1:15 am, New Delhi International Airport, Croma Store: person in line has just bought a Motorola Xoom Tablet
2:45 am, Lufthansa Flight LH 761 to Frankfurt: a woman across the aisle in a sharp business suit fishes out an Asus Transformer Tablet
4:55 pm, Selfridges on Oxford Street: Bollywood actor from Dharmendra clan has spent 15 minutes quizzing me on all the Tablets available (nine of them) and finally decided on buying the Blackberry PlayBook
6:15pm, T-Mobile Store on Marble Arch: there’s a line of three people; two of them have just bought the HTC Flyer Tablet.
Yes, it’s on. The one-horse race is finally a full fledged clash of thoroughbreds. While the iPad and the iPad 2 have created and captured the market, the monopoly is over. The floodgates have opened and a tidal wave of Tablets has swept across the world. Strangely enough, India is right there on the priority release list for each and every brand. If you’re in the market for a Tablet, here are your contenders.
Very small and portable, typical HTC-level, tank-like build quality and form factor. Looks very different from others, great screen, speedy processor, good battery life, good optics, has some special add-ons and touches like the magic pen and HTC Sense. Runs Android 2.3 and is priced at around R 38,000. Reasons to buy: Super portable, stunning looks, great build quality and the magic pen works well. Reasons to ponder: Unjustified high price, doesn’t run Honeycomb, the latest version of Android for Tablets.
Seven inches of multimedia and multitasking heaven, bulletproof OS, smart gestures for extra functions, industrial design that is simple yet elegant and a rubberised back that doesn’t slip. Prices start from around R 26,000 Reasons to buy: Well-priced, QNX is great, best multi-tasking yet on a Tablet. Reasons to ponder: Apps (the dearth of them). BlackBerry Bridge forces you to connect to a BlackBerry phone for email, contacts, notes and calendar, a blunder that RIM needs to correct NOW!
The mothership, the showcase device for Android Tablets, the best reason to try Honeycomb. Beautiful screen, great build, has all the ports you want, super responsive, brilliant optics, lots of power, lots of RAM, nothing can slow down this beast. Prices start from around R 32,000 32GB (WiFi-only version). Reasons to buy: Beats the pants off all others in hardware, huge screen, great resolution, feels very solid in the hand. Reasons to ponder: Heavy, not all ports have been enabled, not too many native apps for Honeycomb yet.
Samsung GALAXY Tab 7, 8.9 and 10.1
The one company that seems to be taking the Tablet market very seriously. Has offerings across the board. The 8.9 and the 10.1 run Honeycomb and is what Samsung designers went back to the table and came up with after the iPad 2. The 10.1 is the big deal here. It’s lighter than anything else in the market, has a screen to kill for and may well be Samsung’s silver bullet fired straight into the heart of the Tablet war. Reasons to buy: Samsung has promised aggressive pricing. Now if only they can shave off 15 per cent off the iPad 2 prices! Reasons to ponder: If they still play the ‘Samsung is a premium brand and thus will only sell at premium pricing’, it is game over.
Enjoy The Tablet for the rest of us. And that’s a big market. Remember, if you don’t have about R 30,000 to spend, you’re pretty much out of the Tablet market as the lowest offerings start from there. But not for the Enjoy. Very well priced at about R 14,000, this one still has a 10.1 inch screen, looks good and sports two cameras, two mini-USB ports and an HDMI-out. The screen isn’t razor sharp and the hardware isn’t stellar, but it’s a great entry for what is predicted to be a huge market: the Economy Tablet! Reasons to buy: Price, price, price. Reasons to ponder: Screen, build and innards are a little off. But only a little.
Acer Iconia A500
The first Honeycomb Tablet to be launched in India, this one has it all: good hardware, a 10.1-inch screen, aluminium casing, dual-core Tegra 2 processor, HDMI-out, 5 and 2 MP back and front-facing cameras respectively and Dolby Mobile Audio It has a logical button layout and costs about R 27,000.
Reasons to buy: Fantastic hardware, good price, functional USB port and a microSD card slot. Reasons to ponder: Slightly bulky, screen has a fine grid and there is no 3G version yet. There are others. The OlivePad is now playing the price champion game (about 13K); HCL has the ME Tablets; Notion Ink is finally shipping; LG seems to be playing a bit of a waiting game (but from whatever has been announced, the LG Optimus Tablet looks promising); Asus has the notebook-killer Transformer coming up.
The other biggie that may just be the giant killer is of course the HP TouchPad with webOS. Stage two of the Tablet war is now officially underway. Three months from now, another three or four new Tablets will be out, current kinks will have been ironed out, prices will have dropped, iOS 5 on the iPad 2 will have been released and some real sales numbers will be available.
Will it still be a one-horse race? I seriously doubt that. As Tesio said about horse racing: “A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart and wins with his character.” I have a feeling the Tablet war will be also be won by a device with the great lungs, a big heart and a strong character. Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni