These slick, thin, computing wonders are technically referred to as tablet computing devices. Each manufacturer has given its product a descriptive name that implies its purpose. Two years ago, they didn't exist, and now there's a gaggle, all busily collecting fingerprints on the outside and free apps on the inside. Does an outdoor photographer need one? Did Mathew Brady need a tripod? Ultimately, it's the apps and how you use them that make a tablet more or less useful. There are more and more photo-related apps coming online every week, and nature photographers also will find mapping apps to be particularly useful. And, of course, simply having a big, bright, beautiful display for viewing your images anywhere and everywhere can't be overstated as a benefit. Yes, now is the time to add a tablet to your bag.
Apple iPad 2
Apple iPad was the first to appear, and it was met with incredible success. It singlehandedly created the category. Offering a generously large 9.7-inch display and tipping the scales at just a pound and a half, it was available in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB storage configurations, each with or without 3G connectivity. Screen resolution of 1024x768 made it ideal for reviewing photos in the field. The original iPad was equipped with a 1 GHz A4 CPU and 256 MB of RAM, and could run for up to 10 hours between charges. Starting at just $499, it may prove to have been the most successful electronic device of all time.
Apple iPad 2, introduced this past April, added something that was notably absent from its predecessor: a camera. In fact, the iPad 2 has two cameras; one is rear-facing for video phone conversations. It also features a faster CPU (an A5 Dual Core) and twice the RAM, and is slightly smaller and thinner. While it's unlikely that a serious photographer would ever use it as a primary capture device, it's fun and handy to be able to shoot 720p HD video. Although iPad 2 shines like a star when compared to many other tablets, and offers tens of thousands of apps (many free), it has its disadvantages, too. Apple iOS doesn't support Flash—the oh-so-popular format for animations—and it measures 9.5x7.3 inches—a might too large for a pocket or waist pack.
RIM, maker of the ever-popular BlackBerry communication devices, introduced the PlayBook this spring. The PlayBook is smaller (7.6x5.1x0.4 inches) and weighs just nine-tenths of a pound. The trade-off for the enhanced portability is a smaller screen, although a 7-inch diagonal LCD can hardly be called small. It's powered by a 1 GHz Dual Core processor and runs on BlackBerry Tablet OS. It comes in 16/32/64 GB flavors, offers 4G service, and has a screen resolution of 1024x600. If video is your thing, the PlayBook captures at 1080p and has a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel forward-facing camera for stills.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Samsung's entry to the tablet market, the Galaxy Tab, is somewhat similar to the RIM product. It measures 7.5x4.75x0.5 inches and weighs 13.5 ounces. Powered by a 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor, it offers 16 GB storage, a 7-inch LCD and a screen resolution of 1024x600. The Galaxy Tab uses Android OS and, therefore, is suitable for watching Flash animation. Two cameras are built in, at 3 megapixels and 1.3 megapixels, respectively.
iOS Vs. Android
Is it VHS vs. Betamax all over again, as Android users square off against devotees of iOS? Apple iPads use the latter, while all other tablet brands use Android or a proprietary operating system (e.g., HP's nifty TouchPad is powered by webOS). Which is better? For most users, it depends on what you want from your OS. Android runs Flash applications, and that's huge. Apple's iOS does not. And iOS is harder to customize. Android is reputed to have a faster browser. Both systems multitask and enable Folders. Apple's iOS noses out Google's Android in the final analysis because more apps have been written for it—over 65,000 specifically for the iPad. But given the sheer number of Android-powered tablets on the market, that situation may change soon.