In the past few months, we have seen over a dozen new tablets with a majority of them being 7-inch models priced under Rs 10,000. That said, this was the first wave and the second wave has just about started with more powerful hardware, and that too at attractive price points. So, if you’re thinking of investing in a low-cost tablet, then here are a few tips you should keep in mind before buying one.
Price and feature set
A significant portion of the feature set is common between all budget tablets. They all feature a 1GHz processor, 7-inch capacitive touchscreen display with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, microSD card slot and a USB port. Specs that vary are the presence of a graphics processor, an HDMI port and the amount of RAM and on-board storage. The most affordable models (priced around Rs 4,000) will feature at least 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.
1GHz processor and screen resolution of 800 x 480 pixels are common
Although this is sufficient to run most applications smoothly while allowing you to store lots of music and videos, a graphics processor (usually Mali 400) will make game play more enjoyable. If you want to be able to connect the tablet to a TV or projector, consider models that sport an HDMI port. The more feature-rich models with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage command a premium and can cost anywhere between Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000. The key to getting a good bang for your buck is to get as many features as you can for as little, plus look out for freebies such as free Internet dongles and memory cards.
OS and upgrades
Most current-generation 7-inch Android tablets come loaded with Android v4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich and feature the stock tablet interface. We haven’t seen any model featuring custom launchers and homescreens. So, there’s nothing much to look at when it comes to the operating system. As for the upgrades, there are very few vendors who offer the Jelly Bean update. If you’re looking at getting a tablet pre-loaded with Jelly Bean, you should wait for some time—at present there are only a handful of models. This should be a common feature with newer models launching in the next few months.
Most budget tablets feature Android ICS
When you buy a budget 7-inch Android tablet, you can rest assured you’ll be able to surf the web wirelessly thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi module. The support for 3G comes via a dongle in most models. Those that feature a regular USB port can plug in the dongle directly, whereas the presence of a micro USB port would require using a USB host dongle, which is usually included in the package. However, you should make sure which 3G dongles would be compatible with your tablet. If Internet connectivity is critical for you, then a simpler solution would be to put in a few thousand rupees extra and buy a tablet with a SIM card slot. You can also consider support for voice calling, but there aren’t many choices.
No need to use a dongle if the tablet has a SIM card slot
GPS support would have sweetened the deal, but unfortunately, you’ll have to be fine without it. The most you can do is use Google Maps via Internet connection.
Media and camera
Since all tablet PCs can easily double up as larger media players, keep in mind that you should look out for features that you would look for in a multimedia handset. The audio player’s quality should be satisfactory and volume loud enough to be heard clearly even in noisy locations. Most of the latest tablets featuring Android ICS and JB are capable of playing MP4, DivX and even MKV files out-of-the-box. If that’s lacking, there are several apps such as Mobo Player that support virtually all audio and video codecs. A built-in webcam is a common feature in budget Android tablets. However, the placement of the camera may concern you. Look out for a front-facing camera if you want to chat or make video calls. You’ll appreciate a rear camera if you’re of the type who likes taking a lot of photos and, of course, you should check out apps such as Vignette, Camera 360 and Pixlr-o-matic.
Built-in apps should include business features like document (PDF) reader and a calendar that syncs with your Google or other accounts to keep you updated with all your appointments, important dates etc. Gaming is also a very different experience on a tablet device considering the large display. Preloaded games are great, but if none are available, access to online stores for games and apps should be available via the device itself. Syncing your contacts with social networks is also a handy feature to have amongst others.
Although you'll get a handful of pre-loaded apps, you can download more from Google Play
This is, of course, one of the most vital bits of hardware to consider before purchase. Vendors don’t have a standardised format to arrive at the battery life. So, you can’t go buy the numbers printed on the box—at times they have been close to what we got and many a times we’ve got significantly lower run times. Our battery life test involves playing full-length movies, music playback, web browsing and video streaming until the battery runs completely dry. You can easily expect a battery life of four to six hours with only video playback. Add bits of idle time in standby, web browsing, photo viewing and gaming, and you should easily get around seven hours of usage without a recharge. If the tablet supports voice calls, 4 hours of talk time is what you can expect at the very least.
Finally, the last thing to keep in mind is accessories. Since most budget tablets lack Bluetooth support, there’s very little you can do. If the tablet you’ve bought doesn’t bundle along a carry pouch or a sleeve, you may want to buy one to make it shatter-proof should it fall accidentally or if you have butter fingers.
Portable speakers are great for videos and music
For models that feature Bluetooth or call support, it would make sense to opt for a Bluetooth headset—you wouldn’t want to look stupid walking on the road speaking into the mic and struggling to hear through the teensy-weensy speaker. Other accessories like portable USB keyboards,speakers and mice are also handy devices to have.