10 Coolest Tablet PCs Of 2011 (So Far)

The Year of the Tablet PC?

Some days, it may seem like there are a million tablet PCs in the marketplace – given all the ink and pixels dedicated to them in news reports. But, in truth, there are a few vendors that are responsible for tablet PCs this year that are changing the computing landscape. Here are a look at 10 tablets that are changing IT from the first half of 2011.

Apple iPad 2

Less than a year after Apple launched its first-generation iPad, it pushed its follow-up – iPad 2 – into the market. iPad 2 was built to be slimmer and lighter, and also added two cameras and Apple’s slick FaceTime video-calling application. Built with a dual-core A5 processor, iPad 2 maintained the same pricing as the earlier generation iOS-based tablet PCs and increased the pressure on rivals.

Toshiba Thrive

Even before this tablet hit the market, Toshiba was aggressive in showing it off behind the scenes. Based on the Honeycomb version of the open-source Android operating system, Thrive provides some neat features that Apple lacks – including an easy-to-navigate file system that’s just a snap to work. Plus, Thrive comes with Toshiba’s long-time great engineering and brilliant display and audio. These are features that, no doubt, will have it positioned as a key player in the tablet PC space.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

Research In Motion has arguably been the most important company to the current tablet and smart phone revolution – as its BlackBerry devices were so addictive at one point the phrase ’crackberry’ seemed to sum it all up nicely. Though RIM has stumbled in recent years, it is seeking to change its fortunes with the BlackBerry PlayBook, featuring a 7-inch display and its own BlackBerry Tablet OS. One problem: There aren’t nearly as many apps as there are for Android or iOS platforms – but Adobe has promised to take a leadership position here by, among other things, making its creative software work on the BlackBerry PlayBook.

ViewSonic ViewPad 10

ViewSonic was one of the industry’s first makers of Windows-based tablet PCs a decade ago, and it was one of the first to come out with newer tablets in this generation. The ViewPad 10 shipped to market as a dual-boot device: pressing the ’on’ key takes you to a boot menu that lets you choose between Windows 7 Professional or Android 2.3. Each OS boots quickly and gets you to the main screen just fine.

HP TouchPad

Based on HP’s WebOS operating system, which it acquired when it bought Palm, the TouchPad is built with a 9.7-inch display and weighs in at 1 pound, nine ounces. It comes with VPN support and works with any HP printer that has shipped in the past five years – major differentiators from other tablets. The problems: lack of app support, a kludgey setup process and a black case that quickly becomes covered in messy fingerprints. WebOS is a sleek operating system, and with its security and printer support, could find itself a player in the corporate segments as the market and channel become more comfortable with it in the coming months.

Acer Iconia

Acer has been a thorn in the side of both HP and Dell for the past several years in the PC space, and is set up to be a worthy rival in the tablet arena now as well. The Iconia A500 is built with a nice, 10.1-inch WXGA TFT LCD capacitive screen offers multi-touch capability, of course, and is driven by an ultra low-power NVidia GeForce GPU. The screen is highly visible from any angle up to about 80 degrees. Native resolution is 1280 x 800, and the device supports for 262,000 colors, and an aspect of 16:10; adequate for viewing HD 720p content. Later this year, a scheduled update will support 1080p output to the Iconia's HDMI port. Running Android, the Iconia is positioned to take a noticeable slice of market share.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Asus was the company that turned netbooks into a worldwide craze four years ago, so nobody should have expected the company to sit idly by during the tablet PC explosion. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is easily one of the most noticeable of the tablets in the market – it’s built like a netbook with a keyboard and clamshell design. The magic happens when the display is removed from the rest of the device and becomes an Android-based slate. This provides the best of both worlds and should garner it a fair amount of attention in a highly competitive tech market segment.

Dell Streak 5

It’s not just an Android tablet; he Dell Streak 5 is a tablet-phone or, as the Round Rock, Texas-based company calls it: a Mini.

The unfortunate part of the product is that it runs Android 2.2 – and not the tablet-based Honeycomb operating system. Nice part is that Dell understands quality hardware and, with a 5-inch display, has set up the Dell Streak 5 to be a competitor to both tablets and smart phones.

Fujitsu LifeBook Stylistic Q550

Fujitsu bills the LifeBook Stylistic Q550 as a tablet that is ’a business-oriented device that empowers [the] mobile workforce to get real work done.’

Based on Windows 7 Professional, the Q550 isn’t built as much to be transformative as it is to be an extension of corporate client computing without compromising existing security or application support. It is built with PC and HDMI support, a 9.7 -inch screen and weighs in at 1 pound, 14 ounces. What we like: this tablet was built to provide maximum mobility with minimal disruption to IT systems: making it perfect for traditionally conservative verticals like health care.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Available for pre-order as of press time, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is its entry into the 10-inch-plus, Honeycomb space. Considered one of the first manufacturers to compete strongly with Apple in the tablet space, Samsung is clearly aiming to keep its spot as a top alternative to iPad 2. At about one-third of an inch thick, the Galaxy 10.1 is keeping pace in the form-factor department with pricing that is the same as the iPad 2 (at $499 for 16 GB and $599 for 32 GB.)