If you’re looking for a tablet and don’t fancy an iPad, then Android is currently the way to go.
There are other options out there; Windows 7 tablets are available, the BlackBerry PlayBook is on sale now and the HP TouchPad has come and gone in a flurry of £99 panic-buying. But Android 3.2 is currently the main OS rival to the iPad, and the products are still creeping onto the shelves one by one.
We’ve recently seen the launch of Nvidia’s next-generation Tegra 3 chip which is destined to power 2012’s quad-core Android tablets to new heights. The likes of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime are already beckoning in the new era, and with next year’s full-on release of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), the iPad might soon be feeling the heat.
Some tablets have ten-inch screens, others seven, and there are big differences in battery life, processing power and on-board RAM. So while we wait for the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Amazon Kindle Fire, let’s see what the current best tablets are…
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
The first quad-core Tegra 3 tablet smashes its way to the top of our list
The original Asus Eee Pad Transformer is still one of the best Android tablets around, but the Prime is the best of them all.
It’s one step better than its predecessor in every respect, and is the first tablet to launch with Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 CPU which adds super-powers and increased power efficiency.
Playing 1080p videos is no longer a problem, with high-res clips playing on the Prime’s albeit sub-1080p display smoothly and without issue. It’s also the thinnest tablet we’ve yet seen, and comes with a gorgeous keyboard dock which adds an additional 8-hours of battery life to tablet unit’s 9-hours.
It’s the best Android tablet yet launched, and it’ll be unleashed on the UK in January in one single 32GB flavour with keyboard dock and a £499 price tag.
Asus Eee Pad Slider
Best Android tablet for: doing things a little differently
The Apple iPad 2 is the daddy. It doesn’t matter what the arguments for Android are, the fact is that the iPad is still just about the best out-and-out tablet out there. And that’s why the Slider is such a compelling option – it’s not a straight iPad-competitor, it offers something different. The slide-out keyboard offers flexibility and functionality not on offer elsewhere.
It’s a different prospect to the Transformer Prime above in that it cannot be disconnected from its keyboard, nor does it pack the Tegra 3 innards.
But what it does do is make it easier to work on the train, type emails and documents with the convenience of not needing a dock or peripheral. What’s more, the screen is the best we’ve seen on a 10-inch Android tablet, and it’s also the most responsive. It’s not for everyone, but it’s currently one of the very best tablet for showing off everything that Android can do.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Best Android tablet for: portability and power
In at number three is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 – and it’s a funny little thing. It’s essentially the same as its older brother, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but with an 8.9-inch screen. It’s slightly thinner and lighter, and consequently more convenient for anyone wanting to stuff it in a bag.
Apart from these physical attributes, the internal components are basically the same. So you get the same slick performance and overall tablet experience. We’ve put this above the 10.1 because of the increased convenience owed to its slightly smaller size, but that shouldn’t put you off going for the 10.1 if you’re after a bigger screen.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Best Android tablet for: the out-and-out tablet experience
While the Transformer and Slider offer something a little different at an unbeatable price, our number 5 -the Galaxy Tab 10.1 – offers a direct alternative to Apple’s iPad 2. Sporting the Tegra 2 dual-core CPU, it’s both marginally thinner and lighter than the iPad 2. This was some achievement, especially when you consider the fuss Apple made about how thin and light the iPad 2 was on launch.
But it has since been beaten on this front by its little 8.9-inch sibling and of course the Transformer Prime.
If you want an iPad-like tablet that’s not an iPad, this is the one. The prices are the same as the iPad 2, so it’s a straight shoot-out on features…
Asus Eee Pad Transformer
Best Android tablet PC for: replacing your netbook
We love the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. It’s been around for a while now, and in our opinion, it’s still one of the most compelling Android tablets available. Not only is it powerful and well featured, it’s designed to work with a keyboard dock which turns it into a fully-fledged Android-powered netbook.
The fact is that Android as an OS is still lagging behind iOS in terms of tablet usability, so products need a USP. And on that score, this is the tablet that changed the game.
So with the release of the Transformer Prime, you may well find this tablet at discounted prices. And thus could be had for a bargain if you search hard enough.
Motorola Xoom 2
Best Android tablet for: fast dual-core performance
In at a disappointing number 6, the Motorola Xoom 2’s most noticeable upgrade might be in the chassis, but it’s also had an upgrade to a 1.2GHz CPU, along with Android 3.2.This has produced a tablet that’s quite snappy overall, though it does still suffer from the odd moment where swipes take a moment to register.
In all honesty, we’re rather disappointed with the Xoom 2. It’s not the all-conquering tablet we were hoping it was going to be. It doesn’t quite match the best tablets above or the iPad for quality, and many good Android tablets have it beaten for price.
Ultimately, the Xoom 2 is an improvement over the original Xoom, but not over the competition.
Sony Tablet S
Best Android tablet for: PlayStation gaming
As a veritable mega-giant in the consumer tech universe, Sony’s landing on Planet Tablet was always going to be interesting. Blasting off alongside the fold-in-half Tablet P, the Tablet S has a unique wedge-shaped design and top-end specs.
It’s a very decent and refined tablet, and has the unique feature of having access to original PlayStation games. The only issue is that it’s not as tidy as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and not as versatile as the Transformer. Apart from that, it’s one of the best Android tablets out there.
Best Android tablet for: sleek good looks and solid performance
At number eight we have the original Motorola Xoom. The Xoom was the first Honeycomb tablet to hit the shelves, and is thus the grandfather of the Android stable.
Current prices are starting at about £300, which is great value for a 10-inch tablet of this calibre and it’s thus worthy of your attention. Solid build quality, decent battery life, good performance. Beware though, the Motorola Xoom 2 already here.
Toshiba AT100 / Thrive
Best Android tablet for: anyone who wants a full-size HDMI port
There’s a predicament with the Toshiba AT100: it has a certain appeal for advanced users who’ll appreciate the slick performance, but the bulky size is a major problem.
One brilliant move was to make the USB and HDMI ports full size. You can just unplug your Xbox and snap in the Toshiba AT100 when you want to watch on an HD TV. The tablet enables you to plug in a regular keyboard and mouse – this ease of adding peripherals is a win. Battery life is another bonus. Yet, the hefty size and weight (plus the passable screen quality) is the main reason we prefer other recent tablets.
LG Optimus Pad
Best Android tablet for: Playing around with 3D
The consumer electronics giants are throwing everything at 3D, and LG decided that its first Android tablet should play a role in its ‘3D is the best’ hearts and minds mission. The tablet has dual-5MP cameras which work together to shoot 3D images and record 3D footage. Cool, huh? The problem is that there’s no 3D screen, so if you want to watch your 3D movies you’ll need to either plug the tablet into a 3D TV or watch in anaglyph 3D on the tablet’s screen. If you’re crazy about 3D, though, this is your next Android tablet.
Acer Iconia Tab A500
Best Android tablet for: fans of brushed aluminium bodywork
Acer’s Android tablet is good looking and offers similar performance to the other Android 3.0 tablets on show here. We like it, but it’s missing a bit of sparkle and there’s not much here that we can cling on to. It’s not as stylish as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and doesn’t offer anything different like the Transformer does with its keyboard.
Acer Iconia Tab A100
Best Android tablet for: budget 7-inch tablet performance
It’s hard to recommend the Acer Iconia Tab A100 in light of the 10-inch alternatives. Yet, for ebook fans and those who like smaller tabs, this is the best of the 7-inch lot.
In some ways, the BlackBerry PlayBook is better in a technical sense – at least it does real multitasking – but it has too few apps. We like the A100 for an express purpose: greater mobility and book reading. For most tasks, a 10-inch tablet is a wiser bet. But for well under £300, this is not a bad product.
Best Android tablet for: Portability and fans of Sense
HTC has decided to release this tablet running on Android Gingerbread, which will upset some purists that believe these tablets should run on Honeycomb. However, the HTC Sense overlay deals with that, offering a new range of widgets and content to mask the fact it’s running older versions of the OS (although a Honeycomb update is imminent).
The Update to Honeycomb has also just been announced, so don’t let that Android issue put you off.The Flyer has a 7-inch LCD screen, and comes with an aluminium unibody shell that feels very nice in the hand. However, with a price of nearly £600, can this tablet compete?
Archos 101 G9
Best Android tablet for: those on a budget
If you’re in the market for a capable tablet, but have a limited budget, then this is one of the best options outside of the price cuts that you can get.The potential problem is we’re about to be bombarded by cut-price tablets, and much better units can be had for this kind of cash – tablets with more memory, built from better materials and generally put together with more love.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
The original iPad rival – does the Galaxy Tab still have something to offer?
Samsung’s original 7-inch Galaxy Tab is looking a bit old and tired now, and we weren’t big fans of it when it was brand new anyway. However, with heavy discounts, this tablet is now available for under £300 and there are plenty of attractive 3G package deals available. There’s no Android 3.0 here though, which makes this Tab little more than a smartphone on steroids.
Amazon Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire is a curious beast. While it’s not out in the UK yet, it’s making waves in the USA by virtue of its majorly modified Android 2.3 interface, its integrated iPad-like Amazon ecosystem and of course… a heavily subsidised price.
We’ve reviewed the Fire, and we think it’s a brilliant tablet for the price. But until a worldwide or even UK launch is confirmed, we can’t place it in our list. We don’t know how much it’s going to cost, and we don’t know if all the features available in the US will be included elsewhere.
So until then it’s a tantalising prospect. A star in the making.