There's a lot of hype over 7 inch tablets again this new year, and although 7inch tablets didn't fair so well in 2011, manufactures are starting to see that 7 inch tablets do have a large market, which may be equally due to the smaller portable size matched by a smaller price tag. Not everyone can afford an $700 Apple iPad 2 right? So let's have a look at some of the tablets that are available, which are essentially all in the same price range, but have obvious differences between them. I realize that the list below does not have ALL available 7 inch tablets, but rather simply the ones that are most attractive to consumers right now.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet A1 is a great little tablet for anyone considering an Android tablet without the custom UI directing you to Amazon every time you want to look at a purchase (we'll talk more about that below). It runs an somewhat out of date Operating system with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and we're not really sure why it doesn't have at least Android 3.0 Honeycomb other than it may be due to the small amount of RAM and processing speeds within the hardware. It's only got 512MB RAM, with a 1GHz single-core processor. Other specs which don't work in its favor are the small 2GB internal storage and the 5-7 hour battery life. Things that do work in its' favor are the added MicroSD slot that supports up to 16GB cards for added storage, the option of 4 different colors to choose from, and the small (current) price tag of $249.99 at most retailers. If I had to give it a rating out of 5, I'd give it 3 stars. You can check out a hands on review here.
Next up on the hit list is the Amazon Kindle Fire. Unless you've been under a rock for the past 3 months, you've probably heard of this tablet. It retails for $199 directly from Amazon (which includes free shipping). This tablet got so much hype that it actually put a small dent into the Apple iPad 2 sales for the 2011 holiday season a couple months back when it was launched. Not bad for an Android tablet. Yes, it is an Android tablet, but you may not know it to see the UI.
It's been fully laced with all things Amazon, so you'll be re-routed to Amazon services, like Cloud Player for music, Amazon App Store for Apps and Amazon Kindle BookStore for publications. The benefit to this is that Amazon is very, very good at making the purchasing experience easy to use. They are awesome at shipping, and they have a massive online library featuring some of the best prices you'll find anywhere else. It's a pretty sweet deal, so much that Amazon isn't making any money from the sale of the Kindle Fire. They are mainly interested in getting you to buy things from the Kindle Fire through it's vast amount of purchasing portals pre-installed on the device. Hey, no problem here right? The hardware is great as well, featuring a 1GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM, and 8GB of internal storage. If you need more storage however, you'll need to get Amazon Cloud Storage (at a price) as there is no support for adding external storage. The tablet itself looks and feels exactly like a BlackBerry PlayBook, and is sturdy. I'd give it 4 stars out of 5. You can check out a review here.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is probably the tablet in this list that has received the worst press since it's launch in early 2011, and I dare to say, alot of it is undeserved. The thing we need to remember is that we can't blame the device itself for poor upper management decisions from RIM on how to launch it. fact is, this device is really no different than any $400 - $500 Android tablet on the market right now. It has a 1GHz dual-core processor 1GB of RAM (twice the previous two tablets we looked at above), and comes with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB models. With these specs alone, the PlayBook has the competition beat. The bad points for this tablet is that it started with a ridiculous price of $499 - $699 depending on what model you got, as well s the lack of native email, calendar and contact apps. Those two things made this a tablet people forgot about quickly. RIM learned from this and promised an updated OS to add those functions back in, as well as more App selection by adding Android Apps to the App World (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.). RIM also realised nobody would pay those prices for the PlayBook, so since last October 2011, they have been marking them down on sale prices, from $199 for the 16GB - $299 for the 64GB. That's the price point people care about now, and at that price, it's a steal for what you get.
Now that RIM has shown off the new OS to update the PlayBook at CES 2012, people are excited about this tablet again, as they should have been all the while, minus the original price. Now that the pricing is low, the apps are growing and the OS is updating, there's no reason not to get this tablet! More features to say this is the best 7 inch tablet on the market is the 5megapixel rear camera, 3megapixel front facing camera, and front stereo speakers. If you've ever listened to audio on any other tablet, it always sounds muffled and quiet, or really distorted and awful. The PlayBook's front speakers sound loud and amazing. This tablet is my pick out of the group listed in this post. It has the hardware to beat any other 7 inch tablet on the market, and RIM is committed to updating it with great features and apps, all at the price you'll find for a 16GB - 64GB tablet. 4.5 out of 5 stars because there's always room for improvement, but not much. Check out the review here.
The last tablet we'll look at is the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. It's around the same price as the others above at $249. The Nook Tablet is another Android tablet, again however, it's been skinned to the point of nonrecognition much the same way the Kindle Fire has changed the UI experience. B&N want you to buy from their online portals basically. The Nook Tablet has it's own version of the Android Market, as such, you may not find all the same apps you would find otherwise directly from the Android Market. That said, there are thousands of apps to choose from, so you'll likely be satisfied with the selection regardless. The Nook Tablet has a 1GHz dual-core processor with 1GB RAM and 16GB internal storage. That said, B&N state that 12GB of that storage is reserved for B&N content, so you won't be able to load up 10GB of your favourite songs from your computer just yet. You can however store them on a MicroSD card as the Nook Tablet supports up to 32GB MicroSD card expansion, which is nice to have, and something the PlayBook lacks.
The Nook Tablet is really aimed at being a portable color ereader, with the functionality of an Android tablet. It has the hardware to go fast, but the build quality feels cheap and unstable. Compared to the build quality of the BlackBerry PlayBook and the Kindle Fire, I would be afraid at dropping this on the ground. That said, it is lighter than the others, so the damage from impact may be less from gravity. All in all, it's a good price for what you get, and it's probably the best option next to the PlayBook. 4 stars out of 5. You can watch this review online for a deeper look.
The Final Verdict:
To put a recap on what we looked at, the BlackBerry PlayBook is the best bang for your buck, as long as you can be patient on email and calendar apps which are coming in an update in February 2012. The hardware is sturdy, fast and has the best overall experience in my opinion. The price can't be beat either at $299 for a 64GB model. If BlackBerry isn't your bag, and you'd prefer an Android tablet, the Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble is the next choice for all around versatility and price followed closely by the Kindle Fire at $199. The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 would be the tablet I get if the world ran out of the three listed above, and I desperately needed a cheap Android tablet.
Sources - Lenovo, Amazon, BlackBerry, Barnes & Noble
Article first published as Top Four 7 Inch Tablets Compared - What's Hot and What's Not on Technorati.