The iPad 2 is still the king of the tablet heap, to the point that it almost seems superfluous to speak of a "tablet market" outside of the iPad 2's buyers. So in order to differentiate their wares from the iPad, other tablet makers have had to make sure their gadgets are either better at something, or better for a certain group of users.
Toshiba is going the second route with its upcoming Thrive tablet. Powered by Google's Android operating system, the Thrive is designed as a "transition product" for people who are used to a laptop or netbook. Here's why laptop and netbook owners may find the Thrive attractive:
Colored, replaceable backplates
The iPad 2's Smart Covers both protect the iPad 2's screen, and prop it up for use as a keyboard or for watching movies. They're an optional accessory, though, and a leather Smart Cover can sell for as much as $69 (the plastic ones are $39). And while Smart Covers have vibrant colors, the iPad 2 itself comes in only two shades: Black and white.
It's not clear how much the Thrive's additional backplates will cost, but "5 additional colors" will be available, letting you customize your tablet in the bright colors familiar to laptop and netbook owners.
Laptop-style ports and features
The iPad 2 requires an optional adapter ($29) to read pictures from a camera or memory card. The Thrive, in contrast, comes with its own laptop-style memory card reader, plus a USB port. So you can transfer pictures to it just by plugging in your memory card, or connecting your camera to it.
The Thrive also has an HDMI port, which allows you to use an optional cable to connect it to your HDTV and view pictures and videos on the big screen. Apple's iPad 2 has a similar feature, but it requires yet another optional adapter in addition to the HD video cable.
Lower price tag
An entry-level iPad 2, with 16 GBs of memory and only Wi-Fi for wireless Internet, costs $499 from the Apple Store. Refurbished models cost less, of course, but add in the cost of adapters and a Smart Cover and you may be looking at closer to $600 just to get started.
The Thrive, on the other hand, costs $479 for a 16 GB model, or $429 for 8 GBs. This lower-capacity model offers a cheaper option, for those who don't need to carry around an entire library of music and video -- or who primarily watch and listen to things online.
But is it worth it?
If the Thrive's price tag is its most attractive feature to you, you may instead be interested in an Asus Transformer ($399). This full-featured tablet even has a laptop-style keyboard attachment ($150 extra), which both serves as an extra battery and lets you type and use a touchpad to navigate. If anything, it may be better for introducing a laptop owner to a tablet just because of the familiar form factor.
Meanwhile, even though Android's app catalog has grown in recent years, its selection of tablet apps still pales in comparison to the iPad's 65,000 specially designed apps. If you've heard of a tablet app that you wanted to try out, and it's not made by Google, it's probably only available for the iPad. Keep that in mind, when shopping for "tablets."
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.