Thanks to the amazing success of Apple's iPad, tablet computers (sometimes known as slates or PC tablets) are popping up at a very fast pace from many technology manufacturers.
Digital frames and eBook readers seem to be holding their own. The digital frame is a natural adjunct to the traditional frame for viewing enjoyment and sharing of a large number of photos in one frame. The eBook reader is a natural choice for consumers who wish to have access to their book content at a moment's notice. Each is a natural outgrowth of the technological advancements of the 21st century and each has proven useful in its own niche.
The Death of the Netbook?
The tablet computers that are being produced today are still too expensive to cause too much of a concern to the digital frame or eBook reader industries. It seems that only one type of computer technology stands to lose ground with the advent of the tablet computer. And that is the netbook. (Although laptop computers are also getting a run for their money!)
The new tablet computers are touted to be able to perform as well if not better than any netbook. They are also fairly comparable in price. And, if this technology is anything like its predecessors, the price of tablets will very quickly drop as soon as (and if) consumers figure out whether or not they really are the perfect middle ground between a smartphone and a computer, both in mobility and feature capabilities.
The Tablet Concept--Not New!
The tablet computer concept is not a new one. It is at least a decade old. The early tablets were basically laptops that had swivel displays. They no doubt had more power and capabilities than the tablets of today but they were much heavier and bulkier and much more expensive. Even now, these "tablet computers" are still very expensive. They include models such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X Series and the Dell latitude XT2.
Windows OS vs. Google's Android for Mobile Devices
The Windows operating systems for these earlier tablet computers were not capable of propelling them into the ultra mobile pc devices they were expected to be. When Google introduced the Android OS, an extremely versatile solution for the mobile-embedded industry, it was at a time when it was important to compete with the increasing popularity of the Apple iPhone. Thus the Android OS was used primarily for mobile phones, not tablet computers. The version of the Android operating system known as Honeycomb (Android 3.3) was developed primarily for the larger screen tablets. Its successors have included several updates of Honeycomb, as well as Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).
Google's Android, dubbed "Honeycomb", revolutionized the functionality of larger screen devices, in particular, tablet computers. Tablets that flooded the market in 2011 ran on several different operating system platforms. These included but were not limited to Android (in a few of its versions) as well as Windows 7 and Palm's Web OS. Each tablet computer manufacturer chose what they considered to be the best platform for their particular needs and for that of the consumers they were targeting. The latest tablets from Microsoft will have Windows 8, specifically intended for Microsoft's newest tablet computer.
Since Google redesigned its Android operating system specifically for tablets, the majority of tablet manufacturers employed that version (3.0- Honeycomb) for their products. Notable exceptions included the Dell Streak, which used Android 2.2 and the Notion Ink Adam, which used Android 2.3. Tablets running Android 3.0 included the Motorola Xoom, the LG G-Slate, the Acer Iconia Tab A50, and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
Google refined the user interface for Honeycomb to be a uniquely virtual and holographic one. The improved multi-tasking features and home screen customization proved impressive. With access to the huge and hugely popular Android Market and an entirely new 3D experience with more interactive and redesigned widgets, it was difficult for other platforms to compete with Honeycomb.
Upgrades to the web browser, such as tabbed browsing and auto form-fill offered the user increased speed capacity for browsing. The much improved notifications bar showed incoming messages and completed file transfers much like that found in the windows operating systems. The user was able to quickly facilitate certain settings such as airplane mode and Wi-Fi on/off. The ability to sync with Google Chrome bookmarks as well as an incognito mode for private browsing allowed this version of Android to deliver an even more user-friendly experience.
Most important, especially to anyone desiring to use 3.0 Honeycomb for business purposes, was that most Android 3.0 tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and the LG G-Slate have access to a feature in the settings menu known as "Encrypt Tablet". When enabled, a tablet and all its software will require a password to unlock. Encryption is utilized to protect the data as well. This was a big step forward by Google to begin competing in the business market with Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices, which have been used by the business world for years because of their security features.
Honeycomb was optimized to run on both dual-core and single-core processors. It can support more advanced and powerful graphics and it possessed a new 3D graphics engine.
This version also incorporated applications developed by Google for the mobile world. These included Google Maps 5 which features 3D interactions and delivers offline dependability.
Honeycomb allows access to over 3 million Google eBooks as well. Book titles are actually stored on the cloud, rather than on the device. The book you are reading will be cached as you read it so if you should lose your signal, you won't lose the book. Additionally, if you open that same book on another device, such as your PC, you can then just pick up where you left off.
The Google version of Apple's "Face Time", Google Talk, is also available with Honeycomb. This feature allows video and voice chat between any 2 Google Talk-enabled devices, including PCs and tablets. Shortcuts on the homescreen makes it easy for users to find contacts to make video calls.
Users of this Android version are actually able to perform financial transactions from within applications, such as purchasing a copy of a magazine. This can also apply to game applications allowing the players to purchase a higher levels or more options for a game.
Honeycomb also has backward support for all apps developed for former versions.
The early launch of Tablets running Honeycomb did NOT support Flash 10.1. Now that Adobe and Google have launched Flash 10.2, the first update to Honeycomb 3.0, known as 3.1 included Flash 10.2. This version of Flash came complete with high frame-rates, dual-core support and a reduction in CPU usage during video, game and animation playback.
Previous Android platforms coming out of Google's "Bakery" have included Android 1.5 (Cupcake), Android 1.6 (Donut), Android 2.0/2.1 (Eclair), Android 2.2 (Froyo short for frozen yogurt!) and Android 2.3/2.4 (Gingerbread). (Please note that there may be variations in the actual number of each version. For example, 2.3 (Gingerbread) is sometimes mentioned as 2.4 and 3.0 (Honeycomb) is sometimes mentioned as 3.3.
This was on of the first updates to Honeycomb. There were several additions, fixes and new elements.
- This upgrade included optimizations for smaller tablet sizes such as 7-inch tablets. Several updated development tools allowed third-party developers to customize their apps to function differently based on a tablet's screen size.
- There were many subtle enhancements to the speed and stability of the system as well as some bug fixes of memory settings.
- By far the most important change that came with Android 3.2 was the addition of SD card support. Note that some tablet computers, such as the Asus Transformer and the Toshiba Thrive have supported external storage all along, but this has been due to manufacturer-made software modifications.
It is very important to note that unlike smartphones, which can both read and write to SD cards (treating them like regular drives), tablets with Android 3.2 can read an SD card but cannot write to it. This may make more sense considering the large volume of internal memory in most tablets, it is assumed by Google that tablet owners will probably be using SD cards more for storage of media rather than for application and data storage. This makes using and understanding of data file system structure less of a problem for the user.
It will still be possible to write to a SD card that is mounted in the tablet, but it will have to be done through a PC, using a USB connection, rather than from the tablet itself. There may yet be some apps that will not be able to read SD cards inserted into a tablet. Surely this is something that will be ironed out in the future.
Other Updates to Honeycomb
From the first Honeycomb version 3.0, introduced in February of 2011, there have been many updates including 3.1, 3.2 (mentioned above), 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.2.4, and 3.2.6 which was introduced in February of 2012. Each update fixed bugs that had been encountered when using previous versions and added a wide variety of useful features.
Android 4.0 - Ice Cream Sandwich
In October of 2011, Google introduced Android 4.1, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). As with each previous Android OS, the ICS platform went through many updates from October of 2011 through March of 2012 including 4.0.1, 4.0.2, 4.0.3, and 4.0.4. As expected, each update fixed bugs and brought new usability features to the version. Android 4.0 was touted to be compatible with any Android 2.3 device.
Android 4.1 - Jelly Bean
Android 4.1, named Jelly Bean, was introduced in June of 2012. This update spotlighted the overall improvement of the performance and functionality of the user interface.
webOS is the operating system that HP had planned to use to provide an overall "ecosystem" of connected devices, including pcs, printers and tablets. webOS was rebuilt from the ground up by Palm (which was acquired by HP in 2010). The first tablet introduced by HP to run on the webOS platform was the HP TouchPad. By using the word "pad" rather than "tablet", it seemed that HP was placing this new device in direct competition with the Apple iPad. Unfortunately, the actual time between the hype about the HP TouchPad and the actual launch proved to be too long. Consumers and the Press lost interest and the result was a dismal failure for the HP TouchPad. HP is no longer producing the product.
eBook Readers and the iPad
In the meantime, eBook readers came on the scene with simple interfaces that needed very little computing power, leading to prices that were very affordable. When Apple saw the popularity of these devices, it decided to increase the size and functionality of its iPhone and the iPad was born. The iPad was meant to compete directly with the eBook reader. But the iPad, with its added hardware and functionality also fit perfectly into what was considered a dying market--the Tablet PC.
Several popular eBook readers have evolved into tablet-like devices. They range from simple black and white reading devices such as the Kindle and the Nook to functional tablets, some with Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities, such as the Kindle Fire and the Nook Color Tablet.
So the tablet frenzy has begun and once again, thanks to Apple, the consumer is now faced with an overwhelming amount of choices as manufacturers each feel the frenetic need to introduce their own versions of tablets. The CES (Consumer Electronics Show), which took place in the first part of January, 2011 in Las Vegas, was the showcase for introducing a good number of them.
This section of the website will serve to introduce tablet computers to consumers as they begin to appear on the scene. That way we should be able to get in on the ground floor with this re-emerging technology and perhaps smooth away some of the confusion as far as what each model is offering and how to choose the best one for your own needs.
What Should We Look for in Tablet Computers?
Features of tablets from different manufacturers can vary. Below are a few features that may help you to choose the tablet that will best serve your needs:
- Usability - Is it easy and comfortable to hold with one or both hands?
- Build - Is it solidly built?
- Screen - Is it reflective? Is it sunlight-proof? Is the viewing angle good? Is the color and the contrast between black and white good? Is it wide-screen or portrait?
- Size - Can it easily fit into a jeans or jacket pocket or purse?
- Speed - Is it fast or slow? Responsive or non-responsive?
- Apps - Are they readily available? Easy to access?
- Videos - How is the playback? Will the file structure allow for more than 4GB so full-length movies can run?
- Audio - Is it clear? Do the speakers perform satisfactorily?
- Phone - Is it sharp and clear?
- Email App - Is it readable and does it work well? What about the messaging?
- GPS - Does it work well and accurately, especially the direction sensor?
- Battery - What is the battery life?
- Connectivity - Is it Wi-Fi? Bluetooth? Cellular?
Patience On the Part of the Consumer is Required!
It is important to remember that as new models and new or improved operating systems appear on the marketplace, bugs will invariably become apparent. Responsible manufacturers will quickly provide firmware updates to fix these so there will have to be a period of adjustment and patience on the part of the consumer, as with any new (or new/old) technology.
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