I purchased my first ever iPad this year, in the midst of what seems to be the greatest time of inter-tablet battle that the world has ever seen. While I love my iPad 2 very much, I decided that, for the sake of becoming familiar with the competition, as well as granting a fair chance to the competition, that I should try out some of the competitive tablets on the market. Samsung and Blackberry happily stepped up to the plate by providing units for me to check out, and after spending a little over a week with the tablets, I provide my analysis below.
Every tablet wants to be an iPad killer – but I wonder if that should really be the goal? Despite my iPad-based reservations, I found all three tablets to be excellent consumer devices, each with its own strengths, and each standing on its own merits.
I want to note right here at the beginning that the purpose of this article is NOT to provide an in-depth comparison of the hardware, software, and features of each tablet. Instead, after spending a full week with each tablet, this article will express the strengths and weaknesses I found with each tablet, and will, in particular, emphasize that each of these units have great strengths, and, despite my reservations, there are great things about each tablet that the others lack, and that there are great reasons for people to choose one of the competing tablets over the iPad.
The first review unit that I received was the Blackberry PlayBook. Despite what many of my fellows from other Apple blogs seem to indicate, the Playbook really is not as bad as people say it is. While it does (for the moment) lack some seemingly basic features, such as native email, for instance, the purpose of the Blackberry Playbook isn’t necessarily to be a business device – it is called the PLAYbook after all. The unit’s strengths revolve around its excellent web browsing, great support for media, and its use as a picture/video/multimedia consumption device – it does these things well.
In terms of performance, the Blackberry Playbook is solid – it’s fast, it multitasks well, has a touch-sensitive bezel, which comes in handy for a lot of tasks, and can handle productivity-related tasks exceptionally well. It’s also capable right out of the box of interesting things like Wi-Fi file sharing, which provide some unique benefits.
The weakness of the PlayBook is in its apps – there just aren’t a large number of apps available, and it lacks the Android app support that it originally was slated to have. Nevertheless, the apps that it does feature, including pre-installed productivity software for documents and spreadsheets – performs exceptionally well.
The browser is also exceptional, often beating my iPad 2 in timed loading of websites, includes a nice tabbed browsing experience, and in general provides the best actual browsing experience of the three tablets. It also supports Adobe Flash – an inclusion which can make certain types of browsing seem a bit nicer.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Next up is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. This is a truly beautiful and beastly machine. Running Android 3.1, it performs very quickly, and very well. While it doesn’t have the application infrastructure that the iPad 2 has, I was nevertheless able to locate at least one app for pretty much anything I wanted to do – although often, there wasn’t much of a choice, with many cases of only 1 or 2 apps being available to handle a certain task.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time watching movies or looking at photos, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 might be for you – the screen is gorgeous, and surpasses even that of the iPad 2. It’s also oriented for 16X9 wide screen movies, making it perhaps more ideal for getting a true cinematic experience.
Additionally, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is much, much more customizable than the iPad 2, featuring support for widgets, containing 5 customizable home screens, each of which can be configured with apps, widgets, various notification features, and so forth – the apps all fit into a single Apps menu, and stay out of the way unless you really need them.
While the iPad 2’s lack of flash is of minimal concern to users of the device, as a great deal of HTML 5 web content is available, and there are apps to more than compensate for its lack, the fact that Adobe Flash works well on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does make it more convenient for certain types of browsing, as well as for online games, viewing in-page videos (such as at a recipe site), and so forth – though I certainly don’t consider this a huge advantage for anyone who isn’t already immersed in a world filled with Flash content.
The iPad 2 might be the most well-rounded of the three tablets – it is capable of providing excellent multimedia support, and can sync with iTunes, which acts as a nice organizational library for your content. It had the best battery life out of the three units, and has by far the largest library of apps of all types, both free and paid.
Using apps for your content rather than a browser has its own unique advantages (such as notifications), and the iPad 2 certainly makes this easy, providing a hideously massive library of applications.
Further, the iPad 2 has a certain unmistakable design aesthetic – brushed aluminum and black (or white) glass certainly seem appealing to many users, and the form factor of the iPad, because Apple has opted not to include a 16X9 widescreen form factor, is the most comfortable to use on both portrait and landscape formats, and switching between the two orientations feels much more natural.
I also found the iPad 2 more comfortable to hold, as well as having significantly better battery life. In all reality, the only thing, software and experience wise, that the iPad 2 lacks in relation to its competitors, is support for Adobe Flash, and because it is able to achieve better battery life without this, and has more than enough apps to make up for the “missing” flash content (which most users never encounter any problems with), I don’t consider this a fault at all.
Conclusion / Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Each of these three tablets is a beautiful device, and represents a harmony between hardware, software, and content. Each aims itself at a different category of user, and I can see each being a fulfilling and enjoyable consumer experience, depending on the particular tastes, habits, and inclinations of the users.
Each of the devices had acceptable battery life, provided a unique interface and usage experience, and reflected their own specific strengths. For a consumer that wants to use a few apps, view photos, browse the web, and consumer Internet content, each of these devices can be a good choice, with the difference largely being stylistic, or depending on the particular usage habits of the user.
In short, there are great reasons to use each tablet, and when shopping for a tablet, individuals should be less concerned about specifications, and brand names, and instead spend some time with each device, and determine which one looks best to them, feels best to them, and will meet their needs in the most comfortable way.
I tire of the dogma between the tablets – the iPad 2 is very nice, and is my choice of tablet, due mostly to the excellent and widely varying selection of apps – but I see no reason to rally against Blackberry, or any of the Android tablets, because, while they aren’t my personal choice of device to use, I can honestly see why some individuals choose them over the iPad – and rallying against consumer choice is never a good place to be in.
Even if you’re an avid Apple fanboy, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that each of these competitive tablets do at least something better than the iPad, and each introduces ideas, features, and other practical bits that Apple and other companies can certainly learn from. In the end, the goal is for the consumer to be happy with their purchase, and that’s all we should really be concerned with.