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1/11/2011
07:21 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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CES Tablet Extravaganza: Motorola, RIM, Toshiba & Asus Stand Out

CES provided a tableau of what buyers can expect in tablets, nearly all of them evolutionary hardware improvements over the currently-shipping iPad, none of them available now, and most of them, predictably, clones. Here's a guide, based on a modest round of discussions and demonstrations at a frenzied CES; videos included where appropriate.

Toshiba's John Doe. Toshiba emerged as an impressive challenger. Its 10-inch device looks beautiful (it is a wide screen device -- essentially 16 x 10, with 1280x800 resolution), and its rugged exterior is a differentiator that seems minor, but it will make the user device experience better. The company claims that its DDR2 RAM will make the tablet that much faster -- soon someone will benchmark each of the tablets and determine the real answer, and whether it matters.

Other differentiators: you can take off the back plate and replace it to personalize the device or to replace the battery. It features what Toshiba calls Adaptive Technology; for example, it automatically adjusts its brightness and contrast according to its environment, and employs noise reduction when video chatting. I liked how all of the ports are buried under an opening in the casing. It also has a file manager. The plan is to ship this product in late Spring, but it hasn't been named or priced.

Acer Iconia Tab. A quick demo of Acer's Iconia Tab, originally announced last November, revealed a 10-inch device, with 1280x800 resolution, and the most up-to-date hardware specs, including both regular and mini USB, mini-HDMI, and the ability to lock its viewing mode. The Iconia also includes an e-compass and ambient light sensors. Acer couldn't get the software to run stably enough to get a closer look at these, however.

The device will be out in April, Acer said, but would only commit to pricing the unit lower than the iPad. The company is also preparing a 7-inch Android tablet, and a 10-inch Windows 7 version priced under $600 and available as early as March, but more likely in April.

Acer says its key differentiator will be optimal capability at the most affordable price--essentially what it attempts to do in the PC market. Acer also announced its Clear.Fi strategy last November -- the idea here is that all devices on a home Wi-Fi network can be participants in media streaming and sharing; the Iconia Tab will be one such device.

Vizio Via Plus. Vizio's Via Plus tablet, announced days before CES, was a bit of a surprise. The company sees its entrance as part of the content consumption game its TVs play in. Indeed, Vizio may be among the first companies to pull off the vision of content sharing across devices in the home. The tablet is an 8-inch device, with a single 1GHz processor, with USB, HDMI out, and three speakers, so users get left and right audio regardless of tablet orientation. It also includes an infrared emitter so it can act as a universal remote for home theater systems (not just Vizio's, by the way). The first Via Plus will be WiFi only, but a 3G version is in the company's roadmap.

The company didn't just announce a tablet; it also provided a Superphone (Via Plus Phone) -- that is, a phone running a 1GHz processor, and sporting a 4-inch screen. The phone runs Android, and includes a front and back-facing camera. In other words, the tablet and phone share much of the same hardware, but more important Vizio has included its own user interface, which it says will be similar across all device sizes, including its televisions. Users will be able to start and stop services (say, Netflix) on one device and start them back up on another. The lineup is due out this Summer.

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