Wait for the tablet dust to settle

CES 2011 promises a slew of tablets, but exercise some restraint and caution before jumping on the tablet bandwagon.

Vendors have descended on Las Vegas for the annual showcase of new gadgets and technologies known as CES. This year, the area that seems to be getting the most attention, and the greatest number of new devices entering the market is the tablet. The variety and competition are a good thing overall, but they are also a very good reason to hold off rather than rushing out to grab a new tablet.

First of all, don't get too excited. There is no guarantee that the snazzy tablet device at the CES booth will ever see the light of day. Last year, Microsoft used CES as a platform to announce Windows-based iPad rivals and specifically showcased the HP Slate. After months of rumors and speculation regarding the possible demise of the concept, the HP Slate 500 eventually hit the streets, but thus far it doesn't seem to be making much of a splash.

Lenovo's big announcement at this year's CES is the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid -- a combination of a Windows-based notebook with a display that can actually be undocked and used as a standalone tablet. Sound a little déjà vu? That's because Lenovo announced the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid at last year's CES as well. The difference is that last year the tablet was intended to run some proprietary Lenovo mobile OS, and this year the dockable tablet portion of the IdeaPad runs on Android 2.2 -- but with custom Lenovo build dubbed LeOS.

Second, gadgets almost always look good at an event like CES. The vendor goes to great lengths to create scenarios and demonstrations that illustrate the strengths of a given gadget while hiding or minimizing its weaknesses. Just because the tablet device at CES can jump through hoops, make your bed, and do the dishes -- all while running Adobe Flash and delivering 76 hours of battery life doesn't mean that the real world experience will be anything comparable.

Just remember -- after the lights are off and the glitter is swept away, many of the products displayed at CES will never really exist. There is a fine line sometimes between pipe dream or vaporware, and hot new gadget. And, keep in mind that many of the tablets that do eventually make it to market may not survive long in the crowded, cut-throat tablet arena, and you could risk being saddled with obsolete, unsupported technology.

If you must jump on the tablet bandwagon now, go with an established platform like the Apple iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or even the HP Slate 500. They are from reputable, reliable companies and they already exist in the real world. On the other hand, the Apple iPad 2 should be on the shelves within a couple months, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab will not be getting updated to Honeycomb -- the upcoming Android release developed specifically with tablets in mind.

As for the new kids on the block from CES -- wait for the dust to settle and let someone else be the Guinea pig.

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Tags MicrosofttabletsLenovoconsumer electronicsCESConsumer Electronics Show (CES)Handhelds / PDAstablet PC

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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