It’s hard to believe that the Apple iPad only launched early last year, since then it’s created an entirely new product category and changed the way people consume data. Although tablets had been around before none has had as much mass appeal. It initially took a while for other manufacturers to catch-up, but starting with the announcement of the Motorola Xoom in January, 2011 is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. Since then we’ve had more Android Honeycomb tablets, a new iPad, a 3D tablet and more recently the Blackberry Playbook and HP TouchPad.
Now there are several operating systems to choose from, each with their own app store. However one feature common to the majority of new tablets is a dual-core processor. This provides ample processing power to run games and HD video, as well as swapping quickly between applications. Here we’re comparing four dual-core tablets, each with different operating system, looking at key features including: screen, OS, connectivity, storage, battery and power. Which one will come out on top? Is the iPad 2 still the tablet king?
Design and build:
Apple iPad 2: At 613g for the WiFi+3G version, the iPad 2 is just light enough to hold with one hand. It’s a very slim 8.8mm deep, with the same stylish, high-quality aluminium body we’ve seen in other Apple devices. You get a central control button, volume controls, power and a lock button.
Blackberry Playbook: At 425g the Playbook is the lightest tablet here, and – thanks to its 7-inch screen – the most portable, its back is coated in rubber making it easy to grip. Along with volume/ play controls along the top, Rim has redesigned the power button ensuring it is much easier to press.
HP TouchPad: Next to the Xoom and the iPad 2, the TouchPad lacks the premium feel, mainly due to the back, which is a haven for fingerprints. Along with a power button and volume controls, there’s a discreet button at the bottom that launches the menu. At 740g it’s the heaviest tablet on test, so you really need to hold it with two hands.
Motorola Xoom: At 730g the Xoom feels a bit on heavy and certainly needs to be held with two hands, although there’s no doubt that it’s also a premium product, with a rubber and metal back. Side-mounted volume controls are a touch on the small size and we’re not a big fan of the power button’s location on the back.
Apple iPad 2: Sharing the same interface as the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, you can move apps between multiple homescreens, drag them into folders and swap between them. The iPad 2 will be upgraded to iOS 5 later this year. Among the new features it brings are a scroll down Notification Centre, deep Twitter integration and tabbed browsing. Sure, these are things that other devices already do, but by adding them to the iPad 2 Apple is ensuring the device is constantly being improved. Check out our look at Apple iOS 5 here.
Blackberry Playbook: The tablet runs on the new QNX operating system, which works via a selection of swipes. Open applications run across the centre of the screen and you swipe up from the border to dismiss them. A tab with All, Favourites, Media and Games runs along the bottom, ensuring everything is within a few taps and it feels very slick and controls respond well. It’s very similar to HP’s webOS down to the inclusion of true multitasking.
HP TouchPad: Based on Palm webOS, the interface is a joy to us. Applications are displayed as cards, which run across the screen and you stack on top of each other to order or flick off the screen to close. It’s very quick and intuitive to use, if lacking customisation options.
Motorola Xoom: Honeycomb looks great, with homescreens you can customise with apps and shortcuts. However, recently it’s been surpassed by the Playbook and the Touchpad, which are far quicker to use. Hopefully Android Ice Cream Sandwich will bring improvements when it lands.
Apple iPad 2: Unsurprisingly thanks to IPS technology the iPad 2 has excellent viewing angles on the 9.7-inch 1024×768 pixel screen. Colours are also natural and contrast is excellent too.
Blackberry Playbook: At 7-inches it’s the smallest device, but the 1024×600 resolution ensures detail is exceptionally sharp, making it great for HD movies. When browsing whites are very crisp and off-angle viewing is fine.
HP TouchPad: Colours are realistic on the 9.7-inch 1024×789 pixel screen, although it’s not quite as sharp as the Playbook. Off-angle-viewing is good too, thank to the use of IPS technology.
Motorola Xoom: Next to its rivals, the 10.1-inch 1280×800 screen on the Xoom is poor. When browsing whites are more yellow and with HD movie playback colours lack depth, skin tones are pale and detail is soft. Off-angle viewing is poor too.
Apple iPad 2: Choose from WiFi and 3G versions. There’s no DLNA or HDMI (to connect to a flatscreen you need the Apple Dock connector), although Airplay lets you stream movies and music to Apple TV or dock. Bluetooth 2.1 and a GPS are standard.
Blackberry Playbook: Currently only available as a WiFi version (with a 3G version incoming), the Playbook includes an HDMI mini port supporting HDMI mirroring, along with microUSB, Bluetooth 2.1 and aGPS. You can tether to it to smartphones for browsing on-the-go and to access Blackberry email via Blackberry Bridge.
HP TouchPad: Like the Playbook, it’s WiFi only although HP won’t confirm when the 3G version is coming. The standard version doesn’t include aGPS and surprisingly there’s no HDMI either, but you get Bluetooth. Touchstone Technology is a nice extra for transferring data to the HP Pre 3.
Motorola Xoom: Like the iPad, you can choose between WiFi and 3G versions, connectivity is excellent with DLNA, HDMI, aGPS, Bluetooth 2.1. It won’t charge via USB though – just the supplied DC charger.
Apple iPad 2: Choose from 16, 32 and 64GB versions, there’s no memory card slot though.
Blackberry Playbook: Like the iPad you get 16, 32 and 64GB versions and again it doesn’t have a card slot.
HP TouchPad: There’s no memory card slot, and you can choose from 16 and 32GB versions.
Motorola Xoom: The Xoom only comes in a capacity of 32GB, but you do get a MicroSD card slot, which was activated after the Android Honeycomb 3.1 update.
Apple iPad 2: iTunes is still the clear winner here, with 425,000 apps including 100,000 native to the iPad. iPhone apps will work, but will be enlarged and may appear pixilated.
Blackberry Playbook: Blackberry App World has 3000 apps, which isn’t very impressive. However in the future Playbook users will be able to use Blackberry smartphone apps – and even better – Android apps via the Android App Player. This means the Playbook could potentially offer more choice than rivals.
HP TouchPad: According the HP, the HP App Catalog has a respectable 7500 apps. The App catalog is intuitive to use though, with the excellent Pivot, an illustrated magazine style portal for showcasing the best.
Motorola Xoom: When the Xoom initially launched, one of the main complaints was the lack of dedicated apps. Now there are around 1600 specifically designed for Honeycomb. However, althogh you can access conventional Andriod apps too, they don’t always work and certainly not as smoothly as iOS. Apps like Tegra Zone however, let you can download games specially designed to be used with a dual-core Tegra processor.
Apple iPad 2: Apple has refused to comment on the pixel rating of the camera and stills are poor, with lots of noise. For video things improve a lot and it shoots very smooth, fairly sharp 720p HD video at 30fps. The front camera is adequate for Skype or Facetime video calls.
Blackberry Playbook: 5-megapixels and 3-megapixels cameras can capture full HD 1080p footage. 5-megapixel stills are ok, rather than amazing and the lack of features means stills suffer from noise, pleasingly HD video is sharp and smooth.
HP TouchPad: There’s only a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video calls over Skype. The exclusion of a rear camera won’t be a big deal for many people though and kudos to HP for recognising it’s not a major draw, although there is a sense of ‘well every other tablet has one.’
Motorola Xoom: Moto’s equipped the tablet with two cameras of 5-megapixels and 2-megapixels and a good smattering of features. Still pictures are fairly sharp and natural and it also captures soft 30fps 720p HD video.
Apple iPad 2: The second-generation iPad got a performance boost from the 1Ghz dual-core Apple A5 chip, it feels certainly feels very quick, whether you are playing an HD games, watching a movie or browsing.
Blackberry Playbook: Power comes from the 1Ghz dual-core processor. Next to the other tablets it does seem a little slower out of the blocks loading web pages, although this could be due to our WiFi, because otherwise it’s very quick.
HP TouchPad: HP has equipped the TouchPad with a dual core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 processor. In use it feels quite slow, applications take a while to load and there’s a slight delay fast-forwarding through video clips and sometimes launching Flash video.
Motorola Xoom: The Zoom includes a dual-core 1Ghz Tegra 2 processor, it feels very quick, we didn’t experience any lag when browsing or swapping between applications.
Apple iPad 2: The WiFi-only versions of the Apple iPad 2 costs £399 for 16GB, £479 for 32GB and £559 for 64GB. Add 3G and you are looking at £499, £579 and £659 respectively. Because the iPad 2 uses a microSim you’ll have to factor in the cost of a tariff. There are a wide range to choose from, but you are typically looking at £7.50 a month for 1GB on Three and Orange, rising to £10 for O2 and Vodafone.
Blackberry Playbook: The entry-level Playbook costs £399 for 16GB, £479 for 32GB and £579 for 64GB, but if you’re looking to upgrade your Blackberry smartphone soon, some deals include a free Playbook.
HP TouchPad: The SRP for the TouchPad is £399 for 16GB and £479 for 32GB, so it matches the iPad 2.
Motorola Xoom: Motorola has just had it’s price slashed, so you’ll be paying £395 for the WiFi version and around £579 for the 3G version. You’ll need to invest in a sim card, with sim-only deals starting at around £15 a month.
Following the launch of the Playbook and Xoom the tablet race is a lot closer than it was a few months ago. The HP webOS and QNX operating systems are much closer to the intuitive user experience offered by Apple with iOS, but are still sufficiently different to appeal. Although Android Honeycomb offers lots of customisation options, in its current form, it feels slow and cumbersome.
While the Motorola Xoom is an excellent piece of hardware, with fantastic connectivity and a powerful procesor, at the moment the screen lets it down. In addition the Xoom was announced in January and there still aren’t that many high-quality Honeycomb apps next to Apple’s offering.
HP has equipped the TouchPad with trio of excellent features from Palm WebOS: Synergy, Just Type and Touchstone, accessed via a great user interface. However it feels a little slow, lacks apps and just seems a little late…
The Blackberry Playbook is very close to being the foremost iPad challenger, especially if it can run Android apps. In fact the Playbook beats the iPad in many areas, namely by offering true multitasking, a decent camera and excellent browser. However the lack of native email client is a huge turn off to potential users – it seems crazy for RIM not to include one of the main features, something that all important existing-customer base will be looking for.
So in summary, the Apple iPad 2 is still the best tablet on the market, thanks to the excellent screen, the incoming iOS 5 and of course thousands and thousands of apps.
Note: Article adjusted to clarify the iPad’s position as first mainstream tablet