You thought 2011 was going to be the year of the tablets, but ended up disappointed with the showing of tablets in 2011? I don’t blame you. Both Google and the initial tablet manufacturers screwed up with the launch of the “real tablets” with Android 3.0x Honeycomb. Google did it with the half-baked Honeycomb, and it was obvious it was rushed with Motorola scrambling to release it before the iPad 2, with features that weren’t even ready for launch.
Little good did that do for them, when they released the Xoom with a starting price of $800, which brings me to the failure of the manufacturers to release a tablet at a competitive price with the iPad. Specs are almost irrelevant if you can’t compete on price. It’s even worse when you offer less value for a higher price. Even though I knew the botched Honeycomb and Xoom launch would set Android at least 6 months back in the rapidly growing tablet market, with such lost momentum, I was still rooting for the Xoom to be a failure. But why? I wanted manufacturers to learn a lesson – price matters.
The reason for this is because I felt that the carriers were trying to standardize tablets as 3G devices that you can either buy for $800 unlocked, which would’ve been a standard price in the future if they succeeded, or $500 – with a 2 year contract. In other words, they wanted to transform tablets into just bigger smartphones, and to gain control of that market.
Fortunately, if I can even say that, the initial Android tablets failed, so the standard price didn’t become $800 and 3G tablets didn’t become a standard either. This was better for the Android ecosystem in the long term, but it wasn’t much better off, because the Android tablets market still took a big hit because of lost momentum. It wasn’t until the launch of the first Asus Transformer and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 that things started picking up a bit. Then, the Kindle Fire showed everyone that there can be a huge market for inexpensive tablets.
Where is the market heading now?
I believe the momentum for Android tablets will really pick up in 2012 thanks to the much improved Android 4.0 OS, the more powerful quad core Cortex A9 chips, dual core and quad core Qualcomm Krait chips, and Samsung and TI’s Cortex A15 chips, plus all the Full HD and Ultra-HD displays. This seems to start once again with Asus and their latest Transformer tablet, this time dubbed the Asus Transformer Prime TF700T, which will be just one of the competitors for the iPad 3.
Here’s how both tablets should complete on specs:
Asus Transformer Prime TF700T
- Processor: quad core 1.3 Ghz Tegra 3
- Display: 10.1″ SuperIPS+
- Resolution: 1920×1200 (224 PPI – 50% higher PPI than original Prime)
- Storage: 32 GB
- RAM: 1 GB RAM
- Cameras: 8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front-camera
- Video: 1080p recording
- Body: aluminum
- Weight: 586g
- Battery: ~7000 mAh
- Connectivity: Wi-fi only
- OS: Android 4.0.3 (or slightly newer)
- Price: $600
iPad 3 Specs
- Processor: dual core A5X chip
- Display: 9.7″ IPS panel
- Resolution: 2048×1536 (264 PPI – 100% higher PPI than original iPad)
- Storage: 16 GB
- RAM: 1 GB RAM
- Cameras: 2-5 MP rear camera, 2 MP front-camera
- Video: 720p recording for both cameras
- Body: aluminum
- Weight: 652 g
- Battery: ~12000 mAh
- Connectivity: Wi-fi/4G
- OS: iOS 5.1
- Price: $500 (wi-fi only)
I’m going to say from the start that I don’t think the Asus Transformer Prime TF700T will be competitive with the Apple iPad 3 spec per spec or spec per price. The TF700T may get an upgraded processor by the launch time in Q2, whenever that will be (either way later than iPad 3), but the quad core Tegra 3 1.3 Ghz processor is most likely going to be slower than the Apple A6 (and other chips by then for that matter).
Apple will most likely have either a quad core 1.5 Ghz Cortex A9 processor, or a dual core 1.8 Ghz one, with increased single-threaded performance because of the higher speed per core. There’s also a small possibility they will have a Cortex A15 processor manufactured (once again) by Samsung, but somehow I doubt Samsung is giving them their processor this time, and I doubt Apple will be ready with the Cortex A15 so early.
Either way, I’m expecting their chip to be faster in benchmarks and in real world tests. Tegra 3 shouldn’t be as competitive by then, and Krait chips, OMAP 4470, and new Exynos chips, all should be better than Tegra 3 by then, and I’m also assuming the Tegra 3+ will launch sometime before summer or in early summer.
Again, I’m expecting Apple to take this one from Asus, if only by having a higher resolution and PPI. The difference won’t be that big though (18% higher PPI), and it will also be mostly pointless for movies, because all that extra resolution will be part of the iPad’s huge letterboxes, because of its 4:3 aspect, as opposed to the Transformer Prime’s 16:10 aspect, which is much closer to a movie’s ratio. They will both be able to run 1080p movies at 1080p resolution, no more, no less. But again, if we’re talking display quality, Apple should beat Asus by a hair on this one.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that these kind of resolutions will be overkill for many people, because the price difference will not be worth it, and they would rather get a cheaper tablet instead, than one with a resolution that is equal or higher than their 22″ PC monitor.
It’s very possible that Apple may finally break the $500 price point for the entry level iPad, because the new high PPI displays will be very expensive for both manufacturers, and since it’s even higher PPI, the iPad 3’s display may be even more expensive. However, considering Apple’s aggressive negotiations with suppliers (which often forces them to pay very low wages, like they do with Foxconn), it’s also very possible that the iPad 3 will remain priced at $500.
It also needs to remain at that level, in a year when I expect a lot of $100-$200 decent Android tablets to appear as well. They will do this by keeping the storage the same ( a pretty expensive component), so Asus will win with 32 GB vs 16 GB internal storage here, but again the iPad 3 should be $100 less as well. I think a lot of people don’t care about the difference in storage that much, and will just want the cheaper version, if they have that option.
Battery life between the two devices should be fairly similar. This year, Android devices will start having very high battery life. Manufacturers are learning how to build very efficient devices, so now they will be just as efficient or even more so than an iPad.
Cameras, as always, won’t be such a big issue, because not too many people use them on tablets. However, I do think that every single high-end smartphone or tablet needs to offer HD recording for the front-camera, and the same should be true with most laptops by now. I still can’t believe they are making them with VGA cameras like it’s 2005.
As always, the Asus Transformer will have something no other tablet has right now (unfortunately), and that’s the integrated keyboard dock, which I think is a huge plus. Personally, I can’t see myself buying a tablet without a keyboard dock like the Transformer. It makes it useful to take it with you and write on, and it makes it useful to watch movies on it, without having to keep it for 2 hours in your hands. I really believe it’s the future for both tablets and laptops. It’s the best of both worlds – with no compromise. As a competitor to the Apple iPad 3 however, the Asus Transformer TF700T is a little too expensive at $600, and they’ll have to make it $500 by the time it launches, which they might.
I’m hoping that soon we’ll also start seeing 11.6″ Transformer devices, because although the tablet will be slightly bigger (maybe too big for some), it would make it more useful as a laptop replacement, better for movies, etc. I’m also hoping that Samsung starts making them like this, too. I think Asus is definitely a great manufacturer, but we need more choices, and Samsung, which is also a laptop manufacturer like Asus, should start making these as well. We had some hands on time with Lenovo’s K2010 Tegra 3 10 inch tablet, which had the added benefit of a keyboard dock as well, so perhaps we are seeing a coming trend here.
In the end, you’re more likely to choose the ecosystem than the tablet per se, even if it happens to have slightly better or slightly worse specs. The choice is really about deciding whether to be in the Apple ecosystem, with the iPads and iPhones, with the iMacs, iTV’s and so on, or in Google’s ecosystem, with Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Navigation, and future Google/Motorola products like the rumored HUD glasses, and last but not least, the many choices between devices from manufacturers.
With that in mind, dear reader, we have thrown together a nice infographic comparing the best Android tablets of 2012, here. We’ll be taking a look at other upcoming tablets that are likely to go head to head with the iPad 3 in the coming months.
And what do you think? You are reading an Android website after all, but the iPad 3 is likely to a be blockbuster success. Is there enough there to draw you into Apple’s walled (and expensive) garden of vertically integrated freedom? Or do the the promises of Android 4.o Ice Cream Sandwich, the versatile battery-life extending keyboard dock appeal enough to you? Either way, as always, consumers will vote with their dollars. Judging from the fact that ASUS is not able to keep up with the demand for the current Transformer Prime, I think it’s safe to say that the Transformer Prime TF700T will be a huge success too, if they price it right.