Now that Apple’s thinner, faster iPad has made its debut and ships March 11, it’s time to take another look at the competition. They’ve been playing catch-up, but the iPad 2 isn’t such a leap forward that they can’t gain some ground.
Let’s review Big Fruit’s offering first: a 9.7-inch multitouch display. They call it “widescreen,” but the 1024 x 768 pixel resolution places it squarely — or, I should say, rectangularly — in the old 4:3 aspect ratio of standard-definition TVs and computer monitors. The A5 system-on-a-chip at the heart of the device boasts a dual-core processor and probably 512MB of memory. “Probably” because Apple doesn’t like pesky numbers getting in the way of its magic image. They will tell us that you can choose 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage, and either a WiFi-only model or one with both WiFi and 3G on AT&T or Verizon.
• Motorola XOOM: First on the list because it’s the only major contender out there with a screen larger than the iPad’s: 10.1 inches. It’s truly widescreen at 1280 x 800 and has a “radical holographic multi-finger user interface,” whatever that means. It also sports a dual-core processor at 1GHz , 1GB of memory and 32GB of storage. The battery lasts up to 10 hours. Your operating system is Android 3.0.
Like the iPad2, it has cameras on the front and back. Unlike the iPad 2, the XOOM has an HDMI port for viewing your captured video or downloaded movies on a television; Apple sells an extra adapter cable for that functionality.
The XOOM is $800 by itself, while the cheapest iPad 2 is only $500. Select an iPad 2 with comparable specs, though — 32GB storage and a 3G connection — and that $300 difference drops to $70. But wait — Verizon knocks the XOOM down to $600 with a two-year contract. Who’s cheap now?
• Samsung Galaxy Tab: With its 7-inch screen, the Galaxy Tab goes for the customer who either wants a smaller device or can live with a smaller display than the iPad. At 1024 x 600 resolution, it’ll never display truly HD content. It’s comparable to a lot of other cheaper tablets, but the Samsung name gives it more cachet and better engineering.
It has a 1GHz processor and 2GB of memory. For storage, a 16GB microSD card comes standard, which you can swap out for other cards up to 32GB. It’s loaded with an older Android 2.2 operating system, and the dual cameras aren’t as good as the XOOM’s.
The price is nice, though: $500 by itself or $300 with a two-year contract from Verizon or Sprint.
Samsung is releasing a larger Galaxy Tab soon with specs virtually identical to the XOOM. The price is bound to be higher for that model.
• Other guys: There are plenty of tablets out there that don’t have the retail penetration, brand name or plain old performance to compete. The Nook Color from Barnes & Noble is an Android-based e-reader that can kinda-sorta function as a general-purpose tablet and is a bargain at $250. Likewise for the Velocity Micro Cruz, sold for $200 by Borders. Anything with an Augen or Pantech brand name is tempting price-wise but can’t keep up with the iPads, XOOMs and Galaxy Tabs of the world.
For right now, in this market, you get what you pay for.