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Tablet competition intensifies

While the iPad remains dominant, a host of other models are catching up

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press/File 2011

The Kindle Fire features a 7-inch screen, costs $200, and is designed to take advantage of Amazon.com’s rich content library.

The iPad still rules the tablet market. It continues to top Consumer Reports’ Ratings, and Apple sells more than twice as many tablets as do all of its major competitors combined. Yet Apple’s dominance isn’t deterring the launch of new challengers - and at least one, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, could actually test the iPad’s reign.

Amazon is competing with Apple more aggressively on price than almost any other tablet maker. Ten-inch Wi-Fi tablets, such as the iPad, with 16 gigabytes of memory, cost $400 to $500; most 7-inch models start at $300. The 7-inch Kindle Fire, at $200, costs much less.

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Like the iPad, the Kindle Fire is tailored to deliver its maker’s rich content. Sony is doing something similar with its Tablet S. Here is some of the other news in tablets:

Apple launched its iCloud service. With iCloud, you can store all of your content online and access it wherever you have a wireless connection using your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or computer.

Up to 5 gigabytes of storage will be free, and content, such as songs, that you purchase from iTunes doesn’t count against that limit. The iCloud service also makes file transfers to and from the iPad easier, eliminating the need for a cable. Without iCloud (or a similar service), the only way to move files would be by e-mail or connecting the iPad to a computer running iTunes.

Some features require Android. Flash technology, which lets you view many videos and use interactive features on the Web, is available on all Android devices but not the iPad. Several Android models also provide other features the iPad lacks.

If you’re looking for a lot of ports and slots, including a full-size USB port, the Toshiba Thrive, $500, has more connectivity than any other tablet Consumer Reports has seen. If you want a tablet that can capture 3-D images, check out T-Mobile’s G-Slate, $800, which takes 3-D photos and records 3-D video. As with the Sony Tablet S, you can use Vizio’s Vtab 1008, $280, as a universal remote for your entertainment center. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer, $500, has an optional dock that, when connected to the tablet, can turn it into a netbook-like device.

Ho-hum tablets endure. In the rush to release tablets shortly after iPad’s launch, many manufacturers jumped in with low-cost ($200 or so) tablets that use resistive touchscreens. Consumer Reports tests have shown those screens to be inaccurate. The Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet, $200, offer better performance at comparable prices.

Tablets from big-name brands have faltered for reasons other than performance. The HP TouchPad was pulled from shelves within weeks of its launch after anemic sales due in part to its $400 to $500 price. And BlackBerry’s PlayBook is still available, but it has been widely criticized for shortcomings, including its hobbled e-mail application. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion recently slashed PlayBook prices.

More new tablets are coming. Laptop maker Toshiba recently introduced a 7-inch version of its Thrive tablet. Lenovo offers the business-oriented ThinkPad Tablet. Asus takes a new approach with the Eee Pad Slider, featuring a pull-out keyboard. Archos just released an 8-inch model with a dual-core processor. Samsung is adding to its Galaxy lineup with an 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab. And HTC recently introduced its 10.1-inch tablet, the Jetstream.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.

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