How to Choose the Right Tablet

Software developer Daniel Elswick speaks for a legion of dedicated new tablet users when he sums up why he’s made the switch to the hottest computing trend since smartphones.

“I just don’t find myself doing much away from home that I need a full-fledged computer anymore,” he says. “Yesterday I used it [the iPad] for about five hours on my flight playing games and watching videos, and the battery was at about 55 percent when I landed.”

Millions of tablet users agree with Elswick about the ease of use and long battery life of the iPad. But Android and other PC tablets are gaining ground too. Here are the top five tablets heating up the market:

1. Apple iPad 2
, $429 to $829
Many Apple loyalists read about Steve Jobs resigning as Apple CEO on their iPad 2. The iPad is still the king of tablets by a wide margin. Thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, the iPad 2 also has two cameras so you can see your friends when you’re video chatting. It offers extra software, such as GarageBand. And unlike its older brother, it has rounded edges, so it can be held more comfortably for longer periods.

Upside: Tens of thousands of apps that users love and a high-definition video camera.

Downside: No USB ports. You still have to go through iTunes for many tasks -- such as upgrading your software or moving items from one folder to another -- that Windows users take for granted.

2. BlackBerry PlayBook
, $499 to $699
This attractive 7-inch tablet could become a major fighter in the tablet wars, especially for those who are already invested and committed to the “CrackBerry.” The hardware feels great, the tablet OS is easy to figure out, and the performance is staggeringly good -- especially when it comes to Web surfing. BlackBerry die-hards alone could turn this one into a winner.

Upside: Fast Web browsing, thanks to excellent Flash implementation. (Apple still refuses to use Flash on its tablets.)
Downside: Limited apps compared to the iPad.

3. Motorola XOOM
, $499 to $799
XOOM is certainly a contender for the hearts and minds of potential PC tablet buyers because it’s faster and smaller than most. The XOOM is equipped with a 32 GB hard drive for storing your photos, documents or movies. It also features 3G connectivity along with front- and rear-facing cameras, making it your portable camera too. The Xoom will be upgraded to Verizon Wireless speedier 4G wireless network in September, says the carrier.

Upside: Boots up faster than most other tablets because it’s loaded with high-end internal components.
Downside: To make the change to 4G, users can’t take the device back to the store but instead have to mail it back to Motorola -- the process is expected to take six business days.

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab , $429 to $599
The Galaxy Tab’s Android 2.2 operating system gives the device a number of selling points the iPad can’t claim, including full-featured multitasking. This means you can open multiple browser windows for your email, Facebook and other sites while also watching a movie. The Galaxy also features mini apps, which allow you to easily access commonly used features, such as a calendar, calculator or task manager. Mini apps can be launched as a pop-up over full-screen applications.

Upside: It’s a 7-inch slate -- a lot smaller than most other tablets, which is great if portability is your main concern.

Downside: Shorter battery life -- up to 7 hours of video playback.

5: Asus Eee Pad Transformer , $389 to 498
In the past, gadget reviewers have tended to agree: Android tablets don’t perform as well as Apple’s iPad. But not so with this sleek new tablet. It features a widescreen aspect ratio and an advanced touch display, which lets you see more screen real estate if you’re typing a document or watching a movie. The Eee Pad includes a keyboard dock that not only makes typing easier, but also doubles the battery life and boosts connectivity to the cloud.

Upside: Best price.

Downside: Apps: While there are thousands of apps for the iPad2, there are only hundreds for this tablet.

Got other questions or comments about tablets? Write in our message board below.

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5 Portable Tech Gadgets You Need This Summer

My friend, biologist Darrell Whitworth, works and lives in Italy for about half the year. Just recently he was traveling on the train from Arezzo to Rome when a thief nabbed his laptop. Unfortunately, it contained thousands of MP3 files and huge amounts of his research.

“I just left my seat for a minute,” says Whitworth. “When I got back, my backpack was gone.” If his laptop hadn’t already backed up his collection of digital music onto his new Cowon C2 Portable Media Player (PMP), he would’ve sworn off Italy for good.

The cool new C2 PMP is one of dozens of gadgets that could make your summer safer and more fun. From notebooks to e-books, here are the top five portable tech gadgets I recommend checking out before your upcoming excursions:

Cowon C2 Portable Media Player 

For: Those who love mobile music and video
Cost:
$135
Hot Feature:
50+ hours of battery life

As Whitworth discovered, the Cowon C2 is capable of supporting both music and video on its 2.6-inch resistive touch-screen display with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The diminutive Cowon C2 comes with a choice of 4 GB, 8 GB or 16 GB of storage built in. And there’s also a microSD card slot so you can add extra storage to store all your favorite movies and music. With a 32 GB microSD card, you can have a small PMP with 48 GB of space. The Cowon’s C2 is definitely the best pick in this price range.

G-Tech’s G-Connect 

For: Cloud-computing mavens
Cost:
$200
Hot Feature:
External storage that connects wirelessly

Seagate Technology recently introduced the first mobile hard drive that can stream content to the iPad. Now, Hitachi’s G-Technology has come up with a similar product of its own: the G-Connect wireless storage product. The G-Connect is a compact 500 GB portable hard drive that has a built-in Wireless-N access point that can stream your stored digital content to up to five wireless devices. The G-Connect has one major advantage over the Seagate product: It comes with an Ethernet port, so you can get online by connecting to an existing network as well. The G-Connect also comes with an app that enables Apple iOS devices to conveniently access its content.

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 

For: The savvy notebook user who loves Google
Cost:
$429
Hot Feature:
Near instant boot-up

For years, Google’s been touting the idea of always-on, always-connected laptops based on a version of its Chrome browser. At last, the Chromebooks are here, starting with the Samsung Series 5 -- a sharp-looking laptop that promises instant online access, 3G connectivity and long-enough battery life to surf the Web for hours. The Series 5 is more laptop than netbook. The glossy, white lid with metal Samsung and Chrome logos give it a unique look. And the entire system is decked out in a soft, rubberized plastic you could easily mistake for carbon fiber. If you love the Chrome browser (and don’t need to use any other) and would readily trade local storage for a zero-second boot time, then the Chromebook is a solid, formidable laptop that will weather your summer vacation and more.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer 

For: Those craving an Android tablet
Cost: $400
Hot Feature: Great price point

In the past, gadget reviewers tended to agree: Android tablets don’t perform as well as Apple’s iPad. Not so with this sleek new tablet from Asus. It features a wide-screen aspect ratio of a 10.1-inch 1,280 x 800-pixel capacitive touch display. As a result, you might feel more comfortable holding it in landscape orientation. The Eee Pad includes a keyboard dock that not only makes typing easier, but also doubles the battery life and boosts connectivity to the cloud. Removed from the keyboard dock, the tablet bears a face similar to many top new Android Honeycomb tablets. It’s glossy, black and rather iPad-like. Surrounding the black bezel is a strip of bronzed metal, lending the Eee Pad Transformer an impressive sense of quality that was missing from the all-plastic Samsung Galaxy Tab, last year’s top Android tablet.

Nook

For: Bookworms
Cost: $139
Hot Feature:
35 percent lighter than the first-edition Nook and long battery life
The new Wi-Fi-only Nook just about, well, closes the book on e-book readers. It measures 5 inches by 6.5 inches, weighs less than 7.5 ounces, and sports a 6-inch touch screen that marries infrared technology with a “Pearl e-ink” display to let users navigate with taps and swipes. Powered by Android 2.1, the Nook includes 2 GB of onboard storage, allowing for 1,000 downloaded books. It also has an SD card slot for additional storage. And it runs on an 800 MHZ Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor, which the company says enables a much smoother reading experience -- including quicker page transitions and 80 percent less “ghosting,” or page flashing. It also lasts two months between charges -- almost the entire summer. The Kindle 3 (the Nook’s biggest competitor) features a mere one month of battery life.