5 Best Tablets Of 2011 Not Named iPad

No matter how you dice it, the iPad 2 remained the dominant tablet of 2011.   That doesn’t mean it didn’t have some worthy competition to keep Apple honest.  These five represent what we feel to be the best iPad alternatives of the last 12 months.


ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime

I am not a fan of really with long names for products.  Beyond that though, there’s little to dislike about the Transformer Prime whose big selling point is the inclusion of a full netbook-sized keyboard dock so you can turn your mobile tablet into a bulky laptop.  That may sound counter-intuitive but both the spacious keyboard and the generous touchpad make using a slate for work very doable.  All those, of course, sit on top of a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU, an excellent 10-inch IPS display (1280 x 800 pixels) and an 8.0 megapixel camera.  Plus, they threw in an SD card slot and a microHDMI port.  Arguably the best Android tablet released so far. [Amazon]


Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Possibly the sleekest of the lot, this Honeycomb tablet comes in lighter and just as slim as the iPad 2.  The 10.1-inch Super PLS display is probably the best among Android tablets in the market today, while the Nvidia Tegra 2 processor makes the experience feel zippy.   Other notables include a decent pair of cameras (3.0 megapixel in the rear, 2.0 megapixel in front) and stereo speakers that sound better than we expected.  If you enjoy TouchWiz, that should be a plus, too. [Amazon]


Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

While the Kindle Fire — its real direct competitor — managed to beat it in the price department, the Nook Tablet throws in a faster processor (it uses the Texas Instruments OMAP 4), twice the RAM, a built-in mic and microSD card support for $50 more (still no GPS, Bluetooth or camera, though).   The closed ecosystem (no access to full Android Market) can be a bit frustrating, but the current offerings are probably a good match for the target audience.  Plus, it’s a better ebook reader and a better video player (do note: the built-in speaker sucks) than the Kindle Fire. [B&N]


Amazon Kindle Fire

While it’s no iPad-killer, the Kindle Fire is a headshot of a bargain.    Sure, the $199 pricing meant that Amazon had to cut down on extras in the hardware department (e.g. no Bluetooth, no microphone).  For a really affordable mobile toy, though, it’s still quite desirable with an IPS Gorilla Glass display, a dual-core processor and an elegant UI.   If you already prefer Amazon for buying your music, movies and other media, then you’ll love the tight integration of the process here.  The inclusion of Amazon’s Whispersync and Silk browser are a nice value-add, too. [Amazon]


Toshiba Thrive

I struggled among three tablets for the last spot.  In the end, the Toshiba Thrive got a place in the list just for its sheer lack of respect to the whole idea of being sleek and light.  It’s probably as heavy and bulky as modern tablets can get, while the design is a little more distracting compared to other Honeycomb tablets. For those inconveniences, though, you get the most generous offering of ports (full HDMI, full USB, miniUSB, SD card) and a removable battery, making it an attractive choice for staunch laptop users looking for a tablet that offers things they’re more accustomed to.  It also runs Nvidia Tegra 2, boasts dual cameras (5.0 and 2.0 megapixels, rear and front), and prices itself aggressively, starting at just $399. [Amazon]