Tablets at Mobile World Congress: The best, the rest, and the 'Why'd they even bother?'

After a fairly boring showing at CES 2013, tablets attempted to make a comeback at Mobile World Congress. It was a much-improved showing, but ultimately failed to meet even my diminished expectations.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Given the highly successful year tablets enjoyed in 2012, their overall dismal showing at CES was that much more of a disappointment. I came in expecting to see 2013's "Nexus 7" (not the actutal next Nexus 7, but another small, awesome tablet) and Transformer Infinity. Instead, tablets were largely ignored by the larger vendors. This gave smaller vendors a chance to shine, but beyond some encouraging plans to aggressively price their wares, I came away unimpressed.

Thankfully, things improved this week at Mobile World Congress, with some of the major vendors bringing out their big guns. Still, I expected more in the way of innovation, performance, and aggressive pricing. What I got instead was a mixed bag with a couple of standouts.

What follows are my early impressions of these tablets based on the few minutes I spent with each.

The best

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0
The latest iteration of Samsung's Note line is an 8-inch stylus-accompanied tablet that doubles as a phone in non-U.S. markets.
What I liked most: Its comfortable design and well-implemented S Pen software.
What I liked least: The idea of holding it up to my head to use it as a phone, and the largely unimpressive specs.

Asus PadFone Infinity
Yes, it's a phone first and a quite powerful one at that with a 1080p screen and a smooth, sleek metallic build. The phone then plugs into a 10-inch shell, turning it into a full-size tablet.
What I liked most: Incredibly responsive screen and performance that brings new meaning to the word "zippy."
What I liked least: The 999-euro price and no U.S. release.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z
The thinnest and lightest tablet yet includes a microSD slot and an MHL/Micro-USB port. Its customized software (video) is distinctly Sony, if that sort of thing is important to you.
What I liked most: It's waterproof in 3 feet of water or less, and its 1,920x1,200-pixel screen is gorgeous.
What I liked least: More expensive than the previous model.

The rest

Asus FonePad
This is a phone tablet, or "phablet" if you will, with a planned U.S. and international release. It features a similar design to the never-released Nexus 7 cousin, the Memo 370T.
What I liked most: Its $249 price.
What I liked least: The sheer ridiculousness of a 7-inch phone and the meh GPU.

HP Slate 7
Um, what? We go from the HP Envy X2 to this? I guess it doesn't hurt to try something different. Oh, wait! No, it sure does! This cheap (in both build quality and its $169 price) tablet is a long way from the high-quality builds I've come to expect from HP (that includes the ill-fated TouchPad.
What I liked most: $169 for a 7-inch tablet ain't bad at all, but...
What I liked least: $200 (for a Nexus 7) is less than a hop, skip, and jump away.

Lenovo S6000 and A3000
These are the epitome of "it's fine" tablets. Each has an IPS screen, but has plain old "" build qualities and no particularly interesting features.
What I liked most: Bright IPS screens.
What I liked least: The 7-incher's low screen resolution, and the also-ran builds of both tablets.

The worst

Lenovo A1000
Seriously, when will TN (Twisted Nematic) panels be banned from tablet components? A tablet's screen is its most important component and the gains you make in price just aren't worth the quality sacrifice.
What I liked most: The microSD card reader.
What I didn't like: Thinking about paying money for this.