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Engadget's CES 2013 Preview: Tablets


With CES looming like an electrically charged storm of news and announcements, it's time for us to give you our best bets on what you'll see come January. During the month of December, we'll bring you a series of CES preview posts, forecasting what you can expect when the news deluge begins. For more of what's to come, check out our hub.

Tablets: the other living room screen. For a category that was once regarded as an odd-duck luxury for the early adopter, 2012 certainly saw the portable computing tech grow closer to becoming a true laptop alternative. With an ever-increasing number of high-resolution displays, faster multi-core processors, a range of form factors and varied price points, it seems there's now a tab for just about everyone. So while last January's CES brought us news of 1,920 x 1,200 screens, quad-core CPUs and a proliferation of Android Ice Cream Sandwich offerings, the year ahead aims to take that same tack and turn it up a few notches. That said, don't expect this upcoming CES to play host to a glut of next-gen tablet reveals -- from what we gather, many major manufacturers are holding off for Mobile World Congress 2013's more focused global stage.

It's a mainstay now, but back at the start of this past CES, Microsoft's Windows 8 platform was still far from release. But despite that OS' infancy, several OEMs still went on record showcasing convertible tablet builds running the full platform and its RT version. This year, prepare for a wider range of manufacturers to join the Windows 8 brigade, offering simple slates alongside various hybrid designs.

If any one company deserves a pat on the back for making tablets more accessible in 2012, it's Google. After all, the company's open source, device-agnostic Ice Cream Sandwich software is largely responsible for driving down prices and getting tablets into more consumer hands. The perils of that mobile operating system are well-known -- namely, inconsistent UI skins -- but that's all the more reason for manufacturers to continue to align with Android and put an individual stamp on their tablet wares. While you can still look forward to a smattering of newly announced ICS tabs spread across the show floor, more deserved attention should be turned to Android slates running Jelly Bean builds.

We already have Google's own Samsung-made Nexus 10 as a high-water mark for a reference design, what with its 10-inch screen, Butter-smooth Android 4.2 OS and Retina-like 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. And with the release of that tab still fresh in consumers' minds, it's likely forward-facing OEMs targeting the high-end space will follow suit, issuing copycat 10-inch takes with equal or better eye-watering displays.

There was a time when four cores seemed pretty progressive for an SoC -- that time being 2012. No longer, as that particular setup grows more commonplace as a spec, trickling down into the smartphone and tablet markets. So, no, the cluttered convention halls of CES 2013 won't necessarily herald the arrival of five- (or even eight-) core CPUs, but we could be in store for tabs outfitted with faster quad-core chips. Case in point, NVIDIA's rumored LTE-capable Tegra 4, allegedly clocked up to 2GHz or Intel's Red Ridge Medfield chip, which we saw pop up at the FCC earlier this month.

Initially, 7-inch tablets were written off by most of the industry as too small to bother with, leaving the playing field wide open. Fortunately, one company saw untapped potential in that palm-friendly form factor and went on to dominate the consumer space. Yes, we're talking about Amazon's Kindle Fire: the dark horse tablet entry priced to sell. And sell it did, so much so that it moved the titans of tech to innovate the space, with Google enlisting ASUS' engineering for its popular and affordable Nexus 7 reference tab (named for its relatively diminutive size) and even Apple, which once infamously disavowed the smaller format altogether, releasing the 7.9-inch iPad mini. No doubt, the year ahead will see a heavier emphasis placed not only on these smaller-sized tabs (hello, potential Galaxy Note 7), but also on shrinking silhouettes and MSRPs.

While we used to think CES was the be-all and end-all for major product innovations and announcements, 2013's show is shaping up to be somewhat of a sleeper on the tablet front. That's not to say we won't see an array of smaller Android slates with faster quad-core CPUs, eye-popping high-res displays or a plethora of Windows RT hybrids -- we surely will. But whereas the show floor would've been dominated by an abundance of next-gen tablets at shows past, this year promises to be quieter. Chalk it up to the reduced noise that comes from MWC's smartphone and tablet-focused show, but OEMs aren't eyeing Vegas in January as their main world stage. No, for that you'll have to wait for Barcelona's tech spring.

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