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Sandy Daugherty

tablets hit the fan

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I've been following CES on line for the past three days, waiting for news about new tablet PCs.

Pundits predicted that CES would be flooded with iPad wannabees this year, but reports from Las Vegas seem to have found a sufficient variety of new toys to prevent getting lost in the flow. However, tablets have arrived.

There are very few shortcomings in Apple's astonishing iPad, so most of the new offerings distinguish themselves with additional, and sometimes frivolous features. These are:

Different screen sizes, aspect ratios, and resolution
The smaller range at around 5" diagonal seem to blur the line between tablets and smart phones, but sizes bloom up to a 12" handful. Weight varies up to 2 pounds. There is a startling array of aspect ratios, from the "Golden Rule" 4:3 to wide-screen movie, offering a number of 1080P video with HDMI ports to feed your big TV in the Salon.

Most offer expandable storage with High Capacity SD memory card slots, accommodating 32GB of movies, charts, pix, and more.
All seem to have some wifi capability, while many accept 802.11 b/g and N. Several have wired (RJ45) Ethernet ports and USB. Last year's offerings included a mixed bag of GPS capability with depressingly limited functionality, but 2011 will see a maturing of this feature; gone are the unexplained requirements for an unobtainable external antenna, or the inability to talk to off the shelf navigation software.

Operating System
Tablets can be had with Windows CE, Windows 7, Linux and some proprietary operating systems, but the lion's share are running on Android, a small, fast, and versatile OS originally written for data phones. Version 3, known as "Honeycomb" is brand new and the first version specifically written for Tablet PCs. It fully integrates 3D depiction, multi-finger gestures like pinching and twisting, but it does not necessarily require the new dual core processors or a very high resolution screen. Its not clear if any previous tablets can upgrade to Honeycomb, but Android 2.2 is no slouch and may be perfectly adequate for most uses.

Apple holds the record for applications, but its not just a minor carping to say that a number of those are not very useful. On the other hand, The Android Market, itself a utility that some Android Tablets could not run, has its share of stinker-ware, and a fraction of the numbers Apple can boast about. This will change. Software developers will see this flood of tablets, running on an easier to write for OS, and a multiple number of outlets for sales as a major bird's nest on the ground.

The iPad will set the upper limit of pricing on Tablets. Some manufacturers may see their products as deserving a higher price, but the Market will be a slap on the forehead: "I could have had an Apple." So the range of these new Tablets will be exploring some really low teasers. There were two Tablets announced at CES priced at under $100 in Japan. They are not set for export to the US yet. Name brands will command higher prices even if they are rebranded product from any of a number of Chinese assemblers. Features such as G sensors, GPS, and brighter screens will cost more. But on-line discounters will deliver a bewildering array of weird or nearly familiar sounding brands from the far east put together from components produced, copied or high jacked from small manufacturers. The laws of chance dictate that a few of these could be worth having if you are frightened by having to flash your proms or something else just as obscure. Knowledge of Technical Chinese and a good International calling plan will help.

Early Contenders
Samsung struck Gold with its Galaxy Tab, an Android 2.2, 7" tablet with browsing enabled on cell phone service from a number of providers in the US. It has been rumored that more than a million and a half units have been sold. This is a solid feeling tablet. In iterations that include GPS (as from Verizon), Android Market works, and so does Navionics' phone applet. Navionics themselves appear to be a little nervous about how their charts will appear on the different aspect ratios now available. Lawyers are tisking. Dell, Viewsonic, LG, Panasonic, and a host of others introduced their own variations on the theme of iPad, without revealing pricing. That tells me there will be a mind-bending flutter of offerings before the market settles.

So what is a boat-borne gadgetophile to do? Will there be something suitable for a sailor in the near future? Sure. But it will hurt.Its a good bet a silicone suit could keep a light sprinkle of water out of a Tablet, but speakers and possibly the more powerful dual core processors like the Tegra 2 will require vents. Salt water loves vents.

Apple pundits are poo-pooing smaller Tablets, but many manufacturers are showing 7" tablets at CES. It seems to be a handier size; easier to hold for reading, big enough to show the full width of a web page, and small enough to fit SOME pockets. (Fitting pockets or pocketbooks seems to be a multidimensional dilemma.(g))

So my goal is to wait for a quality, 7" Android 3.0 Tablet with a full house of I/O and sensors, bluetooth, wifi b,g&n, high bright and high contrast screen that can be dimmed to a mere glimmer, few if any vents, a stout attachment for a flexible mount, surface recharging, and, of course, a GPS that will talk to Navionics. For less than $700.


11 Replies

  • I've been trying to follow this too, Sandy, with a particular eye out for brighter screens, which seems quite important to me if you want to use one in a cockpit or flying bridge. The Motion Win7 tablet sounds extra bright, but do you notice others that might be oriented to outdoor use?

  • I have tried the Pixel Qi 10.1 screen on my Lenovo S-10 netbook and like it for its readability in direct sunlight. It is featured on one of the new tablets. Otherwise, I'm afraid screen readability is not a concern for reporters at CES and all we hve to go on are the very few claims made by manufacturers marketing people. I'm told their lips were moving. We need an objective standard for a number of tablet characteristics, and some courageous comparisons. You should hold classes for the proliferating passle of tablet writers. I can't count all of them.

  • Engadget has a good list of new tablets at CES (though only one is noted for an outdoor screen):

  • IPad still ahead for the moment on hardware and software, but that will change as qualify android devices emerge rather than the initial reactionary releases of quickly cobbled together tablets. We need to see a little more refinement and jaw dropping ergonomics from the new entrants. For now Apple have the edge with syncing due iTunes and App store, but the continued lack of flash and SD remains pita.

    As folks have got used to smart phones, one new market segment could be folks returning to small robust pocket cell phones with batteries that last days, accompanied by 7" or 5" portable tablets taking on the smartphone role. No need for all three. It's a big enough market for apple and google to share the spoils. I find I now use my iPad more than my laptop, but I don't see a role for any tablet on our boat other than web access.

  • Interesting point about overlaping features. Why pay for two data plans when a wifi-only tablet could take advantage of a phone/WAP?

    I can see a tavblet being used for navigation on lakes and coastal areas but until they are seriously marinized and equipped with sunlight readable displays I'm sticking with some purpose-built marine nav equipment.

  • Notion Ink is an Indian Company advertising a tablet called the Adam that will offer the Pixel Qi screen. They have been accused of taking orders for Vaporware, but I think they have been fighting a very uphill battle and are on the verge of success. They have distributed 200 pads to software developers, and released pictures of a production line. Prices start at $399 and go up to $800 for all the bells and whistles. This is good news for everyone interested in tablets: competition works for us.

    The down-side of the Adam is the OS, a proprietary GUI (not Honeycomb) with limited applications. This has been the death-knell of any number of small computer devices from even big manufacturers like Casio, Sharp, and Sony.

  • Android and iOS4 are the only shows in town. I feel like smashing my iPad against the wall every time it refuses to play flash video news content from popular news and media sites I regularly access. Having to power up my laptop is infuriating! Grrr! :)

    If you like to get your news online skip iPad and get an Andriod tablet once the ergonomics are as good as Apple's

  • Here is an astonishingly thorough article on the Notion Ink Adam, just released:
    I'm not ready to bite, but if It does support Honeycomb and Android Market by May....

  • Now there's a netbook with the Pixel Qi screen, running Win 7: