2011's Best... Premium Tablets
Fondleslabs for the festive season
Xmas Gift Guide Now, we're going to annoy some of you with this one. Choosing the year's best tablet is easy. Picking one that'll appeal to the more vocal Reg readers is easy too. Selecting a different one because you think it's right is another matter, however.
But let's say from the outset: all of the five tablets that follow are ones we'd recommend. There's not a duffer here, and as long as you've decided a tablet will meet your needs, not one will let you down. Unlike one we could have added, these ones are still on sale.
You'll find our Editor's Choice product on the next page. In reverse order of rating we have...
Acer Iconia A100
The large, 9in and 10in form-factor isn't for everyone: some folk prefer a smaller tablet because it's more pocket-friendly. The Android 3.2-running Iconia A100 isn't the slimmest seven-incher around, but its curves make it seem so, and it's a fair bit lighter than most larger tabs. It's not going to challenge the iPad in the design stakes, but it's by no means unattractive. The 1024 x 600 screen is fine, and if the 8GB storage is too small, at least there's a Micro SD slot for more - and a decent array of ports.
More Info Acer
Sony Tablet S
Some tablets lacks style - yes, Eee Pad, we're thinking of you - emphasising the boxy over the curvacious, but the Sony has it in spades. It's trying too hard, perhaps, to say 'I am not an iPad', but the wedge-shaped S is certainly unique, if rather chunky. This is a tab that'll stay in the living room rather than be taken everywhere with you.
But its 9.4in, 1280 x 800 screen is excellent, the weight is good and low, Sony has added some good software, and it incorporates iTunes-class content sources. It's has a shortage of portage mind, so connectivity nuts will need to look elsewhere for full size USB and HDMI.
More Info Sony
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Looking at the Tab, it's not hard to imagine Samsung's designers frequently peeking at the Apple website while cooking it up. That doesn't mean they haven't done a decent job, equipping the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with a nice 10.1in, 1280 x 800 screen, bundling some good software with its Android OS, and squeezing it into a casing that's even thinner - just - than the iPad. It weighs a fair bit less too. The caveat: Apple style, there are no ports other than its own dock connector. Not that that has hindered sales of either tablet.
More Info Samsung
Asus Eee Pad Transformer
Undoubtedly one of the best Android tablets on the market today, the Transformer however lacks the svelte looks of its better known rival - our reviewer described it as the Wayne Rooney of tablets, and that's no exaggeration - but packs in more features for less money.
That doesn't mean inferior specs, either: the Asus is quick, offers a good selection of ports, has a decent - 10.1in, 1280 x 800 - screen and, when it gets Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, it'll fly. But why did Asus have to make it so fugly?
Price £379 (no keyboard) £429 (with keyboard)
More Info Asus
Apple iPad 2
For us, the iPad wins, if only by a whisker. If you're buying for someone else, it's the obvious choice - it's easy to use, it's by far the best-looking tablet here, one of the skinniest and, thanks to iTunes, there's a whole heap of apps and content you can download for it. There are plenty of ladders to help you scale the garden wall.
Whatever you think of Apple, the hardware and OS are good. The iPad is fast; there are good in-built storage options; the 9.7in, 1024 x 768 screen's superb and of the right ratio for both portrait and landscape mode, 4:3; and iOS is - pace Android, and the yet-to-be-widely-available Ice Cream Sandwich - the most friendly tablet OS today.
Downsides: no storage expansion and no direct USB connectivity. If that's a dealbreaker for you - or walled garden worries are - we've listed four alternatives above. If not, the iPad 2, despite some very stiff competition, remains the benchmark.
More Info Apple