Picking up the tab

Picking up the tab

Apple’s iPad has single-handedly resurrected the dying “tablet" form, and sparked a race in quickly getting competing tablets out on the market. At last count, at least 15 companies—from books retailer Barnes & Noble to Chinese firm Huawei—have iPad-like devices out or on the way. Apple has a significant lead in specialized iPad apps, and a number of magazines and media companies on board its platform. Its competitors have a friend in Android, Google’s open-source operating system that’s emerged as the single biggest threat, in mobiles, to the iPhone’s growing popularity.

We’re nearing the end of 2010, and the first batch of serious iPad rivals have just arrived—we find out how they stack up against Apple’s behemoth:

Rs25,990 Android 2.2

Olive Telecom’s OlivePad was the first home-grown tablet to arrive in retail stores back in August. At the time, we found it a dodgy piece of engineering at an attractive price. Now, it’s gotten a fresh lease of life— the software has been upgraded to Android 2.2 and the price has come down slightly, thanks to a few more retail tie-ups.

The OlivePad suffers from a problem of excess—there are more apps on it than you’d ever want, and everything is crowded and messy right out of the box. Not too much care has been taken with the software either, and unlike the Galaxy Tab, there are no apps that make special use of the larger screen. At Rs25,990, however, the OlivePad is a very competitively priced 7-inch tablet, albeit one with mediocre build quality and needless bloatware pre-installed.

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Dell Streak

Gigantic phone or tiny tablet? Dell would prefer “both", but this identity crisis never quite goes away when you’re using the Streak. Dell is selling the 5-inch device as perfect for “media consumption", and it just about makes the threshold for comfortable Internet browsing and emailing.

The 5-megapixel camera is alright, and the modified apps Dell ships with the Streak do their job well. There is undoubtedly a market for a device you can slip into a jacket pocket, but the Streak is too small to be a dedicated video player, and it still doesn’t run the latest version of Android like the Galaxy Tab. At Rs35,000 (the price of the basic iPad), these problems become more than just nagging concerns.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Rs38,000 Android 2.2

Samsung has cleverly modified many of the stock Android apps— email, contacts—to work with the larger screen. E-books look brilliant on the TFT-LCD screen, and the device zips through video thanks to a powerful 1Ghz processor. But at Rs38,000, you can pick up a fully loaded iPad and it’s hard to recommend the Tab over Apple’s device. The latter has better apps and better battery life, and more screen size per rupee.


A Touch Away

Everyone wants a piece of the tablet pie. Here are three ambitious devices we can hope to see in the near future:

Notion Ink Adam

( Notion Ink Adam on top;Eee Pad on right and BlackBerry PlayBook on left)

Eee Pad

The Eee Pad is an upcoming 12-inch and tablet from netbook pioneers Asus.Asus is hedging its bets with tablets—the Eee Pad will sport Microsoft Windows while an offshoot, the Eee Tablet, will go with Android. It’s one of the few tablets to favour Windows 7, though it remains to be seen how well Microsoft’s warhorse can handle touch screens. Expect it in early 2011.

BlackBerry PlayBook

Research in Motion’s PlayBook is a strange device. It’s going with its own operatingsystem and will not have telephony capabilities on release. BlackBerry has a history of creating stunning devices, but they’ve always faced problems with the software—and building app ecosystems. It’s still not clear how the PlayBook will surmount that problem, but a fourth leg to the threepronged OS race—Windows, Google, iOS—is always welcome.