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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  • mrnuxi - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Just checked and it's no longer available. Too bad, woulda bought one.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I do not understand how you can have an article, particularly one targeted at budget tablets, and not include Archos. Seriously! WTF! Archos, you guys need to check them out cause apparently you've never even heard of them. They really are the ONLY viable choice for tablets from 3-10inches.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Still waiting on a review unit, but based on my experience, I wasn't impressed by what I saw from them. I did like the 101, especially for the price, but the 70 wasn't very good. I'm not sold, I need to see more features and better screens from them before they can seriously contend in the Android tablet game.
  • MobiusStrip - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    GPS. Any list of tablet specs should indicate whether it has GPS.
  • notty22 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    For 350.00 you can get the Ipad (1) refurbished. Thats with new battery, shell. Just bought 1 for the living room coffee table. Holds up well to the 500 dollar Ipad 2 in most respects.
  • sme855 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    hi friends
    plz tell me the cheapest price at which i could buy a genuine and sealed galaxy tab 7" 3G
    without contract
    plz help me
    i will really appreciate.
    plz reply at:
  • oreo81 - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    What about the Dell Streak 7? I know the screen is 800x480, but it has Tegra 2. And it's under 300$ on amazon and newegg(no taxes), so its really only about 30 bucks more than the nook. I really wish the local BB had one so I could check it out, as I just picked up a nook the other day and am contemplating taking it back. Any thoughts?
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    Its fast, but man I really hated the screen when I played with it. I didn't realize that it was so cheap for WiFi only; T-Mobile is still selling the 3G one at $449...Honestly, I'd give up a lot of that power for a WSVGA resolution - I liked the Galaxy Tab (3G) a lot more than the Streak 7 when I had them side-by-side at the Nvidia CES booth.
  • swaaye - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    I've been using a NC for about 2 months now and have some comments about it.

    First of all, right now, it is a neat tablet to get because it's cheap and so you get a taste of tablets for a low price. However, this market is changing every day and I expect the NC to lose this value in not too long.

    -the headphone jack has low audio quality. Noise and distortion.
    -raw buggy software and it may always be that way. It's even slightly unstable because they are trying to make custom kernels and it's difficult with the kernel and driver source available.
    -Android 2.x is not great. The internal browser is terrible with its memory management issues that cause hitching and its complete lack of GPU acceleration. Opera Mobile is fast but somewhat annoying in its features and UI design.
    -DSP is not HD capable and there are no HD codecs available for it so I expect it will never do HD video. Even when overclocked the CPU isn't fast enough to play 720p H.264/VC-1 on its own. It's battery slaughter without the DSP anyway.
    -the internal flash memory is very slow, about like a class 2 SD card. Boots slow, app install slow, web browser caching impacted slightly as well.

    Personally I'm looking forward to some new 7" tablets with Honeycomb or another OS, and Cortex A9 or better. But the Nook Color is as I said an interesting first look if you haven't played with a tablet.
  • mushu - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    If you're using the 2.3.62 kernel with CM7, make sure you have the latest bootloader (comes with the latest nightly) and give either moboplayer or vitalplayer neon a try for playing your videos :)

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