To say the Apple iPad has been a success would be a slight to Apple, which has been a leader in sales of the tablet computer.
But Apple isn’t the only player in town. Other tablets out now or coming soon are worth checking out. Some even do things the iPad may never do.
Prices also vary all over the map, due to the reductions that come when a consumer signs up for cell plans for a specific tablet. Those plans vary widely. By contrast, the Apple iPad comes in models that start at $499 (Wi-Fi enabled) or $629 (3G) but go up based on other features and service plans.
Price: $399-$649, depending on wireless contract.
The new Samsung Galaxy Tab is a real head-turner. If you own an iPad or have played with one, the Galaxy Tab will seem small. The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen; the Tab is 7 inches. But the Tab screen is an inch larger than the standard Kindle e-reader display. It’s much lighter than the iPad, so your wrists don’t get as tired.
The Galaxy Tab runs version 2.2 of Google’s Android operating system, meaning it can do some things the iPad can’t, like run Flash 10.1. This opens up the world of casual games and video that iPad owners can’t access. Apple CEO Steve Jobs likes to paint Flash as the Satan of the Web, but many sites use and depend on it.
The Galaxy also supports HTML5, the new Web content standard Jobs loves, so you have the best of both worlds.
All Tab models have front- and rear-facing cameras that handle still shots and videos just fine. You can even video chat – something you can’t do on the iPad. The Tab also allows for panoramic photo setting. You can frame eight side-by-side shots to get widescreen vistas. This is easy to do with included software that lines up and stitches together the individual pictures quickly and effectively.The Tab is sold by all the major wireless carriers – T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. While you can get your iPad from AT&T and now Verizon, you can also get the iPad as a Wi-Fi-only model. That is not the case with the Tab, which always comes with both 3G network and hardware support for Wi-Fi.
My tests found the T-Mobile version a little faster on their HSPA+ network than Tabs made for other carriers’ networks. But I found no difference in performance when it came to Wi-Fi.
The Tab’s price differs from carrier to carrier because some subsidize it like they do with cell phones, while others offer pay-as-you-go data plans like AT&T does with the iPad.
Price: $249-$549, depending on contract
The Tab and iPad are not cell phones. But the Dell Streak can make phone calls. The Streak has a sharp 5-inch multi-touch WVGA display, 5-megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash, and a front-facing VGA camera for video chat, GPS and Bluetooth. As a phone the Streak can look a little large next to your face, but many of us use Bluetooth headsets these days, so it may not matter. It is also the only tablet that can fit in a shirt pocket or small purse.
The Streak comes with the Android 1.6 operating system. Owners will see an upgrade to the newest Android version by year’s end, Dell officials say.
Dell has added a ton of user interface features on top of the standard Android one, making the Streak easy to use or keep you in touch with social networks like Facebook. The Streak runs on the AT&T network, but you can only buy it from Best Buy.
Price: To be announced
Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry smartphones, will release the Playbook next year. This tablet will sport a 7-inch touchscreen with a 1024-by-600 display, with full multi-touch and gesture support, dual HD cameras, 1080 progressive HD-video recording, full Wi-Fi access and Flash support.
The Playbook has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, which RIM’s Co-CEO Jim Balsillie recently said makes the Playbook four times faster than the iPad. The Playbook will be sold with and without cellular networking through a variety of retailers.
If you want a unit that combines the features of a netbook and a tablet, next month Dell will release the Inspiron Duo. It features a swivel hinge that allows the 10.1-inch display to be flipped, converting the Duo from a netbook to tablet. That feature allows users to have a standard keyboard in netbook mode, or touchscreen for tablet.
The Inspiron Duo comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, has a 1.3-megapixel webcam, 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 dual-core processor, 320 GB hard drive, two USB ports and 2 gigabytes of RAM. It weighs 3.3 pounds and has four hours of battery life. It has standard Wi-Fi access and a slot for a cell phone aircard to connect to the Web.