Dissecting the tablet market

Many people considering buying a new PC now have an additional decision to make: should I go for a tablet instead? We’ve already given you an overview of what a tablet is but there are already many different types on offer. So hopefully this overview will give you a better idea about what you’re letting yourself in for.

A tablet is half way between a PC and a smartphone. Like a smartphone it typically comes without a hard keyboard – relying instead on the touch screen – but it’s closer to the size of a notebook, and certainly too big to fit in your pocket.

While touch screen PCs have been around for a while, Apple defined the modern tablet with the launch of the iPad last year. We’re now onto the iPad 2, which has a 9.7 inch screen, front and back cameras and comes in black or white. The price depends on the amount of internal storage it has and whether or not you want a 3G mobile data connection. 3G costs quite a lot more, but cheaper ones can still connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

iPad 2

The main competition for the iPad comes from tablets running Google’s Android mobile operating system. Samsung launched the Galaxy Tab last year, running an earlier version of Android, but this year saw the launch of a version specially designed for tablets, called Honeycomb. The first Honeycomb tablet to be launched was the Xoom, by Motorola. But we’ll soon see the arrival of competitors from Samsung, LG, HTC and Acer.

Two other companies – RIM and HP – have mobile operating systems of their own and are launching tablets running them. The RIM one is called the BlackBerry PlayBook, and is designed to run alongside a BlackBerry phone, while HP’s tablet is called the TouchPad.

Motorola Xoom

There is one more type of tablet available – those built around Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system. While the current trend is towards tablets running mobile operating systems and processors, Windows 7 is touch-enabled and new processors from Intel and AMD are low power enough to offer acceptable battery life. Viewsonic has a tablet that offers both Windows and Android on the same machine.

While the typical tablet is similar in size (ten inch screen) and shape to the iPad, we are starting to see some variation. Asus is among the more innovative tablet-makers and it’s launching the EeePad Transformer, an Honeycomb tablet with an optional keyboard dock, which effectively converts it into an Android notebook.

The cheapest iPad 2 (16GB, Wi-Fi only) costs around £400, and most competing tablets start at a similar price. You can, however, get even cheaper ones if you’re willing to accept a smaller screen size or older models. A storage upgrade to 32GB typically costs £80 and 3G will normally cost you an extra £100. Also, bear in mind you will also need to buy a 3G data contract, and you may be able to get part of the cost of the device subsidised if you do that.

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