In the past I've warned Savings.com readers to steer clear of cheap Android tablets
. You know the kind I mean: the no-brand models you see selling for around $79 at places like Big Lots, Walgreens, and various online outlet stores.
These bargain-basement slates might look good on paper, but they're usually hobbled by slow processors, terrible screens, and serious app-store limitations.
Recently, however, I've been checking out an inexpensive Android tablet that's actually pretty good. So good, in fact, that I'm willing to recommend it -- with a few caveats.
It's the Kocaso M760W, and it's currently available from RedTag for $99
, plus $1.95 for shipping. (If RedTag's stock runs out, you can get it from Buy.com for $105.95 shipped
The M760W is a 7-inch tablet, similar in size and appearance to Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, and Lenovo's IdeaPad A1. Of course, these models sell for twice the price, so what corners does Kocaso cut?
Surprisingly few, at least relative to its price. The M760W features a capacitive multi-touch screen, a huge improvement over the resistive screens used in last year's cheapo tablets. It's very responsive to your touch and requires no extra pressure.
That screen has an 800 x 480-pixel resolution -- on the lower side, to be sure, but good enough that you can read text comfortably.
Other specs include a 1.2GHz processor, front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera (suitable for Skype and other video-related activities), built-in microphone and speaker (the latter surprisingly decent), HDMI output, and microSD memory-card slot.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the M760W runs Ice Cream Sandwich, a.k.a. Android 4.0. That's Google's first truly tablet-friendly version of the OS, and it offers a host of improvements over Android 2.2 and 2.3, which is what you typically found on cheapo tablets.
But like a said earlier, there are a few caveats. The M760W comes with only 4GB of storage, which doesn't leave you much room for apps, videos, music, and the like. Of course, for as little as $10, you can get a 16GB microSD card for a lot more breathing room.
The bigger issue is app compatibility. Although the tablet supports the Google Play Store, some high-profile apps (such as Kindle and Pandora) aren't available because of country-related incompatibilities. I'm checking with the manufacturer to see if there's a workaround for this and will update the post if I learn anything.
The good news is that plenty of other popular apps work just fine, including Angry Birds, Dropbox, ESPN ScoreCenter, Evernote, Facebook, and Twitter.
Also, the experience of using the M760W is mostly pleasant, and that's what counts. It's reasonably speedy, whether you're thumbing through apps, browsing Web sites, or playing Angry Birds. I never found myself grumbling because a task was taking too long.
So, can a $99 tablet really be any good? In this case, yes. If you have modest needs, meaning you just want to play a few games, check your e-mail, surf the Web, and so on, the M760W is a surprisingly good buy.