Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Budget Tablet

Yesterday Augen – the company that had a run in with Google over the summer when their $150 Kmart tablet had unlicensed copies of the Google App Marketplace running on it – announced that they will be releasing a series of six Android Tablets with varying screen sizes.

The tablets in question will be broken down into Latte and Espresso Series. The Latte Series will feature Android 2.2, 2 GB of flash memory, and HDMI out. The memory may be limited, but an SD slot supporting 16 GB of external storage offers some room for expansion. The part of real interest? The Latte will only cost $200 – a super budget option that severely undercuts the advances being made by some other devices.

Additionally, the Gentouch line of tablets will offer some upgraded models, including a $250 Latte Grande with a higher resolution touch screen, and the Espresso line with the Cortex A9 1GHz processor selling for $350.

While the Gentouch line is not yet slated for a specific release date (probably Q4 this year or Q1 next year), it did get me thinking about the position that budget tablets could potential take up in the coming months.

Tablet computing is definitely catching on. Users with subsidized smartphones are getting used to having a powerful device in their pockets that cost them less than $200. Unfortunately, this means that manufacturers are driving to cut prices severely and offer budget items with less features and scaled back functionality – it hinders ingenuity in a lot of ways.

Millions will see the sleek design and mobile possibilities of tablets like the iPad or Galaxy and will wonder how they can get their hands on a similar product. A budget option sold through retailers like Kmart or Walmart stands to be a potentially popular alternative to the devices that right now sell for more than most subsidized phones, game consoles and even television sets, but this only hurts the industry.

A computer, even a tablet device, is a rare purchase. It is a piece of technology that will provide value for months or even years to come. By investing in a device that doesn’t do quite as much to save a few dollars, manufacturers using shortcuts are rewarded and encouraged to continue reducing quality to make more money.

For sure, there is a market for budget tablets, but can a budget tablet offer enough features to be more than just a fancy toy? Android is likely the solution as an open source platform, with scalability through the Android App Marketplace. Storage expansion is also a must. An SD slot allows manufacturers to skip the cost of internal storage and focus instead on providing an intuitive, graphically pleasing display.

There is a definite future for tablets that can effectively replace a desktop PC – providing a range of powerful tools and features. But, what does the casual tablet user need? It’s important that consumers do their research and make informed decisions such that they can inform the market of the tools and features they need without supporting an undercut in quality by manufacturers.

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