A time for tablets

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: Nov 14, 2010

The digital tablet format is not new. It has been around for over a decade now. Like the iPod, which brought fresh impetus and became the new standard for digital music players, the iPad, too, which came on the market a few months ago, seems to have caught everyone's fancy.

Make no mistake, the iPad is certainly a cool product - an amazingly capable machine. In fact, if you are the sort of person who buys an expensive computer just to surf the Internet and occasionally check e-mails, it is the perfect device. Well, almost. That's because the iPad does not support Adobe's Flash software.

And while Apple's Chief Executive Steve Jobs has his reasons for not allowing Flash support on the iPad - not in the least because Flash is a resource-hungry software - it remains very popular with web developers looking to add interactive multimedia to their websites. The iPad does not have cameras or output cables such as an HDMI port to connect to high-definition televisions.

Yet, the iPad faces a slew of competitors - some releasing their tablet devices now and some over the next few months. Devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak, both of which run Google's Android version 2.2 mobile operating system. Dell Streak is actually available in India for Rs 35,000. There is also the BlackBerry PlayBook, which albeit smaller than the iPad, is far more powerful pound-for-pound, thanks to its dual-core one gigahertz Cortex A9 processor.

Then there are local tablets, such as the OlivePad. It was reviewed in this column a few months ago and left us quite unimpressed. And that is not all there is on the local (or Chinese) front. There is the government-promoted Rs 1,500 tablet but that is still some way from mass production. Similar kinds of tablets, priced as low as under Rs 7,000, are also being advertised. We would stay away from those, but tablets are becoming rather popular.

The big difference between local tablets and big-brand ones is in the quality of the screen. You can make out the poor screen resolution on cheaper tablets. Worse, almost all of them lack capacitive multi-touch. Instead, they have resistance touch, which, if you ask someone used to multitouch devices, is like going back to a standard definition TV from high-definition TV.

So, if you were to buy a tablet, or are considering buying one, go for a big-name brand. But which one? The iPad has a 9.7-inch diagonal screen, while the PlayBook and GALAXY Tab both have seven-inch diagonal screens. This means that the latter two products are, at a stretch, pocketable. But the iOS operating system is proven and the iTunes Apps Store has a lot more applications than the Android Marketplace. The QNX operating system on the PlayBook will be familiar to drivers of Audi and BMW cars, and its makers claim that it will allow "true" multitasking of various applications at the same time.

Many newer tablets on the market have far better hardware than the now slightly dated iPad, though keep in mind that I use the term dated with care as the iPad is still under a year old. Things move in the real world at a dizzying speed. But there should be a newer version of the iPad out sometime next year. Maybe, Apple might eventually even start selling the iPad in India and I believe they will soon. Also, the basic 16 GB WiFi-only version of the iPad should be a lot cheaper than some of the competition.

So, should you get one? Deciding which one to buy will become a lot easier once there are some more products officially available in India. But, for now, is the format worth it? If you type a lot from home, maybe not. It will not replace your work computer though it is an incredible tool to have even away from work. Besides, it is a lot lighter and cheaper than a laptop. But if all you do is reply to mails, keep your replies short since typing is an issue. On the other hand, products such as the iPad have a lot of cool, time-wasting applications - perfect for use when you are stuck at airports, flights and during boring meetings.

Most importantly, tablets are still cool. Like laptops were a decade ago, before they came to signify you were a corporate drone if you toted one. So yes, go, get a tablet.

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