Mar 8th, 2011

With the tablet explosion that has occurred in the past year, some of you might be doing some tablet research for the first time.  So, which device is right for you?

Various Android Tablets

The Premium Tablets (XOOM, Galaxy Tab, Optimus Pad)

The Motorola XOOM 10.1″ tablet is the newest Android tablet while the Galaxy Tab is currently the reigning 7″ champion.  In addition to these current offerings, Samsung has a new 10.1” tablet coming out soon along with an 8.9” tablet coming from LG called the Optimus Pad.  While you are considering these “high end” devices, there are a slew of other Android tablets available of which many people may not even be aware.

If you want the Tablet to work right out of the box without any modding or hacking, your best options currently are the Xoom or the Galaxy Tab.  The Xoom is a more capable device based on specs alone, but if you are looking for a 7″ screen, the Galaxy Tab may be more appealing to you.  These devices get a lot of media attention, and rightfully so, but maybe they are a little out of your price range?  Don’t worry…you don’t have to feel completely left out!

Aside from the premium tablets, there are several other devices available in a variety of sizes and at different price points.  Archos has several tablets ranging in sizes from 3.2″ all the way up to 10″.  The ViewSonic gTablet sports the same Tegra2, dual-core processor found in the Motorola Xoom and it has a 10.1” screen of its own.  And let’s not to forget the unlikely competitor with the 7″ Android powered NOOKcolor by Barnes & Noble.

If you don’t mind performing some tweaks, you can pick up a very capable device at a fairly low price.  While there are many “budget” tablets currently available, we will highlight a few of the most popular.  Here is a basic rundown of some various tablets you might want to consider:

Archos Gen 8 Tablets (28, 32, 43, 70, and 101 models):

You will most likely want to install the Android Market on these devices as soon as you open the box.  The tablets all come with a secondary market pre-installed from the manufacturer but the number of available apps is not comparable with Android Market.  It is a very simple process and should not scare off even the most novice user.  If you want to stop there, you can.  You DO NOT have to root your device to add the Android market, this WILL NOT void your warranty, and you will be able to install future OTA firmware upgrades without worry.

Further community development for the Archos tablets is rather slow at this time.  There aren’t any custom ROMs (aka “firmware” or “operating system”) to speak of and the only real tweaks you can do just make the device run a little faster and remove the 256MB installed app storage limit.  The 28 (2.8” screen) and 32 (3.2” screen) models are a little lacking with 800MHz processors and both have resistive touch screens.  The 43 (4.3” screen), 70 (7” screen), and 101 (10.1” screen) models all sport a 1GHz processor and have the ever convenient kickstand (where is that on the high-end tablets?), and the latter two of those have a capacitive, multi-touch LCD screen.

The biggest downfall of these devices is the 256MB of RAM vs. the 512MB seen on the comparable devices listed below.  But these Archos tablets are valued priced as shown here (all models expandable via micro USB):

  • $199.99 – 43 internet tablet
  • $249.99 – 8GB 70 internet tablet
  • $299.99 – 250GB 70 internet tablet (yeah…that’s 250GB!)
  • $299.99 – 8GB 101 internet tablet
  • $349.99 – 16GB 101 internet tablet

Viewsonic gTablet:

It seems like this tablet had a pretty rocky start in the retail stores.  The few retail stores that carried this device pulled them off the shelves initially because of the many software issues that plagued it.  So why is it a viable choice?  Because the Android developer community has turned out some excellent ROMs that rid the device of the custom firmware that ViewSonic implemented on this device.

To say ViewSonic missed the mark might be a bit of an understatement.  But after doing a little modding, you will have a smoothly running, future proofed 10.1” tablet with a dual-core processor that will give you “high end” specs at a pretty reasonable price of about $399.99 (but if you shop around and you may find one for less than that).

The device has been criticized since its release for having poor viewing angles but most owners appear to say that is an issue that was blown slightly out of proportion.  Fact is that this device has high-end specs at a mid level price.  The NVIDIA Tegra2 1.0GHz processor, and 512MB of RAM set this apart from the other budget tablets. You won’t find 3G connectivity here, but an excellent choice if you are looking for a wifi only powerhouse and don’t mind installing one of the aftermarket ROMs to replace the factory installed operating system.

Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor:

So it is probably not new news to many of our readers that the NOOKcolor e-reader can transform into a functional Android tablet.  This little powerhouse may not “wow” the people chasing down the high-end tablets, but it is quite possibly the best value of any device currently running the Android OS.  For $250 (or less), you will have an 800MHz powered device capable of running Honeycomb (albeit, not perfected just yet) with a high resolution 1080×600 capacitive, 7” multi-touch LCD.  The highest stable overclock is currently 1.1GHz and the 512MB of RAM is a nice touch that the Archos tablets are missing.

Bottom line…the NOOKcolor was born to be a tablet and not just an innocent little e-reader!  The build quality of this device is stellar which makes it a tad on the heavy side but it is very thin and feels nice to hold.  Once again, this device requires some modding but most users do not have problems with it.  If you do run into problems, you can rest assured that your device is not “bricked” (meaning the device will not boot and there is NOTHING you can do to fix it).  The NOOKcolor will always boot from SD card if you have a disk image loaded on it.  So if you delete your recovery image, along with your firmware do not panic…just burn a disk image to a SD card and salvation is just minutes away.  Because this device is almost completely unbrickable, that may offer beginners a little piece of mind.  In reality, most devices are hard to completely foul up.  But if we were going to crown a winner for being the hardest to brick, the NOOKcolor would get my vote.

What’s best for you?

So first, you should figure out what you are going to do with an Android tablet.  Does the extent of your everyday use entail surfing the web, checking out Phandroid, watching YouTube videos, listening to music, watching movies, and checking out new music videos with the free VEVO app?  If so, maybe you are better off with one of the surprisingly capable, yet surprisingly affordable tablets.

Every user needs to find a device that meets their specific requirements and budget.  Don’t forget to head over to the tablet specific section of our forums to help you with your buying decision.  There are many active conversations taking place right now that may just help you find the right device for you.

And if you’ve already purchased an Android tablet, what device did you choose and why?