After the raging success of the iPhone, the Apple iPad has the tech media in a frenzy. But it's not going to be cheap, either to buy or to own. If the American price of US$499 for the most basic 16GB Wi-Fi only model to US$829 for the fully-featured 64GB 3G-equipped iPad. That works out—if you do the usual American-price-and-a-half markup we Australians suffer—to nearly AU$750 for the most basic model and nearly AU$1,250 for the deluxe model. That's the price of a full-featured laptop.
Tablet PCs have been around for some time to little public interest, but now that Apple is entering the game with their ultra-slick iPad, everyone else is desperate to compete. So, what are they working on?
First things first, we should probably go over what Apple's created, to get a fair idea of whatever everyone else is up against. The iPad is not a PC, but rather a multimedia device that's geared at making reading, gaming and browsing on the couch or on the go as easy as watching TV. According to reviews, thanks to its limited operating system the iPad is as smooth, robust and easy to use as an iPhone, and that's exactly what makes it so attractive to so many people.
What many critics have derided is the fairly hefty set of limitations that Apple has built into the iPad in their pursuit of user simplicity. No USB port, no expandable memory, no multitasking, no user-replaceable battery, no cellphone capabilty, no camera and no Flash support, making a vast number of websites unusable. Add a hefty pricetag to the fully-loaded 3G model, and you're looking at a small fortune for an extremely pretty toy and a it's Apple-only accessories. And you'll still need a PC to run it, too. So, if you like the form factor but not Apple's ideas about what you shouldn't and shouldn't do with it, then the folling devices may be worth the wait.
Fusion Garage JooJoo
Technology-site TechCrunch originally planned to sell this device, but had a falling-out with the manufacturer. Singaporean firm Fusion Garage have produced an Android tablet with a 12-inch HD widescreen that multitasks, runs Flash, has a USB port, and will therefore run the the complete web. Where it falls down compared to the Apple iPad is the bettery-life: only 5 hours compared to 12.
Not too fond of the simplistic Apple operating system on the iPad? The HP Slate will be running a full Windows 7 operating system. If you think the iPad has a lot of apps avaialble, then try Windows. Naturally, you can install any web browser and any browser plugin you require, and because you can install any media player, you can also play any file format in existence.
Dell Streak/Dell Mini 5
While some critics have taken aim at the iPad's various lacks, some have said it's too large for a carry-everywhere device. Dell has decided that the size sweetspot in between a phone and laptop is still pocketable, and so their Android-powered streak is a mere 5-incher. The truly interesting thing here is that it will function as a full mobile phone. So, add in multitasking, excellent media support, dual memory card slots, two cameras and the openness of Android and Dell may have a real winner here.
Archos 9 Internet Tablet
Archos are no strangers to producing extreme-featured media players, but the Archos 9 is more than that. It runs Windows 7 in full, meaning that like the HP Slate, you can use it for nearly anything. With ascreen-size similar to the iPad and a built-in TV tuner this is certainly better featured, but lacks that Apple capacitive touchscreen and smooth performance.
Notion Ink Adam
If you were thinking that LCD really wasn't the best screen technology for an e-reader then you'd be right: e-ink is better. Incredible battery life, no backlight, readable in sunglight. The problem is that it's nearly useless for anything else. Notion Ink has decided to end the argument and use a hybrid. If you just want to read, then their new Pixel Qi-equipped Adam switches off the backlight and goes into a passive display, and if you want to use it for anything else, it switchs to full LED. Running Android, it's open to whatever you'd like to do with it, and with USB and HDMI ports that's even easier.
Microsoft aren't taking the tablet wars lying down. Their in-development twin-screen Courier looks like it could trounce the iPad in nearly every department, including sheer sexiness. No word on any date for this project, but if this lives up to its demonstration video, Microsoft are set to take the prize for tablet design.