Motorola's Xoom VS. Toshiba's Tab VS. Notion Ink's Adam VS. The Playbook
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Motorola's Xoom won CNET's Best In Show award. I disagree with that decision, but I did find the Xoom duly impressive. It wasn't in any usable state, but the build is gorgeous and feels fantastic in your hands. Motorola has succeeded in producing a slate as slick and smooth in design as the iPad. And Honeycomb, from the airbrushed videos we got to see, looks pretty solid.
Toshiba's Tablet was actually my favorite device, in-hand. It has a rugged, rubbery back that grips extremely well. It looks wonderful too, no surprise there, and sports the same dual-core 1 GHz Tegra 2 processor as the Xoom. Toshiba says they are shooting for 7 hours of in-use battery life...which puts them at the low end of what the "premium" tablets are expected to hit.
Notion Ink's Adam blew me away, and the video will send you reeling. The Eden UI is fantastically fast and smooth and, unlike the Xoom's Honeycomb, it was functional in time for the show. In fact, the Adam was tied for "most functional" with our last tablet contender.
The BlackBerry Playbook was my favorite tablet to use of the entire show. The gesture-based controls were so much more comfortable than any other system I saw. Swipe bezel to bezel to pop out of an app, then just scroll across the open windows to move to your next one. Even days into CES, the show-slates were zippy and lag-free.
This one goes to the Adam. My standard poor-man's performance test on a show floor involved pulling up 1080p video, and then skipping ahead and back rapidly to see how quickly the machine could compensate. I didn't get to try this test on the Xoom, but Toshiba's slate and and the Playbook both suffered a moment or two of lag before picking back up. The Adam didn't.
Toshiba's slate had a few moments of odd lag when scrolling around through the homescreen. I'd imagine that's due to the unfinished nature of the prototype, though. The Playbook's UI suffered no slowdown while playing 1080p. I'd scroll through to an Adobe file or a web browser or a game, slide out, and scroll over to see the video still playing.
Right now, I give the edge to the Adam. But I say this with the caveat that none of these products are quite done.
The Playbook wins here, hands down. I may change my opinion working with Honeycomb, but RIM got the UI right. Gesture-based navigation is so much nicer than dealing with a homescreen or a back button. Rohan admitted that the Adam has "a learning curve", and I'd be surprised if Honeycomb makes Android wildly easier to use. Kudos to RIM.
I'm not made of stone. The Xoom wins this category. As much as I enjoyed the Playbook, 7" seems too tiny to me- and the physical design doesn't really stand out at all. The Adam is slim and light, but it lacks that hardcore industrial aesthetic that both Toshiba and Motorola nailed. Much as I like the look and feel of Toshiba's slate, the Xoom is really in another category altogether.
And don't pretend that this isn't a fashion show. Because it absolutely is.
I'm giving a win here to the Playbook, with the Adam a preposterously close second. For one thing, those two were the closest to finished of any slate at the show. Which means, as consumer products, they are the easiest to evaluate.
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New technology is a lot like a new drug. The best products tend to be the ones you miss as soon as you stop using them. The only gadget I've had "cravings" for since CES is the Playbook. It is so smooth, so brilliantly designed for human use, that I can't see giving the win to any other tablet. Just thinking about the demos I did makes me want to fiddle with one again.