The most interesting tablet PCs of MWC 2011

Analysis: Can HP, BlackBerry et al smash Apple's grip?

The Mobile World Congress 2011 show has just finished, and along with a veritable feast of smartphones, PC Advisor saw a multitued of exciting products in the burgeoning tablet PCs market. Here is our pick of the most interesting tablet PCs of MWC 2011.

Why's it here? Just over a year ago at CES 2010, HP representatives stood on a stage with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and spoke about how what they called 'Slate PCs' where going to be the big product of 2010. They were right, but far from being a Windows 7 HP device, the hero product of last year was the Apple iPad. Fast forward to today and, the $1bn purchase of Palm in the bag, HP is taking on the iPad with its own tablet PC - not the much-vaunted Windows-based Slate 500, but the TouchPad - a device that runs Palm's WebOS.

On the plus side, WebOS is an excellent operating system with a pre-built app ecosystem and the TouchPad won't be mistaken for one of the dozens of 'me-too' Google Android devices out there. But with only one hardware vendor on its platform, HP is going to struggle to convince tablet users to switch from Windows, BlackBerry or Android. And before you shout 'Apple iOS and BlackBerry OS 6 have only one hardware vendor each', consider this: Apple iTunes and BlackBerry through its smartphone business had millions of Windows and Mac users hooked into their products for years before they launched tablet PCs.

HP has the Palm Pre. Um...

So the TouchPad makes the WebOS an interesting test case that deserves to succeed based on the software alone. We'll hear a lot about it in the next year, but whether it succeeds or not is anyone's guess.

Is it any good? Don't ask me, here's what our reviewer (iPad fan and Macworld editor in chief) Mark Hattersley had to say: "the HP TouchPad is probably the most interesting of all the tablet devices being demonstrated at MWC, but whether that will translate into the most sales later in the year is debatable.

"We remember the massive interest from journalists and analysts in the Palm Pre, which turned into very few sales to the general public as the iPhone and Android cleaned up. Hopefully HP will get its message across though this time, though, as the former Palm team (now the HP mobile team) has too many good ideas to go to waste."

The TouchPad is shaping up to be an excellent piece of kit, but whether that will be enough to make it a success... Well, we'll see.

HP TouchPad review

Why's it here? Another loan wolf, taking on the iPad without the support of Android or Windows, the BlackBerry PlayBook is RIM's first step outside of its smartphone powerbase. Like HP, it is banking on people being so enamoured of its hard- and software that they are prepare to commit to a vendor-specific software eco-system. Unlike HP, BlackBerry has literally millions of users tied in to its handsets and apps, and two secret weapons: network administrators and teenage girls.

The first group love BlackBerry products because software such as BlackBerry BesX makes it easy to manage and update a fleet of BlackBerry smartphones, and now tablet PCs. For every CEO who loves the idea of sending out their road warriors with an iPad each, there's fingernail-free tech-support guy faced with the nightmare of trying to administer and secure a fleet of individual, nickable gadgets. Despite its name, RIM assures us the PlayBook is ready for the enterprise and, indeed, with it's back-end smarts it may end up being the iPad for business.

And the teenage girls? BlackBerry hasn't maintained and enhanced its position as the UK's number one smartphone brand by business users alone. It's also hit on a winning way of attracting and keeping younger, personal users. BlackBerry Messanger is - I'm told - the favourite communication method of the young girls of today. A simple IM app, it allows the yoof of today to communicate without paying for texts or calls. As a consequence RIM has every technology company's dream scenario: a group of young people who are maturing into cash-rich adults, and want to expand their collection of devices, but stay within the BlackBerry product range.

Tablet to go with that smartpone madam?

Is it any good? It's too early to give the definitive verdict on the BlackBerry PlayBook, but it's definitely a device to watch. With it's full web-browsing experience, seemless server-side and local integration with BlackBerry smartphones, multitasking and HD video playback, it could well be the one device your workforce needs. Smartphone makers are generally proving better at upsizing to tablets than PC makers can slim their devices down, and RIM makes good, good products. One to keep an eye on.

BlackBerry PlayBook review

Why's it here? Leveraging the huge success of the Galaxy smartphone range, Samsung's Galaxy Tab has been the nearest thing to a rival the iPad has had in the UK. The key to what success it has had, however, has been its 7in form factor. If you're unafraid of looking like Dom Joly answering a Nokia in the 1990s (and I for one am not), the Galaxy Tab can be your only device. It fits in a jacket pocket, is a full-blown tablet PC and it's a smartphone. Synch it with your PC each evening and you are good to go. The Tab 10.1, by contrast, is a 10in device, much the same as the iPad (and every other Android device out there). Will an 8Mp camera allow this model stand out from the increasingly crowded crowd?

Is it any good? In the tablet wars, it is hard to see how the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 will differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. I mean, unless you're really partial to Samsung products, why pick the Tab 10.1 over the Xoom or the G-Slate? Samsung makes solid, good looking devices, but it doesn't inspire devotion like Apple, and it's not as cheap as some of its rivals.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

Why's it here? It's the first Google Android 3.0 tablet, and even in the confusing world of Google OS nomenclature, this is a significant upgrade. But more than that, the Xoom is one of those devices that has attracted what our US colleagues refer to without irony as 'buzz' (they never watched Grange Hill in 80s, of course). Ever since it was first mooted the word has been that the Xoom is a winner.

Is it any good? Let's just say at this stage that it's interesting. It has a good personality, etc. The Xoom offers an interesting retort to the iPad, one that should provide for an competitive market in 2012.

The combination of virtual buttons in the bottom left, apps in the top right, and of widgets and icons in multiple screens all point to a device that trades instant accessibility for wider customisation features and increased functionalit. Will this frustrate Xoom owners, or please them? Longer term testing will tell.

Motorola Xoom review

Why's it here? Honestly? Because unlike all the other devices in this piece, it's a 7-incher. And we like that. Leave the rumours about a 7in iPad to one side, and take a look at the ViewPad - it's a Google Android tablet with a widescreen and a commuter-friendly case. You can carry this form factor everywhere you go without having to fish for it in a bag, and enjoy multimedia, gaming and office capabilities on the hoof.

Is it any good? Work in progress. It's a solid device, with a few quirks that almost, but not quite, put us off. And it's priced to shift.

ViewSonic ViewPad 7 review

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