Tablet computers

New models challenge the iPad

Last reviewed: December 2011

The iPad still rules the tablet market. It continues to top our Ratings (available to subscribers), and Apple sells more than twice as many iPads as do all of its major competitors combined. Yet Apple's dominance isn't deterring the launch of new challengers—and at least one, Amazon's new Kindle Fire, could actually test the iPad's reign.

Amazon is competing with Apple more aggressively on price than almost any other tablet maker. Ten-inch Wi-Fi tablets, such as the iPad, with 16GB of memory cost $400 to $500; most 7-inch models start at $300. The 7-inch Kindle Fire, at $200, costs much less than those.

Like the iPad, the Kindle Fire is tailored to deliver its manufacturer's rich content. Sony is doing something similar with its Tablet S. Here is some of the other news in tablets:

Apple launched its iCloud service

With iCloud, you can store all of your content "in the cloud," on the Internet, and access it wherever you have a wireless connection using your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple computer, or PC. Up to 5GB of storage will be free, and content such as songs that you purchase from iTunes doesn't count against that limit. The iCloud service also makes file transfers to and from the iPad easier, eliminating the need for a cable. Without iCloud (or a similar cloud-based service), the only way to move files such as photos would be by e-mail or by connecting the iPad to a computer running iTunes.

Some features require Android

Flash technology, which lets you view many videos and use interactive features on the Web, is available on all Android devices but not the iPad. Several Android models also provide other features the iPad lacks.

If you're looking for a lot of ports and slots, including a full-size USB port, the Toshiba Thrive has more connectivity than any other tablet we've seen. If you want a tablet that can capture 3D images, check out T-Mobile's G-Slate, which takes 3D photos and records 3D video. As with the Sony Tablet S, you can use Vizio's Vtab 1008 as a universal remote for your entertainment center. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer has an optional dock that, when connected to the tablet, can turn it into a netbook-like device.

Ho-hum tablets endure

In the rush to release tablets shortly after the iPad's launch, many manufacturers jumped in with low-cost ($200 or so) tablets that used resistive touch screens. Our tests have shown those screens to be inaccurate and not very responsive. The imminent arrival of the Fire, which we expect will offer better performance at a comparable price, gives additional reason to avoid those—and might even spell their demise.

Tablets from big-name brands have faltered for reasons other than performance. The HP TouchPad was pulled from shelves within weeks of its launch, after anemic sales due in part to its $400 to $500 price. And BlackBerry's PlayBook is still available, but it has been widely criticized for various shortcomings, including its hobbled e-mail application. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion recently slashed PlayBook prices.

More new tablets are coming

Laptop maker Toshiba recently introduced a 7-inch version of its Thrive tablet. Lenovo also offers the business-oriented ThinkPad Tablet. Asus takes a new approach with the Eee Pad Slider, which features a pull-out keyboard. Archos just released an 8-inch model with a dual-core processor. Samsung is adding to its Galaxy lineup with an 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab. And HTC recently introduced its 10.1-inch tablet, the Jetstream.

Which screen size?

7-inch tablet offers...
  • Lower price
  • More portability.
  • Easier to hold for a long time.
10-inch tablet offers...
  • Bigger screen for apps and movies.
  • Larger virtual keyboard.
  • The only size for iPad.