Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Portable Devices
Team CHIP | 26 July 2011
The big buzz words in technology today - tablets and Android, combine in this comparison.
Laptops and netbooks are handy portable devices than can handle a lot of your daily tasks. However, given their weight and bulky form factor, they aren’t ideal to lug around everywhere you go. As an alternative, touchscreen computing is already here and is taking over! Tablets have been all the rage lately. They combine touchscreens and a unique user interface, which makes using them a much simpler, quicker and fun experience. Thus, the traditional mice and keyboards are made redundant. Tablets are not just portable, but the recent tablet devices have been housing quite powerful components. Tablets have been running on processors with clock speeds around 1 GHz, around 1 GB RAM, and oodles of storage. The newest tablet devices also feature dual core processors. For all you know, they might even outperform those modest little netbooks. With the launch of the Apple iPad 2, Google’s Android Honeycomb platform, and mobile components like the Nvidia Tegra 2, tablets are here to stay.
A tablet is often mistaken to be a mere shiny or a useless gadget, but it can be used well for quick presentations, to watch movies, to catch up on the latest shows, or to sway to your favorite tunes. Browsing the Internet is a whole new experience on a tablet. With the full screen browser, the multi touch gestures, and the kinetic scrolling, no longer does browsing imply sitting for long hours in front of your PC. Then there’s the mobility factor. You don’t need to fire up your laptop or computer every time you want to look something up or catch up on the news. Innovative stands let you use tablets wherever and whenever you would need them, be it in the kitchen listing recipes, or on the dashboard of your car, showing you the way around town. They are even said to be great devices for learning, in the classroom and outside of it. Tablets have changed the face of e-books and magazines, making reading a more true to life experience, with pages you can actually touch and turn. Apps such as Google Voice, ooVoo and Skype have made VoIP on tablets far easier, and with most of the tablets featuring 3G and a secondary camera, they can be great devices for video calling and video conferencing.
While Apple’s iPad brought tablets into the limelight, there also exist tablets running Android, which are capable of doing just as much, or probably more. In this roundup, we are going to have a closer look at Android tablets. We got together seven such tablets and put them to the test to see which one proves to be the best of the Androids. Read on to find out which one of these devices can revolutionize the way you look at mobile computing.
The main reason for opting for a tablet is faster access to minimal computing. Since tablets are portable and more convenient to handle than netbooks, a tablet makes better sense. I would blindly pick the Acer Iconia A500 simply because of its feature set - the latest Honeycomb OS, a large display, USB host, and the Tegra 2 dual-core processor. Even when comparing its price with other tablets, the A500 is the sweetest deal. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is decent too. It is highly portable, and features a built-in GSM phone and 3G out-of-the-box. But since it would be carried around in my bag anyway, I would rather pick the A500 for its superior performance, larger and better display, more features, and the latest operating system, for just Rs 600 more than the Galaxy tab.
Being on a ‘college student budget’, I always look for products that give me good value for money. The Acer Iconia A500 hit that sweet spot. At Rs 27,990, with a dual core processor, a gigabyte of RAM thrown in, decent front and rear cameras, and Android Honeycomb, this tablet is a great bargain! However, I did have a soft corner for the Dell Streak. Armed with a 5-inch screen, the Streak 5 struck the perfect balance between phone and tablet. I liked the design, and though huge, it is very sleek. The device has rather powerful insides, with a 1 GHz processor, a discrete GPU, and 512 MB RAM. The 5-megapixel camera didn’t disappoint either. What did frustrate was the rear panel mechanism; the Streak switched itself off each time I removed the back panel to swap memory cards. The headphone jack is also oddly placed on the right side of the device. Though overall the Dell Streak is quite decent, I’d consider it only if the price was lower. Till then, it’s the A500 for the win!
The Acer Iconia A500 was the most awaited tablet. The main reasons - a faster processor and the latest operating system. The A500 does look rich, with a large display and a brush-finished aluminum shell with almost no physical buttons on the front. It features a powerful dual core Tegra 2 processor with 1 GB of RAM and a massive 16 GB of storage space. The tablet sports a 10.1-inch crisp display which a resolution of 1280x800, which is good enough for enjoying 720p HD movies. The capacitive display can recognize 10 simultaneous touch inputs for a great onscreen keyboard experience, but the screen’s surface is highly glossy and a finger-print nightmare. The tablet features the latest Android operating system - 3.0.1 or Honeycomb, plus some very useful features, like a USB 2.0 host, which can be used to connect an external keyboard or a 3G dongle; and a physical switch for orientation sensor locking. A micro HDMI port for connecting a larger monitor or an LCD TV is also featured. Additionally, it includes a rear 5-megapixel camera capable of taking 720p videos at 35 fps, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls. On the performance front, the product beats the rest of the gang simply because of the dual core processor, but as for real-world performance, you will have to try it out yourself. Though the stock Home application is a tad jittery, it features a stunning interface, which is easy to operate. It is well organized, with icons for E-reading, Games, Multimedia and Social. The tablet also includes the Clear.fi media sharing app for wirelessly sharing media files with DLNA compatible devices. The A500 supports an additional 32 GB storage expansion via a micro SD card and the package bundles a free carry sleeve, which can also be folded to be used as a stand. The battery life maxes out at 8 hours while watching movies and 18 hours when idle. The A500 is very well-priced and can give competitors a real run for their money.
Verdict: One of the most powerful Homecomb-based Android tablets.
For: Good build, dual core processor, large screen, USB host, good price.
AGAINST: Slightly heavy, glossy screen.
The Creative ZiiO 7 was the last to enter the Test Center, but took away the Best Value award primarily because of the lowest price tag in this tablet roundup. If it hadn’t been here, the Best Value award was surely Acer’s. The ZiiO has a rugged build, with a matte-finished shell. It sports a 7-inch resistive touch screen with touch sensitive buttons for Home, Search, Menu and Back functions. The ZiiO is powered by Creative’s own ZiiLABS ZMS-08 HD processor clocked at 750 MHz and backed by 408 MB of RAM. There is 8 GB of storage included onboard, and a micro SD card slot allows for further expansion. Other features include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, an HDMI port, and a VGA front-facing camera. The product did attract us at the start, but after using it, we found a couple of flaws, which were serious enough to make us think twice about awarding it the Best Value award. For example, the resistive touchscreen makes the UI sluggish and hinders the overall ergonomics of the tablet. Also, the Back button is placed around 1 cm to the left of where it should be. Finally, the OS is only targeted towards entertainment and the Android Market app is not available. We did try installing the Market app from the SD card, but it refused to work, forcing us to use the ZiiStore app for downloads instead. The operating system is quite buggy too, with force closes and application crashes at almost every step. On the performance front, however, the ZiiO did well, delivering great audio and display quality does confirm what Creative calls this device - the entertainment tablet. Though the display quality is great, the tablet has a slight problem with the viewing angle. Overall, judging the limited feature set, the unusually sluggish ergonomics and buggy operating system of the product, we would recommend the Wespro, which is in a similar budget range. If entertainment is your only preference, the ZiiO could stand a chance, but the price would be too high.
Verdict: A portable Android-based entertainment tablet with quite a few flaws.
For: Audio and video quality, HDMI port.
AGAINST: Buggy OS with limitations, sluggish UI, resistive touch screen, faulty Back button.