Despite all this talk of new tablets, we're acutely aware that a huge proportion of the population doesn't yet own any sort of tablet device. So, is now the time to buy for those of you who deemed the iPad too expensive first time around?
Well, we still find it a bit too much of a rich toy to really recommend anyone buy it just for themselves (though that's to a greater or lesser extent something we'd say for most of these tablets) but as a family play thing it certainly has its merits. If you simply want a device to have around the house ready for your kids to play fun games on, you to read your email and favourite websites on (assuming they don't require flash of course), and the cook of the house to flick through their favourite recipes on, then it's more than up to the task. Sure, you won't be able to take a picture of your dog doing something funny with it, or video chat to your friends or family while sat on the sofa, but there's still plenty of functionality with all those apps available. What's more, with refurb models costing only £289, it's a near-bargain way to treat your whole family, and it'll last longer than a day trip to Alton Towers.
The iPad 2 addresses the most pressing concern we had about the original iPad, namely the lack of a camera (it really was such a silly omission), and throws in a shed load more performance and extra connectivity to boot. And with Apple charging the same price as for the original, it seems like a much more compelling proposition.
However, it's not quite the home run it could've been. The cameras are far below the quality of the competition, the connectivity is only via additional adapters and docks, it still lacks Flash support in the web browser and the interface trails the competition in a few subtle ways.
Overall though, while it is undoubtedly still a rich man's toy, the iPad 2 holds up reasonably well against the competition when it comes to what you're actually most likely to use a tablet for - mucking about on the sofa at home.
We outlined our reservations about the PlayBook when discussing its OS, namely its interface is yet to be fully tested by us and we have concerns over how many apps you'll be able to get for it. However, on most other fronts we can have few complaints; it's fast, easy to use, has a great screen, has all the connectivity we'd hope for and of course there's the impressive true multi-tasking. What's more, we're big fans of the smaller 7in form factor - it fits in more bags and pockets and is easier to hold than the larger alternatives. Certainly if you're after a portable work tool, this looks like a more sensible option.
Much as with the PlayBook, the TouchPad's success rests largely on its OS proving to be significantly more capable than that of the iPad. Moreover, it needs the support of developers to create lots of apps for it. With regards the former, we're currently under the impression that it is a more sophisticated OS.
One thing the TouchPad does trump the other tablets with is its ability to work in conjunction with HP's WebOS phones. You can answer calls received by the phone through the tablet, and tapping the phone on the tablet will transfer data from one to the other. Also it has wireless charging and the fastest processor of the lot so on the hardware front it's up there leading the charge. It's definitely one to look out for.
One thing we've yet to mention about this tablet is its coolest feature - it comes with a digital pen that lets you scrawl all over the screen. HTC has customised the software so you can doodle all over it, and you can of course use it to take notes. We haven't actually used the pen ourselves yet - we've been mere inches away - but it seems like a brilliant addition and combined with this device's smaller 7in form factor, makes us really excited about it.
The single core processor and heavily customised non-tablet centric version of Android may prove its downfall but otherwise we think this, along with the PlayBook, is the device to look out for if you're after a tablet for actually working on the move.
Optimus Pad, Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1, Toshiba Tablet
Finally we get to the Android 3.0 tablets and frankly, they're all so similar we've bunched them all together. In terms of performance and day-to-day use, they are all going to be superb. Android 3.0 looks to be a slick interface that combines ease of use with a greater feature set than iOS can offer. With a huge variety of apps on offer, it's not far off competing with the iPad for finding fun and useful ways to pass the time either. What's more all the tablets seem on first impression to be well made, so build quality won't be an issue. All told, if the pricing is right, we think they'll be well worth picking up.
Of the bunch the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has the nicest hardware, with it being lighter than the rest, having a high resolution screen, being super slim, and having an 8-megapixel camera. However, its use of a proprietary connector and lack of expandable storage means it lacks the versatility of its peers - only Apple can get away with this due to its massive iPhone/iPod/iPad dock support.
Next up we have the Optimus Pad with its 3D camera. Clearly without a 3D screen to back up the camera, it's largely a gimmick, and we'd almost rather do without the extra camera on principle. Otherwise, with it being so similar to the competition, its appeal is really going to come down to price.
Motorola's Xoom may have been the first dual-core Android 3.0 tablet to break cover but it's going to be beaten to market by the iPad 2, and even some of its peers. As such, its completely standard implementation of Android 3.0 and on par hardware means that, while it beats the iPad 2 for features and will still be worth considering if the price is right, its going to struggle to stand out from the crowd.
Finally we come to the intriguing Toshiba tablet. It's so new it hasn't even got a name yet, which doesn't bode well, but its use of full size HDMI, USB and SD slots means it's even closer to being a true portable workstation. However, it's likely to arrive very late, and we're not sure those larger connectors are going to really be worth the wait.
So, we've picked all the latest tablets apart and concluded what? Well, that if you're in the market for a large tablet over the next few months, you're going to have plenty of choice. And if you're after something a bit smaller and more portable you'll have a couple of fine choices as well. What's probably most striking is that there's no clear winner emerging, at least not yet. Until prices are really nailed down, it's hard to say if any of these tablets will really outgun the iPad 2. To put a personal slant on it, we still think the iPad is too large so, combined with it's digital pen, it's the HTC Flyer that most excites.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.