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7″ Android tablets for $40! How low can they go?

Trefor DaviesMany moons ago when 10BaseT still trod the plains of Shenzhen and ATM was still just about available at the desktop I worked for GEC developing Ethernet physical interface components. On a number of occasions I visited our manufacturing customers in Taiwan to discuss specifications & show off new products etc.

What struck me about the high volume consumer electronics market that we were selling into was the total lack of secrecy in the game. Who was paying what for which component was know to the cent and if a new and cheaper alternative became available then the old part could be designed out in two weeks. It was all about cost, cost, cost.

As is massively obvious to us all this world has continued to move on. The days of discrete Ethernet components have long gone and everything is now very much system on a chip. You really need very little technical nous to put together new electronic gadgets and products these days. Reference designs do it all for you.

At the bleeding edge most of the differentiation is in software and the ease of its use: hardware specs are pretty similar and the battleground is in iOS, Android, Windows8 and “cloud”services.

At the trailing edge, and specifications seem to move to this space very quickly, it is still very much about cost. Much of what you hear is the high profile publicity pushed out by the tech giants – Samsung Chromebook £229, Googe Nexus 7 tablet running Android 4.1 (Jellybean) for £218, iPad mini £269 (expensivo), Kindle fire HD £159. I realise these probably don’t fit into “trailing edge” but they are cut down versions of the headline product or cheaper equivalents.

At the seriously low end there are some amazingly cheap me too products around that are probably seriously work taking a punt at. Check out alibaba.com. They have 7″ Android tablets selling as low as $40.89 – that’s roughly twenty five quid. it isn’t difficult to envisage having a few of those scattered around your house for when you want to check what’s on TV, the weather, train times etc etc. At that price the tab doesn’t even have to last that long. If it breaks chuck it away and get another one, probably even more cheaply. The performance needed out of these devices doesn’t have to be highly specced.

Although we all live in a consumer world some of us also operate in business. It is clear that the business world will also move to the point where the hardware is totally incidental and that companies will run on a set of integrated services defined according to the needs of their particular industry or market.

If I was starting a business from scratch today I doubt that I would set out to physically own any software. I might not even provide staff with hardware – they could use their own, cheaply sourced and probably more up to date than anything I would provide.  I would concentrate on the service set that I needed together with establishing an appropriate level of security so that my business could not be compromised.

The one thing that does differentiate the needs of business and consumer is the level of service received. As a consumer if I lose my phone or my broadband gets cut off its a pain but I’ll live with it for a while. If this happens in business it is likely to cost me hard cash and so I want to be able to call someone for help as quickly as possible.

2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year in the tech world. It’s going to be a fun place to be but I will start the year with  a slightly more serious end to a post. If you are in business you are going to need a reliable partner that can provide you with communications service levels that will help and not hinder your plans. Check us out here and give me a shout if you have any specific needs or questions.

Happy New Year :)

PS Oh and let me know if you have bought one of these cheap Android tabs & what the experience was like.

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6 thoughts on “7″ Android tablets for $40! How low can they go?

  1. PhilT says:

    Have played with cheap tablets and had problems with screen accuracy – the greasy glass interface can be a challenge if you can’t reliably hit a target. That was ~12 months ago though.

  2. I’ve played with and owned a few sub-$100 android tablets (I think there’s a few from Gadmei, ZTE and Ainol sitting around here somewhere) and with the odd exception (e.g. the excellent Ainol Novo 7 Aurora 2 with its sleek IPS screen) most have lacked key features. For example, I think even the Aurora 2 was missing a GPS and mobile broadband connectivity, not that I needed either.

    But in most cases the biggest problem for budget android tablets is usually with the quality of the screen (image quality, sensitivity and or its resolution). Many budget tablets have crappy 800 res displays or use older style LCD’s that burn your eyes with excessive brightness or, like Phil says, they’re so slow to respond when touched that you almost feel like hooking up a keyboard instead.

    If you are looking for a budget tablet and don’t care about build quality then my tips would be to go for one with..

    * An IPS screen
    * HDMI output (not MHL because most people own TV’s which don’t support that) because you need a reasonable CPU/GPU to do it properly
    * A recognisable CPU architecture/brand to avoid massive app compatibility woes
    * 1GB of RAM (because 512MB just won’t cut it anymore for the latest apps and OS on a heavy use tablet)

  3. Trefor Davies tref says:

    thanks lads – good inputs

  4. Geoff T says:

    I have android tablets, kitchen, bedroom, plugged into the TV via HDMI and one in my work bag. Very cheap ones are fine for email, twitter etc. A sub £100 one runs iPlayey fine via HDMI and my nexus 7 Jelly Bean tablet replaces a laptop for all but the bigger writing / spreadsheet tasks. I have USB keyboard cases bought for £9.95 which work perfectly well too. My (android) mobile works perfectly well with my tablets providing a wifi hotspot for mobile data. As our american friends say, what’s not to like?

  5. Pierre Ketteridge says:

    Excellent blog post, Tref – and amazingly prescient! I just bought my three boys Android tablets for Christmas, on eBay, and wanted them all to be identical and identically-sourced, so I could keep tabs (as it were) on them (and I am de facto technical support in the household). They are identical to the ones in your links to alibaba.com. Mine cost exactly twice that price plus postage, so I guess I’ll go direct to source next time! And there might be a next time – they’re not perfect, and nowhere near the quality of an Apple iPad Mini or a Galaxy Tab, or Nexus7, or Kindle Fire. BUT, they’re cheap, they work, and they’re good for basic functionality (Google Play downloaded games, email, SocMed (FB, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn), web surfing – Kindle app controls a bit quirky though). Build quality isn’t great – we’ve had dropped tabs popping the screen from its casing (but clicked straight back in with no untoward effect), so I wouldn’t say rain- or shower-proof, let alone waterproof. Two out of three power supply units broke within thirty minutes – plastic earth pin on the integrated PSU/Plug snapped off inside the wall socket, rendering the socket unusable (but better quality replacements – both AC Adapter and USB variants – are cheap and easily available). USB connectivity (data and power) and storage card slots mean the devices are expandable. For £25 including postage I couldn’t fault them (at £50 plus postage I did, but I couldn’t complain too much). I’m seriously considering ordering a couple more from source, for adult occasional use/child backup/spares and emergencies!

  6. Trefor Davies tref says:

    V interesting Pierre and thanks for the kind words :)

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