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Apple to Take On the Microsoft Tablets

LAS VEGAS ( TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) handily beat its gear peers to the tablet game with the iPad last year, but this year could be more of a challenge. The pack is starting to catch up.

Judging by the first new tablets unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show Tuesday -- devices from Asus and No. 4 computer maker Lenovo -- there's been some significant second effort behind the latest tablet attempt.

Keep in mind that last year's CES show was frenzy of a tablet introductions. But almost none of the prototypes we saw -- namely Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) Courier and Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ - Get Report) Slate -- actually made it into production, due largely to Apple's category-killing iPad effort.

Maybe it will be different this time.

Asus started the second round Tuesday by introducing three tablets -- a 7-inch, 10-inch and a 12-inch.

The Asus Eee Slate 12-inch model stands not so much for its design -- it's a dead ringer for the iPad -- but for what it's got under the hood. The Eee Slate runs on Microsoft Windows 7 using Intel's (INTC - Get Report) Core i5 processor. Add an accessory like a keyboard, and you have a promising tablet/notebook hybrid.

Later Tuesday evening, Lenovo gave TheStreet a brief introduction to two tablets, one hilariously named LePad, and the other the Thinkpad U1. The latter should sound familiar; Lenovo had a similar name for a similar device last year that failed to materialize.

Both Lenovo devices run Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system. The standout feature of the Thinkpad U1 is that it docks in a keyboard-equipped shell and converts to a notebook. As a tablet, the device runs on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system and uses an Intel Oak Trail 1.5-gigahertz processor, a second generation dual-core version of the not-so-robust Atom processors that ran a generation of weak netbooks.

The Lenovo LePad has a front-facing camera and is a touchscreen device that also uses a stylus for screen navigation and drawing.

The overriding question regarding these new tablets is whether Microsoft and Intel can finally gain acceptance in this product category. Microsoft is expected to break from its Intel path this week by announcing a version of Windows 7 that runs on ARM (ARMH)-based processors.
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