Gentlemen, start your engines!

The race for tablet supremacy is officially on. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has a significant head start on the rest of the field after launching the iPad to a chorus of oohs and aahs last spring, but the first Android alternatives are starting to pop up on store shelves.

Today, you can preorder the Samsung Galaxy Tab from Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S), and then you can complete the order on Nov. 14. Rival wireless operator Verizon (NYSE: VZ) will have Galaxy Tabs available three days before that, but hasn't opened the preorder window yet. The same 7-inch Android tablet is also heading to AT&T (NYSE: T) and to Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT) subsidiary T-Mobile, but we don't have pricing details or release dates for them yet.

These are not the first tablet computers in retail history, as you'll notice if you're watching Project Runway on a regular basis. They are, however, the best Apple alternatives in the new class of tablets that Apple created. These launches will provide the first tests of whether consumers really love the exact design and specifications and app store of the iPad or if they will buy tablets based on pricing and specifications. The Galaxy Tabs will be cheaper than the iPad and come with a fuller specifications sheet other than the smaller screen. Here's how the pricing battle works out:

Product

Sticker Price

Required Data Plan

Total Price Tag

16GB 3G iPad

$629.00

-

$629.00

Verizon's Galaxy Tab

$599.99

-

$599.99

Sprint's Galaxy Tab

$399.99

$29.99 (2 years)

$1,119.75

Sprint is trying the good old carrier subsidy tactic to reduce the prospective tablet buyer's sticker shock. Locking the consumer in to a data plan will make up for the lower upfront cost in a big way. 

It might be fair to assume that people who buy a 3G-capable device will also subscribe to a plan, in which case you could add $480 to Verizon's total price for an apples-to-apples comparison and the cheapest iPad plan from AT&T tacks on $359.76 to the lifetime cost. Seen in that light, the iPad actually becomes the least expensive option. (Though it's worth noting, all these plans offer different amounts of data -- is your head spinning yet?) But there's a reason why discounted up-front costs show up everywhere from mortgages to high-tech gadgets: The psychology behind this trick works.

The Galaxy Tab won't be the last Android tablet to spar with the iPad, but it's a significant release that will show us what the platform is made of. You can predict the outcome of this round in the comments box below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. He will admit to enjoying both Project Runway and Seminoles football. Sprint Nextel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.