The comments on yesterday’s post concerning the Xoom’s bungled launch stated loud and clear that people want inexpensive Android tablets — or at least that the high MSRP was the Xoom’s undoing. The thought is that if you’re going to spend over $500 on a tablet, the iPad is the only choice, which therefore makes the $800 Xoom a no-sale. I sort of agree with that even though I still feel the Xoom is a fantastic tablet. Still, I feel the poor marketing and product placement doomed the tablet rather than the price alone. Motorola never publicly justified the price.
That said, the Xoom would be a similar, but still different fail whale even if it launched at $300. It wouldn’t be the same Xoom. The dual core CPU, lovely screen, and abundant amounts of memory would be the first options on the cutting board. From there Moto would have probably slash the build quality from solid to cheap along with opting for a weaker battery. A lower-priced Xoom tablet would not be a more successful tablet. The vertical iTunes ecosystem opens up a huge revenue stream that allows Apple to price products different than most Android tablet makers. It’s not fair, really.
Still, it’s disingenuous to say companies are ignoring the low-end Android tablet market. It’s actually alive, well, and more than thriving. But please, don’t call the tablets after the jump iPad or even Xoom competitors. They’re not even in the same league. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a look.
The Viewsonic G-Tablet is a fan favorite. It’s second only to the Nook Color in number of discussion threads over on XDA’s forums. Why? It’s relatively inexpensive and easily modded. Inside is a 1GHz Dual Core Tegra 2 chipset, 512MB of DDR2 RAM, and enough video juice to run 1080p video. The stock Android 2.2 build runs snappy enough, but it’s not exactly iPad 2 or Xoom smooth. That doesn’t matter. Don’t buy the gTab to run 2.2. Buy the Gtab to run the dozens of different custom builds on various dev forum sites. Wanna make it look like the Notion Ink Adam? Use this ROM.
- MSRP: $499
- Internet price: $299
- Vibrant support community
- Comes with a fair amount of baked-in apps
- Lightweight is synonymous with cheap
- A tad sluggish at times
- Screen is below standard
Archos is flooding the market with low cost Android tablets. There’s the original 5 Internet Tablet that was released (and reviewed) back in 2009, which was followed up by the 48, 7, 10, and now the popular 101. The company even outed a new product line dubbed Arnova that hits with the bare minimum physical memory. But it’s the 101 that’s selling like, well, a cheap Android tablet.
The 101 comes in both 8GB and 16GB flavors with the former carrying an Internet street price of $280~ and the latter hitting around $325. Both have the same 10.1-inch screen, Cortex-A8 CPU, and long-life lithium ion battery. Ports are plentiful with a full size USB 2.0 port, a handy USB 2.0 slave port, MicroSD card slot, and HDMI output. Plus, there’s a nifty kickstand. The 101 runs Android 2.2 out of the box, but like so many other of these tablets, modders and devs are currently cracking the system wide open for ROM fun. Once that happens, the 101 will likely become as popular as the Viewsonic gTab.
- MSRP: $299/$349
- Internet price: $280/$325
- Best build quality in the round-up
- Sexy hardware
- Tons of ports
- As of writing, just the Bootloader has been cracked. No ROMs yet.
Confession: I’ve never touched the eLocity A7 tablet so I can’t comment on build quality or system response. However, from the specs and design and a conversation with an owner, the tablet seems on par with other products in the price point. It ships with Android 2.2 and in many ways, shares design cues with the Notion Ink Adam. Ports are plentiful with USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audio out, MicroSD slot, and a docking port. The major downside that I can see is the traditional size advantage that comes along with a 7-inch screen is effectively countered by a rather large bezel. In reality though, it’s just a touch larger than the Samsung Galaxy Tab that’s proven pocket-friendly.
- MSRP: $349
- Internet price: $299
- Unique styling
- Tegra II platform
- Only 4GB of built-in memory
- Large bezel
- Not upgradeable to Honeycomb — officially at least
The Nook Color is the Xbox of the Android Tablets. People are buying it in droves to mod it rather than using the stock system. It’s great. I have a CyanogenMod running on mine right now with a bootable Honeycomb MicroSD card somewhere on my desk. The modding community is so vibrant that even newbies shouldn’t feel intimidated ordering one just to run Android. NookDevs has fantastic DIY guides and XDA has a massive forum for the device. It is without a hint of question in my mind the best starter Android device on the market.
There are downsides though. The Nook Color is underpowered for Honeycomb. It just doesn’t run well. Sure, it works, and it’s a fun device to explore the new platform, but I couldn’t live with it as a go-to tablet. Cyanogen 7 is the popular ROM and the 2.3 build works great on the device. It’s a tad quirky and probably isn’t for general consumption, but many of our readers should still find it satisfying. Best of all, unlike the rest of the inexpensive Android tablets, there are a fair amount of accessories built just for the Nook Color including a ton of cases, skins, and more. Modding not your thing? B&N just announced they’re accepting apps for the OEM system, which could turn into a big deal.
- MSRP: $249
- Internet Price: $249
- Thin and solid
- Sold nationwide at B&N stores, which makes returns easy
- Highly modifiable
- None I can see for a $250 tablet
Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Samsung Galtab was 2010′s hot Android tablet even though it carried a high price and small screen. Not much has changed since it first debuted which makes me a little hesitant to recommend the tablet — especially with a two year commitment — however, the fact remains that it’s still a good entry level Android tablet. Verizon sells it on-contract for only $199. Honeycomb has already been unofficially ported to the tablet signaling that even if Samsung forgets about its first born, the Internet won’t. Just ask its biggest fan and my first online editor, @KevinCTofel. He ditched the iPad for the GalTab.
- MSRP: $600
- Internet Price: $200 on-contract
- Tons of accessories
- A well-developed platform
- 3G capability
- A solid future even without modding
- Heavy for a 7-inch tablet
- Could be slow to receive official Android updates
- Will be really old when contract runs out
There are plenty of Android tablets to choose from right now but it might be wise to wait. A ton of Honeycomb tablets are going to flood the market over the coming months. Android tablets will likely become as ubiquitous, with each only looking just like all the rest. It’s going to be the little details that set them apart. Some will have digital pens, slightly different screen sizes, and wireless options. But this flood will likely only bring consumer confusion and help cement the iPad’s dominance in the marketplace — for the short term. Eventually the floodgates will give away and the Android tablet will become a true iPad competitor. At least that’s what I would like to believe.