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Tablets

Apple iPad vs HP TouchPad vs Motorola Xoom in three-way tablet tussle

The HP TouchPad has arrived, and that's all the excuse we need to pitch it into pitched battle with the Apple iPad and hotly anticipated Motorola Xoom.

There's only one way to settle this tablet question: fiiiight! The HP TouchPad has arrived, and that's all the excuse we need to hurl it into pitched battle with the reigning champeen, the Apple iPad, and the hotly anticipated Motorola Xoom.

This is obviously only a comparison based on first impressions, as it's still very early days for the TouchPad and Xoom. And by the time they arrive, the iPad 2 could be with us too. Think of this article as our first thoughts on which tablet you should name-drop at dinner parties when you're asked about what's hot in 2011.

Apple iPad

The iPad was the tablet that kicked off the current craze. It's a device of two faces: irresistably desirable, but kind of pointless. It's an always-on gadget that can be taken from sofa to office to holiday, and can be an ebook reader, Web browser, video player, games console or just an oversized MP3 player.

The iPad's biggest strength is its simplicity. Apple's iOS software is the smoothest tablet interface on the market, and there's a vast range of apps in Apple's App Store. But it's also restricted in lots of ways. It doesn't have the power of a laptop or even a netbook, and the price of simplicity is that there's little option to customise it, or manage files like you can on a computer. Instead, you're tied to iTunes.

And worst of all, it doesn't support Flash, which powers much of the Web's video, photos and navigation.

But none of these details change the fact that the iPad is a dream to use, boasts a glorious screen and tonnes of apps, and has a staggering battery life. It's still the benchmark of both usability and desirability that other tablets have to be measured against.

Best for: Simplicity, size and apps
Worst for: Flexibility, Flash websites and making phone calls

HP TouchPad

CNET UK got its hands on the newly announced TouchPad at the launch, and we think it's a serious contender for the iPad's tablet crown. It's slightly heavier at 770g than the iPad's 680g but packs more features, including a camera and micro-USB port.

The TouchPad matches the iPad's 9.7-inch 1,024x768-pixel resolution screen and also comes in 16GB or 32GB versions. But inside there's a dual-core Qualcomm processor so it has more grunt than Apple's baby.

The TouchPad is the first tablet to use the Linux-based webOS operating system. It supports the usual multitouch gestures in the slick Web browser, and it plays Flash and 3D games. Sound is taken care of by software from Beats and rhyme-spitting sawbones Dr Dre -- maybe it should be called the DrePad.

The new OS is let down by the paucity of apps in HP's new App Catalog, but that will hopefully change if developers embrace webOS the way they have iOS.

webOS was developed by Palm, which HP bought last year. The new tablets shows off some seriously cool integration between the TouchPad and Palm phones, such as the new Pre 3 and Veer. Wirelessly pair the two devices and you can receive texts and calls on the tablet, as well as zapping data and Web pages between the two just by waving them near each other. You can't do that with an iPad and iPhone.

Best for: Processing power, connecting with your phone
Worst for: Apps

Motorola Xoom

The Xoom is also a dual-core tablet. The only potential downside of that extra processing power is it may cause issues with battery life, as it will draw more juice.

It's a smidge larger than the other two contenders, with a 10-inch 1,280x800-pixel screen. It'll play high-definition 720p video and will output 1080p to an HDTV via HDMI port. At 730g, it's the middleweight of the group.

The Xoom has the best camera of the group, capturing 5-megapixel snaps and shooting 720p hi-def video. There's an LED flash for the main camera, with a smaller 2-megapixel camera on the other side for video calling.

The Motorola Xoom will be the first to show off Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the first version of Google's mobile operating system designed specifically for tablets. It adds tabbed browsing, app shortcuts and cool 3D carousels to browse through apps, videos, ebooks and pictures.

Best for: The newest version of Android, high-definition video
Worst for: Hard to know at this early stage, but battery life could be an issue

Conclusion

It remains to be seen exactly how the Xoom and TouchPad, both packing new software, will stack up against the iPad and its successor. But judging by what we've seen so far, the iPad has a proper scrap on its hands.

For more tablet-on-tablet action, check out our comparison of the BlackBerry PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad. Which tablet has you most excited? And what do you think is a fair price for these? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook wall.