April 27, 2011, 9:50 AM — The Apple iPad 2 is no doubt the best-selling tablet--but does that mean it's the best tablet?
To find out, I spent a few weeks testing some of the iPad's leading competitors. I learned that in a surprising number of areas, including navigation, e-mail handling, and Web browsing, the other tablets actually beat out the iPad.
For this comparison, I set aside raw hardware specs. Processor speed, RAM, and ports certainly matter, but a tablet can have great specs and still be awkward and unpleasant to use. What makes or breaks a tablet is its operating system, which determines whether answering e-mail, watching video, and surfing the Web will be a pleasure or a frustration.
Several tablet operating systems are poised to battle it out. While most tablet OSs come on only one brand of tablet each, Google's Android 3.0 is the choice of a growing number of manufacturers, some of which add their own custom interface as HTC does with Sense UI and Samsung does with TouchWiz.
For this article I tried the iOS 4.3-based Apple iPad 2, the BlackBerry Tablet OS-based RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, and the Android 3.0-based Acer Iconia Tab A500, Motorola Xoom, and T-Mobile G-Slate. I didn't have a final version of the WebOS-based HP TouchPad (due out this summer) for unlimited testing, but I was able to spend some time with a preproduction unit.
Advantage: BlackBerry Tablet OS, Android 3.0
You'll go to your tablet's home screen again and again, so it's critical for the screen to look good and work efficiently.
The elegantly simple BlackBerry Tablet OS home screen smoothly transitions as you swipe among open apps in the navigator pane that appears in the upper two-thirds of the screen. RIM has built gesture navigation into the bezel, so a simple swipe up reveals context-sensitive menus, while a swipe down reveals the full app screen. The navigator screen and gesture-swipe combo makes moving among open, multitasking apps particularly intuitive. BlackBerry's home screen also deserves props for allowing one-tap access to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, battery, and general-settings info. The BlackBerry's notifications are subtle: Messages appear in the upper-right corner to tell you that the battery is running low, for instance.