Tablet price war heats up: iPad 2 vs competitors closing in

So it’s finally here.

Apple will start selling its hugely anticipated iPad 2 today the first major next-generation tablet off the blocks in what’s looking to be an all-out stampede of souped-up devices in the coming weeks and months. If you were planning on dropping by a physical store today to pick up Apple’s latest effort you may already be out of luck: queues of fans are already firmly in place at Sydney’s George Street Apple Store and the pattern is likely to be repeated at other Apple Stores around the country.

The iPad 2 is finally here (but will you be able to get your hands on one?).

To beat the crowds you may stand a better chance at one of Apple’s authorised resellers or better yet try online: while the storefronts won’t be selling the iPad 2 until 5pm this (Friday) afternoon Apple’s web site is taking orders from early birds (or night owls as the case may be) from 1am today which may significantly help your chances of nabbing an early model.

Of course it often helps to hold off on early-release technology and wait until first-batch teething problems have been addressed; a quick Google search reveals a number of users’ iPad 2 models have suffered glitches in the US although it doesn’t look at this stage to be a problem on the scale of the Antenna-Gate kerfuffle which marred the iPhone 4’s launch.

For those who can’t bear to wait Apple released its pricing for iPad 2 earlier in the week. The Wi-Fi only models retail for $579 (16GB) $689 (32GB) and $799 (64GB) and devices with additional 3G capabilities sell for $729 (16GB) $839 (32GB) and $949 (64GB). If you’re quick you could still grab a last-minute deal on discounted first-gen iPads today available from the Apple Store online here and there’s an even better ongoing deal at Big W (if any stock is left that is).

Discounted models of the original iPad are still available.

The most heated competition that the iPad 2 is facing right at the moment comes in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1v. While the previously announced Galaxy Tab 10.1 (and 8.9) won’t be available on our shores until later in the year Samsung and Vodafone this week announced that a “Limited Edition” version of the 10.1 the “10.1v” will be released in mid-April exclusively on the Vodafone network. The 10.1v will be the first tablet in Australia featuring Google’s Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” operating system and as Honeycomb is the first Android OS tailored specifically to the tablet form factor (as opposed to previous builds designed with smartphones in mind) it’s set to deliver the most sophisticated software competition yet to Apple’s iOS.

Increasing the pressure on Apple is Vodafone’s aggressive pricing. At $729 outright (and also available on a monthly plan) the 10.1v’s sticker price is directly on par with Apple’s entry-level 3G model (and they both offer 16GB storage as well). It’s a bold move and one which may well pay dividends for Samsung and Vodafone especially considering that the 10.1v features a larger display and significantly better cameras than the iPad 2. It further shows that rival tablet manufacturers are willing to take Apple on in pricing an area in which Steve Jobs himself claimed they wouldn’t be able to compete. Further details on the 10.1v are available here.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be here “later in the year” but Vodafone’s 10.1v Limited Edition model is just around the corner.

Meanwhile Motorola’s hotly anticipated Xoom tablet begins shipping in the US this Sunday. Australian release details haven’t yet been confirmed but in the States the Wi-Fi edition of the device will retail for US$599 with 32GB memory which again squares up exactly with the US pricing for the similar-spec iPad 2 Wi-Fi model with 32GB.

Motorola’s Xoom: matching the iPad on price.

LG’s G-Slate and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tell similar tales with pricepoints set aggressively close to the iPad 2. The G-Slate 32GB model will retail for US$529.99 in the US and the PlayBook’s Wi-Fi editions line directly up in terms of US pricing with their iPad 2 counterparts: 16GB for US$499 32GB for US$599 and 64GB for US$699. Again Australian details are not yet announced for these models although we’ve been informed the PlayBook will hit here sometime in Q2 and you would imagine Australian pricing levels (and their degrees of iPad 2-matching) would roughly follow the US iterations.

RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook Wi-Fi pricing in the US is a mirror image of Apple’s breakdown.

Of course if you really want an Android tablet fix right now there’s no need to wait. ViewSonic’s newly released ViewPad 10s is available at Harvey Norman for $599 and you can still of course pick up the original Samsung Galaxy Tab. However these models don’t run the tablet-specific Android Honeycomb OS and with so much next-gen tablet goodness just around the corner future-proofing your investment with a dedicated operating system may well be the best course of action.