Industry leaders set trends for tablets at CES 2014

Asus and Samsung continue to lead Android tablets in an exciting direction, while everyone else wait for Mobile World Congress.

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Watch this: Samsung Galaxy NotePro kicks up productivity

LAS VEGAS -- If not for Samsung and Asus, the tablet category at CES 2014 would look a lot like it did at CES 2012. And I mean that pejoratively. Beyond the announcements from two of the biggest tablet vendors in the world there really isn't all that much to get excited about.

Samsung and Asus still like to experiment
If you're combing the Web, looking for new tablet announcements to be excited about this year, look no further than new wares from Asus and Samsung. Samsung with its Pro line and Asus with the dual-booting Transformer Book.

The Samsung Galaxy TabPro and NotePro are the kind of highly-specced risk-taking products you come to CES for in the first place. The widget-based interface is more graphical and customizable than anything we've seen on Android so far. Also, Samsung is not only pushing the limits on screen size -- 12.2 is one of the highest ever on Android -- but the 8.4-inch version of the TabPro features the highest pixel density of any tablet before it. I may have to get used to the interface, but at least it's trying something new.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Asus continues to try pretty much everything with tablets. The highlight this year is the Transformer Book TD300 which instantly switches from Windows 8.1 to Android and back, while using high-end Intel-based hardware.

It's not that this is something I've been clamoring for personally, but just as with Samsung it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I want to see more.

We'll continue to see more experimentation from these two companies in 2014 and hopefully they'll inspire other vendors to also try something new. I expect Samsung to continue to refine its new interface and we'll see many more dual-Windows/Android tablets announced over the next few months.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The tablets of yesterday, today!
OK, none of the tablets announced at CES 2014 could, under scrutiny, pass for 2012 tablets, but that doesn't mean many of them don't feel old and busted all the same. For the most part, every tablet from a vendor not Asus or Samsung, sports decent designs, but it's in their specs that the anachronisms begin rearing their ugly heads.

There were were way too many 7-inch tablets sporting 1,024x600 resolutions announced this week. Nothing's been announced to be using the new Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. Not that I expected them to, but it would have been something to look forward to at least.

I'm not asking vendors to reinvent the wheel every year, or to announce wildly expensive products priced out of the average consumer's reach. But this is CES, I want to be excited about what I'm seeing and am getting tired of vendors playing it too safe.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like 2013, we'll continue to see many cheap tablets with specs that get the job done, but don't set anyone's world afire in 2014. That's fine. Not everyone needs the latest, greatest, best. As long as the Asuses, Samsungs, Amazons, and Googles continue to lead with devices that push the envelope, we should continue to have exciting things to discuss in this category.

In the shadow of Mobile Word Congress, again
I spoke about this last year, but once again it's the pink, sparkly elephant -- with blue and yellow stars painted on its butt and face -- in the room. With a few exceptions, CES is no longer the place to bring out the big guns. Much of that burden has now shifting to Mobile World Congress, which takes place in late February.

James Martin/CNET

MWC is late enough in the year that it gives vendors a couple extra months to prepare their products compared to CES, but it's also early enough that the company don't miss out on early year buzz. You're also targeting a more global audience with MWC, so it gives you a potentially larger reach. I expect at least a few Tegra K1 tablet announcements then, and hopefully Qualcomm will be ready with its next-generation mobile processor as well.

There goes another disappointing CES for tablets. While there were a few bright spots, it's painfully clear the show has lost its tablets voice. Here's hoping it gets it back soon.