I’ve already said it a few times, but let’s just make it absolutely clear: Do not buy weird, cheap, off-brand Android tablets! Until a real iPad competitor comes along, it makes little sense to spend money on any Android tablet, and zero sense to buy a cheap, junky one from Walgreens, eBay, or anywhere else. Especially if you plan to give it away as a gift!
Quality and Value Basics
Electronic devices, from smartphones to e-readers to game systems to tablets to computers, must meet two criteria:
- They must be functional, built to stand up to use and designed to meet user needs
- They must also be a useful part of an ecosystem of software and communication
Look around at the current crop of tablets and ask yourself which meet these criteria. There’s precious little that comes anywhere close to Apple’s iPad and lots of junk that fails both tests miserably.
Minimum Tablet Specs
See my post, The Tablet Wasteland and the iPad Oasis, for more on this topic!
I recently examined dozens of tablets and came up empty looking for a credible iPad competitor. Even the basic specs are lagging: Far from being premium-priced luxury goods, Apple’s iPad and iPhone set standards of quality and value no competitor can match.
Let’s use the now year-old iPad’s specs as a baseline:
- The CPU should be in the 1 GHz class
- It should have a quality high-resolution screen: 1024×768 for a 10″ device or 1024×600 for an 8″ one with good off-angle brightness
- It must have a capacitive touchscreen – resistive just doesn’t work
- It should have at least 16 GB of capacity or a card slot
- The battery should last for hours of usage and days of standby time
- The operating system should be integrated with the hardware for a seamless experience
Every current Android tablet lags way behind the iPad in basic specs and build quality. Those like (the Samsung Galaxy Tab) that are reasonably well-designed still use cheap, hollow plastic cases and smaller screens and yet cost more than an iPad!
Cheap off-brand devices meet few or none of these tests. Every one I looked at had a slow CPU, minimal storage capacity, and wore an ill-fitting and out-dated version of Android. With flimsy cases, low-res resistive screens, and pathetic batteries, they didn’t even come close to meeting these basic needs.
Note that the iPad does fall short in some areas: The lack of a camera is puzzling and frustrating; it has too little RAM; it may be too large for some uses; many folks actually do want Flash support; and the locked-down software environment isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and Apple was very late updating it.
Where’s The Ecosystem?
Just as a game system is worthless with no games to play (ask an Atart Jaguar owner like me), a tablet does not exist in a vacuum. Users expect to be able to perform basic tasks, such as email, web surfing, and games. But they have come to expect an Apple-like app store so they can expand the functionality to meet other needs.
The lack of an application ecosystem is the biggest drawback for all Android (and Windows) tablets, and an absolute deal-breaker for off-brand devices. Even Google freely admits that no current version of the Android operating system is optimized for Tablet use, and the Android Market app store is just now gaining tablet-friendly features. The next version of Android will likely be a better tablet OS, but it’s not available yet.
But cut-priced tablets don’t even have the Android Market, let alone anything to compete with Apple’s iOS App Store! Some allow side-loaded apps via USB or SD cards, but this isn’t really a mainstream option.
Do not buy weird, cheap, off-brand Android tablets! As the awesome Jacqui Cheng says over at Ars Technica, cheap-tablet poster-child Maylong M-150 is the “worst gadget ever!” It’s even too light and slippery to use as a doorstop!
Quality Android devices should start appearing soon, complete with OS 2.3 “Gingerbread” and a functional version of Android Market. Wait to see how they fare against the current iPad, and look for an updated Apple tablet with a camera in early 2011 as well. But don’t be surprised if a decent Android tablet doesn’t substantially undercut the iPad’s pricing – Apple is playing a whole new game in this space, and they’re in it to win.