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Android tablet alternatives to the new iPad

by Marty Gabel

Make no mistake, the newly refreshed iPad that comes out on March 16 is a quality device with its high-definition display, a better camera and 200,000 apps designed for it.

But for those who like to think different (sorry, Apple), there are a wide range of quality offerings from other manufacturers which run Android’s operating system. We are not here to get into ‘flame wars’ about why one is better than the other, just to let everyone know that there are some interesting alternatives out there to consider.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7

Samsung offers an extensive selection of Android tablets at a variety of different prices and in many shapes and sizes. This variety is a good thing for customers, and Samsung is constantly refreshing its lineup, offering faster, better-looking tablets with increased functionality. The newest kid on the block is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. Boasting a beautiful Super AMOLED Plus 7.7-inch display (the first of its kind on a tablet), its screen technology is as impressive as the new iPad and its smaller form factor may be more appealing for many. At a mere 340g and boasting a dual-core processor, the only disappointment may be that it still runs Android 3.2 Honeycomb instead of the fresher, more attractive Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Still, this tablet is certainly no slouch when it comes to browsing and gaming, and its price point is similar to the new iPad. It’s worth noting that the older Galaxy Tab 7 Plus may be available for a better price these days now that the shiny new 7.7 is on offer, so look out for potential bargains.

Thinking bigger? Then check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. With a similar form factor to the iPad, the 10-inch tablet boasts a 1280x800 WXGA LCD display, 1GB RAM and a dual-core processor. While that display won’t match the new iPad’s amazing high-def offering, the Galaxy Tab screen is still bright and beautiful and easily a match for the display on the iPad 2.

Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook

The Amazon Kindle Fire was released in November 2011 and is available for $199. It sold very well over the holiday shopping season and offers a quality tablet experience while undercutting the new iPad’s minimum $499 price tag considerably. Even with the older iPad 2 now retailing at $399, the Kindle Fire still offers a great deal of bang for your buck. The Android experience here is covered up significantly by Amazon’s offerings, but that’s no bad thing. Instead of pushing out stats about processing power and memory, the Kindle Fire is promoted as an all-encompassing gateway to Amazon’s extensive music, video, e-book and app offerings. This strategy is clearly proving successful for the online retailer. Expect newer Kindle Fire offerings from Amazon later this year. The current 7-inch version is popular but there are rumors that Amazon will eventually offer an 8.9-inch and 10-inch version, too.

As an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Fire, there is also the new Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet. Available since last month, this device is attractively priced at $199. With a 7-inch display, 8GB of storage space, movies and TV shows from Hulu Plus and Netflix, as well as 2.5 million books and magazines available, the NOOK Tablet boasts good battery life and plenty of functionality. An extra $50 will get you 16GB of storage space. There are a lot of quality Android apps available in the NOOK Apps store including popular titles like Angry Birds and Words With Friends.

Motorola Xyboard and Xoom

The Motorola Xoom was the first Android tablet that tried to take on the original iPad. While the Xoom brand got a refresh in Europe, it has been superseded by the Droid Xyboard in the USA.  However, the original Wi-Fi-based Xoom can still be found at many online retailers. This rugged device boasts a dual-core processor, 10.1-inch widescreen display and runs Android Honeycomb 3.1 with a promise from Motorola that it will be upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich eventually. For $499 it’s priced competitively, but that iPad 2 price drop announced yesterday could stop Motorola in its tracks. Price war possibilities? We’ll take ‘em if it means cheaper tablets!

The Droid Xyboard available from Motorola boasts a terrible name, but packs a powerful punch. With its distinctive, chopped-off corners and its IPS-enhanced 10.1-inch HD display, it’s a smart-looking device packing a 1.2GHz dual-core processor under its skin. It runs on Verizon’s super-speedy 4G LTE network, boasts 32GB or 64GB of storage space and runs Android Honeycomb 3.2. Perhaps this device is what the original Xoom should have been, but its only drawback is the price and the fact that it requires an ongoing data connectivity contract with Verizon. Still, a Wi-Fi only version is available for $499. And if you’re prepared to step down to an 8.2-inch display, the Xyboard’s smaller brother is another Wi-Fi-only offering that’s priced at a reasonable $399 while still boasting the speed and great display quality of its bigger brethren.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer

This powerful Android tablet was the first to offer a quad-core processor featuring NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 capabilities. It has a 10.1-inch IPS touchscreen, 3D stereo speakers, two cameras and scratch-resistant glass. What’s more, it’s fully upgradeable to Google’s latest tablet OS, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This is a lean, mean gaming machine and a multimedia powerhouse, which should pretty much take anything in its stride. It even offers an optional dock to turn it into a laptop-like device which also extends its battery life. When it comes to flexibility, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is worth investigating.

There are numerous other tablets out there which serve as great alternatives to the iPad in a variety of shapes, sizes and perhaps most importantly, price points. We don’t have the space to mention every one available here (for example, Archos just announced an Ice Cream Sandwich update for its G9 line of tablets), but if you’re prepared to hunt around, or don’t have $500 to spare for a brand new iPad, you’ll discover there’s a nice range of perfectly capable alternative tablets out there for every budget.