Despite a slow start, Android tablets are finally gaining momentum with consumers. In fact, just last quarter they dominated 39% of the tablet market — a 10% increase from the previous year. But with so many options to choose from, and with the rumored iPad 3 just weeks away, how do you know which tablet is worth your time?
We sifted through some of today's most buzz-worthy models to give you the low-down on which devices and features are the most notable in the world of Android. We included many tablets that are recently or soon-to-be released, so be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming deals.
Pantech Element 8" 16GB 4G Android Tablet
(search for "Pantech Element")
Current Deal: $299.99 (with a 2-year contract) with free shipping from AT&T Wireless
Best Price We've Seen: N/A. The Element was released just a few weeks ago, so we've yet to see any deals for this tablet.
Why You Want It: While most tablet owners would cringe at the thought of using their tablet at the beach or by the pool, the Pantech Element thrives in those environments. (It can actually be submerged in up to three feet of water.) It also has a built-in 4G radio for quick Internet access. And although it's not officially a "ruggedized" tablet, PC Mag says it's solid, reliable, and built like it can take some abuse. If you're not keen on committing to a 2-year data plan, a contract-free version currently sells for $449.99.
The tablet also features a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor with Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), an 8" 1024x768 resolution touchscreen, 16GB storage, front (2MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 4G LTE support, 802.11n wireless, and a micro SD and micro HDMI port.
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10" 32GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: $491.28 with $7.45 s&h from Provantage
Best Price We've Seen: $400 with $10 s&h at hhgregg in January
Why You Want It: Despite a rough start, the Transformer Prime has become one of the few tablets that can stand up to the iPad, both in terms of looks and performance. And with a quick software update, it's also one of the few current tablets that can run Google's latest Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Purchasing this tablet won't leave you feeling like you've settled for second best. In fact, Engadget calls this "the best Android tablet on the market."
It features an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) with an Ice Cream Sandwich software update, 10.1" LED-backlit 1280x800 touchscreen LCD, 32GB storage, front (1.2MP) and rear (8MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, and a micro SD and micro HDMI slot.
Motorola Xyboard 8" 16GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: $399.99 with free shipping from Motorola
Best Price We've Seen: N/A. The Xyboard WiFi was released just a few weeks ago, so we've yet to see any deals for this tablet.
Why You Want It: The latest Motorola Xyboard sheds its 4G radio (and mandatory data plan) in favor of WiFi-only compatibility. And although it's currently running Android Honeycomb, Motorola confirms this tablet will be Ice Cream Sandwich-ready via a software upgrade.
It features a 1.2GHz dual-core processor with Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), an 8.2" 1280x800 resolution touchscreen, 16GB storage, front (1.3MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, and micro USB and HDMI ports.
Sony Tablet S 9" 16GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: Order it on backorder for $369.60 with $7.45 s&h from Provantage, or get it now for $399 with free shipping at Adorama
Best Price We've Seen: $369.99 with free shipping at Buy.com via eBay in January
Why You Want It: It took Sony two years to enter the tablet market, but according to many online reviews, it was worth the wait. Design-wise, the Tablet S has a curvaceous, wedge-shaped form factor that makes it easy to type on when lying flat. The tablet also has PlayStation certification for mobile gaming, DLNA video and music streaming, and integrated universal IR remote capability, which CNET says makes for a "graphically rich remote that you might actually want to use."
It features an NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core processor with Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), a 9.4" 1280x800 resolution touchscreen, 16GB storage, front (0.3MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, and micro USB and HDMI ports.
Coby 9.7" MID9742 16GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: N/A. The MID9742 will be released in Q2 of 2012 for $279.
Best Price We've Seen: N/A
Why You Want It: Is this one of the most affordable 10" Ice Cream Sandwich-based tablets? According to the folks at Coby, it will be when it's released later this year for $279. In fact, the MID9742 is one of five new sub-$289 ICS Android tablets the company currently has under wraps, with prices starting at $179. (The cheapest will feature just 4GB of storage and a 7" screen.) Feature-wise, it's no match for a Transformer, but with such a low MSRP and fairly respectable spec list, we can't wait to give this tablet a run.
It features a 1GHz Cortex A8 single-core processor with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), a 9.7" 1024x768 resolution touchscreen, 8GB storage, front (1.3MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, and microSD, mini USB, and micro HDMI ports.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus 7" 16GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: $349.99 with free in-store pickup from Best Buy
Best Price We've Seen: N/A. However, we've seen the 32GB model for $380.
Why You Want It: Smaller than your traditional 10" and 9" tablets, the 7" Galaxy Plus is the perfect companion for all of your on-the-road adventures. And despite its smaller size, CNET claims this full-featured tablet makes no compromises, calling it the "best 7" Honeycomb tablet yet."
It features a Samsung 4210 1.2GHz dual-core processor, Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), 7" 1,024x600 resolution touchscreen display, 16GB storage, front (2MP) and rear (3MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, and a microSD card slot.
Toshiba Thrive 10" 8GB Android Tablet
Current Deal: $369.95 with free shipping from Adorama
Best Price We've Seen: $299.99 with in-store pickup at Best Buy in December
Why You Want It: Although CNET argues that this is one of the bulkier tablets out there, that extra girth gives the Thrive some features that many of today's tablets don't have, such as the ability to remove/swap batteries, a full-size HDMI port, and changeable/colored backplates. It's worth noting that, at this current price, you could pay just $25 more to get the 16GB version.
The tablet also features a 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor with Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), a 10" 1280x800 resolution touchscreen, 8GB storage, front (2MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 802.11n wireless, an SD card slot, Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0 and mini USB ports, and an HDMI port.
HTC EVO View 7" 32GB 4G Google Android Tablet for Sprint
Current Deal: $278.95 with $9.99 s&h from wuzbee via eBay
Best Price We've Seen: $239.95 with free shipping at bidallies via eBay in December
Why You Want It: In a world saturated with Android tablets, it's hard to find one that truly stands out. Yet, that's exactly what the HTC Flyer (also known as the EVO) manages to do according to Engadget, which praises the Flyer's "robust aluminum construction, Magic Pen inclusion, and responsive interface." The Flyer's Magic Pen, specifically, comes in handy for annotating documents, creating notes, or just doodling on the pad.
The tablet features a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8655 processor with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 7" 1024x600 resolution touchscreen, 32GB storage, front (1.3MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 4G support, 802.11n wireless, microSD slot, and micro USB port.
Although the Apple iPad remains the 800-lb. gorilla of the tablet market, there's no stopping the influx of Android tablets. And while the first generation of tablets suffered from kinks and outrageous prices, these new generations are stronger than ever. And with so many Android tablets to choose from, there's not only one for every budget, but one for every need. For the latest deals on Android tablets, sign up for an email alert, and check out our daily tablet deals.