Price: $499 to $829
A year after it created a new consumer electronics category, Apple's second-generation iPad topped Consumer Reports' ratings as the best tablet on the rapidly growing market. The magazine ranked the iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G ahead of the Wi-Fi-only version, but both outranked all of the competition.
The iPad 2 ranked highest in every category -- ease of use, display, touch response, portability, battery life and weight -- except for "versatility," for which Consumer Reports slightly preferred some of Google's Android tablets. Apple's tablet also got high praise for its low price tag.
"So far Apple is leading the tablet market in both quality and price, which is unusual for a company whose products are usually premium priced," said Paul Reynolds, Consumer Reports'electronics editor.
Toyota said that it is launching a "smart center" pilot program in Japan. The program will link people, cars and homes to achieve this kind of integrated energy consumption control.
"This new partnership between Microsoft and Toyota is an important step in developing greater future mobility and energy management for consumers around the world," said Akio Toyoda, Toyota's president, in a prepared statement.
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Toyota already has a telematics unit called Toyota Media Service, which is available mainly for Lexus customers. After Toyota's new partnership with Microsoft takes hold, those services will be transferred to Microsoft's cloud-based Azure platform, and by 2015, the companies plan to provide "affordable and advanced" telematics services to most Toyota customers.
Toyota and Microsoft plan to let users monitor their electric vehicles using smartphones. Customers will be able to see how much battery life and driving range the car has left, and get information about the location of the nearest charging stations. They will also be able to control the car's battery charger and other components like air conditioning, windows and locks via their handsets.
Microsoft's Azure platform allows clients to operate large, intricate operations on the Internet, hosted and managed through Microsoft's data centers. Since Microsoft's servers are shared by a number of other clients, Azure can be an inexpensive way for companies to access the massive amount of computing power needed to host a system as complex as telematics.
Other services that could be part of the joint-venture include Bing Maps and Microsoft's "Tellme" voice application, which the company currently provides to some automotive clients.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also took the time to point out that his company continues to invest in consumer technology. Microsoft has come under fire lately for a consumer strategy that has led to a decidedly mixed bag of successes and misses.
"Our partnership with Toyota is a great example of how we continue to invest in the automotive industry and of our commitment to power the services that are important to consumers," Ballmer said.