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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  • MonkeyPaw - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Sorry for the typo, it is early for me. :o
  • Lukemcd - Thursday, May 26, 2011 - link

    It's off in size. That's the primary reason they did not make a direct comparison. It really is an apples-oranges thing, too, since two-handed typing is perfect with a vertical Nook but really isn't once you get much beyond that.
  • jconan - Saturday, May 28, 2011 - link

    Dido, got the Transformer from Fry's even though amazon sells it for 443. It is quite worth it with splashtop pc access and portability even though it is a bit more for the portability. It does pale to iPad in terms of quality apps but for the freedom from iTunes it's liveable.
  • ViperV990 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Is it feasible for a regular joe to put Honeycomb on either tablets?

    Also, is either of them capable of acting as a Google Voice/Talk client?
  • zvadim - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Nook doesn't have a microphone, so unless you try for some kind of Bluetooth headset solution....
  • ForeverStudent - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I realize this is kind of irrelevant to the article, and I apologize, but are the dimensions of the devices on the first page switched? They seem to show that the nook is significantly smaller than the Tab, about 30% shorter and narrower. But then throughout the article you talk about how much more compact the Tab is. I could be confused, I'm just checking.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Ah crap, I think those are the dimensions for the EVO 4G...Fixing that now :) Thanks for catching that.
  • cosmotic - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Just as this was published has the Refurbished Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" 16GB Android Tablet - Wi-Fi + 3G for $259.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    That, my friend, is a good buy. Not sure if I like the idea of a refurb, but if you're dead set on a Galaxy Tab, that'd be tough to pass up.
  • phendric - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Ditto to that. This isn't the wi-fi only version of the Galaxy Tab, but the full 3G version (with the Hummingbird SoC, and other better hardware). I'll only add that it runs on Sprint's network.

    I wonder if activation of a data plan is required? Anyone know?

    I signed up to two different websites just now - Woot, to order the Tab, and Anandtech, to leave this comment. I've been a silent reader of the site for several years now, but just as I was wondering why there wasn't a good review comparison between the two tablets on a high-traffic site, this showed up.

    Great site, good writing, active community.

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