Sunday, May 08, 2011

Three Tips to Get a Cheap Tablet


Want a tablet, but don't want to pay the iPad 2's $499 price tag? There's always the after-Thanksgiving sales, but sometimes Black Friday can't come soon enough. Here are a few ideas that can save you money and still get you your shiny tablet, without braving the crowds in November.

Go Refurb

Every time Apple introduces a new model, the online Apple Store's soon filled with refurbished units of the old model. Right now, for instance, there are first generation 16 GB Wi-Fi iPads on sale for $349. A handful of other varieties are there too, many of them cheaper than the iPad 2's list price.

Apple's refurbished iPads all have a new battery and a one-year warranty, plus an all-new outer shell. On the downside, the 1st generation iPads can't use the iPad 2's Smart Cover or FaceTime chat, and their availability varies as people buy out the refurbished stock. With the iPad 2 facing a persistent shortage, though, this might be an attractive option even for people who can afford it.

Go Android

Some of the new tablets running Google's Android operating system, like the Motorola Xoom, are priced higher than the iPad 2 is. Others, however, like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, cost up to $100 less than the iPad 2's $499 list price. And while they're selling out quickly too, that price tag might be part of the reason why.

If you've only ever tried out the iPad, you may be in for a surprise if you use an Android tablet. The tablet version of Android, called Honeycomb, is a bit more involved than the iPad's iOS, with more on-screen buttons and different ways of doing things. It also doesn't have nearly as many tablet apps as the iPad does, although it can run Android phone apps. I'm personally a fan of Android, but you should understand the differences before buying an Android tablet.

Another option would be to buy a Barnes and Noble Nook Color. It's a color multitouch tablet, and it's half the size of the iPad 2 but it's also half the cost, at $249. While Barnes and Noble isn't marketing its "Reader's Tablet" as an Android device, it does in fact run Android under the hood, which allows app developers to port their apps to it with minimal fuss. And yes, it already has Angry Birds.

Go home and think about it

What is it that you want a tablet for? Do you just want a touch-screen device you can browse the web with? A smartphone might work for that, or an iPod Touch, or an e-reader like the Nook Color. If you want it to work on the go, you might rather get a netbook, since they have built-in keyboards and can run Windows (or Ubuntu) apps. And while the iPad has tons of games, a portable game console like the Sony PSP or Nintendo DS offers a more polished gaming experience, plus more games from name-brand publishers.

Whether it's a refurbished iPad or a Nook Color, there's probably a device out there for you. Just be careful of the really cheap, $149 tablets you might see in stores -- cheap is good, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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