During the past year the tech industry has been abuzz with talks of new tablet and slate computers, from the release of the infamous iPad to the uncertain future of the HP Slate. So we decided to take a closer look at some of the hottest upcoming tablet computers to see just how much promise this new segment truly holds.
The idea behind tablet computers dates back to 2001, when Microsoft defined the device as a stylus or touchscreen enabled computer capable of running a standalone operating system (OS) and any compatible applications. This support for an OS and applications is what sets tablets apart from other similar devices such as eBook readers.
The tablet was largely forgotten over the past decade however and only came back into the limelight with the release of Apple’s iPad. Luckily users ate it up and the success of the iPad spelled out the future for this satellite industry. Now all the major manufacturers are scrambling to get their own tablets on the market, so we decided to take a look at some of the available and upcoming models to gain some insight on the matter.
First up is the HP Slate. This Windows 7 based tablet features an 8.9” 1024 x 600 capacitive multi-touch display and is powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor. A UMA graphics accelerator with 1080p video playback is also present together with 1 GB of non-upgradable RAM. Storage wise two models will be available; one with 32 GB and the other with 64 GB flash memory.
The base model will retail for an estimated $549 while the 64 GB model is priced at $599. Both versions will feature five-hour battery life, SDHC slot, two cameras, a USB port, HDMI port, standard 3.5 mm audio jack and a SIM card slot for the optional 3G modem.
The HP Slate is on its way, but it seems this impressive tablet will not be hitting the consumer market. At a recent technology conference, HP Personal Systems Group VP Todd Bradley revealed that the Windows tablet will be released “for the enterprise” in the fall (March/April next year).
There have not been any official announcements as of yet, so the jury is still out on the HP Slate at this point.
Arguably the iPad’s most feared competitor comes in the form of Research In Motion’s (RIM) widely rumoured ‘Blackpad’. The BlackBerry manufacturer is said to be in the process of releasing a tablet to rival the iPad and while no official information has been released yet, there has been a lot of speculation as to what the so called ‘Blackpad’ will be capable of.
According to an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, Ashok Kumar, the device will feature a 7” touch screen and will be powered by a 1 GHz Marvell Armada 610 processor capable of full HD 1080p playback and advanced 3D graphics. The device has also been reported to support two cameras for video conferencing.
According to Bloomberg on the other hand, the device will feature a bigger 9.7” touch-screen and will sport dimensions similar to that of the iPad.
One of the few things everyone seems to agree on is that the tablet will feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology and that users will be able to use their BlackBerry smartphones to serve as the data connection.
The device is rumoured to have a release date of somewhere near the end of the year, though it could easily carry over into 2011. Whatever the case may be concerning the elusive Blackpad, we can be sure that RIM’s product will be a force to be reckoned with when it does launch.
ASUS Eee Pad
It can be said that the Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS is partly responsible for getting the ball rolling in the modern tablet race with their development of the Eee PC in 2007 and the subsequent popularising of netbook computers. Now with handheld tablets, ASUS isn’t backing down and their offering, the Eee Pad seems ready to steal some of Apple’s limelight when it launches next year.
The Eee Pad will be available in two configurations, the 12” Eee Pad EP121 and the 10” Eee Pad EP101TC. The 12” model is a fully-featured tablet computer which will serve as a multimedia player, e-book reader and all around compact computing device. It is powered by a CULV Intel Core 2 Duo processor (no word yet on the actual size), with a reported 10 hour battery life, running on Windows 7 Home Premium operating system (OS).
In addition to sporting all the features standard to tablets such as email, calendar, Microsoft Office and Internet support, the Eee Pad will feature an innovative keyboard solution. The Eee Pad will offer two modes of character input, one an embedded virtual keyboard (as found on most tablets) and the other a hybrid keyboard/docking station.
On the other hand, users can opt for the 10” Eee Pad which will run on the Windows Embedded Compact 7 OS. Not much else is known about the 10” model at this stage, but expect specs similar to that of its larger cousin.
ASUS recently announced that the Eee Pads will retail for between $399 and $499 US dollars and users can expect the device to hit the market somewhere during the first quarter of 2011.
MSI Windpad 100 and 110
Another powerful Taiwanese manufacturer, this time MSI is also aiming to jump onto the tablet computer bandwagon with their own offering, the MSI Windpad 100 and 110.
The flagship 100 tablet is powered by an Intel Atom Z530 1.66GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM and features a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD). It will also run on the Windows 7 Premium OS and features a 10” multi-touch display. In addition to the Windows 7 touch-screen capability, MSI has also reportedly created their own ‘Wind Touch’ user interface (UI).
The device will have two USB ports, an HDMI port and an integrated webcam, basically making it a netbook without a keyboard and with touchscreen features added on. The MSI Windpad does not have a confirmed release date as of yet, but it is expected to launch before the end of the year. It retails for $499.
The Windpad 110 also has a 10” multi-touch display, but this tablet will be powered by a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 250 processor and will run on the Android OS. It will also sport just one USB port but on the other hand is more stylised and is rumoured to have swappable back plates so users can change the looks of their device.
No solid release or pricing info on the 110 is available as of yet, but the best bets are on a $399 RRP shipping roughly the same time as the Windpad 100.
Apart from the iPad, the recently released Dell Streak is one of the few mainstream tablets available on the market at the moment (in the US at least).
With its 5” capacitive multi-touch display, the Streak is smaller than most other devices on the market, and fits itself neatly into the grey area between smartphones and netbooks. The display is made of Gorilla Glass however, ensuring a more robust display.
The Streak is powered by a zippy 1 GHz Snapdragon mobile processor manufactured by Qualcomm. In terms of memory, the device features 512MB of RAM and 512MB of storage space, upgradable to 32 GB through a microSD card slot. It also features 2GB of storage space used specifically for storing applications.
The sleek carbon black design also makes this one of the best looking tablets out there. It will run on the Android OS and will feature Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G capabilities. The tablet also sports integrated Google Maps with voice-activated search, turn-by-turn navigation and street and satellite view ensuring you won’t get lost again. Another very important feature is the face that the Streak can make voice calls and send text messages, something tablet manufacturers usually opt out of.
On the software side, the Streak looks especially strong. In addition to having access to a customized version of the Android OS, users will also be able to download over 38 000 apps from the Android Marketplace. Users also enjoy quick access to their favourite social networking sites through Twitter, Facebook and Youtube app widgets.
The Dell Streak is available for sale in the US for $549.99, and if you’re truly a fan you’ll be able to find an early importer online.
Cisco labs is another company that is working on a tablet, but theirs isn’t aimed at the consumer market, rather it’s toted as a business tablet. Their idea is to create a device that will help employees stay connected to their work and increase productivity while at the same time reducing costs, quite the ambitious set of goals.
Nonetheless, the Cisco Cius is toted to be an ultra-portable mobile collaboration business tablet which will offer customer essential business applications and technologies.
The tablet will run on the Android OS, meaning users will have access to the Android Marketplace and all the associated applications. It will be powered by a 1.1 GHz Intel Atom processor and will feature a 7” diagonal, high-resolution colour display with contact-based touch targets, meaning it will be ‘partially’ touchscreen.
The device will also support Bluetooh and USB peripherals and can connect to standard 10/100/1000 wired connections. An eight hour battery ensures the device stays operational for a full day’s work while 802.11a/b/g/n/ Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G and Bluetooth 3.0 help keep all employees connected no matter where they are.
The device also features high definition (HD) video playback, a front mounted camera, is fully interoperable with telepresence tools and a virtual desktop client enables highly secure access to cloud-based business applications and servers.
Customer trials for the device will begin in the third quarter of this year and the device is expected to be released early in 2011. No pricing details have been released thus far.
As manufacturers scramble to get new and innovative products out, the world of tablet computing continues to expand. We predict that 2011 is going to be the year of the tablet, so keep your eyes peeled for the best deals, and more importantly, the most justifiable purchases. There’s no doubt that tablets are at this stage at least a little gimmicky, and only time will tell whether they will evolve into a product as essential as a mobile phone or PC is today.