Q: Do any of the tablets being shown at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) compare to the iPad? — Brad
A: The ‘tablet’ computer has actually been around since nearly the beginning of the personal computer industry (originally called pen computers) and has gone through many revisions throughout the years, but until Apple created the iPad, they were relatively unknown or uninteresting to the average computer user.
Much like what the iPod did in the MP3 category, Apple built a better mousetrap because they understood that the device on its own isn’t that compelling (no one remembers the MPMan, the first portable MP3 player or the first really successful unit, the Diamond Rio).
iTunes is what separated the iPod from all the other MP3 players and the App Store has done the same for the iPad.
So, when you compare the various tablets that are coming to the market, make sure to look beyond just the features.
Having said that, the iPad lacks cameras, can’t play Flash content (and likely never will), can be bulky in some situations (like reading) and isn’t capable of true multi-tasking.
These are the areas that the new tablet computers are focusing in on as a way to differentiate themselves from the iPad.
The first contender to be released late last year in conjunction with various cellular carriers was Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which is an Android based tablet that’s essentially an Android smartphone on steroids.
At CES, Samsung announced that it would be releasing a WiFi only version of the Galaxy Tab in the first quarter of 2011 which should reduce the unsubsidized $599 price tag.
At first glance, the smaller size (7 in screen vs iPad’s 9.7) may look like a negative, but having had the opportunity to use both on trips, the smaller size is a huge benefit (IMHO).
You can easily hold the Galaxy Tab comfortably with one hand, while the iPad can quickly cause strain with one hand.
The smaller size also makes it easier to carry around (it easily slipped into my inside jacket pocket), it has front and rear facing cameras, sensational battery life and will be very easy for anyone that has an Android-based smartphone to use.
The images that I’ve taken with its 3 megapixel camera lack the color depth that even a 2 megapixel iPhone 3Gs generates, but it’s certainly usable.
Anyone that’s spent any time on an iPad will notice small delays in various parts of the operation of the Galaxy Tab that make it seem a little less responsive, but not likely an issue for anyone that is using it as their first tablet.
As for the rest of the contenders shown at CES, the only one that caught my attention was the Blackberry Playbook.
While most of the other tablets being demonstrated (like Motorola’s Xoom) clearly had issues that still needed to be worked out (lots of new OS glitches, unresponsive taps, etc.), the Playbook performed flawlessly and with fluidity like I am used to seeing from the iPad.
Unlike the iPad, the Playbook is a true multi-tasking device (dual-core processor), which means that applications in the background will continue to run, supports flash and can shoot 1080p HD video.
But remember, the apps are a big part of owning a tablet, so we’ll have to see how many app developers jump on the Playbook bandwagon once it launches in Q1 of 2011 with estimated prices ranging from $399 (8Gb) -$599 (32Gb).
But don’t forget that Apple’s MacWorld event is at the end of January and the speculation is that the iPad 2 with dual-core processors, front and rear cameras and a thinner, lighter form factor will be announced.
In technology, the axiom has always been “the longer you wait, the more you get” and nowhere will this be truer than in the tablet wars.
I’m estimating the ‘sweet spot’ for buying a new tablet this year will be mid-to-late summer as most of what we saw at CES will have either made it to market and had some time to get initial kinks worked out or been scrapped.
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors Computer Services, Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs, Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc., weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com, host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show