4 Android tablets vie for your attention

Tablets from Archos, Samsung and ViewSonic are among the first to challenge the iPad

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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.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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