There’s little doubt that 2011 will be the year of the Tablet. The way PC and telecommunications vendors are tripping over themselves to launch new product is something I haven’t seen for 15 years and the launch of Windows 95. But with so many options and many consumers only considering these devices for the first time, trying to pick the right one the first time won’t be easy.

What’s not helping is the different sizes and considerably different pricing. For example, in Australia, you’ve got telco giant Telstra with its seven-inch T-Touch Tab going for $299, Apple’s 10-inch iPad for $629 and Samsung’s seven-inch Galaxy Tab for $999. So you’ve got sizes and prices that don’t seem to make sense.

Here’s how you tell them apart.

The Telstra T-Touch Tab can do a seven-inch panel for $299 because it’s a resistive touchpanel. Most smartphones, like the iPhone, use a capacitive touchscreen that requires less pressure on your part to register a command. You’ll find the T-Touch Tab will need extra work because of its screen type. For the time being, you can almost guarantee any tablet device offering a seven-inch screen for under $500 will almost certainly have a resistive touchpanel.

Apple’s iPad on the surface is pretty impressive value and easily the cheapest 10-inch capacitive touchpanel tablet on the market for as little as $629. The iPad delivers more screen resolution (1024×768-pixels) and plenty of applications – in fact, most of the iPhone’s 300,000 applications will run at least somewhat on the iPad.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab comes into Australia at $999, which is a bit steep. It features a seven-inch capacitive screen and the latest Google Android 2.2 operating system however unlike the version available in the US, the Australian version will come with 3G voice calling. The problem we have with that is the US version sells for just $US599, which means you’re paying $400 in Australia just to make voice calls on the Galaxy Tab.

But the other thing to think about is whether you’d really want to make calls on a seven-inch tablet – we’ll leave that one to you. (Personally, we wouldn’t it).

Viewsonic is the latest to announce a seven-inch tablet but with only 3G data connectivity, its $699 price tag makes it $300 sweeter than Samsung’s already. It too has a capacitive screen.

As you’ve probably surmised by now, much of the money you’re spending on a tablet is wrapped up in the touchpanel – making it a capacitive type pretty much adds upwards of $400 to the price. Resistive tablet devices can be operated with a style in much the same way you’d use an old Windows Mobile or Palm PDA. And with prices for these units rarely above $300, they are a cheaper alternative to the $1000-odd Galaxy Tab.

So what else don’t you get it the cheaper models?

At this stage, few of the cheaper models will have fancy extras such as HDMI video playback although there are the odd one or two that do such as the Millennius SmartQ tablet. But the majority will come with mid-range ARM-based processors that deliver around 600MHz clock speed. Current top-range smartphones use 1GHz ARM processors such as the Qualcomm QSD8250/5 or MSM8255 as found in the HTC Desire/Desire HD.

While the more expensive models will feature the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, most of the cheaper models come with either Android 1.5 or 1.6, which means multi-finger control isn’t an option. You also often just get the basic interface without the extra desktop look you’d find in the HTC Desire smarpthone (the HTC Sense interface for example).

Which size fits best?

If the device makes calls as well, then a smaller version is the way to go unless you can get a hands-free kit to go with it. Holding a seven-inch tablet to your ear is just nuts. What’s more important though is the screen resolution. For now, Android only supports 800×480-pixel resolution maximum, which is why you’re only seeing seven-inch tablets coming with Google’s operating system. Higher 1280×800-pixel resolution support is supposed to be coming in the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) release coming March next year (yes, it’s out now but new product won’t appear with Gingerbread until March 2011).

The seven-inch format factor isn’t bad at that resolution and it may appeal to those who find the 10-inch iPad too large – or heavy. The interesting thing is that most of the seven-inch tablets announced so far weigh in around 380grams, 300grams or about 60% of the weight of an Apple iPad’s 680grams.

The seven-inch format is larger enough to read, large enough for games and movies. With a good interface, there’s also enough room to be able to manage your content (Gmail, Facebook etc) without feeling as cramped as you might on a small-screen low-resolution smartphone.

Just remember that while the iPad leads in resolution (or clarity) at the moment, Android tablets will pick up their game in the new year and offer considerably more resolution – whether or not we see that 1280×800-pixel resolution appear in seven or ten or larger-inch tablets remains to be seen.

All that aside, one thing is certain – tablet devices are only just getting started and you can expect them to get faster, cheaper and ofter more resolution in next year’s models…

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