As expected, there were a number of notable new additions to the tablet market unveiled at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. While PC sales have been on the decline, tablet sales continue to increase, with plenty of demand among business users as well as consumers -- hence the focus at CES on tablets more than traditional PCs.
A smaller, more rugged Windows-based device from Panasonic and more variety in Samsung's Galaxy series were among the highlights. Let's take a look at some of the stand-outs.
Panasonic Toughpad: The Rugged One
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 Rugged is a 7-inch tablet geared toward professionals who work in the field and need a device that can't be easily damaged. It features a rugged design, similar in ways to its big brother, the Panasonic Toughbook laptop, which has long been a favorite for field service reps (including Sears appliance repairmen), as well as paramedics, construction foremen, and others who work in harsh conditions.
The Toughpad is lightweight at 1.2 pounds and features a user-replaceable battery. It runs Windows 8.1 Pro and packs a 64-bit 4th generation Intel Core i5 vPro processor. The 7-inch display is daylight-readable with 1280 x 800 10-point multi-touch, and an optional stylus for signature capture and other hand-written apps. It comes with a whopping 128 gigabytes of storage, expandable to 256 GB.
The Toughpad tablet will become commercially available in early spring, with a street price of $2,099, although many will likely be sold in bulk through sales, with lower fleet pricing.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab: The Big One
Samsung used CES 2014 to debut its new Galaxy Tab Pro tablets, including a 12.2-inch model representing Samsung's biggest tablet yet. It also comes with more standard-sized 10.1- and 8.4-inch siblings.
Running the Android 4.4 operating system (nicknamed Kit Kat), the new Tab Pro packs a Qualcomm 2.3 gigahertz quad-core processor. In its CES blog, Samsung boasts that its new tablets were created to satisfy every possible type of user case scenario, combining a crystal-clear, WQXGA display for a "world-class" viewing experience, plus powerful productivity tools, and unique features with plenty of preloaded and free downloadable content.
Samsung also launched a new Galaxy Note Pro with S Pen, featuring a 12.2-inch WQXGA Widescreen (16.10) display, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600, and more than 4 million pixels. Prices haven't been announced yet.
Asus Transformer: The Flexible One
Last month, we reported speculation that CES would usher in a range of hybrid devices that can serve as both PCs and tablets. One fine example that materialized at the show was the latest version of the Asus Transformer -- the 13.3-inch Book Duet -- which can switch between Microsoft's Windows 8.1 standard and Android 4.3.3 to run mobile apps. It has a detachable keyboard (effectively turning it from a laptop into a tablet) and is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor.
You want lots of storage? The Duet has 126 gigs in the tablet and another 1 terabyte in the dock. The cost isn't much higher than a mid-priced tablet, at $599.
Analyst First Impressions
We contacted ABI Research tablet expert Jeff Orr for his impressions of the tablets he saw at CES. Orr found the new Samsung devices were particularly "Note-worthy" for business users.
"In short, the CES tablet announcement that shows the most promise for [business] productivity has to be the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro and Galaxy Note Pro at 12.2 inches," Orr told us.
"The [Galaxy] devices incorporate up to four tabs or windows to show simultaneously under Android KitKat 4.4 and this is a breakthrough for running, organizing and viewing multiple applications. Combine this with the company’s S-Pen for hand-entered writing and selection, and the Bluetooth mouse announcement," and you've got a nice, large tablet that's "viable for PC-mainstay applications such as Microsoft Excel."
Orr pointed out that there were several "dual-boot" or multi-operating system announcements at CES, but none of those tablets are as promising, for the time being, as Samsung's tablets. "We do not expect [them] to appeal to the mass market due to price and the complexity of moving between the OS environments," Orr said.
While it's still early for this type of hybrid tablet, Orr expects 2014 to be a year where hybrid solutions will be tested and experimented with. A year from now, we'll be back for CES 2015, and curious to see which hybrid devices have made it to the mainstream.