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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • seamonkey79 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I've got a Nook Color, and it took all of about 10 minutes to get all of the tools needed to flash a new ROM to it... now I've got a 1.1 Ghz (1.2 Ghz is available and stable on mine, but a little warmer than I like) tablet that in many ways performs better than my Droid Incredible does, especially when I pair the 3g from the DInc to the NC. Given the price I paid for it and the fact that it is a smashing book reader as well as all around good guy tablet, money well spent in my opinion :-)

    I've also read posts about people selling or trading their Galaxy Tabs for Nook Color after they bought one for a spouse or child and played with it a little bit.
  • KaarlisK - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    What about the Creative Ziio 7? It also has a Cortex A8 and 512MB of RAM, though I have no idea about the capabilities and drivers of its GPU. Costs around $350 in Europe.
  • mcnabney - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't buy another Creative product on principle alone.
  • Stanil - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    The hardware on the Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi is different to the 3G model (at least in some markets). Gone are Bluetooth 3.0, HDMI out. The SOC is not Hummingburd, but a more cheap A8(OMAP 3630?) and the GPU is PowerVR530 not 540 as in the 3G model.
  • medi01 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Recently bought Archos 7 Home Tablet for 129 Euro, actually as a video player in a car.
    You know, dear Anand, it has quite a good screen.

    Remembering how (among ebook reader fans) Nook is mostly regarded as "cheap plastic junk" I wonder if it is worth is to read your article.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Doesn't the Archos 7 Home Tablet have a 800x480 resistive touchscreen? That says it all.

    I didn't mention Archos at all in this article, as far as I recall, but really, put the Nook Color next to the Archos or any one of the random tablets I mentioned in the beginning and you will see the difference. I have verifiable, tested numbers to support my claim.

    As for the "cheap plastic junk" rep, I can understand the plastic part, but it's definitely not cheap feeling or junk - it's either the best designed and best built $250 tablet, or very close to it. I haven't seen anyone make that claim yet, and based on my experience (I tend to be more picky about design and build quality than some of my colleagues), it's a solid, attractive little tablet.
  • velis - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    That wasn't the point of what madi was saying.
    For the purpose, the Archos provides 720p movie playback which nook doesn't.

    But as you probably saw from the other replies, we'd very much like to see two things in the next budget tab comparison:
    1. Get EVERYTHING out of a particular tablet: overclock the nook if it can be overclocked to see if then it can offer the feature (HD playback) it couldn't provide stock
    2. Compare more tablets. Out of the three, the Archos is by far the cheapest and has its uses, even if it is only 800x480 resistive... No need to play a snob here, we're looking at *budget* tablet coparison. Also ASUS eee pad should also be in this comparison even if it is ridiculously overpowered compared to the others. As you yourself said: if's only $50 more...

    On a side note: I think for anything android based one of the most important things to consider is custom ROMs. Because manufacturers tend to "forget" to update pretty soon after release. Presence of custom ROMs ensures the tablet / phone will be upgradable in the future and that allows for longer useful life of the device. You really should include this information in the review and most definitely you shouldn't post false information - as in Galaxy having no custom ROMs.
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    The video decode chip in the OMAP 3621 SoC doesn't support HD video decode, so the Nook Color won't be able to playback HD videos regardless of how high you overclock it. It's a hardware issue on the SoC level, that won't change.

    I didn't say that the Galaxy Tab had no custom ROMs or it wasn't rootable or anything - I think my wording was poor, so it came across like that. I updated it to be clearer, but what I was trying to get across was this: the Nook depends on that to survive, while custom ROMs aren't nearly as relevant to the Galaxy Tab, which comes with a usable image from the factory.

    I could have looked at more tablets, theres a few out there (eLocity A7, Creative Ziio, and Archos 70) which would potentially be worth looking at, but I kind of drew the line at WSVGA screen resolution. I've used WVGA 7" tablets, and they're just not very good. I'm more interested in some of the upcoming stuff - HTC Flyer (if they drop the price to reasonable levels), the Acer Iconia A100, etc, which have the design and UX polish to compete with these two.
  • velis - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    Don't get me wrong: I think this was a great article and I'd very much like to see more of such in the future since I'm seriously contemplating going tablet. I assume I'm not the only one :D

    As for the reply:
    OK, this I can dig, but in this case you should clearly state at the beginning of the article that you filtered by resolution. That doesn't excuse you from not including the Asus though :)
    Also the info posted for contenders should be well balanced - reference to custom ROMs, overclocking and similar stuff here - if you delve into it for one, you should do as much for the other(s) too.

    And thanks for replying :)
  • Ragin69er - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - link

    I appreciated this article, as an owner of a 3g Galaxy Tab I have rooted it and am running a custom gingerbread rom called Overcome which allows for up to 1.4ghz overclock. I also have a fix from a guy named chainfire which allows me to play almost every game made for tegra 2 (there are one or two games that won't play yet). Proving that the tegra 2 chipset at least to me isn't considerably more powerful than the powervr 540.
    Also another member at XDA forums called spacemoose is ensuring that the galaxy tab will be running Honeycomb 3.1 this very week :)
    I appreciate the 7" form factor much more than the 10" form factor, I seem to be able to put my galaxy tab in a pocket no matter the weather conditions. Can't say that about nearly any other tablet.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now