When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad he was quick to shake his finger in the nose of the other devices out there attempting to fill the gap between cell phone and full-sized laptop, and in particular those market-dominating netbooks. In Apple's opinion, the iPad may be the gadget for surfing the web, watching movies, reading books and running apps, but it's surely not the only game in town. And if you aren't sold on the iPad, but happen to be someone who's looking to buy a secondary computing device to use while traveling or while simply lying on the couch, your choices at the moment come down to netbooks and... well, more netbooks. And that's not such a bad thing, especially if you need a feature Apple's tablet can't offer, like multitasking, a keyboard, or Flash support. So, before you get up on Saturday morning and run off to purchase that iPad, you may want to peruse the best current (as well as coming) alternatives we've rounded up after the break.
THE RIGHT NOW ALTERNATIVES
$499: either a 16GB, WiFi iPad or....
Toshiba Mini NB305 ($399)
It's quite hard to pick a single netbook for under $499, especially considering you could nab at least two of them for the price of an entry level iPad. However, the $399 10.1-inch Toshiba Mini NB305 continues to be our pick as the best all-around netbook. For $100 less than the entry-level iPad you get a device with 15 times the storage space, and a full fledged Windows 7 that lets you write an e-mail while simultaneously listening to Pandora and checking the weather. Oh, and did we mention the VGA webcam for making Skype calls?
$629: either a 16GB, WiFi + 3G iPad or...
Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t ($549)
Why choose between a tablet and a netbook? The $549 Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t and other netvertibles don't force you to. With a swivel-capacitive touchscreen the S10-3t morphs into a tablet with its very own NaturalTouch software interface, and with Kindle for PC loaded up you've got a color e-reader with 250GB of storage space. Yes, we were bothered by the viewing angles of the display and the tablet experience needs some love, but when it's in normal clamshell mode you can easily fire off e-mails without having to pick up a $70 peripheral keyboard. And Lenovo isn't the only one in the netvertible game – we have high hopes for ASUS's $499 Eee PC T101MT that will be available starting next week.
$829: either a 64GB, WiFi + 3G iPad or...
HP Mini 311 ($199 Verizon, $399 HP)
If you're spending $800, you should think about a higher end netbook, like an Ion-equipped Mini 311, or Intel ULV ultraportable. The 11.6-inch Mini 311's NVIDIA Ion GPU certainly has what it takes for mainstream gaming and full HD playback, and like the others it can handle multiple applications, play Hulu vids from your browser and store more than 64GB of your data. Like the iPad, you can opt for more than just WiFi with 3G from Verizon. We did the math and while it turns out to total $919 for the year with a $60 per month data plan, the 64GB iPad costs $1,189 over the same period of time.
THE FUTURE / VAPORWARE ALTERNATIVES
So netbooks may be the best alternatives around right now, but the tablets are a comin' -- or at least that's what we've been told by a number of major companies. Unfortunately, most of these aren't shipping or even priced -- and the most promising member of this group hasn't ever been officially announced. But if you're the type to hold out hope, each of these is bound to present an interesting alternative to the iPad if and when they arrive.
Truth is we don't know much about the much-hyped HP Slate, but we can firmly say it has USB connectivity, runs Windows 7 and supports Flash out of the box. The questions surround the software, and given the fact that Windows 7 wasn't created to be a slate OS, we're crossing our fingers that HP is coming up with something awesome to put on top of it. Regardless, the quite svelte looking 10-inch, multitouch tablet is rumored to be priced around $549, but it looks like we will be waiting until early this summer to swipe our fingers all over it.
Notion Ink Adam
Talk about baking in tons of cutting-edge technology into one device: the Notion Ink Adam has both the latest Tegra processor, and a 10-inch touchscreen made by PixelQi, which means you can turn the backlight on and off for saving battery life. No doubt we're intrigued with what we have seen from Notion Ink, but with no word yet on pricing or availability of this one and now rumors of Tegra 2 issues, we're skeptical of its real viability.
Fusion Garage JooJoo
When you set aside all of the Fusion Garage / TechCrunch hubbub, the $499 JooJoo is actually quite a compelling tablet. With a larger screen than the iPad, the 12-inch, Intel Atom / NVIDIA Ion powered tablet promises full Flash HD playback and has a pretty nice looking interface from what we've seen so far. We're worried about the battery life given our issues with Ion netbooks, but it shouldn't be too long before we've got our full review up.
Dell Mini 5
While the Dell Mini 5 is a bit smaller than most of these tablets and its five-inch form factor is closer to a phone than anything else it could just hit the sweet spot of portability. We've been impressed with what we've seen so far from the Snapdragon-powered Android device, and the prototype we've been toying around with is both snappy and responsive. However, as AT&T managed to totally ruin Android on the Dell Aero, we're more than nervous that all of that potential will be washed down the drain when it's finally announced.
We figured we'd save the best for (almost) last -- and by best, we mean the product we're most intrigued by, yet know the least about. We can't even tell you if the Courier is a real product or just a collection of ideas mocked-up as an exercise, but the bits and pieces we've seen have us hoping Microsoft is hard at work on this dualscreen gadget. We've heard rumblings of a launch later this year, but honestly, for all we know, it could all be a Microsoft backed prank.
Chrome OS Tablets... and unicorns
We have no idea what Google's Chrome OS is actually going to be like, and we have even less information on if it'll make it onto tablets. But more than a few companies have hinted at such devices, and now that the iPad's 10-year run atop the rumor charts is over, we've got a feeling those whispers are just going to get louder. There's no doubt that waiting on some of these tablets could be on par with waiting on Petco to sell unicorns, but why do that when you've already got dozens of great choices -- yes, including the iPad -- that you can buy right now?