Saturday, March 5, 2011

Buyers beware: "Cheap" Android tablets are NOT "like iPads"

I wrote the following to post on Craigslist in response to an abusive number of ads where one or more people in the Phoenix metro area are trying to convince unsuspecting tablet shoppers that these "cheap" ($80 - $350) Android Tablets are "like iPad" or that a shopper should "compare to iPad" when in fact they are nothing like an iPad in terms of hardware or O/S and thus would not provide a user experience even remotely similar.

There appear to be a number of either ignorant, or malicious posters here on Craigslist trying to push weak Android tablets at or above retail prices, and claiming they are "like iPads". As an Android developer, and someone who knows both platforms intimately, this infuriates me and I'm not one to standby and watch someone try to take advantage of others to begin with.

Here's what you should know when buying a tablet right now:

There are 3 main categories: Windows 7 "Slates", Apple iPads, and Android Tablets.

Windows 7 "Slates" are really very thin, portable Windows PCs running on somewhat limited resources. They can do most anything you could do on your PC with Windows, just not as quickly and gaming is somewhat limited. This makes them very useful, but the interface is not designed to be "finger friendly" so there is a trade-off for their power. They also run on Intel Atom or Core 2 Duo processors and so their battery life is far shorter than iPads and Android tablets (3-6 hours vs 5-10 hours).

Apple iPads and various Android Tablets are actually quite similar in many respects and in the end, the choice of platform is largely just a matter of preference, but the HARDWARE can make a make difference. Most notably is the screen. iPads ALWAYS have very nice LCD, capacitive, multi-touch screens. Nearly ALL of the cheaper Android tablets (there are very few exceptions right now, but the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, and Viewsonic GTablet are the most common) have cheap LCD screens that result in poor viewing angles, and use resistive screens which means they are not as "easy" to interface with and are generally not multi-touch. Unless you want a very inexpensive tablet (perhaps to use just as an eReader), you likely want to avoid resistive screens. If you want to experience the difference, go to Frys Electronics in Tempe or Phoenix. They have a very nice selection now where you can try them out first. You'll also be able to see first hand how ridiculously expensive some selling on Craigslist are.

The other major hardware factors to look out for are Memory and Graphics. "Memory", a term frequently misused, refers to the amount of RAM (Random Access MEMORY). RAM is very fast and is used as a temporary place to store data to be used by the CPU. More RAM means a faster tablet, especially with Android. As of right now, 256MB of Memory is considered inferior at best. 512MB is reasonably good. 1024MB (1GB) is quite good and anything more is great. The latest and greatest Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom have 1GB of Memory. I'm not sure how much the iPads have because Apple tends to be a bit mysterious about that, but the iPads are designed in such a way that the relevance is different and you can't shop for an iPad with more Memory anyway (you can show for an iPad with more storage). Many of the Windows 7 Slates have 2GB because Windows needs more Memory.

People often mistakenly refer to MEMORY but actually mean storage, such as internal "NAND" or "SSD". That's "Storage", not "memory" and it will save programs, data, and things like your pictures and music, even after the device is turned off, your battery goes dead, etc.. For more information about Memory (and it's distinction from storage), Wikipedia has a good article (google "Wikipedia Computer Memory" to find THIS entry.).

Graphics are important in a modern computer as well, but only the nicest tablets make a point of telling you which graphics cards, or chipsets are used. Right now the iPad2 is claimed to be 900% faster than the iPad and the "cheap" android tablets are generally not as "fast" or powerful as the first iPad. Any Android tablet based on the "nVidia Tegra" platform will be quite fast and have very good graphics performance. The ViewSonic GTab, Motorola Xoom, and a few other less common tablets are based on these platforms. They will always have capacitive screens and nearly always have at least 512MB of Memory.

In short, these "cheap" (less than $600) Android tablets are not "like iPads" nor should you "compare to iPad" because they typically have only 256MB of Memory which isn't much for an Android Tablet, have resistive screens which means you will not have a nice interface or multi-touch which should be a given for a tablet, tend to have cheap LCD displays that provide poor viewing angles and you'll find it difficult to use because you either have to prop it up, or move your head directly over it, and they generally have weak graphics so they won't visually be as smooth as the iPad. They might have similar applications available, but the overall experience will be significantly less pleasing than an iPad or nicer Android tablet.

If you see one of these ads, it should be "flagged" (using the links toward the top-right of the post) as prohibited for being misleading, or in many cases that I'm seeing, "spam/overpost" because the same, misleading ad, is being posted over and over. Another issue you as a Craigslist user have the responsibility to address, is flagging posts as "prohibited" when the ad uses unrelated or misleading keywords as many now are. For example, when these cheap Android tablets use "iPad" or "Xoom" as a keyword. That would be like posting an ad for a 1975 Volkswagen Beatle then using keywords like "Lamborghini", or "Ferrari" to draw people to the ad. Appropriate keywords for any tablet would be: portable, touch-screen, tablet. A tablet like the Xoom might use keywords like: Capacitive, 1GB, nVidia Tegra, Dual-core, etc.. Notice how those are descriptive and provide a way for other users to find groups of like items.

Craigslist will not tolerate abuse of the search system and flagged ads are removed quickly. Given the frequency with which certain individuals have been posting inappropriately, the site is especially responsive right now in the "Phoenix craigslist" > "for sale / wanted" category so if you are one of the abusers, save yourself the time, and other users the trouble and stop trying to get away with these abusive ads. Automated systems are in place to facilitate fast moderation and your ads will receive minimal views. It takes FAR less effort to identify, flag, and remove your ads, then it takes for you to post an ad up.


Speeddymon said...

I've used a Galaxy; I believe it has a capacitive screen. I didn't have to press hard like I do on my Nook Color (which DOES have a resistive screen). The Galaxy definitely is priced at $600 at any Verizon store right now though.

It may or may not have Tegra 2 graphics though; I wasn't shopping for one so I didn't ask. Ijmet a guy at a bar that works for Verizon and asked if he would demo it for me, which is how I was able to play with it. Angry Birds plays better on that Galaxy than it does on my Droid 1.

Can't speak for the others though. The notable difference that you did NOT point out is that most of the Android tablets DO NOT have any 3g or 4g connectivity; they only have the ability to connect to 802.11g or 802.11n wireless networks.

Michael Richardson said...

Hey Tom. The Galaxy tab definitely has a capacitive screen and is definitely not a Tegra 2 system though I can't remember what gpu it has (I do know it's the Arm Cortex A8 Hummingbird) and it does support 3G as do a handful of other Android tablets. What makes you think otherwise?

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