Best Holiday Tablets for Bargain Hunters
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
October 07 2011 12:31 PM ET
CREDIT: Credit: (clockwise) Toshiba, Samsung, Amazon, Lenovo
Over the past year, tablet choices have exploded. Apple’s $500+ iPads captured around 80 percent of the market, but that hasn’t stopped other manufacturers from introducing their own versions at equally high prices. Just in time for the holiday season, several new tablets may be available that could fit the budgets of this year’s shoppers.
According to a recent Nielsen report, only five percent of U.S. households plan to spend more this year than last year, and one out of every three respondents reported that they’ll have no spare cash going into the holiday season. More than 50 percent plan to spend $500 or less.
Finally, big-name manufacturers are making tablets that come in under $400 — several cost half that amount. The budget-priced units are smaller, offering scaled down 7-inch displays in place of 10-inch displays. Kids may shun a 7-inch tablet in favor of their 4-inch phones — “why bother?”— but for many adults, a 4-inch screen is simply too small for reading or watching a movie. A 7-inch tablet may be the perfect size for on-the-go entertainment and communication.
If you decide to buy a not-an-iPad, you will not have the wide selection of apps created for iOS. For instance, Gourmet’s Epicurious recipe app comes up as a phone-size image floating on an Android tablet screen. You’re better off going to websites via a tablet’s browser.
However, if you’re buying a tablet for entertainment, including reading, listening to music and watching movies, you will find plenty of content. Hulu Plus, Netflix and Pandora apps are all available in Android versions.
Most budget tablets are Wi-Fi only, meaning there is no option to connect to a 3G or 4G carrier network at times when a Wi-Fi signal is not available. If connectivity is critical, consider Virgin Mobile’s pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi mobile hot spot.
What to look for
Buy a tablet that’s running Android 3.0 or later and aim for the best processor possible in your price bracket. Don’t pay extra for storage, either built-in or expandable. Apps are small and entertainment streams, so paying for more storage may be a big waste of money. Do you really need cameras and a microphone? If you have a video-capable phone or you don’t “do” video chat, you won’t miss them on a tablet.
4 to choose from
Toshiba launched its first 7-inch tablet, following this summer’s release of its 10-inch Thrive tablet . The LED backlit screen has a 1280 x 800 resolution, making it one of the brightest in the 7-inch category. It runs Android 3.2 with a dual-core processor. The tablet also includes two HD cameras: a five-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the back, plus a two-megapixel camera on the front for video chatting. The Thrive has a mini USB, micro HDMI for a TV connection and a micro SD card slot for extra file storage. Toshiba will offer the tablet in two Wi-Fi-only configurations, 16GB and 32GB.
Available in December 2011. Priced under $400, which is all we know for now, but it’s enough to say that the Thrive has the highest-end features for the lowest price.
Lenovo recently announced its budget tablet. The A1 runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, an operating system designed for smartphones. The 1GHz single-core processor could prove sluggish when running multiple apps. The LCD display has a 1024 × 600 resolution and includes two cameras, front and 3MP rear. It does have both full-size and micro SD card slot, a stylus and real buttons for major navigation. While the company is making an 8GB $199 model, only the 16GB and 32GB models will be sold in the U.S. Price will be $250 (16GB), Wi-Fi only, and available for the holidays.
Samsung officially announced its Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus at the end of September, an upgraded model of its $350 7-inch Android 2.2 Tab launched about a year ago. It looks good on paper, with Android 3.2 and a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and HSPA+ connectibility, which means the Tab can access the 4G-like speed networks of AT&T and T-Mobile. However, Samsung has not said when it will be available in the U.S. or how much it will cost.
Further, the current Tab 7 illustrates how a carrier-connected tablet can make costs soar. The Tab 7 with Wi-Fi only sells for $315 on Amazon. On Verizon, the 3G Tab 7 sells for $200 with a two-year contract plus a minimum $30 per month data plan. At the end of two years, you would have invested $920.
Amazon’s first tablet, the Kindle Fire , lacks the cameras, microphones and memory expansion options of its competitors, but it has an affordable price of $199 and comes with Amazon’s extensive gateway to entertainment that includes movies, TV shows and music along with its vast book selection .
Don’t worry about its lack of storage. The Fire is a cloud device, so Amazon stores your media on its servers. The Fire runs Android 3.2 overlaid with Amazon’s new proprietary cloud browser called Silk, which claims to be much faster than computer-based browsers. The Fire offers basic tablet capabilities at an affordable price from a reliable manufacturer, a winning combination. Available Nov. 15.