If you're in the market for a tablet computer, this handy review of the top six 2011 models will give you a great place to start.
1. Apple iPad 2
Apple were the innovators when it came to tablet computing, expanding on the success of their iPhone and iPod touch devices to bring multi-touch technology and the tremendously easy to use iPhone interface to a larger portable device. Now in its second generation, the iPad is the original and still the best, especially if you are an Apple fan. That's why this tablet is the best-selling on the market today.
Over its predecessor, the original iPad, the iPad 2 offers a faster dual-core A5 chip, superfast graphics that help apps perform better, and two cameras. With one camera on the front and one on the back, they are specially designed for video calling using the "Facetime" feature, and they work together so that you can be filmed for the person you are talking to, whilst at the same time looking at their image on the screen.
The iPad 2 is also 33 percent thinner and lighter than the original by up to 15 percent, so it feels more comfortable in your hands and is even more portable. The 9.7 inch diagonal LED-backlit display with 1024x768 pixels make everything appear on the iPad 2's sleek screen remarkably crisp, vivid, and bright. Ambient light sensors allow the device to automatically adjust the screen's brightness to suit your surroundings.
The iPad 2 has the same amazing 10 hours of battery life. This is enough juice to keep you entertained throughout an entire flight across the Atlantic, allow you to watch movies or play games for a whole night, or keep you amused for a week of commuting to the other side of the city.
The only real drawbacks to the iPad 2 are those which come with all of Apple's devices - firstly, it is more expensive than any of its competitors, and secondly, you can't replace the battery - once it begins to wear out you have to send your unit back to Apple to have a new one installed. Also, Apple are expected to release the next iPad relatively soon, so you may find your iPad 2 isn't the newest and best thing around for long.
2. Motorola Xoom
The Motorola Xoom, although somewhat heavier than some of its rivals at 730g, is selling well and receiving good reviews. The Xoom's 10.1 inch-screen boasts the same 1280 X 800 screen resolution as you would get on a laptop. The super-fast dual-core processors run the Honeycomb OS and support high speed downloads via the 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi networks. When you consider its 10 hours of sustained video playback and the twin cameras and micro HDMI slot, the Motorola Xoom is as feature rich as any other tablet out there, and significantly cheaper than the comparable iPad 2, though it is currently only available in a 32GB capacity model.
Some have criticized Motorola's phones in the past for not having the most intuitive menus or user interface, but with the touch screen tablet format a lot of this has been resolved and you should find the Xoom easy to set up and use.
3. Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101
Another android tablet which uses the Honeycomb OS is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. This offers a whole range of apps, as Android's app market is almost, if not as strong as Apple's. It has a 9.5 hour battery life, so only slightly less than the iPad and Xoom's 10 hours, even though it is the cheapest tablet reviewed here.
One of the downsides of the Asus in comparison to more expensive models is that the cameras are not as good, with the front camera being only a 1.2 megapixel. It also only comes in a 16GB and 32GB capacity, whereas the iPad, Xoom and Blackberry Playbook all have a 64GB model available. If you don't plan to store endless hours of video and music on your device and aren't too bothered about the resolution of the front camera, the Asus really is a great budget tablet.
4. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is widely regarded as one of the best Android Honeycomb based tablet devices on the market. The hardware is comfortable, attractive and light and it has a high definition 10.1 inch-screen.
The dual-core processors smoothly load the OS and applications very quickly and the Android Honeycomb operating system easily manages the browser, plays media and runs and switches effortlessly between multiple apps. Like the other tablets reviewed here, it has front and rear cameras and built in speakers, and the device offers a 9.5 hour battery life. The only significant drawback that this tablet does not come with built in USB, HDMI, and SD card slots. The versatile Galaxy Tab can work with both Wi-Fi and 3G when you need internet connectivity.
This device is the second most expensive reviewed here after the iPad 2, however it is also probably the iPad's closest competitor from the Android market.
5. Acer Iconia Tab A500
The Acer Iconia is another budget tablet, which offers great value for money for an Android Honeycomb based device with the same dual core NVIDIA CPU as all the other non-Apple devices reviewed here. It has slightly less battery life than the other tablets with 8 hours, but that is still quite a lot of time and will see you through most long haul flights. It is the heaviest of the six machines at 766g, but still looks and feels sleek. One of the main drawbacks is that it only supports Wi-Fi, so you won't be able to use it over 3G when you're out and about and you want to take it online.
6. Blackberry Playbook
In the smartphone market, Blackberry has been a key player for even longer than Apple, and with so many fans of Blackberry phones out there RIM's tablet was eagerly awaited.
The PlayBook has a browser that puts the Web in your hands. Coming in at just 0.9 pounds, 0.4 inches thin, and with a 7 inch-screen, the PlayBook is truly portable, though this is a significantly smaller screen size than any of the other tablets reviewed here.
Aided by Adobe Flash 10.2 support (unlike the iPad), the QNX-powered OS loads sites in full desktop splendor. The dual-core processor lets you multitask on a high resolution display with more pixels than an iPad. With full HD playback, an HDMI outlet, and with cameras front and back, the PlayBook packs a lot into a little space. It offers 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models, all at a substantially lower price than the equivalent iPad.