CES 2012 Wrap: New Old Tablets and Exciting Concepts, But Little Else

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CES 2012 was notable for the timidity on display by the manufacturers, rather than the tablets they released. Leading up to the show, we were expecting quad-core tablets with high resolution displays from every tablet maker, specific Windows 8 tablet details, and maybe even hands-on opportunities for Windows 8 on ARM. Instead, we caught glimpses of Windows 8 on ARM behind glass, retreads of existing devices from Sony, ASUS, Toshiba and Samsung, and some interesting tablets and concept devices with no release dates and little hope of hitting the market this year.


There are a handful of reasons for this. First and foremost, despite its absence at CES 2012, Apple loomed large in Vegas. Though none will admit it, tablet makers are wary of the Mac maker, especially following CES 2011, in which Apple zapped the Honeycomb tablet buzz with its iPad 2 announcement. The Android tablet makers are likely waiting to see the iPad 3 before publically unveiling any future devices.


Windows 8In addition, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is a little more than a month away. Though large, the show is much more focused than CES and the smartphone and tablet makers won’t have to compete for attention with the ultrabooks and smart TVs that dominated CES 2012. Expect Samsung, Toshiba, HTC and others to roll out major announcements at MWC.


In regards to Windows 8, Microsoft has a heavy hand in keeping its manufacturing partners quiet. The operating system is not scheduled to ship until late 2012, likely October, and Microsoft is not ready to divulge any details, particularly for Windows 8 on ARM. In fact, the team at TabletPCReview had little luck getting the Microsoft hardware partners to admit details we already knew to be true, such as the lack of legacy app support for Windows 8 on ARM and its Metro-only user interface.


Stuff We Liked
That all said, there was plenty to like at CES 2012, especially the signs that point to a more diverse tablet market. 


When it was announced at IFA in Berlin last summer, the Samsung Galaxy Note seemed like too peculiar a product for the US market, considering its odd screen size (5.3-inches) and PDA-style functionality. Judging from the crowds at the Samsung booth at CES itching to try the Note, that’s not the case. It’s very refreshing to see a major tablet maker like Samsung try something a little different and release a device outside of the safe 7- to 10-inch display range, and add new pen technology to boot.


ASUS MeMOAlong those same lines, the concept screen sizes showed off by Toshiba also gave us hope for market diversification. The 13.3-inch tablet was especially striking, and we would love to see it released and marketed as a home-theater tablet.


The ASUS $250 NVIDIA Tegra 3 MeMO Android tablet certainly grabbed our attention. If it hits the market in 2012, it will undoubtedly shake things up. The $250 price point is marked by budget tablets and devices with lower specs, not those with top of the line components. This has the potential to be a game changer in Android’s favor against Apple and others.


Lenovo also deserves commendation for its Yoga Windows 8 tablet and quad-core IdeaTab. Both feature unique form factors: the Yoga as a dual-hinged ultrabook convertible and the IdeaTab K2010 with its front-facing speakers, which outputted some of the best sound we’ve ever heard coming from a tablet. While the IdeaTab could never come to the US (it’s currently slated for China) and the Yoga may have some design flaws (it lacks pen support and the keyboard remains exposed while in tablet mode), it’s good to see manufacturers tweaking and attempting to improve existing designs.


RIM also impressed with its PlayBook 2.0 operating system update. While the update, which brings native calendar, email and contact apps, in addition to the Android app player, may be too late to save the BlackBerry tablet, it’s definitely not too little. The BlackBerry dev team went above and beyond any other mobile calendar/email/contact apps by adding a rich text editor and very deep social media integration. Other fun bits include a sorely-needed digital video store and the ability to use a BlackBerry handset as a remote control via BlackBerry Bridge. Still, when the OTA update rolls out in February, the new email client will be the focus, and it could easily raise the bar for what we can expect from mobile email with its full desktop-like experience. 


Stuff We Didn’t Like
Not to be too repetitive, but we saw very little “new stuff” coming to the market. While the concepts were far out and bode well for the future, most of the actual devices lined up for consumers were either previously announced or small updates to existing product lines.


Yes, we have high hopes for both Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab 7.7, especially after seeing the latter’s Super AMOLED display in person. But we already felt that way in September when they were first launched at IFA. Heck, we’ve already reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Note.


Sony Vaio ConceptThe same applies for the device now known as the Toshiba Excite X10. We lauded its thinness and design also at IFA, when it was known as the AT200. Lenovo and ASUS seemingly held back as well, with ASUS giving its Transformer Prime a spec bump, which resulted in an admittedly impressive tablet, and Lenovo only committing the dual-core IdeaPad S2 10 Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 tablet for America, and not the quad-core IdeaTab. Finally Sony, which had one of the coolest concept devices by far in the flexible Vaio tablet, only showed off the Sony Tablet S and Tablet P. Both were announced months ago, and the Tablet S has been on the market since October. 


Notably absent from the CES tablet discussion were Motorola and HTC, which could have devices lined up for MWC, as well as Microsoft’s hardware partners Dell and HP. We suspect both Windows-device makers will wait until closer to the Windows 8 launch to reveal their tablet plans, if any.


Eyes on Apple and Barcelona
What will come next, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, scheduled to begin February 27, or the Apple iPad 3 launch, rumored for March? Apple is very savvy in regards to device announcement timing; it announced the iPad 2 during the Motorola Xoom launch week, which doubled as the Android Honeycomb coming out party, and completely stole all the attention. Though, with most of the gadget press out of the country for MWC, Apple will likely time the announcement around and not during the big show. Either way, we’ll know more in the coming weeks, have some new devices to look forward to, and high anticipation for the tablets soon to be announced.


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