Arguably the most important factor for people buying a first tablet is price. A common theme among them is to go for a “budget” tablet. I put budget in quotes because I prefer the term cheap. Using cheap more accurately conveys both the price and the quality of the device, in most cases. CNET, among others, has posted reviews for the best “budget” tablets.
With the recent exception of the Nexus 7, my opinion of those lists is that every one of the devices fits into one of two categories: 1. pseudo-tablets or 2. crap.
Pseudo-tablet is the name that I like to give to tablets that are essentially glorified e-readers, with very locked down operating systems that may or may not be based on an open OS like Android. I don’t usually consider them to be a part of the full tablet market because of their generally limited power, limited capabilities, and limited flexibility. Amazon’s Kindle Fire series does not enable access to the Google Play Store, has most of it’s storage limited to purchased content, and generally have limited processor speed, even in the higher performance HD Lines.
A lot of people will disagree with me on this, but I think it’s a very valid point. This past Christmas, I won a Kindle Fire in a drawing, and was going to give it to my 10 year old brother-in-law, but he told his parents that he’d rather have an iPod touch than the Kindle Fire. His biggest reason was that the iPod has more games – which is very true (Apple has around 750k apps, and the Amazon Market has around 50k), because the Kindle Fire is limited to the Amazon App Market.
The second category that I mentioned was crap. I recently became privileged؟ to work with a crap tablet. These are tablets that generally have terrible hardware, a crappy skinned over, bloated, or crippled version of Android, or a combination thereof. Some of them (including the one I have, see below) even seem to have good hardware – but don’t be fooled! Cheap tablets just feel cheap. Similar to how the Windows Experience Index, where the overall score is equal to the lowest score (or more well known – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link) – a cheap tablet will feel crappy if it has any crappy components. It’s like buying a Mac Pro and using an old CRT monitor, or for you non-computer people, like putting a hemi in a Volkswagen bug.
Example: The Ainol (no, seriously) Novo 7
Don’t be fooled by the fact that this tablet has a quad core processor, HDMI out, and a gig of RAM. It is bad. The display has a lower resolution than the Nexus 7, the capacitive screen is very unresponsive, it comes loaded with Chinese Anime games that can’t be uninstalled (only disabled), and it feels cheap. I admit that the “feels cheap” aspect is extremely subjective, but it really is an important factor in electronics, and I believe it’s one of the reasons that Apple and others have succeeded with solid aluminum in so many products.
The biggest drawback for me is the unresponsive screen (which, by the way, came (stock? refurb?) with a screen protector that has visible dust bubbles). Admittedly, I am not used to Android screens (aside from the Nexus 7), but I can not for the life of me maintain a drag on the screen. Trying to move an icon around on the homescreen is like trying to run up a slide.
This is not unique to the Novo 7. These complaints exist all over the place on cheap smartphones and tablets. Many of the complaints are not cite-able, because they expose themselves in long, drawn-out, how-do-I-do-this-and-why-is-it-so-hard forum threads, or frustrated family members calling you to ask why their phone dies after two hours or can’t play a certain game, or doesn’t do anything when they press a certain button.
Enter Nexus 7
The Nexus 7 is a device to behold. It is far-and-away my favorite Android tablet. I’m a big fan of the 7 inch class of tablets, and the Nexus series from Google are the crème de la crème. They include top notch hardware for the price, and get stock Android with regular updates. No other Android device can boast this, and it makes a huge difference. I’ll write more in a later post more about regular updates and platform fragmentation, but it’s worth noting that this makes a huge difference in the quality of the device experience. This is the first Android device I’ve used that felt like a finished product, and not something rushed to market. It is the exception to the rule, being the only good cheap affordable tablet, coming in at $199.
It’s Not Worth it
There are some spectacular devices on all platforms, but the cheap factor is non-trivial. The astute of you will have noticed that on the CNET list linked above (here you go, lazy), all the tablets (aside from the Nexus 7) fall into my pseudo-tablet category. I credit this to the fact that these tablets have modest-to-great hardware in all aspects, but are limited in functionality and content, which is far better than having full device openness and content, but crappy, unresponsive hardware.
Please, for the sake of your own sanity, enjoyment, and the sanity of your tech savvy niece/son/granddaughter/husband, don’t buy a tablet just because it’s cheap.