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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  • TechnoButt - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    I'm rocking my Archos101 I got on ebay for $200. 10.1", 256mb ram, 8gb+sd card, Cortex CPU (?800mhz, maybe 1ghz, not sure).

    It's biggest grief is the viewing angles on the 10.1" display.. but come on, a capable tablet with 10.1" display @$300 new.. it should be in this article.

    It's not great for sharing, but who shares a tablet anyway. As long as you're the single user it's pretty darn nice.

    Yes, the transformer is better, but having two of these is better than one transformer. :)
  • TechnoButt - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    1ghz A8
    256mb RAM (slightly underpowered.. really the weakest feature, but definitely liveable with a good build and app management).
    Power SGX 530
    10 hour movie playback battery life!

    And my favorite feature.. it is a USB Host (ie, you can plut a usb keyboard into it.. or storage device, in theory).
  • SunLord - Friday, May 27, 2011 - link

    I've got my nook color running CM7 at 1.2Ghz and it pulls a 2124 running quadrant standard and 14.597 MFLOPS in linpack
  • ET - Saturday, May 28, 2011 - link

    On page 3.
  • romanfoot - Saturday, May 28, 2011 - link
    I don't expect too much for the quality,but $200 for 8" 1280X800 and cortex A9 &512 ram and front & rear camera? Even though I've already got an Ipad,but still wanna just get one,cause it's such a bargain.Though,I don't have much faith on the screen and its quality and battery life,just put the link here,maybe it could help someone.
  • HenHowC - Saturday, May 28, 2011 - link

    Is the Nook Color screen 24-bit? I can't seem to find any information on this.
  • fromtablet1 - Monday, May 30, 2011 - link

    I really like my Aishuo A817 tablet (Currently writing from it) - It have a fast A8 1.2Ghz CPU, 512MB DDR, Weight about 460g, Android 2.3 (Market is working fine on it, Voice search is working, Flash 10.3, Latest youtube all is working fine) can surf the web using built-in wifi or external 3g using USB modem, NFS/Angrybirds/Asfalt/Raging Thunder are working fast, Battery life about 6 hours with wifi on, Can play H264/MPEG4-TS/AAC 2mbit/s IPTV streams just fine by VPlayer by WIFI or 3G. In other words I am happy with this 190USD tablet
  • Yowen - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    What I would love to see is GPS functionality compared for tablets. I personally would love to have a tablet that I can bring in my car to use as a GPS and media player. Without the need to connect to 3G. But that would possibly be filed under oddly specific, or no?
  • uberDoward - Friday, June 3, 2011 - link

    Rooted CM7 Nook Color @ 1.2Ghz for the wife, TF101-A1 for me :) Seems simple enough to me!

    Anand, I'd love a quick update, comparing performance of the Nook Color @ 1.2Ghz. All you need to do is flash Dalingrin's OC kernel. You can't really say that flashing CM7 is somehow any easier than doing another simple kernel flash for an extra 50% theoretical performance?

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