Tech Guides

HardwareZone's Tablet Buying Guide Essentials

By Seow Tein Hee - 22 Nov 2011

Operating System

Know Thy Operator

A combined effort between powerful hardware and intuitive software is the key to a great tablet. Thus, a tablet is clearly defined by the operating system it employs to run the show and provide the front line experience for the consumers. To date, three tablet operating systems, each equipped with their own unique selling points, have been preloaded onto various tablets.


Apple iOS

Being the company that started the tablet craze back in 2010, Apple knows where to draw its strengths from. The success of its Apple iOS that was introduced and fine tuned on the various Apple iPhones is mirrored upon the tablet space with the Apple iPad and iPad 2.

Apple's iOS has gone through various changes, mostly through a yearly update aligned with the launch of a new iPhone. The most recent update, iOS 5, brings a slew of updates such as an iOS-wide messaging service, iMessage, and a cloud-based storage and syncing system, iCloud. Its interface also gets a slight revamp with a new Notifications Center emulating Android's pull-down notification, and adds multi-touch gestures to the iPad with four fingers swiping to bring up the multi-task tray on the screen, or closing an application with a pinch of five fingers.

Its tablet and mobile phone might share the same iOS basics, but that's not to say there aren't some tweaks on iOS found within the Apple tablet. Besides a redesigned calendar and email design, the iOS platform is designed with a no-frills user interface, streamlining your experience across the various Apple devices such as a Macbook Pro, iMac and iPhone without going through a steep learning curve. Simply put, the iOS platform is for those who wish to stay with a tried and tested formula.

Reasons to Choose Apple iOS 5

  • A relatively mature mobile platform
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Extensive apps selection

Google Android

The early tablets supported by Google's Android 2.2 (also known as Froyo), were a premature strike. The formula used to concurrently employ Apple's iOS (with slight tweaks in certain aspects) on both the iPhone and iPad did not work out as well for the Android Froyo variant. This was later confirmed by Google with a new Android version that's optimized for the tablet experience.

This became Android 3.0, which was given the Honeycomb code name in line with its dessert naming convention. First seen on the Motorola Xoom, Android Honeycomb is a departure from what we were familiar with on the earlier Android mobile devices. Google tossed in a more touch-centric user interface, with widgets taking center stage on Honeycomb tablets. The Honeycomb interface gets a huge boost in aesthetics, taking a deeper 3D approach to its design with more emphasis on graphics performance than its mobile predecessors. With over 150,000 apps currently available on the Android platform, Honeycomb presents itself as a viable alternative for those who wish to break free from the iOS chains.

With Android 2.2 failing to deliver the tablet experience and Android 3.0 having a vastly different interface between the tablet and mobile phone form factor, Google admits to the fragmentation issue between the two platforms. As such, Google Android 4.0, named Ice Cream Sandwich, bridges the gap between the two form factors, providing a streamlined user experience that prevents any confusion for users of both an Android smartphone and tablet. Android 4.0 adopts similar elements to its Honeycomb predecessor, focusing on a full touch-screen experience, more widget support such as resizing and an improved web browser for tablet users to enjoy a much smoother surfing experience.

As of now, ASUS has committed its current ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and Eee Slate to the Android 4.0 update. Its quad-core ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, though initially preloaded with the Honeycomb variant, has received the Ice Cream Sandwich update. And we can expect more Android 4.0 tablets from ASUS in the months to come.

Reasons to Choose Google Android

  • Available on a wider selection of tablets
  • Integration with Google services such as Gmail, Calendar and many more
  • Ability to side-load media without a go-between software such as iTunes

BlackBerry Tablet OS

Research in Motion (RIM) has been obviously moving out of its comfort zone over the last two years, taking on a two-pronged approach to the business and entertainment sides of the coin. RIM takes on a different route, choosing to build a tablet OS from ground-up to power its BlackBerry PlayBook. Its BlackBerry Tablet OS, based on the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system, is a departure from what we've seen on RIM's earlier BlackBerry devices, some of which have moved onto the latest BlackBerry 6 OS.

Amongst the three operating systems, the BlackBerry Tablet OS is the platform that brings up a lot more questions than answers. With its native email, calendar and contacts apps not made available during its initial launch (only to be available in a later update), early adopters of the BlackBerry tablet might find themselves slightly handicapped with the absence of these basic features, relying upon their web browser or the BlackBerry Bridge app which connects your BlackBerry phone and its apps to the PlayBook.

Another point of contention is found in the PlayBook's support for Android apps. While the upside to this move is an expanded apps selection, it acts as a double-edged sword, with the potential for developers to focus on the Android platform rather than BlackBerry's QNX-based OS. The BlackBerry Tablet OS could either pose a significant threat to the other tablets, or perhaps go south and be relegated into oblivion if developers were to favor the other tablet OS. Either way, if you're eyeing the BlackBerry PlayBook, you will be taking a calculated risk.

Reasons to Choose RIM BlackBerry Tablet OS

  • BlackBerry users who wish to streamline their mobile devices with the tablet form factor might derive some benefits out of RIM's tablet OS
  • A fresh approach from the usual fare of iOS and Android interfaces
  • Potential cross-platform apps between BlackBerry Tablet OS and Android


Upcoming Operating Systems

With 2012 right around the corner, there are some other operating systems that might impact your selection. While they aren't available on the current lineup, here's two other tablet OS that you should be aware of.

Microsoft Windows 8

Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 is an OS to watch for, thanks to its support for ARM processors that are suitable for tablets due to its lower power consumption. Redesigned to make it better suited for touchscreen input in addition to mouse, keyboard, and pen input, Windows 8 will sport the Metro UI design that's seen on Microsoft's other mobile platform, Windows Phone 7.

Forming strong partnerships with companies such as Samsung and Nokia, the development of a Windows 8 tablet is a foreseeable reality, though its actual availability is still subjected to change. With its consumer preview made available right after its Mobile World Congress announcement, Windows 8 will also promise a much better integration between its tablet, PC and smartphone counterparts. Be prepared for a possible debut sometime in the later half of 2012.

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