There’s a new iPad in town and it’s a corker with its 9.7-inch Retina display packing 2048 x 1532 pixels and a quad-core GPU. That said, there are other tablets on the market and on the horizon, with four in particular springing to mind - the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Asus EeePad Transformer Prime and the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition, as well as a rumoured Samsung Galaxy Tab 11.6. Here we're pitching these tablets against each other in an unabashed spec-war, with a bit of speculation and irrational fondness towards the XOOM 2 thrown in.
Design: Thinnest to thickest
The Asus Transformer Prime is our current tablet champion in the slender stakes. With a gorgeous super IPS+ display and a spiral metal backing, it comes in thinner than the iPad 3 at 8.3mm and even weighs less at just 586g, despite its metal construction. It’s a solid slate laden with a Gorilla Glass fascia and while we would have liked less bezelling; given the dock is probably part of the reason for the hefty bezel, we’re not going to complain.
The Motorla XOOM 2 Media Edition is the smallest slate in the mix with its 8.2-inch display, but at 8.9mm isn't the thinnest, but despite being thicker than the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is still the lightest and offers an altogether more rugged aesthetic than the competition. We’re big fans of the size and find the weatherproofing and Gorilla Glass display both add a very sturdy appeal to the smaller slate.
Sharing the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition’s 8.9mm svelte appeal, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 packs a thinner form-factor than most tablets, looks like a Samsung Galaxy device with its chrome finish around the edges and plastic construction and offers a lighter tab than all the other large slates at 583g. With its aspect ratio being similar to that of the Asus Transformer Prime, considerably less bezeling gives the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 a slightly smaller footprint in terms of surface are.
The new iPad - it’s like the old iPad but new. A bit thicker, a bit heavier, it still retains Apple’s incredible design polish with stunning curves and a refined glass fascia and sports a cool to the touch backing. With a different aspect ratio to the Android tablets, it’s the widest tablet when in portrait, however is over 20mm shorter than the Asus Transformer Prime. The new iPad’s additional dimensions include a 9.4mm depth and it weighs 652g (for the WiFi version).
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 11.6 is the question mark of this round. We reckon it’ll be thin, we know that slenderness is something Samsung prides - it being one of the reasons Samsung’s Note trumps the new iPad. The screen alone will be sufficient reason to assume that this will still however be the biggest tablet in our mix, though naturally, in a design round, we have to reserve judgement until we know more
Screen: In order of resolution
Samsung was suggested to have been releasing the Galaxy Tab 11.6 later today, however this rumour has since been debunked. On paper the Tab 11.6 would be the only tablet out there to better the Retina display on the new new Apple iPad. Reported to be rocking a 2560x1600 display, it’s also 11.6-inches making it almost 2-inches larger than Apple’s offering. With over double the number of pixels found on a 720p display coupled with its size, it should be amongst the first tablets out there that could rival a HD TV for quality and we're salivating at the thought of gaming on it.
In terms of tablets actually confirmed, the new Apple iPad gets its moment of glory right here. With its LCD display boasting 2048 x 1536 pixels, there’s very little room for discrepancy - this screen is stunning. With the highest pixel density of the bunch, colours are also reported by Apple to be four times more saturated than those seen on the Apple iPad 2 and boasting incredible viewing angles and instant, responsive interaction. When we tried the new iPad for the first time we were blown away.
The remaining Android devices have identical screen resolutions of 1280x800. With the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition being the smallest at 8.2-inches, it therefore has the highest pixel density offering the sharpest image. It could do with being a bit brighter, but still offers a good overall picture. The Asus Transformer Prime and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 offer very comparable panels. Bright, vibrant, one Super IPS+, the latter Super PLS - both LCD panels are commendable. That said, their resolution gives them the lowest pixel density in the group and this hurts them in the face of the competition.
The new iPad introduces the latest version of iOS, 5.1. It offers amongst the most intuitive user interfaces out there and certainly trumps the UI found on Honeycomb, and arguably Ice Cream Sandwich in terms of usability. That said, iOS 5.1 doesn’t pack in the geek factor found in Android. If you want a file explorer, want to share content across a range of services beyond Twitter and Email in just one step then the Android OS may be the way to go.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 11.6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 will likely both run Android 4.0 by the time they come to market, despite the Galaxy Note 10.1 being demonstrated with Android 3.2. They will also have Samsung’s Touch Wiz UI laid on top of Android, offering customisations to ease you through the Android experience and the Note (and possibly the Tab 11.6) will also have stylus support.
The Asus Transformer Prime runs Android 4.0 right now. That’s great going given that it isn’t even the newest tablet in the mix. It also runs a pretty close to stock version of the operating system which makes it a pleasure to use. That said, Asus hasn't left it alone completely, adding a host of shortcuts to your notification dock and pre-loading it with a document suite to best utilise the attached keyboard - we approve.
Finally, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition was the apple of our eye until recently. Why has that changed? It’s come to light that Motorola won’t be updating the Android 3.2 on board to ICS until the Q3/4 2012. In turn, despite the near stock UI, the fantastic MOTOCAST software and great form-factor, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is a casualty of Android fragmentation. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a lot to love, but no ICS in the near future on a dual-core tablet is just not good enough.
Processor and performance
Regarding tangible power under the hood, having used all these tablets (with the exception of the Tab 11.6), albeit superficially in some cases, we’re in good positions to say: they all have their pros and cons.
The New iPad rocks a dual-core A5X processor. Why the ‘X’? Because it’s endowed with a quad-core GPU, needed to power all those additional pixels. This sounds impressive, until it becomes clear that a Tegra 3 processor rocks a twelve-core Nvidia GPU, however the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the games appear to taste pretty delectable going by what we saw at Apple’s launch event earlier in the week. With no slowdown anywhere else within the new iPad UI, despite limitations in iOS preventing true multi-tasking, first impressions are good.
Apple claims that their A5X processor wipes the floor with the likes of the Nvidia Tegra 3 chip. That said, actual performance is likely to be benchmarked upon release, so we’re not in a position to agree or disagree until it is. What we can say with a degree of authority however is that the Asus Transformer Prime rips through games. We played the Tegra-3 optimised Shadow Gun for hours on it, the water effects are stunning and the whole experience is just sensational, with no judder or slowdown.
The word on the digital street is that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 11.6 will be packing a dual-core 2 GHz Exynos Processor. A first, could Samsung be bucking the quad-core trend in favour of a dual-core direction? With very few quad-core optimised applications even available on the Google Play store, Samsung could be looking to get all they can out of its Exynos dual-core family before debuting quad-core, possibly in the Samsung Galaxy S3?
We reckon the remaining dual-core Androids, the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition (1.2GHz dual-core) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (1.4Ghz dual-core) will fall under similar categories in terms of performance. Having used these in isolation, we’ll have to wait for a Note 10.1 review unit before any conclusive opinions are drawn, but our guess is while the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 will outperform the XOOM 2 Media Edition in benchmarks, both last generation dual-cores will still deliver great performance able to carry the weight of virtually any app on the market right now.
It’s an exciting time for tablets. We’re finally seeing variety in the market, with screen sizes ranging from 8.2-inches right through to 11.6 and features like keyboard docks and pressure sensitive pen input shipping alongside.
The new iPad is in our opinion the best standalone tablet for anyone who thinks they might want a tablet but not know what they want to do with it. Pick up an iPad, you’ll have stuff to do. The UI isn’t overwhelming, the screen is stunning and the improved camera is a real bonus.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 11.6 will no doubt best suit the tablet user who wants a sizable, still portable video viewing device. Propped up, the Tab 11.6 will be a perfect movie viewer with its aspect ration and if it comes with an S-Pen, it will arguably make a graphic designer / illustrator’s best friend.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks set to reign supreme in the meantime for illustrators. With 250 levels of pressure sensitivity, this is a great tablet for all, and a workhorse for creatives. We can just imagine, combined with applications like Sketchbook Pro and Adobe’s touch collection will turn into a niche hit, acting like a portable Wacom Cintique.
Did we say workhorse? If so, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime certainly fits the bill with its keyboard doc. Packed with additional features, the tablet isn’t just a standalone slender slate, it’s also packing the most battery life, the most expandability options and the most bang for your buck. It also gives you the latest version of Android before any other tablet and a stream of constant updates to refine your experience.
The Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition is the underdog, but don’t under-estimate its power. Running at 1.2Ghz with its dual-core chip, this most portable tablet is also the most affordable at £329. With its super sharp screen it makes for a great eReader and the processor makes it well suited to gaming on the go. The XOOM 2 Media Edition is also weather-proofed making it the hardiest tablet of the bunch.
We'll bring you full, detailed comparison of all the tablets above in the near future.