Analysis

The tablet wars: 5 new iPad rivals

2011 will see a rush of new challengers to Apple's bestselling device. But will any of the forthcoming tablets be able to compete?

In tech circles, 2010 was supposed to be the "year of the tablet," says The New York Times. Instead, it became "the year of the iPad," with Apple's hit hogging the spotlight while most of its anticipated rivals ran into delays. But Toshiba, Lenovo, LG, and others are finally ready to release their versions this year. Dozens of the new offerings were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show, which just ended in Las Vegas. Now, tablet sales are "set to explode," says Eric Savitz at Forbes. The question is: Will any of these new competitors really be able to match the iPad? Here's a quick rundown of the five most high-profile challengers:

1. Motorola Xoom The Xoom is "Google's first attempt to take on the iPad," says Wilson Rothman at MSNBC, "and it's a worthy one." The device, which garnered perhaps the most buzz of any tablet at CES, will be compatible with faster 4G networks, has two cameras, and will be the first tablet to run on the new Android 3.0 operating system known as Honeycomb, which was designed specifically for use on tablets. And, says Donald Bell at CNET, the Xoom comes "in a 10-inch format that can literally and figuratively measure up against the iPad."

2. Blackberry PlaybookBlackberry's entry "looks like it could end up part of the iPad's strongest competition," says Chris Davies at Slashgear. It promises to run at 4G speeds, but, says Daryl Deino at Examiner.com, at CES the Playbook's "multimedia features impressed onlookers the most" — and when a bystander expressed his willingness to swap out his iPad for a Playbook, "everybody within a couple feet radius nodded their heads in agreement."

3. Toshiba Tablet Toshiba's "much-hyped" tablet, which does not yet have an official name, will run on Honeycomb. It features a large screen — 10.1 diagonal inches compared to the iPad's 9.7 — and supports high-resolution video. One area in which it "is a step ahead of Apple's iPad," says Elias Samuel of International Business Times, is camera functionality. While the iPad has no camera at all, Toshiba's tablet "will contain a 2 mega-pixel front-facing camera and 5 mega-pixel rear camera." Toshiba is matching the iPad's $499 price tag, and its tablet seems "much more polished compared to Samsung Galaxy Tab and more rugged compared to Apple iPad."

4. Lenovo LePadChinese PC maker Lenovo, which debuted a tablet at last year's show but failed to bring it to market, plans to release its LePad tablet — which will run on Android 2.2 and start at $399 — to Chinese customers later this year. Until recently, says Josh Ong at Apple Insider, Lenovo had been able to beat the influence of Apple in China, since Steve Jobs and Co. had not invested heavily there. But in the past few months, "Apple has seen tremendous interest in its products" in China  — long lines greeted the release of the iPad, and there's a two-month waiting list for iPhones. At this point, "Lenovo could be in trouble on its home turf."

5. Samsung Galaxy 4GThe 3G version of the Samsung Galaxy was the only tablet that constituted a direct challenge to the iPad in 2010. Smaller and lighter than its Apple rival, the Galaxy was a commercial success, and offered "a number of selling points Apple's iPad can't claim," says JR Raphael at PC World, "including full-featured multitasking, support for Adobe Flash, and unrestricted access to applications" that might be censored in Apple's world. The new version, with a faster processor and better cameras, will be compatible with Verizon's 4G network, which, according to a Samsung spokesman, will allow customers to "leap into the future of the mobile multimedia experience."

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