After almost a year in which the Apple iPad has been virtually the only game in town, a new generation of tablets has arrived to take it on.
In Consumer Reports’ latest tests of the 10 most-promising tablet computers, the Apple iPad2 with Wi-Fi and 3G topped the Ratings. But the Motorola Xoom revealed itself as the iPad 2’s chief rival primarily due to its feature set, including a 10-inch display, and its operating system, designed for tablets.
CR tested various models from Apple, Archos, Dell, Motorola, Samsung and ViewSonic. Each tablet was evaluated on 17 criteria, including touch responsiveness, versatility, portability, glare and ease of use. Testers found several models that outperformed the rest. The Apple iPad2 with Wi-Fi plus 3G (32G), $730, topped the Ratings, scoring Excellent in nearly every category. The first generation iPad, $580, also outscored many of the other models tested but tied with the Motorola Xoom, $800.
The largest gap in performance among the 10-tested models was evident in CR’s battery life test. Each model’s battery life was measured by playing the same video clip continually on each tablet and timing how long it played until the battery ran down. The top-scoring iPad2 lasted 12.2 hours, but the lowest-rated, the Archos 70 Internet Tablet, $270, lasted just 3.8.
Before choosing a tablet, CR recommends considering the following:
— Many features are almost universal. Easy-to-use touch screens based on capacitive technology are now widely available. All the models tested feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a front-facing webcam and GPS capability. Android-based models can be expanded using built-in USB ports or slots for SD flash-memory cards, but the iPad 2 lacks both.
— You get what you pay for. Competition still hasn’t lowered prices. Still, Apple, long known in the computer market for charging
more than competitors, has managed to offer more than the other tablet brands for a lower price. Buying a model with a data plan may lower the initial cost of the device, but canceling early may result in a stiff penalty. Otherwise, it might be cheaper to buy a 3G-capable model without a contract.
— Display quality varies. The iPad2’s display should perform as well as the original iPad’s, among the best tablet displays tested. It has excellent color and is viewable from almost any angle without degrading the image. The Motorola Xoom’s display can be viewed from almost any direction, too, but it loses more contrast at off-angles than the iPad.
— Shape matters. A tablet display’s shape is as important as its size. In landscape (horizontal) mode, most have the short, wide shape of a digital TV. The iPad2’s display is squarer, similar to a traditional television’s. A wider display is a better fit for movies and high-definition TV shows. And for a display of a given width, such a tablet can be shorter than a squarer tablet and easier to slip into a purse or briefcase.
— It’s good to be square. Apple’s approach has its advantages, too. In landscape mode, for example, the display’s greater height lets the e-mail app display more messages in the inbox, assuming you use the same size text as on other tablets. When you’re typing in landscape mode, an iPad can accommodate a taller onscreen keyboard or more content on the screen above the keyboard. In portrait mode, its display is less cramped when you’re Web browsing or reading a magazine or an e-book.
— Future-proofing will pay off. Hardware specifications don’t tell the whole story. Portability, storage capacity and weight are important. But less obvious differences in software, connectivity and upgradeability are also critical. And with faster 4G data networks becoming more widely available, 4G capability, or at least the ability to upgrade to it, is also a plus.
Filed Under: Consumer Reports