Reviewing products before they hit the market is always a tough task, but three tablets previewed at CES 2012 were just begging to be compared. Highlights of the showcase were the Lenovo IdeaPad S2, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TFT700T and the Toshiba Excite X10.
All three tablets will run on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and give equally impressive viewing angles on their HD displays. They’ll also protect their screens with durable Gorilla Glass, but the identical features end there. At this stage, exact specifications have yet to be confirmed – true to technological hype, most details come from previews at CES in early January 2012.
The focus of our comparison is on the IdeaPad S2 (which sounds suspiciously like the iPad, but we’ll get to that later). Essentially, Lenovo is a re-brand of IBM’s computer line. The Chinese manufacturer purchased IBM’s business back in 2005, and has continued to deliver well-designed devices following IBM’s legacy. So the first thing you’ll notice is its minimalist design – it makes the iPad look cluttered, which is an accomplishment in itself. It also boasts its own keyboard, so it’s more like a laptop that comes apart. When you purchase an IdeaPad, you purchase a laptop and tablet simultaneously.
The Android operating system is complemented by Lenovo’s Mondrian UI, which has a more tactile appearance than most touch-screen interfaces. When docked with its keyboard (which contains additional battery power), battery life is also claimed to keep you working and playing for 20 hours. This is more than enough to keep you busy on a flight from London to Beijing.
As a manufacturer with a more ‘serious’ reputation than most, Lenovo chose to give the IdeaPad S2 a simple dual-core processor – no fancy frills here. However, a more impressive feature you’ll find in the S2 is WHDI, which allows for wireless streaming of HD content to your (wireless-enabled) TV. With a 5-megapixel rear-facing and 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, the IdeaPad S2 is competent as well as user-friendly. Thanks to its accessory-packed keyboard-dock, it could easily replace a laptop without limiting your productivity.
Our second manufacturer, Asus, has always sold their machines by tech-specs and – in a bid to not disappoint – the Transformer Prime TFT700T is the first tablet to boast a quad-core processor. It’s no secret that the iPad 2’s dual-core A5 processor can handle itself without any hitches or lag, so we can’t understand the need for the TFT700T’s NVIDIA Tegra 3. It’s a lot bigger than most, but will probably only appeal to serious gamers. Opting for this processing power is like jumping from a Centrino to an i7 laptop – and if that doesn’t mean much, purchase a simpler tablet. Its 8-megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera (with LED flash) and front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera just don’t set it apart. Despite being compatible with a range of wireless keyboards, a purpose-built keypad with USB 2 port and multi-format memory card reader will arrive later this year.
The last of our manufacturers is Toshiba, with the Excite X10. And it is an exciting prospect, if you’re looking for portability. At 7.7mm thin and 535g in weight, it’ll be the lightest ‘full-sized’ tablet on the market. But it’s not only slim – it’s sexy. The X10 boasts a brushed magnesium alloy chassis and a 1280×800 pixel display protected by Gorilla Glass. It also comes with a MicroSD slot, and both Micro HDMI and Micro USB ports built-in, so there’s really no need to purchase dongles for most tasks. Its front-facing 2-megapixel and rear-facing 5-megapixel camera (complete with LED flash) are also up to scratch with the competition. Since the internal specs are more or less on par with the current generation of tablets (we’re talking a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM), the X10’s selling point is clearly its form.
All things considered, CES showed us that Apple’s competition is stepping up to the mark and weighing in with devices that are innovative rather than merely reactive to the market leader. The top manufacturers are producing some very decent tablets, but unfortunately the hands-on specifics are a little hazy at best. Clouded by rumour and a lack of official data, we’ll have to wait for more detail later this year. As far as functionality goes, however, there are some conclusions to be made.
The IdeaPad S2 is the only tablet to boast its own User Interface, and the Eee Pad TFT700T is the only tablet with noticeably different processing specs. In truth, the thinness of the X10 is a somewhat superfluous feature (are any of us are really sensitive enough to complain about a millimetre or hectogram?).
One thing’s for certain though – the tablet device is well and truly alive. Four years ago, most of us thought a tablet was something we washed down to mitigate the effects of the previous night’s drinking. Nowadays, some people are prone to throwing a tantrum if there’s not a tablet device waiting for them beneath the tree on Christmas Day. In just a few years, thanks in no small part to the iPad of course the tablet has gone from being a luxury gadget to a ‘must-have’ device. There’s plenty of market share out there to be grabbed if Lenovo et al can capture the public’s affection and subsequently their savings.