iPad alternatives

Companies including HP, Neofonie and Notion Ink are creating devices to rival Apple's popular upcoming tablet

Apple's iPad will be available on April 3 and reports suggest that the product is off to a good start, with hundreds and thousands being ordered from Apple's Web site. But the device has faced some criticism for lacking features such as a video camera, USB ports and support for technology called Flash that enables Web video.

But those technologies could be available in iPad alternatives reaching the market soon, including Neofonie's WePad, Hewlett-Packard's Slate, Notion Ink's Adam and Innovative Converged Devices' Ultra. These handheld devices have diagonal screen sizes from 7 inches to 11.6 inches and will be based on Google's Android Linux OS or Windows 7.

WePad

German company Neofonie has announced WePad, which it says has features the iPad lacks, including Flash support, a larger screen, a webcam and two USB ports.

The WePad has an 11.6-inch display compared to iPad's 9.7-inch display. But at 800 grams (1.76 pounds), it is heavier than the 680-gram iPad. This is a big drawback considering tablets are supposed to be handheld devices.

The WePad runs on a 1.66GHz Atom N450 processor, compared to Apple's A4 chip, which includes a 1GHz processor. Apple's chip may offer better graphics than the WePad, as the Atom processor is barely capable of 720p video. The WePad offers 16GB of storage and runs the Android OS.

The company did not respond to requests for comment on price and availability. However, more information is available on WePad's Web site.

HP's Slate

HP hasn't been as successful as Apple with handheld devices, but hopes to get some mojo back with its upcoming slate product. The HP Slate, running Windows 7, was shown by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during a keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Like the iPad, the HP Slate is designed to allow users to read e-books, surf the Web, view video and play games.

HP worked on the slate concept for five years, and the device takes advantage of the low-cost, low-power processors and touch features offered by Windows 7, said Phil McKinney, HP's chief technology officer, in a video. The device must run on an Intel or x86 processor, as Arm processors don't yet support Windows 7.

It's a real product, not just a concept, McKinney says, adding that it will be available later in 2010 at "mainstream" price points. Recent rumors suggest the device will be available in May for around US$550. HP declined to comment.

Innovative Converged Devices' Ultra

ICD promises two new tablets: Ultra, which could be an iPad alternative, and Vega, which the company calls a "low-cost, large-screen, in-home device with complete connectivity."

The Ultra comes with a 7-inch screen, which is smaller than the iPad, but includes a 1.3-megapixel webcam, USB ports and support for Flash with the Android 2.0 OS. The device is powered by the Tegra 2 mobile processor, which should allow for full 1080p high-definition video playback. The iPad includes Apple's A4 chip, which can handle 720p video and is not yet capable of playing full 1080p video, an Apple spokesman said at the iPad launch event in January.

The Vega is perhaps the closest a tablet comes to a PC. The device has a 15.6-inch touch screen and includes a webcam that could make it a videoconferencing device. Attach a keyboard, and you get a full-fledged, all-in-one PC. The Vega is powered by the Tegra 2 mobile processor, runs on Android 2.0, and includes 32GB of storage. The Vega will also be available with an 11-inch screen, bringing it closer in size to the iPad.

The Ultra and Vega have wireless connectivity options for 3G mobile broadband, Wi-Fi b/g and Bluetooth. The company did not respond to requests on pricing and availability.

Notion Ink's Adam

There is plenty of buzz around Notion Ink's Adam, especially for its unique Pixel Qi transflective display. The 10.1-inch LCD screen can absorb natural light sources to brighten screens, which can increase the battery life of the device. The screen is readable in direct sunlight, which could make it a somewhat superior e-reading device than the iPad.

The Adam runs on a Tegra 2 processor, and it has a camera that can swivel 180 degrees. The device can play back full 1080p HD video, and comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G connectivity. The device also comes with storage of up to 32GB and two USB ports. It weighs between 600 and 650 grams, according to the company. It comes with an SD card and SIM card slots, and an HDMI port to connect TVs or monitors. Based on Android, it offers Flash support as well.

The company did not respond to requests for comment on pricing and availability.

Stantum's reference design

Stantum has taken a Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook, stripped out the keyboard and trackpad, and created a tablet it calls the Slate PC. The device is a reference design, with a 10.1-inch multitouch screen to view content. Up to 10 fingers can be used simultaneously on the screen to manipulate images, write notes or zoom into maps. Data can be entered through a virtual keyboard and on-screen gestures. The device runs the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system, according to the company Web site.

The proof-of-concept device's hardware is also impressive: It runs on an Intel Z530 Atom processor at 1.6GHz. Wireless connectivity options are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Also included is an Ethernet port and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port to monitors. For a handheld device it is pretty hefty, at 1.03 kilograms.

Stantum won't make the device available, but companies may build products based on the design, said Gauthier Chastan, marketing and communication manager at Stantum.

Other tablets

A number of PC makers also demonstrated tablets based on Arm processors and the Android OS. Dell has already announced a tablet with a 5-inch display, which makes it more like a mobile Internet device than a slate. Asustek Computer also showed off a slate with Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip. However, the companies haven't commented on when those devices would ship.

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