The tablet came into its own in 2011, when manufacturers from the phone, computer and even monitor worlds dove right in. With droves of slates landing in shops and Christmas stockings round the globe, we've now launched our first ever Tablet of the Year award. Our winner may not be a surprise, but it marks an exciting step for mobile devices.
Winner - Apple iPad 2With two tablets launching before other manufacturers even managed their first, Apple has owned the tablet market since the iPad's debut last March - and it's easily kept it since. Over half our 10,000 voters nominated it as their Tablet of the Year, while our judges rated it for beautifully designed hardware and software. Apple's elegant iOS lured third-party developers to balloon the App Store to over 100,000 iPad-optimised apps in a year, making the iPad the singular platform for tons of innovative new media from magazines to social and news aggregators.
Runner up - Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1So close to first place, and yet so far. We love the Galaxy Tab 10.1's super slim looks and its powerful, desktop-like Android Honeycomb OS. You can put app shortcuts and live-updating widgets wherever you want, while Samsung's 'mini app' toolbar lets you open, say the calendar or music player on top of whatever program you're currently using - like you can on a full-size computer. Its notifications center is unobtrusively placed so you always have access to new events and its HDMI out lets you hook it up to a bigger screen for slide shows, comfier web browsing and console-level gaming. Too bad then, about the sad state of tablet-optimised apps on the Android Market - with little available software to push its bounds the way the iPad can, this just couldn't edge the iPad 2.
BlackBerry PlayBookOur judges agreed that the PlayBook represents beautiful technology from RIM (see page XX for why [most innovative device] - but the fact that it only actually works in full with a BlackBerry smartphone makes it too niche to take Tablet of the year. If you do own a 'Berry smartie though, this is brilliant - BlackBerry Bridge lets you view email, contacts and calendar without actually accessing the server, i.e., keeping it secure even for the most draconian of corporate IT admins. A compact seven-incher with an innovative, tablet-optimised OS, the PlayBook is a hyper-fast, high-spec device that can run up to 50 programs without slowing down. Apps are a little on the expensive side, but rumours go that Android apps will soon be available for it on the BlackBerry App World.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer A sleeper success, Asus's Honeycomb tab is well-built and great to use. There's not much beyond vanilla Honeycomb, but if you're after a laptop replacement, the Eee Pad has one heck of a USP - the ability to dock into a (supremely built) keyboard, plus tons of ports - mini HDMI, microSD, even an SD card slot for your camera. It comes in at an iPad-rivalling £379 and if you aren't after a tablet for apps, this is a great value Android option.
HTC FlyerThe only seven-inch tablet on our shortlist is ultra-portable and comes with a great little feature we reckon should be on more tablets - a capacitive stylus for digital notetaking. It may run on the older Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but skinned with HTC's super friendly Sense interface and tons of cute, fun features including a Photobooth app, it plays just as nicely as the other tabs. A big update to the tablet-optimised Honeycomb OS is incoming - sadly not in time for the Flyer to take the tablet crown.