Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Technology: How to buy a budget tablet

A year is a long time in technology. At around this time last year, a tablet was considered an extravagance, with prices hovering in the vicinity of Rs 25,000.

Today, things are markedly different. You can walk into a store and pick a good quality tablet for less than half this amount.

But, how do you zero in on a 'quality' tablet? The sub-Rs 15,000 tablet market contains some very good devices but is also populated with rather ordinary ones.

So, here are a few points to keep in mind before you take the plunge.

Operating system

Barring the BlackBerry Playbook, whose 16 GB version is skimming below the Rs 15,000 mark and which runs on the BlackBerry Tablet OS, the only tablets that you are likely to get for less than this price are the ones running on Android, Google's operating system for smartphones and tablets and the most popular mobile operating system in the world currently.

However, we would advise you to make sure that you acquire a recent version of the operating system-Android 2.3 (or Gingerbread, as it is called) at the very least. It will result in smoother performance and will also be easier to upgrade if the need arises.

We recommend: Android 2.3 or higher
Bare minimum: Android 2.2


In terms of size, you will find yourself being restricted to 7-inch displays. But more than the size, it's the type of touchscreen that will determine how enjoyable your experience will be. There are two types of touchscreens-resistive (which responds better to styluses) and capacitive (which works better with fingers).

You should opt for a capacitive display as these are generally more expensive but are easier to use, and Android works better on them. One of the reasons for the failure of the much-hyped Aakash was the fact that it came with a poor quality resistive display. In terms of resolution, anything below 800x480 pixels is not to be considered.

We recommend: 7-inch capacitive display, 1024 x 600 pixels
Bare minimum: 7-inch capacitive display, 800 x 480 pixels


Most people buy tablets to be able to browse the Web while on the move. Ideally, you should pick a tablet that supports 3G connectivity, though having a Wi-Fi-only tablet will work just as well if you are unlikely to venture far from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

In most cases, a tablet with 3G connectivity will let you make phone calls as well, a handy bonus for those who do not like carrying multiple devices. Ease of connectivity with other devices should be kept in mind too. The best option would be to get a tablet that has support for USB devices, though it is rare in this price segment. Bluetooth connectivity, however, is a must.

We recommend: 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, phone call support
Bare minimum: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth


When it comes to processor speed, the faster the better. Most budget tablets come with single core processors with speeds in the range of 600 MHz-1 GHz. We would advise you to go with the fastest possible processor, though we have seen 800 MHz processors do a decent job on tablets running Android 2.3.

We recommend: 1 GHz processor
Bare minimum: 800 MHz processor

Memory and storage

While Android can function reasonably well on tablets with 256 MB RAM, it works significantly better on devices that have 512 MB, especially if you want to run Android 2.3.

Anything less and you will witness an occasional lag in performance and may be applications crashing. Most budget tablets come with 512 MB storage space, of which usually around 300 MB is available for usage. This is expandable using a memory card, which is often bundled with the tablet.

In the case of storage, the higher the better, so negotiate for a higher capacity memory card while buying the tablet.

We recommend: 512 MB RAM, expandable storage
Bare minimum: 256 MB RAM, expandable storage


The tablets in this division are unlikely to be multimedia powerhouses but will, in most cases, play videos and music decently well. In a perfect scenario, we would recommend a device with dual cameras with the capacity to play HD video, but barring this, we would insist that you go for a device that has at least a front-facing camera as tablets are handy for making video calls. Most tablet displays are good to play DVD quality videos.

We recommend: Dual cameras, capacity to play HD video
Bare minimum: Front-facing camera

Pre-installed apps

No matter which tablet you purchase, it is likely to come with some pre-installed applications. These could vary from browser variants and special application stores to full-fledged office suites.

While having a lot of software pre-installed on the tablet might appeal to many who are on a tight budget, the downside is that it eats up storage and can slow down the performance of your tablet. So, it makes sense to opt for a tablet that comes with applications that you need and are likely to use rather than just plain bloatware.

We recommend: Browser with Flash support, office suite with the ability to read and edit MS Office files
Bare minimum: Office suite with the ability to read MS Office files, media player, Android market

Battery life

This is an important part of a portable device. However, measuring battery life is not easy. A larger battery may be capable of lasting longer but a lot depends on the quality and resolution of the display, the processor, RAM and so on.

We would suggest that you consider how long the battery can last with Wi-Fi running on a single charge. The longer it runs, the better it will be. In this price segment, anything in excess of six hours will be a huge bonus if you are a power user.

We recommend: Eight hours on Wi-Fi
Bare minimum: Six hours on Wi-Fi

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