This week the iPad 2 completed the line-up for the Great Tablet Clash of 2011 (movie rights pending). Almost every major tech manufacturer has a touchscreen device ready to go, and they're set for a massive head-on collision when they go on sale in the next few months.
We reckon the biggest three players are Apple, Motorola and Samsung, who are bringing the iPad 2, the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to the fight respectively. But which of these touchscreen titans deserves your hard-won cash this year? Let's take a look at each device.
Apple iPad 2
The first iPad was the device that started the tablet revolution, and for this we respect it enormously. But respect comes cheap, and the iPad 2 has effectively retired Apple's first effort.
The iPad 2 is thinner, lighter and more powerful than its predecessor -- but does it offer enough of an improvement? It's now 8.8mm thick, which is a significant increase in, er, thinness. Compare that to the Xoom, which is 13mm thick, and the Tab 10.1, at 11mm, and in terms of slenderness the iPad 2 is a clear winner.
It's not all about slenderness though, and the iPad 2 will be running version 4.3 of Apple's iOS software when it's released in the UK on 25 March. Now iOS probably needs no introduction -- it's the iconic tiled operating system that's been on the iPad and iPhone since day one.
All your apps are arranged in a grid, and you swipe across homescreens firing up programs as you see fit. Naturally you'll also get access to iTunes and the App Store so you can download movies, music and games. Don't underestimate the appeal of these virtual stores -- the wealth of apps and things to download was one of the coolest things about the iPad, and a thriving app ecosystem will attract plenty of people this year too.
iOS is super-slick, even if it is quite restrictive -- Apple forces all apps through an approval process, so sometimes you don't get the apps you want as soon as you'd like them, or at all. There's also a major downside to iOS -- no Flash support.
Flash support isn't something that'll be troubling Xoom owners however (not after they get the upcoming Flash update anyway), because this Moto tablet is running Android, Google's mobile operating system. Specifically, it'll be the first tablet you can buy that's running Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb, which is the first version of the operating system built specifically for tablets.
Honeycomb brings dynamic widgets, a swoopy interface and a host of new features and integration of Google services, so if you rely on Gmail, Docs and Calendar, Honeycomb tablets are definitely something to look out for. Android in general is also more flexible, and lets you do a bit more tinkering, so it's ideal for dedicated geeks.
The Xoom itself isn't so flexible, however -- it's hefty, weighing a meaty 730g. That makes it the least portable tablet of the three.
But that extra weight has been put to good use -- filling the Xoom with useful ports. As well as a standard headphone port you'll get a micro-USB port for hooking the Xoom up to a computer, and a mini-HDMI port for exporting the tablet's audio and video feeds to a hi-def telly. That's super-useful if you're going to be storing a lot of movies on your tablet.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
The Tab is also running Android 3.0 Honeycomb, so it'll be very similar to the Xoom in the software stakes -- expect widgets, Flash support and access to the Android Market, where you can download thousands of free apps, without Apple peeking over your shoulder checking you're playing by the rules.
Structurally though, the Tab 10.1 is a lot like the iPad 2. It's slightly bigger, because the iPad 2 has a 9.7-inch display while the Tab 10.1's screen is (as you might have guessed) 10.1 inches on the diagonal. It's thin, however, and really light -- despite being slightly larger overall it's lighter than the iPad 2, weighing 599g. (The iPad 2 weighs 601g for the Wi-Fi only version and 613g for the Wi-Fi plus 3G version.)
The Tab 10.1 also delivers in the camera stakes -- a 2-megapixel camera on the front and an 8-megapixel round the back easily trumps the Xoom's 2 and 5-megapixel front and rear cameras. The iPad 2's snappers are paltry in comparison, a mere 0.9-megapixels on the rear-facing camera, and 0.3-megapixels on the front-facing gubbins. Rubbish.
It's still to early to say which of these tablets is the definitive champ, but we do reckon each tablet will appeal for different kinds of uses. If you want something for gaming, Web browsing and video chat, we strongly suspect the iPad 2 will prove extremely enjoyable to use.
If you want a tablet that's more industrious and offers more in the way of ports and media options, however, the Xoom looks like it'll be a good choice, but be wary that more portable tablets are available.
Finally, if you simply must have the slimmest, lightest gadget out there, we reckon the Tab 10.1 will be ideal for those who want to take their tablet out and about with them on whirlwind adventures.