more realistic way of looking at the data is the final one.

Realistic

The bottom line with all of this is that your tablet choice is most affected by which ecosystem you've already bought into. If you're an iPhone user, then the answer is to buy an iPad 2. It's as simple as that.

Likewise, if you're an Android user, it's going to be an awful upheaval to switch your life to Apple. So, unless you really want to, the best option on paper looks to be the Motorola Xoom which only allows the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V to be close on account of the former's slightly more robust form factor. We'd like to say that the HTC Flyer is there for those looking for a smaller size device to carry around but, without a proper tablet OS to back it up, there's some serious reservations.

BlackBerry users are in a slightly different position. While the PlayBook is the obvious choice, a 7-inch tablet might not be what you're after. If that's the case, then your best bet is either the Xoom or the iPad 2 depending upon which way you'd rather go. If you're all about the sleek look and smooth operation, Apple might be the best solution, and chances are you're already rocking an iPod touch in your household anyway - the iPad 2 and the original iPad for that matter really is just a bigger version of that. For a more open experience, and possibly one that will eventually lure you away from the phone OS as well, it's Android all the way.

Dedicated Palm device users are probably only reading this out of some kind of self-torture. It's pretty clear that the HP TouchPad is not the best tablet here based on specs, but it is the one with webOS and that's what makes the difference.

If you have no affiliations to any of the systems above, then again it's a choice between the iPad 2 and the Xoom. It's a matter of taste as to which you'll prefer but as the story of the spec sheets go, one would have to advise the Xoom as the correct choice.

Disclaimer

As ever with our versus articles on Pocket-lint, our findings are not based on hands-on time with the products. While we've had a good play with all of the devices, we haven't tested them in real world environments like our homes. So, while the Motorola Xoom has come out on top, there is no comparison of the more subjective issues of aesthetics, ergonomics and usability.

For that, we'll have to wait until we get each of the tablets into the Pocket-lint labs. Stay tuned for the full reviews.

Which tablet do you think looks best? Will you be investing?



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