The Xoom is the clear champ here, with an accelerometer, light sensor, proximity sensor, gyroscope, compass, and barometer. The Streak 7 loses the gyroscope and barometer to drop into number two, the iPad comes next losing the proximity sensor, and the Playbook gets back the proximity sensor but loses the compass (I think the compass is more important in a device of this class) to come in a close fourth. Sensors are used for games and applications; the more you have the more capable the device will be. Think of this as obsolescence protection because you can always add that new application but if you don’t have a sensor that will allow it to work properly you’ll be unhappy. It is as yet unclear what new sensors the iPad 2 will have but I expect it will pick up one or two.
32GB is likely enough for a device in this class, and you can get there with every device. However, the Streak starts off with 16GB, the Xoom with better than twice that, and with both you can add 32GB of Flash memory yourself. Neither RIM nor Apple provides an upgrade path, so while you can buy a 64GB device, if you find you need more memory with your 16GB starter system, you have to replace it. To put this in perspective, a high-speed 32GB SD card costs about $50 on Amazon, going from an iPad 16GB to an iPad 32GB will cost you $599, (a $100 difference, even if you were able to sell your first device at face value). You can clearly understand why Apple and RIM want you do be motivated to buy a new tablet rather than new memory, but as a consumer this is a huge disadvantage. The Xoom leads, followed by the Streak 7 and the RIM and iPad bring up the rear.
It doesn’t do you much good to have a device you don’t carry. The smaller the device, the more likely someone is going to carry it. This gives the 7-inch products from RIM an advantage, and the fact that Dell has a line of devices starting at 5 inches gives the Streak line the strongest line advantage. However, since you’re only likely to buy one of them, this advantage depends on which one you buy. The rest are on a one-size fits all tier. While that clearly has worked for Apple, I can’t think of any other CE product, including the iPod, that didn’t benefit from a deeper size range in the line. Dell leads here.
Here, Dell doesn’t do so well. The bar is 10 hours, and all but the Steak reach it. The Streak 7 traded off weight for battery life, and gets a projected four hours. That’s about what a laptop gets normally, but is well behind what is needed in this class. None of these devices allow for replaceable batteries.
The perfect product
The 7-inch size is kind of a ‘tweener size, but then, historically, 10-inch wasn’t popular before the iPad, so this isn’t set in stone. The 7-inch screen gains a lot of portability, and doesn’t seem to lose much in usefulness. I used the 5-inch for a while, and liked it better than the more typical sub-4-inch displays found on most smartphones. So, size is a matter of taste and portability. For a data device, 4G support is critical, and if you are going to buy a 3G/4G plan, the tethering option is important as well. Choices favor Dell, and tethering favors both Dell and Motorola. The iPad probably comes in close to last in this matchup, but that’s because it is almost a year old and many of these devices haven’t yet shipped. The iPad 2 will clearly be at least competitive.
Dell’s biggest advantage is having a line of similar devices, and its biggest disadvantage is battery life. If I were to rank these products, it would be Xoom first, the Dell Streak line second, Playbook third, and the iPad fourth, but I believe the iPad 2 on Verizon, when it arrives, will beat the Xoom. I also believe that going forward, we are going to see feature wars between these devices. Oh, and one final thing: Up until now, the only company selling lots of these things was Apple. While doubtful, there is still a chance Apple could corner this market like it did with MP3 players, or it could go the way of the netbook. On the other hand, Android 3.0 offering is looking like it could be a giant killer which will make for an interesting battle.