Tablets buyer's guide

1 Feb 2011

We reveal everything you need to know about tablets, from the choice of operating systems to the wildly differing hardware

Transport yourself to a boardroom in Cupertino, California. Imagine yourself wearing a polo-neck jumper. Before you sit the sales charts for the iPads on one side, the income flowing into your company’s coffers on the right. Feeling confident? Arrogant, even?

Steve Jobs and friends have every right to be. While the iPad may not have lived up to Jobs’ hyperbole – “It’s the best web experience you’ve ever had... Phenomenal for mail” – there’s no denying that Apple has single-handedly defined a new category of product.

It turns out tablets aren’t merely overgrown phones. Superficially accurate that criticism may be, but it misses the point: a swimming pool isn’t just a big bathtub. Changing the size of an object can fundamentally alter what it’s like to use and what it does.

It turns out tablets aren’t merely overgrown phones. Superficially accurate that criticism may be, but it misses the point: a swimming pool isn’t just a big bathtub

In the iPad’s case, it’s become a new way to read newspapers, a GPS system for truckers, a gaming device to not only rival the PSP, but in many respects beat it. And much more besides. Sure, it can surf the web and let you check your email, but that’s a given.

Clutching onto the coat-tails of Apple’s success are a legion of me-too devices, in a variety of shapes and sizes. From the 5in Dell Streak that weighs 220g to the 10in ViewSonic ViewPad 10 that approaches 1kg, the choice is bewildering.

We've dissected the strengths and weaknesses of the different operating systems – including those about to appear. And, most crucially, we lay our hands on the tablets so we can provide the definitive reviews.

Some of those tablets, we’re sorry to say, are poorly made. Some look nice, only for us to turn them on and realise their designers have ignored the user experience altogether. Some are great – except for one crucial flaw that robs them of any chance of winning an award.

Which leaves a single question: which device is right for you?

The operating systems:

Apple's iOS
Google Android
The rival OSes

The apps:

Ten essential Apple iPad apps
Ten essential Android tablet apps

The tablet reviews:

Advent Vega
Apple iPad
Archos 101 Internet Tablet
Creative Ziio 7in
Dell Inspiron Duo
Dell Streak - Android 2.2 upgrade
Elonex eTouch 1000ET review
Next 7in media tablet
Samsung Galaxy Tab review
Toshiba Folio 100
ViewSonic ViewPad 7
ViewSonic ViewPad 10

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