Three Months, Three Tablets, One Winner

Three Months, Three Tablets, One Winner

It has long since been established on The SideQuest that I spend money on things I don’t particularly need. Usually I can keep myself in check, but sometimes I can go overboard in a bad way. The purchasing of three tablets is a prime example of that.

In early July I picked up a Xoom, which I got for a mere $300. Then in August, the great TouchPad experiment of Hewlett Packard failed and they started jettisoning their stock. So, for $130 I picked up a TouchPad. I figured I was losing money if I didn’t grab this deal. Finally, at the end of August, my iPad 2 that I had ordered four weeks previous finally arrived, which I got for the base ticket price of $500.

Nearly a grand in the hole, I have been using my three devices quite a bit for the last three months. I never intended on looking critically at them — keep in mind that I have never reviewed a tablet before. I simply know what I like, what I need, and what I felt was best for me. But by the end of my purchasing experiment my better judgment got the better of me, and I’ve returned two of them.

The Xoom made sense as I enjoy the openness of Android. The easy root options the platform offers and being able to sideload apps to make the device whatever I want it to be is an awesome draw. In the early days of the Xoom, the reports of the UI being clunky and not exactly friendly steered me away from picking it up.

Android, Google

As months went on and updates kept rolling out, I noticed people mentioning that the tablet was getting better. So when I stepped up to the plate and bought it in July, I actually never faced a single UI issue. It moved quickly, no matter how many apps I would have running, and I never felt encumbered in any way.

The game support was excellent too; having an Android phone for the past three years helped me there. I saw the rise from “there aren’t any games here that anyone would care about” to “wow, there are a lot of great knockoff games on here.” Even to this day, most iOS games don’t venture into the Android Wild West, but it doesn’t matter as there are several knock-offs of each good iOS game that live up to their counterparts or sometimes even outstrip them. The public perception of the platform has held back Android in the way of gaming, but it is quite the ecosystem.

The Xoom ran all of the games that I had already purchased just fine, and I even tinkered with SNESoid (a Super Nintendo emulator) and connecting a Wii remote to the Xoom had myself a portable SNES console. (Ed. Note: Don’t pirate games, that is wrong.) As far as the Xoom went, it was a great device that did just about everything that I wanted it too.

The iPad 2 was meant to be my only tablet purchase of 2011. The other two we can call impulse buys. Many of my friends own iPads and swear by them, claiming there is nothing better in the tablet world. Of course, most of them only have Macbook Pros, iMacs, and iPhones, but they can’t all be crooked eyed, right? Well, to a point they aren’t. The iPad 2 is a phenomenal device. The speed at which the interface moves is absolutely astounding and the game support is off the charts.

iOS ftw

Because iOS developers know exactly what size and resolution they are developing for, they can make apps that fit to the screen much better than Android developers can. The dual core A5 made work of just about anything thrown at it as well. The hardware in the iPad 2, from the processor to the dual cameras, is all excellent. The only place hardware suffers is the poorly placed and exceedingly limiting speaker along with the lack of native USB support.

The only problem I couldn’t overlook on the iPad 2 was iOS itself. Apple has conflicts with other companies that makes their platform inherently limited. Mainly, Google. Google support on the iPad 2 is lackluster. Sure, they develop apps for the platform, but they aren’t that good. Gmail, Maps, Docs, Youtube and Plus are things that I use on a daily basis that the iPad 2 does not do well.

Next, Adobe, with Flash. As much as most iOS owners will tell you otherwise, Flash is still an integral part of the web browsing experience. The main thing I use a tablet for is to browse the web. Many sites that I go to have a Flash integration that break wide open on the iPad 2. Sure, there may be apps for several of those sites, but I’m lazy and I don’t feel like opening 20 applications instead of going to the actual website.

That said, if I am Joe Six-Pack looking to pick up a tablet I would probably go with the iPad 2, even though it is more expensive. The simplicity of the OS is perfect for the regular person.

The last tablet, the TouchPad, was little more than a cheap experiment. In fact, the first night I owned it I almost threw it out a window. I tried updating WebOS but the device inexplicably turned off in the middle of installation, and from that point on the next day and a half was nothing but torture. Caught in between two versions of WebOS I couldn’t do anything, as it didn’t know what to load and kept rebooting itself every two or three minutes.

In fact I couldn’t even use HP’s doctor tools for the device as the reboot would happen even in the middle of trying to reset the firmware. Eventually, when I was mere minutes away from taking a sledge to the TouchPad, it somehow allowed the reset to work, and I was finally able to use the thing.

Having never even used a WebOS phone I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but WebOS is fantastic. The “card” system it uses for multitasking is awesome, being able to see all of the apps you have open at once makes everything a whole lot easier. WebOS is also an open platform, so sideloading apps that have been made by the community is simple. However, those apps are very limited in number, just as the marketplace is.

The HP App Catalog is pathetic. There are very few apps worth purchasing, and apps that are free on other platforms must be purchased here. Applications that you would assume would come bundled on a tablet aren’t, and when they are they aren’t TouchPad optimized. Even Netflix, Tweetdeck, and until recently a native camera app, didn’t exist. Game support is even more pathetic, with the only major game on the platform being Angry Birds.


No games, no app support. Why would I even remotely consider keeping this device? Four reasons:

  1. Comicshelf HD. This comic viewer is the best I have used on any platform, including Comixology. It works exactly how I want and since I love comics, it is a big deal to me.
  1. Solitaire. The only game I need. Not just Klondike, this app has about 40 different solitaire card games. So far I have probably played 1000 games of Klondike alone. Once again, this app is the best I have used for what it is, on any platform.
  1. Web browser. As I mentioned earlier, tablets are small web browsing devices for me, and the WebOS browser is phenomenal. It is the best non-PC web browsing experience I have had. The lack of website apps doesn’t matter as I can visit any page with no troubles.
  1. CyanogenMod. I was set to get rid of the TouchPad, or simply let it sit uncharged for the rest of its existence. Then, at the end of October the CyanogenMod community got their shit all the way together and released an alpha build of Android 2.3 for the TouchPad. After some reassurances from one John Noonan, I took the thirty minutes required to apply the mod. Running as a dual-boot OS makes it incredible. At any time, I can boot into Android or WebOS depending what I want or need to do.

Over the last month the extended warranty return dates came up for all three devices. The first decision I had to make was about the Xoom, and it wasn’t much of a decision at all. I had the TouchPad to run Android and it only cost a third of the price of the Xoom. So it went back.

The TouchPad was up next. My familiarity and comfort with Android and my enjoyment of some WebOS apps made me want to keep the thing around. Especially with the low price.

Just yesterday, Saturday, I had to decide whether or not I was going to keep my iPad 2 around for pretty much just gaming. In the end, having $500 was more attractive than having a second tablet. That sentence alone might bring out the hate in some people. The iPad 2 would have been at best a second tablet, and nobody needs a second tablet.

The red-headed stepchild, the ugly duckling, the TouchPad won out. I spent long enough with each of them to make a well-informed decision. Of course, unless HP actually makes a second run of the tablet you will have a tough time getting your hands on one. Even if you do, you won’t get one for the firesale price that took place back in August. However, if I knew long ago what I know now about the TouchPad going into the purchase, I gladly would have spent much more than I did.

All three tablets are great devices, and they each have their own benefits. I may have liked the TouchPad the most, but that doesn’t mean that it is inarguably the best, just the best for what I want a tablet to be.

What made you decide on what tablet to buy? Feel free to let us know below.

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