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Ask the Techie: Time for a Tablet? Android upstarts bring affordability

The "it" device this year is a tablet, especially after the launch of Apple's iPad2, Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab. We test drive a few more affordable tablets using the Android OS

Tablets are the cool kids in today's gadget world.

The Apple iPad and its thinner follow-up iPad2 has sold record numbers, over 8 million units were sold by October of last year according to analysts. The market is such that the number of units you can buy are still restricted. This is faster than the adoption of its previous hit product the iPhone and especially impressive during the midst of our current financial situation. And this is not an inexpensive product, the models range in price from $499-$699 for the wi-fi only units to $629-$829 for a 3G capable device (in addition to monthly data plan fees). Competitors from Motorola (the Xoom starting at $599) and Samsung (Galaxy Tab starting at $599) are all battling to find customers at this high end of the tablet universe. Each has its pros and cons and reviewers have weighed these in their coverage.

Let's take a step back and look at what a tablet is and what role it fills. Most see a tablet as being a device between a laptop and a smartphone. It runs mini-programs called apps (short for applications) that allow you to play games, surf the web, shop, read books, watch movies, check email and use social networking sites. It is highly portable, lightweight, and can travel easily in your backpack or large purse.

Unfortunately, at this point, none of the tablets (even at the highest price points) replace either your laptop nor your smartphone. They aren't as robust as a computer to use for business software and the lack of a physical keyboard can make typing difficult for longer documents or emails. They aren't as portable as a smartphone and they aren't optimized for phone calls.

What they do provide is a ultra-portable entertainment experience. It is something that you simply turn on and get right right to your book, game or movie with cords, no waiting for a long bootup process, and without the bulk or heat of a laptop. It is more pleasant experience and less taxing on your eyes to play a game on compared to even the largest smartphone screen. You can plop down on a porch swing and have fun.

We test drove two tablets that provide a solid experience and that would be a great gift for even less tech-savvy family members at a price that is less daunting than the over $500 models. And if you already use an Android phone, you might find the familiarity of the OS and the apps available a welcome feature.

The Impression I10 tablet is an attractive, easy-to-use tablet that has a suggested retail price of $349. It has a beautiful high-resolution screen with a wide viewing angle (this is important if you want to share what is on the screen with a friend). It was incredibly simple to use, a very responsive touch screen experience and includes everything you need (mini-USB charger, wall charger, cover). It has 4 GB of storage (expandable to 32 GB).

We didn't like the pre-loaded app store (it doesn't have access to the Android app store) but it was easy to add the Amazon app store which has a wide variety of paid and free apps. See the accompanying video to see how these run on the tablet. The Impression I10 includes 2 USB mini ports, an HDMI port and a headphone port. It connects to the net with wifi and includes bluetooth so you can use accessories such as headphones and keyboards without cords.

It will be available from retailers such as Sears, K-Mart and Walgreens and etailers such as HSN and QVC. This device is being marketed to a broader audience than just the technophiles, and with its ease of use and more accessible price it is a great choice for the less tech savvy members of your family. It is robust enough to impress the smart but simply more frugal geek as well.

The Viewsonic gTablet is more widely available including stores such as Amazon (with a significantly lower price than the suggested retail of $499). For well under $300 you can have the functionality of a tablet and all the apps you love when linked to the Amazon app store. It has many of the same features of the Impression tablet (HDMI, bluetooth) and greater storage (16 GB expandable to 32 GB).

Both of these tablets provide less expensive access to the tablet field. In the time we have had access to these review units, they have been popular devices in our home, and we have been surprised on how often they kept us off our computers and phones. Their utility has been surprising, in fact, with their easy-in, easy-out experience resulting in probably less overall screentime as a quick check-in on Twitter didn't involve getting sucked in to other online distractions.

Moby July 25, 2011 at 02:42 PM
When you say "price points" don't you just mean "price'? As in, "Unfortunately, at this point, none of the tablets (even at the highest price points) ..." could be "Unfortunately, at this point, none of the tablets (even at the highest prices)
Sally Spangler July 25, 2011 at 04:12 PM
More hand held gadgets. More wasted money spent on the "latest" to show you are "with it"

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