Compelling Designs, Feature TwistsA wide array of dual- and quad-core tablets debuted at this year's CES. Many are "me too" Android devices, offering nice displays, good connectivity options, and hours of battery life--so let the pricing wars begin in that group. But we also saw a few that pushed the state of the art. The three biggest shifts from last year are the announcement of many systems with quad core ARM CPUs, 4G connectivity, and Android 4 operating systems. These enhancements are important, but have little to do with designs of the device makers.
Sizes have settled in at roughly 5 inches for tiny tablets; about 7.5 to 8.5 inches for the mid size versions; and 10 inches for the full sized tablets. Stunning AMOLED displays are making their way to the smaller tablets--which makes them brilliantly clear and bright. They're easy on the eyes for reading, even at the smaller size, and perfect for watching personal video.
Polymer batteries and the low power consumption of those power-sipping AMOLED displays make 8 or more hours of run time routine. In many cases, the differences are measured in a few ounces or a few millimeters. But some device makers are making strides in usability, including more options for attached and detached keyboards, and ruggedized designs that will work in environments where shocks and moisture might otherwise bring a quick end to handheld's life.
We also saw a lot of voice interactivity attempts. It may have just been the noise of the show floor, but these didn't seem to be on par with Siri. One innovation that we're not sure we like: Some tablets offer a no-glasses 3-D viewing experience. We tried a few of these gadgets, and for the most part, they reminded us of the plastic lens holograms we've seen (you know the ones where if you look at it one way, you see the Empire State building, and if you hold it another you see the Statue of Liberty). The technology will have to go through a few iterations before it has the wow factor of 3-D produced with the aid of glasses.
Finally, we saw some nice looking tablets from brands we'd never heard of before. It looks like there may be as many "whitebox" tablet makers as there are whitebox PC makers.
Lenovo had a number of tablets to show, but the one that impressed us most was the IdeaTab S210. The CPU is a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm "Krait", similar to the A15 we're told, and a successor to Qualcomm's Scorpion architecture. The tablet runs Android 4.0, and has a battery life of 20 hours in its clamshell configuration.
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