Well, this is it. It's the very last day of 2011 and boy was it a year chock-full of new devices, patent disputes and acquisitions (or attempted acquisitions). We got to witness hundreds of new devices flood shelves, and a large portion of those, surprisingly, were tablets. The tablet market, which was originally expected to be a flop, is now a thriving one and bursting at the seams. Everyone wants a piece of that tablet market share, and they're willing to stick their necks out with a hit or miss product to claim their piece of the pie.
We've seen some pretty amazing tablets surface over the last 12 months, and likewise, we've watched some turn belly up just weeks after launch. I've managed to get my hands on a large number of those tablets out there, so what better way to wrap up the year than with a list of the top five tablets from one of the biggest tablet fiends around?
1. ASUS Transformer Prime
I always enjoy making these lists. It's never easy putting an order to all the difference pieces of hardware out there, especially when you love them all. But when it comes to lists, that's what it's all about. Something I never like doing, though, is placing a device that I've never personally had some hands-on time with.
I'm take a pretty big leap here by putting the Transformer Prime at the top of my list. But I felt it was necessary. It's a successor to one of the most successful Android tablets to date and this particular tablet ups the ante by throwing a Tegra 3 quad-core processor into the mix. Much like its predecessor, a keyboard dock can be purchased separately, essentially turning what would be just another ol' tablet into a netbook of sorts.
This tablet is thin, sexy and powerful – a deadly combination. It's mustered some pretty positive reviews across the board and demand has been unsurprisingly high since the device first went up for pre-order on Amazon.com. The only negative side to the Transformer Prime is the price tag. Starting at $499, it certainly isn't the cheapest option out there. But you get your money's worth if you're in need of a high powered tablet.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has been my baby since I found her on sale at Staples. I carry it with me every day, almost everywhere I go. And paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, it has helped me cut some of the distractions out while working, and a more comfortable way of checking my email and Google Reader when I'm at the desk, on a couch or anywhere, for that matter.
I guess you could say I'm a bit biased towards the Galaxy Tab. Maybe so, considering it has been my primary tablet for longer than any other tablet I've owned. But rather than bias, I like to think of it as a testament. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 isn't perfect, but it's a great little tablet. It's thin, lightweight, and sleek. With a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, 1GB RAM, either 16, 32 or 64GB built-in storage, and a pair of image sensors (5-megapixel around back, 2-megapixel front-facing camera), the Tab 10.1 is on par with most other Android tablets out there. The 7,000 mAh battery, however, gives it a little extra oomph in terms of battery life.
Take notice that I did not limit the number two spot to just the Tab 10.1. That's because it's part of a family of tablets, Galaxy Tabs, consisting of 7-inch, 7.7-inch, 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch models. And their specs are all naturally very similar.
The only negative that comes to mind when dealing with a Galaxy Tab is how Samsung skimped on ports, only on some of the models. There are no expandable memory slots, HDMI-out or microUSB ports on the 10.1 and 8.9. This line of tablets aren't the cheapest either, considering the 7-inch Plus starts at $399.99 and the largest, most expensive model sells for $549. Still, the Galaxy Tabs easily secured second place in my top five tablets of 2011.
3. ASUS Eee Pad Transformer
This particular device will always be one of my most favorite tablets. Not only did this tablet pack a serious punch when it first released, it did so at a remarkable price. The 16GB model sold for only $399, and the keyboard dock sold for $149 at the time of launch. This was quite amazing considering the Motorola XOOM had released just weeks before for a few hundred dollars more with nothing to show for it.
When the Eee Pad Transformer first went up for pre-orders on Amazon.com, they sold out almost immediately. And online stock continued to sell out almost instantaneously for weeks and months following the release of the tablet. There's no denying that it has been one of the most iconic tablets to date.
But popularity alone isn't enough to land a tablet on my list. This thing, just as its successor in the number one spot, is a productivity power horse. It won't offer quite the same functionality that a laptop can offer, but it is more flexible than your average tablet, especially when paired with the keyboard dock. For my First Impressions, just to play around and see what I could manage to do with the dock, I expanded my memory on the Transformer to 588GB (32GB microSD, 16GB USB flash drive, 500GB external HDD, 8GB SD card, 32GB built-in). Aside from that, performance was always great on the Transformer, and battery life was wonderful, particularly when docked in the keyboard. This was – and still is, in my opinion – the best bang for your buck in terms of Android tablets.
4. Apple iPad 2
Ah, the iPad 2. Where do I begin?
To be honest, when I reviewed the iPad 2, I was a bit let down. I was really expecting it to be a magnificent device. It was okay. That's not to knock it and say it's any worse than anything else out there. But it was supposed to raise the bar quite a bit from the original iPad. After all, it debuted rear and front-facing cameras, a dual-core processor and a rather sleek and sexy design.
After having my hands on it for a few days, though, it really wasn't that much better than the original iPad. Sure, it was thinner and capable of handling some more resource-intensive games a little better. But I think it was simply a victim of its own hype. That seems to be the trend with many Apple products as of late.
Still, the iPad 2 is a nice little tablet that gets the job done – and it's one of the most sold tablets to date, so Apple must have done something right. I think most of my beef was that I don't particularly like iOS in tablet form, and for what you get, the price tag is a little steep.
5. Amazon Kindle Fire
Say what you will about the Kindle Fire. At the end of the day, through all of the muck and a few problems that customers have been having, it's a great little device. And nothing can currently touch the price. For just $200, you get a tablet that is spec'd almost the same as any other Android tablet out there.
It's not going to blow anyone away – it wasn't meant to. It was just a means for Amazon to get their premium services in the hands of consumers and get them to use said services from their couch, where they can cozy up and hopefully spend a little more cash on e-commerce or in Amazon Appstore.
If nothing else, the Fire deserves a spot on this list for Amazon finally stepping up and sticking it to Apple for not trying to mimic the iPad, but undercut it in every way possible. Whatever the case, Amazon has moved millions of units and their scheme has worked just as planned, I'm sure.
If you're in the market for a tablet, don't have a lot of cash to blow and aren't in need of a productivity machine, the Kindle Fire should be at the top of your wish list.
Honorable Mention: HP TouchPad
Okay, I can't end this list without at least mentioning the TouchPad. Through all of HP's blunders in 2011, by far the best byproduct was the TouchPad fire sale. The HP TouchPad comes with similar specs to any high-end Android tablet available, yet after HP announced plans to pull out of the webOS hardware business, they decided to empty their stock and sell off remaining hardware well below cost. If you were quick enough, you could have snagged one for as low as $99 ($149 for the larger model). The HP TouchPad may not have been the one of the best tablets of 2011, but it was an eye-opener and easily one of the most memorable.
So there you have it, folks. These are the best five tablets of 2011. Don't agree? Think I'm crazy for putting a tablet in a particular spot or leaving one out? Let me know in the comments section below. And, at long last, have a wonderful New Year's. See you next year, everyone. Be safe.