Iâ€™m a bit of a gadget freak, owning a number of current models, and my day job allows me access to all kinds of additional gadgets. The three gadgets I currently use are an iPad 2, Kindle DX and a Toshiba Thrive (an Android Honeycomb tablet). Work has recently give me access to a Windows 8 Slate handed out at the Build conference. Here are my feelings on the different options, your opinions may vary.
Kindles are meant for reading, period. There are some games, but the screen is graphically challenged and greyscale only on all but one of the models. Kindles come in several sizes, the main difference being a touchscreen or keyboard, or the much larger DX.
I have a Kindle DX, which I bought when the iPad was still a rumor. Even though I have an iPad 2, I still use the kindle for reading long technical books. The larger screen size was important to me for displaying tables, code and diagrams better. It is inifinitely easier to read for a long time on a Kindle than the other devices. The eInk display uses reflected light, more like paper, and is the only tablet you can read in bright light. Plus, the button controls work fine through a Ziploc bag, so you can read at the beach without worry of messing up the device.
Battery life is excellent on a Kindle, measuring in the weeks, and they can be charged with the same cable your cell phone probably uses, which cuts down on things you have to carry on vacation. There are Kindle apps for Android, Windows Phone 7, desktop and iOS devices, all of which sync with one another, so once you buy a book, you can literally read it everywhere. The Kindle app is excellent, and youâ€™d be surprised how easy it is to read a book on a smartphone with it.
Because of the limitations of the Kindle, they are not good PDF readers. I have a couple trade magazines delivered as PDF, and they are miserable on the Kindle, but glorious on an iPad 2. Also, if you buy an ebook from a third party, they must be loaded manually everywhere and don’t sync across devices.
The Kindle Fire is a small tablet, about the size of the regular Kindle, running a custom version of Android. The screen is color, and youâ€™ll be able to install apps from the Amazon App Store. There are no cameras and no keyboard, and since itâ€™s not yet released, the full capabilities are not completely known. The color screen, in my opinion, takes away the significant advantage of the eInk display. However, you will be able to stream movies and TV shows from Amazonâ€™s video store.
The Thrive is one of the more recent Android tablets, and runs Android Honeycomb (3.0). The Thrive is slightly longer and narrower than the iPad 2, and much thicker. Despite being slightly larger, the Thrive is slightly lighter than the iPad 2. The dimensions of the Thrive are meant for HD viewing, and Flash is supported on Honeycomb.
The display on the Thrive is beautiful, but the touch response feels a little more sluggish than the iPad 2, but positions the cursor more accurately than my iPad 2. Input is mainly via a soft keyboard, just like the iPad 2. There are a few apps designed specifically for the Android tablets, and many of the Android phone apps will run on the tablets. However, there is a great number of phone apps which cannot be loaded onto a tablet; this is likely to change over time, but currently there is a gap. Besides the official Android Market, you can also purchase apps from the Amazon Appstore and AppBrain.
Some of the thickness of the Thrive is because it has connections not found on an iPad. The Thrive has a built in SD card, HDMI and two USB connections (one in,one out). There are also front and rear cameras, WiFi and Bluetooth. You can hook a Thrive directly up to a TV via HDMI and play media on the TV. The beloved Facetime app found on the iPad 2 and iPhones is not available on Android devices, but applications such as Tango and Skype can probably fill in.
Something missing from the Android platform is a very good email application. I have several email accounts, and I end up needing three email programsâ€”one for my jobâ€™s Exchange, one for GMail, and a third for my personal email account.
The Android market is lacking in TV shows and movies, and neither Netflix nor Blockbuster is available for the tablet (both are available on Android phones). Music can be purchased from the Amazon MP3 store, and the Google Music Store is on its way. Books are available in both the Kindle application or the Android Market Bookstore.
If you rely heavily on Google Docs and GMail, this is your best choice for a device. There are native apps for Google services, including Docs, Reader, Google+ and Maps. A Google ID is required to activate the tablet.
Battery life nowhere as near as good as the iPad, let alone the Kindle, but can be extended by adjusting the screen brightness. The Thrive has its own charger, adding one more thing to carry on vacation.
Honeycomb 3.1 includes a video player an access to the Android video store, so rentals are available, if youâ€™re on the right version. Movies can be streamed or downloaded.
The iPad is the tablet that all others are compared to. iPads feature a beautiful screen, great battery life and an easy to carry form factor. The touch interface is very responsive, and the entire system is very easy to use. An iTunes account is required to activate the device.
One of my favorite features of the iPad is the email program. One program can access my Exchange, GMail and personal IMAP email. Each account is separated from the others, and there is a consolidated inbox if you want to use it.
The hardware and OS are not the only trendsetters. iTunes has an excellent selection of applications, music, movies, TV and books. Many of the books for children are very interactive, featuring puzzles and games in addition to the book. There are hundreds of learning apps for children of all levels, and the device is so simple to use kids can occupy themselves for hours if you let them.
One of the downsides to an iPad is the one connector. There is not an SD card reader nor a camera connection, although you can buy dongles for that. You canâ€™t directly connect to a TV, you need a wireless Apple TV receiver. iPads also have a unique charger, which adds something additional to carry on vacation.
Windows tablets come in a number of shapes and sizes, with differing hardware features. The most significant difference between Windows tablets and other tablets is that the full version of Windows 7 is the OS. This means all the software youâ€™re used to, especially Office, can be installed and run on these tables. Currently there is no application store, although one is forthcoming.
Unlike other tablets, Windows tablets allow for multiple user accounts, and you donâ€™t need a specific account to activate one (the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will need either a Windows Live ID, or a corporate domain account). Windows 7 is very touch responsive, but the UI is still built for a mouse/keyboard or a stylus. Windows 8 has a greatly improved UI for touch, but weâ€™re about a year away from that being released.
Windows tablets typically have more hardware features, such as SD card slots and USB connections. Battery life is not as good as an iPad, and they have their own chargers.
Because the full Windows runs on these tablets, a Kindle app is available, as is iTunes, so you have access to all the best those have to offer. Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu and many other media players are available as well. Flash, Silverlight and enterprise LOB applications are also supported.
If you need a full computer experience in a small footprint, a Windows tablet may be the best choice for you. External keyboards and mice can usually be connected.
If you need a reading only device, get a Kindle. The iPad is the gold standard of tablets, and you canâ€™t go wrong getting one of those. However, Android tablets are as capable, if not more, but lacking in applications at this time. If you need a very portable PC, a Windows tablet is probably what you need, but youâ€™ll find the UI to be a little less polished than the other tablets.