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4 Android tablets vie for your attention

December 22, 2010 06:00 AM ET

How we tested

To evaluate these tablets on a level playing field, I lived with and extensively used them for work and play. I started out by measuring and weighing each as well as examining each button, jack and control. I then went through the system's software and tried out all the major programs.

After I connected each tablet to my lab's Wi-Fi network, I started an Internet radio app and slowly walked away from my Linksys WRT54GS router. I noted where the system lost contact and walked back 10 feet, allowed the tablet to reconnect and confirmed the place where the system lost its wireless data connection.

After setting up each tablet's e-mail app, I sent it PowerPoint, Word, Excel and Acrobat files and attempted to open them. Then I downloaded the Aurora Softworks Quadrant standard benchmark application and ran the software. The app has 12 processor tests, one memory assessment, four input-output tests and four graphics measures. The app combines them into a single score that is a good gauge of the unit's overall performance potential. I ran the software three times and averaged the results.

After charging the tablet's battery, I started Endlessyoutube's Web site and set up a video to play over and over again. As I unplugged the AC adapter, I started a stopwatch and let the system's battery run down as I timed it. The Archos 70 and 101 lack the software to run the latest Flash software, so I used its built-in video app and looped five videos. For the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which can receive 3G data, I ran battery tests in both Wi-Fi and 3G modes.

Finally, I watched videos, played Touch Pool and generally used these systems for business and pleasure. I downloaded an e-book with the included app and read it on the screen. For those that required a storage card for downloading items, like the ViewSonic ViewPad 7, I used a SanDisk 2GB microSD card to store the data.

Conclusions

Having lived with each of these tablets, I admire them all, but for different reasons. In my opinion, they each take a technological step over the iPad. The three with 7-in. screens are portable enough to fit into a back pocket but still very usable for Web browsing, e-book reading and media watching. Even the largest of the four reviewed here, the 10-in. Archos 101, is thinner and lighter than the iPad. In addition, each has at least one camera and can expand its storage options with a microSD card. And two -- the Galaxy Tab and ViewPad 7 -- have the streamlined Swype keyboard.

That being said, I was able to choose my favorite among the four.

The simple, functional and inexpensive design of the Archos 70 and 101 Internet Tablets are appealing, but they come up short on software and 3G abilities. The ViewPad 7's clever keyboard and its padded case make it tempting, but the system needs better performance and a 3G carrier.

The clear winner here is the Galaxy Tab. Not only does it come in versions for five national 3G networks, but its high-resolution screen, support for Swype keyboard gestures and great performance put it in a class by itself. If it only had a stand, it would be my perfect tablet.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

The tablet that prints

The HP PhotoSmart eStation C510 ($350) is more than just an inkjet all-in-one printer -- it comes with a 7-inch Android tablet that HP refers to as a "detachable touchscreen." The most limited of the tablets I looked at, the Zeen tablet nevertheless shows what's possible with some fresh thinking.

HP PhotoSmart eStation C510 with Zeen tablet
HP PhotoSmart eStation C510 with Zeen tablet.

At 7.4 by 4.8 by 0.8 inches in size and weighing 17 oz., the Zeen is chunky and overweight compared to other 7-in. tablets. It has a nice black and brushed-aluminum design, and its sculpted edges actually make it feel thinner than it really is, although after a few minutes of holding the Zeen to read a book or browse the Web, it feels cumbersome. It also lacks the pull-out kickstand that Archos provides.

The tablet is powered by an 800-MHz Freescale i.MX51 processor. It comes with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of flash storage space, which can be augmented with an SD card of up to 32GB, although none is included.

The 7-inch touch display is limited to 800 x 480 resolution. There are buttons above the display for getting to the home screen, going back and changing settings; it doesn't have the Search button that the others have.

The Zeen offers 802.11b/g/n wireless connectivity, but it lacks 3G, Bluetooth and GPS. It doesn't have a camera.

The main purpose of the Zeen, of course, is to work with the PhotoSmart eStation C510 printer. It snaps into a dock at the front of the printer. Besides letting you print from the tablet, it shows the printer's ink levels and IP address.

HP has crippled the Zeen (which is based on Android 2.1) by not allowing it to download new programs -- which radically limits its usefulness. It does come with a good selection of preloaded software that is heavy on Yahoo services, including e-mail, search and instant messaging. There's also a Web browser and apps for Facebook and Barnes & Noble's Nook e-book reader. Not all its apps are useful: I found its video player to be unreliable, and it suffered frequent screen freeze-ups and shutdowns.

The Zeen tablet was able to run for 4 hours and 32 minutes on a charge; it docks with the PhotoSmart printer for charging. It was able to stay connected to my Wi-Fi network 85 feet from the router, the shortest of the bunch.

Ultimately, the Zeen is the answer to a question that nobody has asked. As a tablet, it's too big, too heavy and too limited to make it as a stand-alone.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.



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