Guest post by Joe Pawlikowski .
Until about a month ago, the words value and tablet did not belong in the same sentence. High-end devices dominated the market, and the iPad, starting at $500, was and still is king. A number of manufacturers, such as Samsung and Motorola, also released high-end Android tablets at similar price points. The only relatively cheap tablets came from lesser known manufacturers, and none of them are particularly good. It took a big retailer to finally change all that.
As we enter the consumer-driven holiday season, the tablet market all the sudden contains a few hidden values. There aren’t many, but these three tablets provide plenty of value for a reasonable price.
Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon was that big retailer that changed the tablet market. Before Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, the rule of thumb was to stay away from $200 tablets. They were, for the most part, shoddily built devices that ran old versions of the Android smartphone operating system. That is, the software wasn’t even optimized for tablets. That was a major dooming point for the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and it further doomed products from companies that lacked Samsung’s reputation.
Then along came Amazon with its tablet. It’s a downright bargain at $200, but that’s because Amazon takes a loss on each unit. They can afford this, because the Kindle Fire is designed to sell Amazon products. That is, it works best with Amazon Prime, which provides free streaming video. There is also Amazon Instant Video, which allows users to rent TV shows and movies. Amazon’s MP3 store and storage locker make for a great combination, and there’s always Amazon.com for products.
While the Kindle Fire does not come close to the iPad in terms of features and functions, it doesn’t need to. At $200 it makes for a wonderfully affordable entertainment device.
Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet
Before the Kindle Fire came the Nook Color. At first it was just a full-color, touchscreen e-reader. Little by little Barnes and Noble opened up the Nook and made it into more of a tablet. Their newest device, the Nook Tablet, takes off even more chains. While it’s not a fully functional Android tablet, it does have many of the features.
The main difference between the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire is that the Nook Tablet doesn’t have as many paid services. That is, it doesn’t have a native MP3 store or video streaming service. But it does take advantage of its Android roots for these functions. Users can listen to music on Pandora, Rhapsody, or Grooveshark, and can stream movies from Netflix and Hulu Plus. There are games galore on the Nook Tablet, and that’s before you get to Barnes and Noble’s enormous ebook library, which includes magazines and comics. The Nook Tablet also has a microSD card slot, which allows for up to 32GB of storage. This means plenty of local storage, while the Kindle Fire relies on the cloud.
The Nook Tablet does cost a bit more than the Kindle Fire. At $250 many people might prefer to save the money and get the Amazon product. But at the same time, there isn’t as much “buy me” potential with the Nook Tablet. That is, users might save the $50 up front with Amazon, but will likely spend that quickly on Amazon services. On the Nook Color it’s conceivable that users spend far less money, because there are fewer opportunities. It very well might be the better long-term value.
For most of its existence, the BlackBerry PlayBook hasn’t been much of a bargain. It was priced at the same points as the iPad, but didn’t deliver the same functions. In fact, it lacked native apps for email, calendar and contacts. BlackBerry smartphone users could tether their devices and use those functions, but that’s not exactly convenient. It also leaves non-BlackBerry users in the dark.
The PlayBook did not sell well at first, and it didn’t even sell well when Research In Motion offered a number of promotional discounts. Finally, in advance of Black Friday, they reduced the price all the way to $200, to match the Kindle Fire. That led to a huge surge in sales, selling out at retailers such as Best Buy. Again, the PlayBook is not the best tablet on the market, but it does have some excellent basic functions. The device itself is small enough to be ultra portable, the screen resolution is perfect for video playback, and it has standard social networking apps such as Facebook.
Even better, the PlayBook will get an update in February that will imbue it with those native email, calendar, and contacts apps. It will also add a video store and provide developers with an easy way to port their Android apps. That should make for a much better tablet — one that might even be worth more than $200. Getting it now would be something of an investment.
This was a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski who is the editor of Prepaid Reviews, a site that provides news, commentary, and reviews of prepaid wireless services.