Tablets can make grand experiences of work and play at home or away. In the age of wifi, virtual office applications and design programs alike are easily accessed, and video programming via hulu or even directly through networks like the WB make it possible to take in a quick show while traveling (without overwhelming your memory card).
Unfortunately, a good thing can be ruined by a few bad apples in the merchant barrel clamoring to cash in on popular items. Knockoffs with barely enough memory to start a tablet pc, let alone run applications of any worth, abound (especially on bid-based websites), and without a guide to affordable tablets that fits the needs you have in mind, it's very easy to become their prey.
Credit: Nick Butcher a.k.a Nick.butcher (cc)Credit: Nick Butcher a.k.a Nick.butcher (cc)
The most affordable tablets “out of the box” seem to be on the mobile platforms at the present time, but cheaper isn't always better. Before you invest in these, you'll want to be sure you're not acquiring a budget item that underperforms simply to save money. Mobile tablets with closed gardens like Apple's offering and even the ubiquitous smiling Android OS machina have significant limitations. They aren't the multi-functional tablets of old.
Three that seem to be getting a strong amount of fan fare do hold promise, but they're more limited than the full-fledged tablets we'll look at in the next section:
The Xoom is a sleek 10.1 inch machine with a 5 MP camera, a front-facing (2 MP) and back-facing camera (video and higher-res images), a pinhole mic, and localized connectivity (your plugs won't be all over the place). The tablet packs a punch with an unflinching 1 GB of RAM and another 32 GB of storage (on par with non-mobile tablets at lower price-points).
The Xoom's battery life is a dream. You can get about 9 hours of use (heavy media play) before you need to plug it in for more juice. You could do worse than this machine.
The Acer didn't go crazy over-customizing Android's software, thankfully, and the sound is nothing short of amazing in comparison to its many competitors. The machine is 10.1 inches and boasts a full-sized usb port as well as expandable memory. The camera, which is definitely a luxury item you won't really need, is so-so like a lot of the mobile tablets out there. It has a rear 5MP sensor, and its video quality captures 720p, but the overall quality could use some work. The Iconia's processor speed is a zippy 1 Ghz, and the hard drive is 16 GB (expandable to 32 GB). Battery time is clocked at 8 hours continuous use.
The Kindle Fire is a different breed of tablet. While it's considered a mobile tablet, it isn't in the league of the Xoom or Iconia (and it's half the cost of them). The shortage of gigabytes (8 GB to be exact) is a deterrent for some, but Amazon throws in access to plenty of cloudspace where movies and other media can be stored for later retrieval. This isn't as joyous as it sounds if you'll be somewhere without wifi or your Clear modem isn't working optimally (or at all – it's been known to happen while you're traveling), but it's workable if you've used a Kindle and only want a mobile tablet that you can store video on and do easy web-splendoring with.
The Fire doesn't run Honeycomb (Android 3.1). It's Android platform is tweaked by Amazon-for-Amazon, so it's not clear how compatible the Kindle Fire will be with current favorite apps you might be running on your cell phone, but Amazon claims they'll be “trying their best” to keep things compatible. Fingers crossed.
Credit: gjbell (cc)Credit: gjbell (cc)
The most affordable tablets that actually have the power to run the same applications as a desktop computer are essentially slim versions of the laptop (usually without the keyboard). This variation has been around for over a decade, but they were largely unsung when they first emerged, and some of the best of them are the older variations that were first released. If you're truly wanting something that saves a great deal of money but possesses high functionality, look into acquiring a refurbished tablet pc from a trusted dealer.
The HP TC1100 is an easily acquired item on ebay platforms. Grab a digitizer pen and you're set (look for a digitzer that is described as “penabled” to find the right match). This machine is sleek, but it's also hardy. Refurbished, you're likely to find it for prices starting at 99.00 on up to 199.00 (with all of the accessories). You'll probably locate machines in this range that contain at least 516 MB RAM, but the hard drive might contain no more than 32 GB.
If you're a heavy gamer, this probably isn't the machine for you, but if you're a student who needs a tablet for school (especially is you're an artist who wants to utilize the design applications), this is a great machine. Video and sound are up to par with today's standards, and the machine runs beautifully on Ubuntu (download Ubuntu for free at their website). You're refurbished machine might not arrive with an OS (unless the seller's description says otherwise, so you'll either need an Ubuntu distribution or an old windows disc to run on it. Additional programs are easily acquired at an opensource level.
Fujitsu Stylistic LT
The perks of the Fujitsu Stylistic series are in their resistive screens (screens that work with minimal pressure from even the most makeshift of styluses). They don't require the additional investment of a digitizer pen to enjoy your tablet's pen-to-screen functionality, and they're built quite solidly overall. Even a stylistic LT C-500 will run very stably today, but you'll want to be sure you get one that has at least 256 MB of Ram. 128 MB will allow you to run a good amount of applications (no more than a few at a time, though), but it'll be molasses slow with anything involving video. The hard drive might only be about 8 GB (unless your model's been souped up), but you can expand on that or utilize a flash drive with a higher storage capacity to offset the space restriction.
It can run word processing and most internet applications (with Firefox) including adobe Flash, if that's all you need, however. For simple applications, this is an excellent machine. The fact that it doesn't need a digitizer makes it a very desirable acquisition (looking for digitizer pens that you've misplaced is maddening... it's so much better to use an incense stick when you can't locate your stylus). You can find a functional Fujitsu Stylistic for a cool 150.00 on the right day.
Affordable tablets make last-minute project adjustments, a need for R&R, and even e-reading possible on the go with no fuss, and a lot of these machines are no bigger than a moderately sized book. Be careful to read the specs on the machines you find yourself considering, and ensure they can handle your needs before you click the “Buy” button. If you're not sure about a particular model, listen to whatever's inspiring warning and read more reviews until you feel comfortable or decide against a machine altogether. For 150.00 you could easily have a functional, lightweight tablet to carry with you on the go. Make your selections wisely. Happy bargain hunting!