Tablets Revisited: A Newer Look At The Android Tablet Market

Four months ago, I had a look at the rising ARM-based tablet market, criticising the iPad for its peculiar form factor and expressing interest in the future of Android tablets. Subsequent to that, I’ve decided that I’ll be biting the bullet and taking a plunge into the Android tablet market myself. With this in mind, I mean to take another critical look at the market as it currently stands.

Since December, the tablet market has expanded, with Apple releasing their more powerful, dual-core packing iPad 2, and a host of other manufacturers entering the market with their own offerings. Android-based offerings still seem to have a problem. The products from the big manufacturers, including Samsung, Dell and Motorola, are very costly for the hardware and operating system you’re buying, while less expensive offerings tend to be flawed hardware-wise, with outdated processors or a lack of RAM, or software-wise, with older versions of Android – usually Android 1.6 or 2.1.

At the top end, expensive tablets along the lines of the Motorola Xoom don’t really offer a compelling alternative to the netbook, even considering the interface problems which come with scaling PC operating systems down to a smaller screen. At the low end, the products don’t have the performance or the application framework to compete with their more expensive brethren. I’m still waiting for a proper middle-ground to be established, but there are a few offerings in a moderate price range which have compelled me.

Archos, a French company who have previously specialised in portable media players, seem to have the most compelling mid-range Android offerings. The Archos 43, Archos 70 and Archos 101 have received relatively good reviews from a series of critics, and while they have received some negative criticism for their limited amount of RAM, they do pack a reasonably powerful 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor. Of this range of devices, the Archos 70 looks the most compelling to me – the Archos 101 has the same form-factor problems as other 10″ tablets, while the 43 has a resistive rather than capacitative screen, a limitation of a tablet device which doesn’t have a full complement of hardware buttons.

Of course, this represents the mid-range of Android tablets the best out of current devices, but I’m hoping and expecting this market segment to continue to grow as the tablet market grows. Android has forked to accommodate tablets with Honeycomb, and while only a few devices have taken up the new Android version, it demonstrates some degree of seriousness from Google to attack the tablet market as they have the smartphone market.

With Google’s support assured for now, what’s left is for some more manufacturers to get on board with Android in tablets. Samsung and Motorola will be content for now serving the higher end of the market, but competition is going to be required to bring prices down. Not every tablet requires 3G as long as there are adequate Wi-Fi networks around, and not every tablet needs to try to be a larger version of a smartphone. It’s time for a few more companies to explore the ramifications of cheap, powerful, portable computing devices and act upon them.

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