Tablets in 2012
- Open to user customisation
- Available on a wider range of devices than iOS
- Some Android tablets cost a lot less than the iPad
- Lacks consistency between Android versions and devices
- Fewer tablet-specific apps available from Google Play
Google’s open approach of Android is in stark contrast to Apple’s tightly controlled iOS environment. The firm is responsible for the operating system software, its content store, and owns many popular services that are an integral part, including YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps.
But the hardware is produced by third parties such as Samsung, Asus and Sony. This menas there's a bigger choice and a range of prices. Flagship Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Asus Transformer Prime, are about as powerful and well-built as Apple’s iPad (and cost a similar amount), but there are also much cheaper ones.
There’s a variety of screen sizes too, in both 4:3 and 16:9 screen formats. For example, the 8.2-inch Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition is lighter than an iPad, small enough to hold in one hand, but still powerful enough to play high-definition video and games.
Many of the cheaper Android tablets may seem bargains, but can have buggy software, poor build quality and in many cases, lack official Google apps or access to Google Play. Our advice is to avoid models that lack Google Play, and also those which have resistive, rather than capacitive, displays.
Android supports open standards, such as DLNA, and many (but not all) Android tablets have USB and a MicroSD card slot for expansion. When connected, Android devices show up as a folder in Windows, and files can be copied to and from it. The browser supports Flash, too.
Android's widgets - mini versions of apps which run on the desktop - provide an up-to-date view of things such as your email inbox and photo collection. One of the most appealing reasons to choose Android, however, is the freedom to customise things. If you want to use a different browser, you can. If you want to try a different media player, there are plenty to choose from. Even the onscreen keyboard can be customised.
The version of Android you get varies depending on the tablet. The latest is called Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), but many tablets run earlier iterations. When Google releases a new version, it has to be repackaged by the hardware manufacturer before it can be downloaded to your device. There's no guarantee the update will be available for every tablet.
This is one reason why so far, Android tablets have been less popular with content creators and app developers than the iPad. The variety of software, screen sizes and resolutions means a game or app may look good on one tablet, but not on another. There are far fewer apps designed specifically for the larger screens of Android tablets than for Android phones.
Blackberry PlayBook OS 2.0
- The PlayBook starts from only £169
- PlayBook OS is responsive and intuitive
- Small number of apps available
- Long-term support uncertain
RIM’s 7-inch Blackberry PlayBook is an inexpensive alternative to an Android tablet or iPad. The cheapest PlayBook costs only £169, but is well-built and powerful enough to perform most tasks.
The recent update (version 2.0) added a much-needed email client and is far more polished than before. The combination of the operating system and hardware is surprisingly good considering the low price.
The 7in form factor means the PlayBook is lighter and easier to carry than a 10in tablet. Scrolling and zooming on web pages is smooth and the interface is responsive and easy to use. The screen is excellent, and the Blackberry App World store has some good software to try out.
But RIM is a far smaller player in tablets than either Google or Apple, and far fewer PlayBooks have been sold, which puts it lower on developers' lists. This is why there's a smaller selection of apps, and there’s a small chance that the firm will follow HP’s lead and choose not to continue developing the PlayBook in the future.
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