Passing fad or must-have accessory for our digital lives? Either way, technology soothsayer Marc Saltzman says handheld tablets are proving to be a runaway success. Thanks to record sales of Apple’s iPad, others are scrambling to release their tablets too. Below, Saltzman, a syndicated technology columnist, tabulates his thoughts on the sales leader and the would-be challengers.
1. Apple iPad
Considerably heftier than its competitors and sporting a super glossy 9.7-inch screen, the iPad is finding a home both on campuses and in boardrooms. “The iPad is definitely large, but the real advantage that it has, besides its stable and graceful operating system, is that it boasts more than 300,000 apps right out of the box,” says Saltzman. All iPads offer WiFi connectivity, but you can also opt for models that access the Internet over cellphone networks, if you sign up for a data plan and SIM card from the big carriers.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab
Released just in time for the holidays, Samsung’s Android-based Tab runs close to $700 without a data plan. It’s cheaper, though, if you buy it with a one- or three-year contract. At about half the weight of an iPad and featuring a smaller seven-inch screen, Saltzman says the Tab is more comfortable to carry around and easier to write with if you’re used to thumb typing on a smartphone. The Tab also boasts cameras on the front and back for video conferencing, as well as expandable memory via an SD card slot. It accesses the Internet over WiFi or 3G, and even works as a phone.
3. BlackBerry PlayBook
(Anticipated release: Feb 2011)
RIM’s entry into the tablet market also features a seven-inch screen and two cameras, but the PlayBook takes a different route for connectivity. It does offer WiFi, but it can only access the Internet via cellphone service when tethered to a BlackBerry phone. “The advantage to that is you don’t need another data plan just for the tablet, but if you want to connect outside of a WiFi zone you have to carry around a second device and it has to be a BlackBerry,” says Saltzman. Also, if you frequently use the PlayBook with your BlackBerry phone, you may need to upgrade your phone plan. The PlayBook will run on RIM’s own operating system and will cost roughly $500.
4. Dell Streak
This tiny tablet is the smallest of our picks with a screen just one-inch bigger than many touchscreen cell phones. The Streak also features two cameras, expandable memory and Google’s Android operating system.
The PlayBook’s lack of a standalone 3G connection could be a deal breaker for many consumers. And the diminutive size of the Dell Streak makes it more like an oversized cell phone than a personal computer. That leaves the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab as the main contenders. If video teleconferencing is key, then the Tab squeaks ahead of the iPad. But if you can put off buying a tablet until the spring, the next generation iPad will likely add that and more.