Upwardly Mobile: We Test Drive 8 Tablet PCs

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The CRN Test Center pits tablet vs. tablet, platform vs. platform. Where should you place your bets. The CRN Test Center pits tablet vs. tablet, platform vs. platform. Where should you place your bets. The CRN Test Center pits tablet vs. tablet, platform vs. platform. Where should you place your bets. This is the next great tech battle of our time: Tablet vs. tablet, platform vs. platform.

The winners will have broad sway over major IT issues in the coming years, including security, standards and developer loyalty. Some who bet correctly will become billionaires, and some who bet badly—to be polite—may need to update their resumes.

So where do you place your bet?


Slideshow: Pros and Cons of the Top Tablets

We’re not bookies, but after evaluating the major tablets and mobility platforms, we can say that mobility vendors fall into three categories: those who win, those who place and those who show.

We won’t create suspense: Apple’s iPad 2 and iOS are the industry’s flat-out leaders by a wide margin, with no end in sight. We don’t say this because it’s the flashy or popular choice, but because we hold Apple to the same standard to which we hold all tech companies: Does it add important value, and does it eliminate cost and complexity, or add to it?

Here’s a look at iPad 2 and its competitors.

iPad 2
The tablet PC segment has actually been around for more than a decade, but it took Apple’s iPad to get it right in a way that made it accessible, easy to use, and created a value-add ecosystem (through its iTunes App Store) that did what nobody before it could do.

Whether we’re talking about battery life (12 hours of real-world use), form factor, or security, Apple established leadership immediately upon the iPad’s first shipments. When it refreshed the lineup earlier this year with iPad 2, not even a year after the first iPad launched, it delivered a device with front and back cameras that was even thinner, lighter and had even better battery life (about 14 hours of real-world use.)

Our measurement for value-add, elimination of complexity and reduction of cost comes down to several factors.

First of all, does the device enable new and more efficient ways to get work done? Let’s look at a couple of examples. The iPad 2 wasn’t the first tablet to feature both front and rear cameras, but its ease of use, App Store’s quality testing, and engagement with third-party ISVs with a dead-simple software developer kit means it has simply outflanked every other tablet hardware and software provider.

Here’s what we’re talking about:

Download and install Jade, a free app from the App Store, and—bam—your iPad turns into a bar-code scanner. Send the data from that bar code into another app—say FileMaker or Bento—and track inventory, sales or even people. Upload the information to a central server and now you’re collaborating. Conduct a video chat, with Apple’s on-board FaceTime app, and now you can communicate in realtime.

The bottom line: Apple has created a platform that will let a business do for a few hundred dollars now what just two years ago may have cost as much as a few thousand—or tens of thousands—of dollars.

While competing tablets and platforms we’ve looked at—like Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy Tab 10.1—have great hardware and software, too (even better in some regards)—nobody has been able to pull it all together with such a vast, business-safe ecosystem like Apple.

Out of the box it’s dead simple to operate and integrate with, for example, an Exchange solution. It passes our cost-and-complexity test with much room to spare.

Technical Stars: 5
Channel Stars: 4
Price: $599 for 32 GB (list)

NEXT: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 

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