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Our prediction for the top selling tablets of 2011 - how close were we?

Alex Fergusson Architects

Amazon Top Twenty Tablets for 2011

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Does it matter which were the best selling tablets last year? Well, yes for some of us it certainly does. If you are buying on a budget, what is a available in the second hand market is important. And it helps to know that you are not the only one with your particular brand or model. If plenty of other people own the same slate that you buy second hand, there will be forums to help with problems, app suppliers might care (a little) if something doesn't work and so on.

At the start of 2011, a bewildering array of new models were launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US. To be honest, the vast majority sold pretty badly in a market dominated by the Apple iPad. Even in the UK, many different models went on sale - mostly running Google's Android platform - but few were chosen. Amazon UK publishes a list of its bestselling tablets and we monitored it from time to time during the year to help buyers by ironing out the fairly considerable fluctuations that the raw list showed. Now, we've collected those together to produce this single summary of what was selling best over the whole year.


NATPC / Tabtech M009S / M010S

Resistive Sad ScreenResistive Screen

So you might be surprised that the top seller isn't the Apple iPad. In fact, it isn't any of the other branded offerings either.

We aggregated several different variants of this fairly humble looking beast and there is no doubt that it was the year's top seller. There are two more or less identical 7" models - black (M009S) and white (M010S -) sold by a variety of different companies (NATPC or their friends Tabtech and Wendy Lou). For the most part, you will struggle even to find websites for these companies.

But there must be quite a few of these out there - probably mostly bought for kids and used at home. They still will have value for children now. The weakness here, though, as for many of last year's slates, is that they had a resistive touch screen - indicated by the little reddish logo in the panel on the left. This older and cheaper style of screen is much less responsive to fingertips, although they will generally work quite well with some kind of basic stylus. 

This tablet, like many of the other cheaper ones, will be stuck running the version of Android that it came with. In general this will be Android 2.2 (Froyo) or 2.3 (Gingerbread). But don't despair. As of the time of writing (April 2012), the vast majority of Android phones are running Gingerbread and Sony has just cited the "extreme stability" of Gingerbread as part of their excuse for delaying their upgrade on their flagship phones for a little longer yet.

But what about the compromises? Check out our article on whether budget tablets are worth the saving.


Apple iPad 2

Resistive Sad ScreenCapacitive Screen

Obviously, many of us are perfectly well aware that in terms of the official total market share, the iPad is well ahead of the rest. In fact, it was ahead of all the rest added together in the UK where we could not buy the Amazon Kindle Fire.

The iPad 2 is a fabulous product - apparently unlike the Kindle Fire for which technical reviews have been rather luke warm, at best.

Both of the US top-sellers have a fabulous ecosystem and the iPad has a huge range of available apps, but usually buyers got their iPads at the lovely Apple retail outlets, or the Apple website hence the it's lower showing on Amazon.

As a second hand buy, there are very definite benefits to choosing an iPad

  • Its iOS platform is still being updated each time Apple introduces a new version.
  • It was by far the most popular tablet sold last year and there is quite a thriving market in repairing them if, for instance the screen cracks or the battery dies.
  • Speaking of the battery, this is in fact one of the best batteries and even if its capacity dwindles rather with age, there will still be quite a few usable hours.
  • And from the point of view of street credibility it helps that this looks almost identical to the new iPad 3.


Superpad X220

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The X220 has a 10" format - larger than the M009S / M010S, but with no capacitive touchscreen for easy finger operation, or sexy high resolution. Notice that it has only four rows of icons - one less than the original 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab. Some versions promise GPS, though, and an HDMI output, so that's some boxes ticked...

Some variants of the X220 are called the Flytouch 3 and some come with space for a 3G SIM which would mean they could perform as SatNavs without your having to rely on the caching function in Google Maps.

However, the glowing reviews on Amazon may need to be taken with a pinch of salt - some people claim foul play, implying a bit of self-reviewing may be going on.


Asus Eee pad Transformer TF101

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In terms of reviews, this has been the best received of the Android slates for 2011. Many examples come bundled with a solidly-built keyboard dock whish also has an extra battery and a USB socket .

I have bought a second hand version of the Transformer with my own money, so I can attest that it has quite a few advantages compared with the budget options:

  • As with the iPad 2, this model comes with a big battery , especially if you get one with the keyboard dock.
  • There is an official Over The Air (OTA) update to bring the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android. Some concerns have been voiced that this update isn't that stable. I have had very few problems, mostly involving the sleep mode - either it stops altogether, or wakes itself up for no obvious reason. They haven't affected usability significantly.
  • The Transformer has the better NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processor and the larger compliment of RAM - 1Gb. As such the performance is pretty good.

A second generation Transformer Prime appeared at the very end of 2011.


Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

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This is the upgrade to Samsung's original 7" Tab introduced in 2011. It's been accused of being copied from the iPad, and there are similarities. Both are slimmer, sexier and more expensive than some of the other models on this list. Both also share the annoying assumption that you'll be happy to go out and buy accessories for things like the HDMI screen output because the basic "fondleslab" has only one propriety socket (apart from the headphone jack).

But these similarities are not enough to justify Apple's litigation against the product which has taken patent actions into worrying new territories. It currently looks as if Samsung are going to win on balance and the Tab will remain on sale.

Probably too late for the this Tab 10.1 to be a big winner, though, because it has been replaced as the most technically desirable Android tablet by the new Asus Transformer Prime.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

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Matt cartoonThis has always looked a more sensible choice for existing owners of the Blackberry smartphones rather than for anybody else. The Playbook runs a unique platform called QNX

The suppliers - RIM after poor sales for the full-priced Playbook, slow progress in the smartphone market and the catastrophic failure of their romantically-located Slough messaging server - have withdrawn from consmuer markets. RIM (Research in Motion) saw their share price fall more than 70% during the year.

(Matt, thanks to The Telegraph)

Motorola Xoom

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This was the product with which Google first introduced the "true tablet version of Android" - which was called Honeycomb and was version 3 of the platform. The feeling is that the product was rushed to market to beat the iPad 2 and that its reputation suffered as a result. The first versions released had a memory card slot that could not be used and surely that's not good, but more recently things have improved.

The Xoom 2 is now available in a 10-inch format and is an 8-inch "Media Edition".

Archos G2 10.1
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This is a slightly better specced and better branded alternative to the A1CS / Superpad X220. It has all the basics and quite a little more, while Archos are carving out a significant niche for themselves supplying a broad range of MP3 players and eReaders as well as tablets.

The next generation from Archos (Gen9) are now becoming available. The models don't look that different and you should take care to get the one you actually want.

In particular, some have 1Gb of RAM and others have 500Mb. It is definitely worth paying for this doubling of the RAM.

Is Archos a bona fide manufacturer?


Archos 70 (250Gb)

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This French company has been chipping away at the tablet market since before the release of the iPad and has built up a share ahead of many more famous rivals. And this slate really has a unique selling point (USP for any marketing types out there). And the USP is in its hard disk offering 250Gb of storage for your music, videos, films etc. This is double the size of the largest of the solid state drives (SSD) offered by the competition. The traditional spinning disk, however, is slower, heavier and probably less robust - but still. Anyway, if you want an Archos with an SSD you can get one.

Archos have quite a range of tablets on offer, with new sexy models now released.

Is Archos a bona fide manufacturer?

10. Cambridge Sciences G7-II

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Another 7" model, but this time with a capacitive touchscreen.

In some ways this is comparable to the original Galaxy Tab. The G7 has a lower resolution screen, no GPS, 3G or bluetooth, but it does have a faster processor and USB and HDMI sockets on the base unit.

Is Cambridge Sciences a bona fide manufacturer?

11. W7001B Tabtronics Apad WM8650
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This is described as the cheapest 7" tablet and you must expect compromises. The spec quotes only 256Mb of Memory (RAM) which is a quarter of the memory that comes with most of the branded models. The Flash Drive was also small at 2Gb but the model we see here was amongst the top sellers for months - it can't be that bad?

[The Flash Drive has more recently been updated to 4Gb]

12. MID 7" E-Pad
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This had more RAM memory at 1Gb than many budget offerings. However, it comes with the older version 2.1 flavour of Android - and that was quite old - even last year. This can be bought with a flash expansion card and a wallet which includes a USB keyboard. This will make up for some of the deficiencies and still the price is quite modest.

[Update - the origianl model discussed here is only available now in very small numbers as stocks are run down to make space for newer offerings. Sometimes the amount of RAM varies quite siginificantly in products sold as "EPads". It's best to check what you're getting. Some have only 256Mb of RAM, and that's really not enough.]


13. Storage Options 53715 Scroll Excel 7

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Another very similar tablet, again with Gingerbread.

Again, there is a very similar, but slower and cheaper first-generation version of this still available - the 53511 Scroll Essential 7. Perhaps this Essential would suit the children for Christmas?

14. A1CS 8" Android 2.3 Capacitive Tablet
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15. Tabtech A816

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Unbranded - this time an 8" model without the wide-angle screen format that's meant to be better for watching movies. Despite being smaller than the M013S, this is a better prospect - faster, but still with the resistive screen.


Samsung Galaxy Tab Original 7" (P1000 / P1010)

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This one really is the original, available for over a year now, and perhaps not as cheap as we might have hoped after so long, but still a solid choice. It is probably sustaining its place in this list through trade in second-hand Tabs.

(The P1000 is the full 3G version, while the P1010 is WiFi-only)

See our full review of the good, the bad and the very ugly.

17. NATPC M013S 10.2" 4GB
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Well it's a seriously cheap 10" tablet and... well it is seriously cheap. But low resolution, small battery, slow processor, resistive screen and only 256Mb of RAM... You will notice this many compromises. But maybe a good choice for the kids.

18. Acer Aspire ICONIA TAB A500

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Very similar to the Motorola Xoom this t is physically slightly larger, although with the same screen and a smaller promotional budget.

Archos 7 Home

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Archos sells a bewildering array of Android products, some of which are excluded from this list on the basis that they have a small (less than 5-inch) screen.

This 7-inch model is sold as a "Home" rather than an "Internet" tablet. It will do most of the same things, but not so quickly as it's sexier siblings. It comes with the older Eclair version of Android which by this time is probably quite a limitation. It sells itself as being for MP3 / MP4 playing, as a photo viewer, for videos - and maybe for podcasts, internet radio and for audio books. While not the sexiest activities, these can obviously be very useful.

The Archos 70 Internet tablet generally out-sold this very similar-looking Home model.

Is Archos a bona fide manufacturer?


Asus EeePad Transformer Prime

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This came onto the market at the very end of 2011- and at the very leading edge of the technology wave. It builds on the reputation of the first generation Transformer which was probably the best reviewed Android tablet of 2011.

The new version - with "Prime" added to its name - was the first to run on the new quad-core ARM processor and it has plenty of positive reviews. All but the earliest models came wirth newest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android.

It has a flashy brushed aluminium back which proved a bit of an Achilles heal as it turned out to block the wireless signals for the GPS and even the WiFi (allegedly).

Note that it was actually formally released on the 12th January 2012.

Read - Transformer Prime Arrives



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