Thursday

What Do You Get With A Super Cheap Tablet?

At this time of year there are quite a few exceptionally cheap tablets knocking around - by cheap, I mean under $100 and sometimes under $50. So what do you get for that sort of money; are they worth it in any real sense? On a rare impulse buy, I picked up a 7 inch Azpen Android tablet at a local computer store - a Thanksgiving special - for a penny less than $40.00, which is pretty astonishing, if you think about it. So are these things any good? Do they work? Can you actually do anything with such a device?


While there are cheap devices and cheap devices, this particular one is perfectly usable, with some obvious caveats. You can look at the specifications here (click the "specs" tab) but in plain English, here's what you should reasonably expect in such an inexpensive device:

Build quality/materials - no anodized aluminum body or Gorilla Glass screens here of course, but at least on this device, fit and finish are fine and everything works so far. Oddly, this product has a ONE YEAR warranty.

Horsepower - more like "pony power", as these sorts of devices typically have an older single-core processor. Luckily, Android apps are mostly light weight affairs, so in most cases this may not be a huge deal if you set your expectations. You will likely notice hesitations when the device is updating, for example, and playing complex games would be out of the question.

Display - this may be the single most decisive feature on whether to buy such a cheap device - they will often be low-resolution and have a narrow viewing angle. If you have poor eyesight, this could be a deal breaker for you - so hands on testing is a good idea. The display on the Azpen is just adequate; its fairly bright and contrasty, but the resolution is only 800x480, and while text is readable, it's hardly ideal.

RAM and Storage - you likely won't get much, but on this model the internal storage is expandable to 32GB via a microSD card, which is nice. The low amount RAM will affect performance to some degree as well - 512MB is typical in these low-cost models, whereas an iPad or more expensive Android model might have 1 or 2GB.

Battery - along with the display, this is where cheap devices usually falter noticeably; battery life might be only 4 or 5 hours, instead of the 10 or more hours of a more expensive tablet. 

Camera - if there is one, it will likely be 1990's webcam quality. Just sayin'

As already mentioned, quality display screens and batteries are both simply high ticket items, so unless you manage to secure a middle range device on a great sale, sub $100 tablets will invariably suffer in these areas. The display quality might initially deter those with poor vision - boomers and seniors for example.

On the good side of the balance, the Azpen model I got has a newer version of Android (4.2.2 "Jellybean"), and at the price it's almost disposable. It's such a plucky little thing, it's hard to resist - and it surfs the web, plays music and YouTube videos just fine.

The touch screen works quite well on this particular device, and a tablet can be useful around the home wherever you need quick portable web access, or a streaming music device perhaps. If you possibly can, you should try one of these cheaper devices before buying - and remember that it's largely true that you do get what you pay for.

If nothing else, it's cheap way to see if a tablet is the device for you - if so, you might spring for a Nexus 7 or an iPad Mini down the road...

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