It's raining Android tablets

The many Android tablets that will hit soon shelves are not just cheap knockoffs, but legitimate competitors to Apple's iPad

Many Android tablets will soon reach shelves to compete with Apple's iPad, which has not faced a worthy challenger yet. Samsung, Toshiba, ViewSonic, and Archos recently announced tablets with screen sizes ranging from 7 inches to 10 inches. These tablets are not just cheap knockoffs, but legitimate competitors that outdo the iPad on certain features.

Toshiba's Folio 100 features better video capabilities with full 1080p HD video support, topping iPad's 720p video support. These tablets also include USB ports and run Android 2.2 OS, bringing Flash support for Internet video, which the iPad lacks. The iPad is considered a well-rounded tablet, but a sticking point has been its $499 starting price. The latest Android tablets come at prices ranging from $299 to $1,000, depending on screen size and features.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Google has been sending mixed messages on whether Chrome OS or Android will be on future tablets. | Stay ahead of advances in mobile technology with InfoWorld's Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Dual-core power
Toshiba's earliest entry in the tablet space is the Folio 100, which has speed and graphics capabilities that could make it the iPad's most potent competitor. The tablet comes with a 10.1-inch screen, slightly larger than iPad's 9.7-inch screen, and runs on Google's Android 2.2 OS. The devices are about equally portable: The Folio weighs 760 grams (1.67 pounds), while the iPad weighs 680 grams.

The Folio has Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip that could give it faster processing capabilities than the iPad. The chip includes a dual-core Arm processor running at 1GHz and offers 1080p video capabilities thanks to a GeForce core in the chip. By comparison, the iPad is powered by a chip package that includes a single-core Arm processor running at 1GHz.

But the powerful processor and 1080p HD video could drain the Folio's battery quickly. Toshiba has said the device's battery life is about seven hours when browsing. That pales in comparison to the iPad, which can last around 10 hours when running video.

The Folio tablet will be available during the fourth quarter in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with the price starting at around €399 ($508) for a Wi-Fi version, the company said.

Elocity A7
Another dual-core tablet on the horizon is Stream TV's Elocity A7, which also runs the Tegra 2 processor, but comes with a smaller 7-inch screen. Like the Folio, Elocity is capable of full 1080p video, and the device includes HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output to play HD movies on larger screens. It also includes a USB port to access external storage devices.

The device runs the Android 2.2 OS. The specifications list Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless options, but the device does not seem to have 3G mobile broadband capabilities, which could be a drawback. The iPad offers Wi-Fi and 3G support on some models, which makes it easier to download e-books or movies or surf the Web where Wi-Fi networks are not available.

The Elocity A7 weighs around 453 grams, making it lighter than the iPad. It can play five hours of video on a single battery charge, according to the company. The device could make for a solid portable video and gaming device.

The tablet is available for order on Amazon.com for $370. Though the device is powerful and $120 cheaper than the iPad, it comes down to whether users feel comfortable with a smaller screen and the limited wireless connectivity options.

The "tweener"
Another Android 2.2 tablet is Samsung's Galaxy Tab, which has a 7-inch screen. The company says that the smaller screen makes the device more portable than Apple's iPad. The Tab weighs about 380 grams, according to the company.

But to compensate for the small screen, the tablet packs some unique features. The Tab is capable of playing 1080p video, giving it a leg up over the iPad. The device has two cameras -- a 1.3-megapixel camera in the front and a 3-megapixel camera in the back -- which could help enable video calling, something the iPad is not capable of yet.

The device runs on a 1GHz Arm processor based on the Cortex-A8 design. Despite the smaller screen, the company says the device provides only eight hours of battery, which is less than Apple's iPad.

The Tab will start shipping in Europe next month. It is expected to be announced in the U.S. next week. Samsung hasn't talked about its price, but has said it could become available at subsidized prices through service providers. Enthusiast sites have speculated that the device could be subsidized to between $200 and $400 through service providers with mobile contracts.

The device may also become available without mobile contracts. Amazon's Germany website has listed the device at a whopping €799 ($1,015).

The $299 tablet
At $299, the Archos 101 Internet Tablet is perhaps one of the more inexpensive tablet options. The device comes with a 10.1-inch screen, can play back 720p video and includes Wi-Fi connectivity. Archos pointed out that the device could be tethered to a 3G mobile phone via Bluetooth. However, that could cost extra, depending on the mobile-phone plan with the service provider.

The device runs on a 1GHz processor based on Arm's older Cortex-A8 design, which is a step down from the Cortex-A9 processors included in the Folio or Elocity. More of a smartphone processor, it should nevertheless provide enough oomph for the device to run basic Web surfing and video applications. The device also comes with a webcam and a USB port.

The device can play up to seven hours of video on a single battery charge. The device weighs about 480 grams. Though it isn't quite an iPad or a Folio, the amazing $299 price more than makes up for any lack of features, making it an excellent impulse buy. The company is also offering a 7-inch tablet for $199.

ViewSonic's ViewPad
ViewSonic recently announced two tablets including the ViewPad 100, which has a 10-inch screen and runs Windows 7 Home Premium and Android 1.6. The company also launched ViewPad 7, which has a 7-inch screen and runs Android 2.2.

The ViewPad 100 runs on an Intel Atom N455 processor at 1.66GHz and includes a 1.3-megapixel webcam. The Wi-Fi-only device will be available in October for approximately £549, according to the company.

The ViewPad 7, on the other hand, will include 3G capabilities. The ViewPad 7 is expected to cost no more than £350.

Don't forget content and apps
Compared to the Android OS, the iPad offers access to more online applications and content for download for users to enjoy the full tablet experience. The Android Market isn't as mature, and Google recently told TechRadar that Android 2.2 was not designed for tablets, and that applications in the Android Market were not designed for use on larger screens. That has raised speculation about an upcoming version of Android for tablets.

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