Q: OK (now that the iPad 2 has been announced), which (tablet should I buy) and when? — Candice
A: With the recent release of the much anticipated Motorola Xoom and this week’s announcement of Apple’s iPad 2, the “which tablet and when” question just got a lot more complicated.
As of this writing, there are only three real contenders for the masses interested in a fully functional, full size tablet: Apple’s iPad or iPad 2 and Motorola’s Xoom.
What you plan to do with it, who you are as a user and where you plan to use it most will be the biggest factors in choosing one of the available options today.
At the 10,000 ft. level, the primary difference between Apple’s iPads and Motorola’s Xoom is the operating platform (it’s very much like MacOS versus Windows — ease of use vs flexibility & openness).
Apples IOS platform follows the companies traditional model of tightly controlling the environment and what you can do with it. You can only install apps that they approve (unless you are willing to ‘jailbreak’ the device and operate outside of their support), but since they essentially created this category, the number of apps designed for the iPad is over 65,000 versus the hundred or so for the new Android 3.0 tablets.
Apple is also notorious for proprietary interfaces instead of using industry standards, which can cost you more in special adapters and flexibility.
Motorola’s Xoom operates on Google’s Android platform, which is much more open and flexible. Those that like to “tweak and geek” are clearly more attracted by the Android platform. The Xoom also has built-in industry standard mini-USB & HDMI connectors and expandable memory for additional storage (a big knock on the iPad is it’s fixed storage).
Apple clearly offers more choices in its range of tablets with six different Wi-Fi only options and multiple 3G cellular enabled versions from both AT&T and Verizon (there are actually 18 different options for iPad buyers — nine options for the original iPad and nine options for the iPad 2 because of the different cellular providers).
If you plan on using your tablet primarily in locations where you know there will be a Wi-Fi hotspot (your home, office, coffee shops, etc.) then the Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad or iPad 2 will be the best bang for the buck.
If you don’t care about cameras, multitasking or active GPS, then one of the original Wi-Fi-only iPads will likely be you best choice. If you do want those features, then your choices will be between the 3G-enabled iPad 2 and Motorola’s Xoom.
If you need to be connected wherever you go, then the 3G iPad options from AT&T and Verizon or Verizon’s Motorola Xoom might be worth the extra money ($130 to $230 more, plus monthly data charges). If this is the case, your first task is to figure out which cellular network has the best coverage for your travels.
The AT&T version of the iPad & iPad 2 have the 3G receiver built in, while the Verizon version of the original iPad is simply a Wi-Fi tablet that requires their “Mifi” mobile hotspot device (available as a bundle) in order to connect to the data network.
The Motorola Xoom and the iPad 2 for the Verizon network both have the necessary CDMA circuitry built-in and the Motorola Xoom will be capable of upgrading to Verizon’s speedy 4G LTE network in the near future.
Motorola’s Xoom will reportedly be able to use Adobe Flash by this spring, while Apple has made it clear that they have no plans to ever support Flash on the iPad.
At this point there is only one Motorola Xoom model: 32GB Verizon 3G-enabled ($799 outright or $599 with a two-year Verizon data contract), but Motorola will likely offer a cheaper Wi-Fi-only version down the road.
The when-to-buy question in technology is always the same: Wait if you can! The longer you wait, the more you get for the same money or the lower the price will be for the same device. To add to the confusion, new tablets from Samsung, HP, Dell and Blackberry are scheduled for launch sometime this spring.
In my opinion, mid-summer will be a sweet spot for making a tablet purchasing decision, because all of the major players will have thrown their hats in the ring and the tech world will have had a chance to play with all of them. Just remember: Pioneers get arrows, settlers get land!
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, which can be heard Saturdays at noon on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org