In the tablet market, there are two primary philosophies when it comes to device design. On one side you have the juggernaut: the Apple iPad. Apple has strict control over the entire design of the iPad from the user interface (UI) all the way down to the actual hardware. Every design decision comes from Apple itself. On the other side, you have Android tablets. While Google is responsible for the Android operating system (OS), other companies produce the hardware. Hardware manufacturers may even alter the UI without changing the functionality of the operating system. The bottom line is that if you look at two iPad 2 devices side by side, they'll essentially be identical. But pick any two Android tablets and you may notice some big differences. Google doesn't set standards for a tablet's size, weight or screen dimensions.
Which philosophy is better? That depends upon your own point of view. If you like sleek design aesthetics and an operating system that works in a clean, predictable way, the Apple iPad may appeal to you. But if you like to tweak settings and change things around, the Android approach may suit you best. In the end, both types of tablets will let you perform similar tasks on the go.
Another reason that defining an Android tablet is tricky is that you can find the Android operating system on numerous devices from many different manufacturers. Some of those devices run an older version of Android that isn't optimized for the tablet experience. These devices rely on versions of the OS before Android 3.0, so you'll get a tablet device running an operating system originally intended for a smartphone.
Once Google released Android 3.0, manufacturers like Motorola Mobility began to produce tablets with an optimized operating system. That means Google designed this build of the operating system with tablets in mind. Tablets running on Android 3.0 will have features and options you won't find on older tablets.
A device is really only as good as the applications it can run. Android owners may not have access to the sheer number of apps available to iOS owners -- at the time of this writing, the Apple App Store boasts more than 90,000 apps for the iPad and over 400,000 for iOS in general [source: Apple]. But Apple limits iPad owners to purchasing apps from the official App Store exclusively. With an Android device, you can install any app designed for Android whether you find it in the Android Market or elsewhere. You may have to change your device's settings to allow it to accept apps from unofficial sources but the freedom is there. But be warned; downloading apps from unofficial sources may be dangerous. You could download malware to your Android device.
It boils down to this: An Android tablet is a touch-screen, mobile device that runs some version of the Android operating system on it. And it's not a smartphone, though with the right software and hardware you might be able to make calls over Wi-Fi networks using one.
Next, we'll dive into the Android operating system and see what makes it tick.