Head to head: Android Honeycomb versus iPad OS

If smartphones were any indication, mobile is a neck and neck race between the Android and Apple OSes. The iPad may have meant Apple owned the tablet world for awhile - but the arrival of Android Honeycomb, the first tablet-optimised OS from Google, could change that fast. Here's how the two giants stack up.


Flagship device: Motorola Xoom (full review here)


The basics Excellent
Fast, slick and intuitive, Honeycomb has a far more elegant navigation than its smartphone predecessors. Simple drag and drop actions let you add and remove app shortcuts on its customisable homescreens while dozens of widgets show the latest. A multitasking column can be brought from any screen so you can easily switch between open apps. Software can easily be wirelessly updated


Features Very good
Here we have support for tons of multimedia features: Flash, DivX and H.264 online video, dual cameras, a dual-core processor and hardware acceleration for graphics for butter-smooth high-res video. 'True' multitasking means you can leave one app loading while you play around in another.


Email Excellent
Excellent if you use Gmail, Microsoft Exchange or Hotmail and merely very good if you use other mail, Honeycomb now features a two-column desktop-like interface showing the inbox and a reading panel. Custom folders sync too, and with Gmail, you can choose Priority Inbox view. The touch-screen is fast and responsive for comfortable typing.


Browser Very good
The preloaded Dolphin browser features tabbed browsing, private browsing and a neat shortcut that lets you swipe from the left corner to reveal a quick-tap tab to go back, home or forward, bookmark a page or hit previously saved pages. Like a desktop browser, it displays webpages in full HTML, but occasionally froze or crashed. The browser is fast though, with natonal news sites loading over Wi-Fi in 6 seconds


Apps Mediocre
It's early days yet, with just a handful of Honeycomb-optimised apps in the Android Market - and at press time, no way of filtering them out.


Movies and music Excellent
Keep it simple - you can simply drag and drop media files between a Honeycomb tablet and your computer. Support for tons of video and audio codecs mean you can play any downloaded video, including those DivX, Xvid and AVI formats so loved by torrent sites.


Video calling Mediocre
There's a two-megapixel camera for video calling - but no native software to back it up. Skype for Android doesn't support video calls, though you can download Fring or Tango. Google Talk is meant to support video calls, but the view is phone-sized, and at press time, it wasn't working on our review model.


Flagship device: Apple iPad 2 (full review here)


The basics Very good
Natural and simple, iOS is incredibly intuitive with an excellent touch-screen and one of the best virtual keyboards around. Apps are all displayed in an uniform grid on the homescreen with little option for customisation. Push notifications appear as a pop-up message but emails simply ring once. Tiny numbers in the corner of app icons show if you have unread alerts. You'll have to hook up to iTunes to update iOS though.


Features Very good
The latest iOS version powers Apple's own dual-core 1GHz A5 processor and 1GB of RAM for faster performance and app management, though true multitasking is still missing - apps pause rather than run when you switch to another one.


Email Very good
A beautiful two-column interface displays the inbox and reading panel along with custom folders for Microsoft Exchange accounts. You only get instant email delivery on Exchange mail (five-minute intervals for others) but the tech-minded will be able to set up Gmail and Hotmail as if they are Exchange accounts.


Browser Very good
Apple's Safari browser is fast, with national news sites loading in four seconds - but it doesn't support Flash video or tabbed browsing. It will automatically load full HTML sites for a desktop-like experience though - and in our tests, it never crashed.


Apps Excellent
Thousands of iOS apps are optimised for iPad 2 - and what's more, the App Store has a dedicated section so you'll know which will look just right on the bigger screen.


Movies and music Average
Getting media onto your tablet can only be done via iTunes, which is annoying if you don't currently use it (or if you simply want to grab a couple files off a friend's drive). Lack of support for many video codecs - including DivX - means not all online video will work.
Video calling Excellent
The 1.3-megapixel front camera isn't tops for resolution, but Apple's excellent FaceTime app is - even if it does only work over Wi-Fi and with other iDevices. Skype for iOS lets you video call non-Applelytes over 3G if you so desire.


For features, power and future-friendliness, Android Honeycomb pins iOS 3.2 to the mat. It's a beautifully designed OS that looks just right on tablet, while the iPad OS has the graceful but bland looks of a big iPhone. Far more customisable, Honeycomb even sticks it to its own predecessors with an infinitely more elegant interface and more intuitive notifications system than ever. Of course, iOS is light-years ahead when it comes to apps - but then again, the first Honeycomb tablet only launched a few weeks ago. Device to device, the iPad 2 might the slicker choice, but software against software, Android Honeycomb is our choice for 2011 - and we can't wait for the arrival of the tablet that perfectly executes it.

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