The Need For Budget Tablets

When Apple announced the iPad in January 2009, the entry price for the tablet market was set at $499. I saw (and still see) the web tablet as the successor to the netbook, so I assumed that it would go down over time, and we would eventually see tablets settle in the $350-400 range that netbooks sold for in their brief period of atomic glory (see what I did there?) ASUS and Acer are pushing that agenda for the moment, with the $399 Eee Transformer and the $449 Iconia A500. It’ll take some time for the market to settle, but all trends point to there. I’m sure at some point in the next 18 months, Steve Jobs will get on a stage in the Bay Area and proclaim to the world that he has decided to drop the price on the iPad. “We’ve decided to make this magical device accessible to even more people. How great is that?”

So we’re going to see prices go down, as with any new technology that matures over time. But what about the people that want a $350 tablet now? Like, this minute? Well, there’s a lot of choices, but surprisingly few that aren’t terrible. The Viewsonic we briefly looked at in December was Dreadful, with a capital ‘D’. Worst screen in the world. It’s not the only one, there’s a fair number of $150-200 tablets sold by assorted companies you’ve never heard of, with awful screens, mediocre processors, and some really buggy version of Android. A simple search of Amazon for tablets brings up three or four on the front page - the Superpad, the Coby Kyros, the iRobot APad iPed EPad (seriously), the Zenithink ePad, etc. I swear I didn’t make any of those up. 
So there’s technically plenty out there, but when you start looking for high quality devices, your selection gets much smaller. The WiFi-only version of Samsung’s 7” Galaxy Tab is the first one that comes to mind, offering most of what the previous 3G versions did, now at a $349 price point. Next is the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which is surprisingly easy to hack and makes for a capable Gingerbread tablet with a few simple mods. And that's about it.
Budget Tablet Specsheet
  Samsung Galaxy Tab (WiFi) Barnes & Noble Nook Color
Height 190.1 mm (7.48") 205 mm (8.1")
Width 120.5 mm (4.74") 125 mm (5.0")
Depth 12.0 mm ( 0.47") 12.2 mm (0.48")
Weight 380 g (13.4 oz) 449 g (15.8 oz)
SoC TI OMAP 3630 TI OMAP 3621
CPU 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 800 MHz ARM Cortex A8
GPU PowerVR SGX 530 PowerVR SGX 530
RAM 512MB 512 MB
Cameras VGA Front/3.2MP Rear None
Screen 7.0" 1024 x 600 LCD 7.0" 1024 x 600 IPS LCD
Battery Integrated 14.8 Wh Integrated 14.8 Wh
MSRP $349 $249
Between the Nook Color and the Galaxy Tab, we’ve got two rather promising budget tablets, legitimate options for those looking to get in on the tablet movement without breaking the bank. First up, the Nook.
Meet the Contenders - Nook Color
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  • Pessimism - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I'd LOVE to see a roundup review of all the offshore generic pad clones you listed off at the start of the article.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Yeah, so would I, but I'm not going to hold my breath for review units - I'm still waiting on eLocity, Archos, and NotionInk.
  • peldor - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    My wife uses the rear-camera on her 3G Galaxy Tab all the time for facebook posts (and as you note, it's good enough for that).

    The $200 Tab at Verizon with a $20 data plan (1GB/mo I think) was the cheapest way to get her an Android device with mobile service. She loves it.

    Also note, Kindle slipcases are a very good fit for the Tab.
  • cgalyon - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I've always been a fan of the Nook Color, it's just a great little device (largely thanks to the hacking of it). One little thing that I think makes a large difference (and isn't mentioned in the review) is the distance from the screen to the glass. The Nook Color's screen is very close to the glass (like on the Palm Pre). This just has a nicer feel to it, but it's a subtle difference.

    That said, I ended up getting a Galaxy Tab 3G (refurb at $260). Seems like an unbeatable deal.
  • smolten - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    The price difference is GONE! You can get a refurbed Galaxy Tab off of WOOT today only for 259.99!

    Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" 16GB Android Tablet - Wi-Fi + 3G

    * + $5 shipping

    1 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" 16GB Android 2.2, Wi-Fi + 3G (Sprint), microSD, BT, GPS, 3.0 & 1.3MP Cams
  • micksh - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    in order to install CM7 to eMMC. So the process of installing a custom ROM a bit more complicated but still doable.
  • vld - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Why wouldn't you include the Archos 101 Internet Tablet in the <$300 collection?
  • smolten - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Archos 101 is completely garbage! My screen was damaged in one week after I got it. The resolution is horrible as well. The replacement device I got was brand new and when you clicked on the screen it would register someplace else. Avoid the Archos
    its cheap and horrible.

  • skyhawk21 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Curious why the author of this article did not include an audio section to compare whichever version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab to the Barnes & Noble Nook Color?
    Nook Color:
    * Mono speaker installed into back of Nook Color tablet faces backward
    * Volume at loudest is mediocre at best
    * For some reason audio channels are reversed through the stock firmware when using headphones
    * Headphone port has noticeable static in background even with audio muted
    * Headphone port not solid and has trouble inserting a 3.5mm cable

    Galaxy Tab:
    * Stereo speakers installed into bottom of tablet face downward
    * Volume at loudest is noticeable
    * Audio channels are correct
    * Headphone port has no static present in background when audio is muted
    * Headphone port is solid and handles 3.5mm cables firmly

    - Also I do believe the original galaxy tab natively will play 720p videos smoothly and has a full complete working android market. You can play 1080p videos with third party android software

    - Even with a rooted nook color the market has issues, applications have issues due to not finding a hardware GPS built in so those apps will not load. Also battery drain and sleep issues are present with the different third party firmwares available. Nook color has many issues with using 802.11 N mode WIFI with many routers.

    - Original Galaxy Tab stock do not have any of these issues present!

    I did not see this information in the article so I thought I would post it!
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I never had any issues with the headphone jack on the Nook, though I agree the speaker is terrible. Also, I found Market to work pretty well on the Nook...all of the apps I tried worked fine, but I didn't do much as far as location-centric apps because I knew there wasn't GPS on the device.

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