So many tablets…iPad, Android, Surface or ?

surfacertA decade ago, I was hungry for what I called the ‘perfect form factor’ PC. This perfect form factor was something without a physical keyboard (but, I could connect one if I wanted), feature some kind of Palm like touch interface (because Palm did touch right) and run full Windows OR the Palm operating system. The device could be between 7 and 10 inches. Yep, I wanted a tablet.  Wanted one, really, since I first saw the PADD in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Well, in 2010, I got my wish, finally. The iPad opened the flood gates. While I purchased the first gen iPad, three weeks after its release, I still really wanted that Windows or Palm (by then, it was webOS) tablet. But, I loved-absolutely loved-the iPad. So much so that I went and bought my first new Mac (a 2010 Mac Mini) to do some development and get my feet dirty in the Apple world.

In late 2010, I got my first Android tablet, a pathetic attempt by Pandigital (I see why they are history now.) In 2012, it was the Kindle Fire-by far, the best attempt at making Android usable. The Fire was brilliant: comfortable size, decent speed (I really, truly, do not understand what the speed criticism was about) and decent UI. While it is still Android under the covers, it does not feel like Android.

2013 ushered in the device I truly wanted: a full on Windows tablet. This baby, the Asus VivoTab Smart, runs full Windows 8 and runs it well. Coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard, I can use it for both fun and business. 

So, there you have the three main tablet types: Apple and the iOS, any number of Android tablets and Windows.  So, lets take a quick look at them and do a quick comparison.

Apple and iOS

ipadminiThe iPad is the predominate tablet, but Android is closing and fast.  iOS offers a fairly clean ecosystem, mainly because it is tightly controlled by Apple. Apps must undergo some kind of evaluation by Apple in order to get into the App Store.  Most of the ‘big’ app types are there: some kind of productivity suite, plethora of games and multimedia consumption and creation.  The software can be quite good, but is, mostly, just variations of other apps to varying quality. Want a fart app? Check. Want a flashlight? Got that too.  Want a word find game? Easy. Want Microsoft Office…oops! Well, you still have those fart apps.

Android

sylvania7The Samsung tablets are the best of breed with the Kindle Fires hot on the heels.  Like iOS, Android has an amazing app ecosystem, but also suffers from the same problem: Lots of junk. In Androids case, most of the software is crap and of little value.  Most of the Android tablets are crap as well. Because Android is FREE, any company with a tablet reference design can tailor Android to work on that design and these companies want to maximize any potential profit, so these designs end up being junk. Take a look at Craig, Coby, Kobo and any number of ‘off’ brands. Even known brands like Vizio have missed the boat. Samsung, Motorola, Amazon, Acer and a few others have figured it out, but, on the whole, Android is just too messy.

Windows

vivotabfrontNow, it gets interesting.  There are, currently, three flavors out: Windows 7, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Windows 7 tablets are meant for non-consumer and are targeted to medical and other business use. Windows RT is aimed squarely at consumers and the Windows 8 devices are marketed to both business and consumers. With WIndows 7 and 8, there are tons of applications out and most will work fine with a touch device. Many are less than optimal, but will work. Windows RT requires a new library of apps. This should not be a problem since most would likely buy new apps for any Android or iOS device, so why not for Windows RT?  The problem, though, is the device itself. While not quite as bad as the Android world, the Windows RT world could face similar low cost devices too. This has yet to happen, but…be on the look out for tablet that purport to be Windows. Craig and Coby both sell Windows tablets, but these are WINDOWS CE tablets and that is a HUGE difference from RT or 7 and 8.

So, which ones stand out? Apple’s latest iPads, of course, are good choices. The iPad mini is proving to be a worthy machine and one that many seem to want. In the Android world, Samsung’s devices are a good bet as is the Kindle Fire HD. In Windows land, there are several good ones: Of course, the Surface RT and Pro, Asus’ VivoTabs (RT and Smart) and Acer’s offerings.  If price is your driving factor, then the Kindle Fire HD is the hands down winner.  If you want productivity out of the box, the VivoTabs are an excellent choice and my personal favorite. But…for the best of both (and if you don’t mind starting over in the software area) the iPad Mini is the best choice. Its size, price and software offerings make it the clear winner.

It is interesting, though, to read and listen to the tech pundits write off Microsoft and, now, even Apple.  It is definitely too early to be writing off either. The big reason Android dominates in phone and tablets is because it is free. This is will bite Google in the rear if it does not do something to stem the tide of cheap and dirt cheap hardware. I know many retailers moved a ton of these cheap tablets (from Sylvania, Coby and the others) over the holidays. I have to wonder how many were either returned or are sitting in a drawer while an Apple iPad is being used instead.

2013 will be even more interesting with the addition of the Ubuntu Touch devices. For once, I’m kind of excited about a Linux based product. Ubuntu Touch does not look like something you would need a masters degree in order to use.  I hope the final product lives up to the pre-release promise. The tablet and phones could be pretty interesting and give everyone a run for the money.

After a decade, though, I am still looking for that Palm tablet. Sigh.  I missed the boat on the HP TouchPad.  Maybe LG will fulfill my desire. Sigh.

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