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The Tech-Pert: When Looking for iPad Alternatives, Beware of Cheap Tablet PCs

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 6:56AM Tuesday March 15, 2011
under Shop Smarter

If you're anything like me, you were pretty disappointed to learn that the iPad 2 was going to cost the same as the iPad 1. Apple didn't budge one bit on pricing--meaning if you want in on the tablet craze, it'll still cost you $499 minimum.

Or will it?
If you've shopped around at all, you may have noticed some pretty enticing deals on Android-powered tablets. For example, last October a company called Cherrypal made headlines with the introduction of the CherryPad America, a 7-inch Android tablet priced at just $188.

Shortly thereafter came the the NextBook Next3, which features an 8.4-inch screen and $229.99 price tag. Heck, even drugstore chains like Walgreens have gotten in on the act, offering models like the Pandigital Novel tablet/e-reader for an appetizing $179.99.

Just one problem: these tablets stink. I know, because I've reviewed both the CherryPad and Next3, and I've seen countless other models with nearly identical specs. Although they look good on paper, and often in person as well, the reality is that these tablets are sluggish, difficult to use, and usually quite limited.

Take the CherryPad (please!). Much as I liked the slim, lightweight design and microSD memory card slot (a feature still MIA on iPads), I soon learned that you couldn't download new apps from Android Market. The tablet was limited to the handful of apps bundled with the Android operating system. What's more, Cherrypal has all but abandoned support of the product, as evidenced by the countless angry posts on the company's user forums.

As for the Next3, it serves up an impressive 8.4-inch display--but it's a resistive screen, not a capacitive one like on the iPad. Thus, you have to apply a bit of pressure, making tasks like tapping and scrolling feel awkward and imprecise. (Resistive screens don't support multi-touch, either.) And like the CherryPad, the Next3 doesn't support Android Market. There's a different app store on the device, but it offers a fraction of the selection.

Part of the iPad's appeal is how effortless it is to use, how its interface responds instantly to the slightest touch. Cheap tablets deliver the opposite experience: they're slow, frustrating, and ultimately disappointing.

Thus, much as you might be tempted by models with bargain-basement prices, I strongly recommend steering clear of them.

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, "How to Do Everything: Palm Pre." Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.