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Tested: The Five Best Android 3.1 Tablets

Tested: The Five Best Android 3.1 Tablets
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With so many different Honeycomb (Android 3.X) tablets to choose from, which one is right for you? We tested five from Toshiba, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung.

If you’re interested in buying a tablet, there are four different paths to take. You can buy an iPad from Apple, a PlayBook from RIM, a TouchPad from HP (assuming you can find one), or an Android tablet. The first three choices are relatively straightforward, as each OS (iOS, QNX, and webOS) is represented by one hardware choice. As for Android, well, saying you have a choice in hardware is an understatement. If I had a nickel for every Android tablet currently on the market…I’d probably have enough money to buy a game or two from the Android Market.

The Android tablet manufacturing space can be split in two categories. First, you have vendors who make Android-based smartphones (Samsung, LG, HTC), so making the jump to Android tablets is a logical next step. Next, you have PC makers (Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Toshiba), who have little to no presence in the North American smartphone marketplace, but you probably own/have owned one of their desktops or laptops. Both types of companies know you want a “secondary” computer, and they want you to drop $400 or more on their Honeycomb (Android 3.X) offerings.

Let’s pretend that you already said no to an iPad or PlayBook, and you’ve decided to buy an Android tablet. Why should you buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 over a Toshiba Thrive? Or why should you scorn both of those options and buy a Lenovo IdeaPad K1? We’re going to look at five different Android tablets from Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba, examine their design, hardware and software, and attempt to figure out which is the most deserving of your hard-earned money.

You might be surprised to see Windows excluded from the above list, but it's a no-brainer at this point. Windows 7 is not a tablet-friendly operating system, and any tablet or slate running the OS isn't taken seriously by most consumers. That will change with Windows 8, of course, but that latest Metro UI-infused OS from the folks up in Redmond isn't hitting retail until 2012. Until then, Windows doesn't have a legitimate foothold in the consumer tablet space.

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  • -2 Hide
    cknobman , September 16, 2011 7:15 PM
    Asus Transformer has a micro SD slot which you failed to mention several time or put in your charts. It also can be docked and turned into a pseudo laptop computer which you fail to mention as well.

    Did you really review ALL of these or just get a couple in hand and then "guestimate" on the others?
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , September 16, 2011 7:30 PM
    cknobmanAsus Transformer has a micro SD slot which you failed to mention several time or put in your charts. It also can be docked and turned into a pseudo laptop computer which you fail to mention as well.Did you really review ALL of these or just get a couple in hand and then "guestimate" on the others?


    I updated the charts to include the micro SD slot (was an older version of the chart that went live).

    As for the keyboard, we weren't supplied with one during the review, which is why it's not included in this article.

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 2 Hide
    dmcrae , September 16, 2011 7:32 PM
    No love for the Xoom? Cmon Devin, call Motorola up and get the best Android tablet sent to you with 3.1 on it.
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , September 16, 2011 7:38 PM
    dmcraeNo love for the Xoom? Cmon Devin, call Motorola up and get the best Android tablet sent to you with 3.1 on it.


    Actually I did ask Motorola for another review unit, but they never followed through. I like the Xoom a lot, but if you need a tablet with 4G, the Galaxy Tab is a better choice. The harder decision is the Xoom vs the A500, but I think the latter has better audio, and it definitely has better I/O.

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 16, 2011 7:55 PM
    I love my Galaxy 10.1.
  • 0 Hide
    robwright , September 16, 2011 8:06 PM
    I gotta agree with DC -- the Galaxy Tab is a nice product. I actually like the Thrive too. The bulkiness didn't bother me much and I actually found the rubberized exterior to be very useful, as someone who frequently has sweaty palms.

    The IdeaPad was a disappointment for me for the same reasons cited in the review -- they generally load too much software on their notebooks, and sadly they did the same thing on the tablets.
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , September 16, 2011 8:19 PM
    NOTE: I updated the article, specifically Page 4, in regards to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. While the back certainly feels AND looks like aluminum, it might actually be plastic. I'm having a hard time figuring out what the material is, exactly, and it seems like other reviews of the LTE model are concluding that it's "aluminum-like plastic".

    EDIT
    Samsung calls it a "gunmetal finish" but they never actually say what the material is. This is a noodle-scratcher...

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 1 Hide
    ananke , September 16, 2011 9:25 PM
    Samsung back is metal infused on plastic base, i.e. it is essentially plastic. Samsung Tab build quality is superb, superior than Asus. However: 1. Samsung has no HDMI port = no go automatically. Even with accessory shoes through the main port, not good since you cannot charge simultaneously. Not to mention the accessory price :) .
    2. Samsung Tab No SD card = several hundreds $$$ surcharge for memory expansion = iPad. At this point anybody will simply buy an iPad...

    Price: At this time of the year anything pricier than $300 is worthless. I bought the Asus at introduction for $400, and I don't regret - GPS, e-mails, Skype, portable movie player, Netflix to TV via simple $2 HDMI cable, WiFi media streamer, games ...However, Windows 8 Dev review is out and it is working very very well on Asus 1005 tablet, so unless in the next several months somebody brings fully fledged OS with all kind of SDKs and network/server integration, there is no point to waste big $$$ to a non-windows tablet. A fully functional tablet PC is in practice already available, and the OS will be retail by the mid-1212.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 16, 2011 11:00 PM
    I got an Acer Iconia back in May, and its the best kept secret in the tablet market. The fully functional USB is an awesome feature as you can plug in your digital cam, mouse, or whatever and it works seamlessly. The Micro-SD is also a major selling point. The camera is not that bad, but the microphone was made for video chat making videos sound bordeline horrific.

    Overall I'm impressed with it. Unless you are stuck on image or need a specific app, I think its the best tablet you can buy regardless of price point because of the I/O and solid build quality.

    I think the Acer A501 4G actually comes out Sunday with the launch of the LTE network on AT&T (not that it will cover more than a couple of cities.)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 17, 2011 12:14 AM
    I also picked the Acer Iconia over all of the others and I do not regret it one bit. I will say that I probably would have bought the Samsung if it had come with a microsd though.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 17, 2011 2:52 AM
    This is an incompetently written article. Failure to mention the Asus Transformer's huge advantages like the excellent keyboard dock with its extended battery life (providing far and away best battery life of any tablet), added ports - full USB x 2 and additional 32 gigs of storage (for up to 98G total if you buy the 32G version) is something of a joke. (it's called the "Transformer" for good reason as it becomes a legitimate laptop replacement).

    I also own the Acer Iconia. Despite the iconia's full size USB and easier to hold design than the Asus, the screen is worse and the sound is indistinguishable to my ears than the Asus.

    The Gal Tab is almost as big a joke as the ipad with minimal ports and no external storage = FAIL
  • 4 Hide
    dconnors , September 17, 2011 8:03 AM
    farwestThis is an incompetently written article. Failure to mention the Asus Transformer's huge advantages like the excellent keyboard dock


    As I already mentioned, the keyboard dock was not made available to us at review time. Furthermore, you're talking about an accessory, and not the tablet itself. The whole point of buying a tablet is because you don't want the added weight of a keyboard. You want something you can hold with one hand while tapping away with the other.

    EDIT
    Oh, and that keyboard that you so desperately need? It's an extra $150. At that point I'd rather buy a Chromebook or a nettop. Being that inflammatory over such an expensive accessory is ridiculous.

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 17, 2011 8:51 AM
    I understand that Galaxy Tab has gotten the Touchwiz update over a month ago. It is a bit unfortunate that this review doesn't cover that fact, especially since there are several community reports of slowdowns (sometimes major) after the update.
  • 1 Hide
    kartu , September 17, 2011 1:15 PM
    Why wasn't Sony's tablet included in this review?
  • 1 Hide
    LordConrad , September 17, 2011 1:26 PM
    Apparently my tablet requirements differ greatly from yours Devin. The Thrive was the clear winner for me. I like the rubber casing which protects the Thrive and makes it much easier to hold (when not in it's case). It's the only tablet with a full-size SD card slot, which allows me to easily view and transfer images from my stand-alone camera. Also, I find that the extra bulk of the Thrive makes it feel more tough and substantial.
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , September 18, 2011 12:16 AM
    kartuWhy wasn't Sony's tablet included in this review?


    This roundup was a while in the making, and since the S just came out, we didn't have time to include it. Maybe next time!

    LordConradApparently my tablet requirements differ greatly from yours Devin...Also, I find that the extra bulk of the Thrive makes it feel more tough and substantial.


    It certainly seems that way! The Thrive is a nice machine, but I'm simply not a fan of the design. Hopefully Toshiba's next tablet (which is probably going to be a Tegra 3 device), retains many of the features - full-size SD card included - while shedding some weight and volume.

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 0 Hide
    mpmp0 , September 18, 2011 2:23 AM
    Yes, we all have our own reasons for thinking which one is best.

    I actually considered the Galaxy Tab--until I saw it lacked ports and an SD card slot. I thought it shortsighted when Apple did it and kind of stupid when Samsung didn't learn from that.

    The Asus was going to be my choice--but then I saw the Thrive had a user replaceable battery along with everything the Asus had.

    As someone who spends a lot of time on the go and has found himself "powerless" on many occasions, the Thrive was the winner for me--and I'm very happy with it.

    I also carry an extra battery for my Fascinate and ClearSpot device.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 18, 2011 3:13 AM
    So let me get this right, you're complaining about the width of a Thrive all wrapped up in it's protective case and comparing it to a naked Galaxy Tab? This is a completely subjective piece with no real measurements at all. Where's the price/performance to show that Galaxy tab is worth nearly twice as much? Not to mention the advantage of full size HDMI, USB, and SD ports. The Galaxy tab is just the closest thing to an iPad running Android. Personally I dislike it as for the same reasons, I like standard size ports and after handling both, I like the feel of the Thrive much more than the Galaxy.
  • 1 Hide
    stunrock , September 18, 2011 7:12 AM
    where's Xoom?
    maybe thicker than galaxy.... (but with microSD slot)
    certainly better than the rest tested! they all have a crappy casing when I tested them.
  • 1 Hide
    ronch79 , September 18, 2011 9:12 AM
    I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab (GT-P1010) 7" tablet. I bought it knowing that I'm buying a new kind of form factor with lots of room for improvement. Call it dipping my toes in the tablet pond. I find it serviceable, but there are a lot of things to hate (lags, choppiness, crashes, etc.). I hope by the time I buy my next tablet the industry will have more players and each manufacturer has tweaked the bugs and cons out to oblivion, and I guess this roundup is an indication of where the industry is headed.
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