UPDATE: Check out our Hands on: Blackberry Playbook review.
Apple's dominance of the modern tablet market may be coming to a close: rival firms have seen the iPad's sales figures, identified its weaknesses and built some very convincing alternatives.
The tablet wars are just beginning, but we've already seen two very serious bits of kit enter the ring: the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the BlackBerry PlayBook. So what do the three tablets - PlayBook, Tab and
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iPad - have in common, and more importantly, what sets them apart? Let's find out in our Blackberry PlayBook vs iPad vs Samsung Galaxy Tab stand-off.
Size and screen
Apple's iPad has the biggest screen here, a 9.7-inch LED with IPS technology (for a wider viewing angle) and a 1024x768 resolution. Both the BlackBerry and the Samsung have smaller 7-inch screens, but the pixels are more densely packed to deliver 1024x600 (WSVGA) resolution. All three displays are capacitive touch screens with full multi-touch and gesture support.
As you might expect, the iPad's bigger screen makes it not just the biggest but the heaviest device here: it's 680g (730g for the 3G model) compared to 400g for the PlayBook and 380g for the Galaxy Tab.
Apple's iPad runs iOS 3.2, Samsung's Galaxy Tab runs Android 2.2 (aka Froyo), and the PlayBook runs BlackBerry's own Tablet OS. The iPad will get iOS 4.2 in November, but until then it's the only device here that doesn't multi-task (with the exception of a few of Apple's built-in apps, such as Mail and iPod).
For those all-important apps Apple has the App Store and Samsung the Android Market, both of which are well established, but BlackBerry has a brand new operating system, a new development system and a range of new tools for the PlayBook. The firm promises compatibility with existing BlackBerry applications, which will upscale like iPhone apps do on the iPad.
The iPad is the only tablet here that doesn't support Adobe's Flash.
Processor and RAM
It's a trio of 1GHz ARM processors here, with the PlayBook's 1GHz Cortex A9 up against Samsung's 1GHz Hummingbird and Apple's 1GHz A4 - both of which are based on the Cortex A8 processor with PowerVR graphics (SGX540 in the Samsung and the SGX535 in the iPad).
The PlayBook has the edge here as its processor is a dual-core job with an as yet unannounced graphics processing unit, so the "fastest tablet ever" marketing claim is accurate for now.
The BlackBerry PlayBook has the most memory here, a full gigabyte compared to Samsung's half-gig and Apple's 256MB. When multi-tasking arrives in iOS 4.2 that quarter gigabyte may turn out to be a little on the low side.
Only one of our trio offers removable storage, and that's the Galaxy Tab with its microSD card slot. So far the PlayBook comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours, and Apple's iPad comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions.
The iPad doesn't have any cameras but its rivals have two each: Samsung offers a 3.2 megapixel rear facing camera and a 1.3MP front facing one, while BlackBerry ups the stakes with a 3MP front facing and a 4MP rear facing camera that's capable of 1080p HD video recording.
Both the iPad and the BlackBerry PlayBook support Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and all four flavours of Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), while the 3G iPad also works on 3G, EDGE, GPRS and GSM networks.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab has better Bluetooth (3.0) but poorer Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n but not 802.11a), and it also does 3G, EDGE, GPRS and GSM. For now there's no 3G-enabled PlayBook, although it will happily pair itself with a BlackBerry phone if you need to use the phone network.
For physical connections the iPad has the familiar Dock Connector and a headphone/AV out. The Samsung looks similar, with another 3.5mm headphone/AV port and a 30-pin plug on the bottom, while the PlayBook has microHDMI, microUSB and a headphone out.
Apple claims up to 10 hours of web, video or music and nine hours on 3G. Samsung says the Tab will do seven hours of video, while BlackBerry isn't saying anything about the PlayBook's battery just yet.
We'd expect it to be competitive, though, as a tablet that doesn't last all day simply won't sell to BlackBerry's demanding business customers.
You can't buy all three tablets just yet, because only the iPad is currently on sale. The Samsung Galaxy Tab joins the party next month, but the BlackBerry PlayBook release date isn't until early 2011 in the US and before the summer in Europe.
The other thing that we can't do is compare the tablets' prices. We know how much iPads cost, but the PlayBook's pricing hasn't been announced yet and there's some confusion over the Galaxy Tab: Amazon's listed it at £799, which has since dropped to £599.
Unless there's an outbreak of silly pricing BlackBerry's PlayBook is the best tablet here - on paper, at least. It has the best processor, the most RAM, the best cameras and the newest operating system.
Then again, every gadget looks just great when the only way to see it is in a promotional video. The PlayBook could well be as good as the marketing blurb says it is, but until we get our hands on one for a full PlayBook review - and pit it against its closest competitors - we're taking the hype with a very big pinch of salt.
The other thing to think about is the PlayBook's release date. You won't be able to buy a PlayBook until well into 2011, and by then Apple should have iPad 2 ready to roll. The second generation iPad may well address some of the apparent weaknesses in this company; we'd certainly expect more memory, a faster processor and a camera or two to appear in Apple's 2011 tablet. And of course, Apple isn't the only firm making tablets. The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.