Photo: Sander Spolspoel via Flickr
Just because Apple still has the tablet market locked up with the iPad, doesn’t mean there are some decent competitors out there.Unlike what we saw in 2011, tablet makers are beefing up their offerings with better design, software, and speed.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this month, we got a good look at a bunch of excellent tablets arriving later this year. Those, along with some rumoured devices and great new tablets from late last year make our list for the best you can buy.
So far, the Kindle Fire appears to be the only non-iPad tablet that people are buying by the millions. At $199, it's a decent option for people who don't feel like spending that extra $300 on an iPad.
Just keep in mind the Kindle Fire is designed for things like reading, streaming video from services like Netflix, and shopping on Amazon. It's still missing a robust selection of high-quality apps and some other essential features like a front-facing camera for video chat.
The Transformer Prime is only about a month old, but it quickly became our favourite Android tablet. It's thin, light, and feels like it's built to last. (Unlike many of those other plasticky Android tablets.)
This tablet is also one of the first to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Google's operating system for tablets and smartphones. Under the hood, it has a fancy new processor that makes gaming and other tasks extremely fast. (Yes, even faster than the current iPad 2.)
You can also get an optional keyboard dock for the Transformer Prime, which turns the device into a funky tablet/laptop hybrid.
The Transformer Prime is amazing, but if you're willing to wait a bit longer Asus has plans for an updated model with a screen that can display full HD video. The specs will be pretty much the same beyond that, but it will have a better front-facing camera for video chat. It should launch this spring.
Acer has a handful tablets in the works for 2012, but the one we're most excited about is the Iconia Tab A510. This 10-inch tablet will display full HD video and run Google's newest version of Android. We got to play around with the Iconia Tab a bit at CES this year. It's light, but still a bit plasticky for our tastes. There isn't a launch date yet, but we're expecting it this spring.
We're expecting Samsung to unveil its next new Galaxy Tab at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month. An early rumour from BGR suggests that the new tablet will have an 11.6-inch screen with very high resolution. (Similar to the Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and 4S.) We'll know for sure in about a month.
We saw a bunch of tablets running Windows 8 at CES this year. Say what you will about how well they'll be received by consumers, we still think they're pretty cool.
Most of the big manufacturers have plans for Windows 8 tablets. Unlike all those Android tablets and the iPad, Windows 8 offers a fresh, new look with its tiled 'Metro' layout. If you're looking for something different this year, you may want to hold out for the first wave of Windows 8 tablets.
Looking for a small Android tablet? Samsung has a 7-inch Galaxy Tab that runs on Verizon's 4G network
Samsung is about to release a new version of its 7.7-inch Galaxy Tab that runs on Verizon's super fast 4G network. This Android tablet includes an app called Peel that turns the device into a remote control for your TV and home theatre. It even shows you what's playing so all you have to do is tap the show you want and it'll appear on your TV.
There isn't a release date or price yet, but the Galaxy Tab 7.7 should arrive on Verizon soon.
The Galaxy Note, which will launch pretty soon on AT&T, isn't your typical smartphone. It has a massive 5-inch screen (that's about 1.5 inches larger than the iPhone's) and includes a stylus for writing and doodling. Samsung is marketing the device as a phone/tablet hybrid. Usually we're not fans of styluses, but we were pleasantly surprised with how well the Note works when we tested it at CES this year.
It's been several months since Asus first introduced the Padfone, but it finally looks like it'll see the light of day within the first half of the year. The Padfone is an Android tablet that comes with a smartphone that docks in a hatch in the back. The device isn't finished yet, but we'll probably see the finalised version at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.
Toshiba released two tablets last year that were panned for being too thick and clunky. This year, it looks like the company learned its lesson with the Excite X10. This Android tablet is lighter and thinner than the iPad 2, yet still has some great expansion ports for SD cards, USB, etc. It should launch early this year.
We're getting really, really close to an iPad 3 announcement. The most persistent rumours say it will still look a lot like the current iPad 2, but have a higher resolution screen and a faster processor. It may also connect to 4G networks. (The current iPads only connect to 3G.)
rumours also suggest Apple will keep the iPad 2 around in 2012 and sell it at a lower price than the iPad 3. That'll give people almost the same iPad experience at a fraction of the cost. It could also draw in those who were debating between buying an iPad or one of the cheaper Android tablets.