Sorting out the players in tablet market

With Christmas right around the corner, I hear a lot of folks talking about purchasing a tablet for their loved ones. But a quick online search of tablets or a stroll in the electronics department of your favorite block-and-mortar and you will see that things were a lot easier way back in 2010 — you needed oodles of cash and if you had that, you had a choice between the Apple iPad and the Motorola Xoom. Fast-forward to today and the tablet landscape is littered with choices.

Where there were once two camps from which to select a tablet, there are now four: the iPad, Android-based tablets, readers, and the new Windows Surface.

The iPad is, with little doubt, king of the tablets. Unfortunately, Apple still charges a king’s ransom to own one. There are two models: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular, with three storage capacity models: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, or as I like to call them: expensive, very expensive and really expensive. Pricing falls in the range of $499-$829.

But never fear, for seven-tenths of the size and price, Apple has introduced the iPad mini and, like it’s slightly larger brother, it comes in the same two different models and three different capacity models with a price range of $329-$659.

If you select an iPad with cellular connectivity, you will need to have a data plan with one of the three networks that offer connectivity: AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. While it does add the convenience of almost continuous connectivity to the web, shelling out the extra bucks for cellular service for a device that doesn’t include a phone definitely adds to the cost of ownership.

One major drawback to the iPad, especially at its price point, is that there is no external/removable storage on the device. While that isn’t uncommon in the tablet market (only a few Android devices including the Nook readers and Xoom offer it, as well as the new Windows Surface) it is definitely an important detail to take into consideration when selecting the capacity model.

Windows is the “Johnny-Come-Lately” to the tablet scene with the introduction of the Surface tablet. The Surface runs on Windows RT, a version of the Windows 8 operating system designed to run on low-powered devices.

The Surface introduces what Microsoft calls the Touch Cover — a lightweight cover for the device that also houses a touch-sensitive keyboard. This is not to be confused with the Type Cover, which is also a cover that contains a more conventional keyboard.

Three different models of the Surface are available: a 32GB tablet-only model, a 32GB model with the Touch Cover, and a 64GB model with the Touch Cover. As I’ve said, the Surface does support external/removable media. While it has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, there is no cellular connectivity built into the device. The price range is $499-$699.

The bundled “external” keyboard on the Surface definitely gives it a leg up on the competition, taking the tablet from a mostly entertainment device to a true productivity tool. But the greatest obstacle for the Surface to overcome will be lack of third-party applications available for the device in the Windows store. This will, without a doubt, continue to improve as the Surface claims its spot in the tablet market.

Where Apple and Microsoft have cornered the market with brand recognition, Android-based devices have dominated it with sheer numbers — upwards of 20 different brand-named devices, and who knows how many off-brand devices.

The Google Nexus is getting fairly decent reviews, primarily driven by its lower price. Sharing its name with the 4-inch smartphone, the Nexus comes in two different sizes: 7- and 10-inches, and two capacity levels: 16GB and 32GB. All Nexus models are Wi-Fi-only, but for an extra $50 and a data plan from a cellular carrier, the 32GB 7-inch model can be equipped with cellular connectivity.

With access to thousands of apps through the Google Play store, the Nexus behaves just like a large Android-based smartphone with a price range of $199-$499.

The only things I don’t like about the Nexus is that, unlike so many Android devices, it does not offer external/removable storage and it only has a front-facing camera.

Other big players in the Android space are, of course, the Motorola Xoom, which comes in a 10-inch model with either 32GB or 64GB capacities, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, which comes in a 7-inch and 10-inch model. Both tablets offer cellular connectable models but service can be limited to a single carrier depending on the model you chose. Pricing range is $199-$499.

Readers round out the list of tablets and have seen some big changes in the last two years with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook vying for the top spot.

Both manufactures have released new models, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD+, which are nothing short of fully functional tablets. Both offer a 16GB and 32GB model with a 9-inch screen (Kindle Fire HD is actually advertised as having an 8.9-inch screen). Both are Wi-Fi-compatible and Kindle Fire HD has a cellular connectivity option for about $150 extra. Price range for either manufacturer falls within the $199-$369 range ($499 for the cellular Kindle HD).

There is a myriad of choices out there when selecting a tablet. While price is probably at the front of any decision, connectivity, expandability and capacity should also be given weight to the decision.

Michael D. Wailes is an interactive developer at Burns Marketing Communications in Johnstown. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic for a future Geek Chic column, email him at

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