Friday, 5 September 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Budget Tablet Buying Guide: September 2014

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 05:29 PM PDT

Many_Tablets[1]For the past four years Android tablet have been a hot market niche, with dozens of device makers releasing new models willy-nilly. Some were good, many were bad, and as a result the tablet market in July 2014 is glutted with tablets.

There are so many tablets on the market that it is difficult to tell which ones are good; even a reviewer such as myself can’t test more than a tithe of what’s available.

Updated for September 2014

Twp months have passed since I wrote this review, and i think it’s time for an update. I’ve deleted the section recommending against buying a refurb, and I also changed my recommended tablet from the Kobo Arc to the Hisense Sero 7 Pro.

On a related note, if you are looking for other useful info on tablets then you might be interested in the resources page I have been building (click here). On that page you will find links to the several getting started guides I have written over the years.

What I’m Shopping For

In shopping for a budget tablet, I set a hard upper price limit of $99. Anything more than that gets out of the budget market and into the same price range as the Kindle Fire HD (2013), which at $139 I do not see as a budget tablet.

I also set a lower price limit of $60. As I explain below, most of the tablets that cost less than $59 do not offer a good value. As a general rule, I also avoid refurbs of no-name tablets, although I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a Sero 7 Pro.

Here’s a short list of the specs I want in a $99 Android tablet:

  • 7″ screen, with a screen resolution of 1024 x 600 (or higher)
  • a Dual-core ARM CPU (or a single-core Intel CPU)
  • 1GB RAM (minimum)
  • 8GB internal storage
  • Google Play (or Amazon Appstore)

You could buy a tablet with less RAM, but that will limit its performance. You might also skimp on storage, but that’s simply not a good idea. As I and a number of other users have discovered, the tablets that ship with only 4GB internal storage fill up real quick. A microSD card will be required, and that adds to the price so I say go for the extra storage in the first place.

You might notice that I insist on Google Play, but don’t mention cameras. The latter are a crap shoot for budget tablets; a tablet might have them but there’s no guarantee that the cameras will be good. And as for Google Play, most budget tablets will ship with it so you can ignore the tablets that don’t have it. They’re not even worth considering.

Where I Shop for Tablets

For starters, I tend to look for tablets on four websites:

  • Best Buy
  • Walmart
  • TigerDirect

These four sites each stock quite a few models, and three of them also offer marketplaces where 3rd-party sellers can list items. (I’ve never encountered anyone selling tablets on but it could happen.) All have reasonable return policies, although I have found Walmart’s procedures to be tedious.

I tend to go to the tablet category and list the tablets from cheapest to most expensive. I open any potential purchase in a new tab, and I also right click on the model number and do a Google search in order to find reviews.

This lets me find any truly good deals, but it also makes me have to sort through tablets I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. For example, I would not buy refurbs, and I wouldn’t buy a tablet that cost less than $60.

What I Won’t Buy

Sub-$60 Android Tablets

When I set out to buy a tablet this morning I intended to buy one which cost less than $60.  I thought this price range offered great potential for a return on your investment, and since no one seemed to by buying the tablets and posting reviews it looked like this was a topic I didn’t have to share with other bloggers.

But after a couple hours of browsing, I decided that most of the tablets weren’t worth my time. I couldn’t see myself using them, or recommending them, and so they were not worth reviewing.

Most of the tablets in this price range have 3 details in common: they’re one to two years old, they run Android on single core CPUs, and their specs promise that the performance and usability will be disappointing.

The sub-$60 tablets will only be about half as powerful as the $99 tablets I would suggest that you buy. They will also have poorer quality components and weaker screens. What’s more, a lot of the sub-$60 tablets I found this morning were left overs from last year and the year before, so there’s a good chance that they have aged while still in the retail box. This could lessen their lifespan.

So what would I buy? I ended up buying a Hisense Sero 8 tablet, but that was mainly because no one else has posted a review. At $129, it’s outside of my price range. And due to the lack of reviews it is also an unknown, so I can’t recommend it yet.

Best Tablet Value for July 2014

Updated for September 2014

Two months have passed since I originally wrote this post, and I changed my mind on which tablet to recommend. I have two recommendations.

Hisense Sero 7 Pro

Hisense_Sero_7_Pro_contentfullwidth[1]Since it is still widely available as a refurb, I suggest that you get the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. I liked it when I reviewed it last fall, and most people who bought one love it.

The Sero 7 Pro runs Android 4.2 on a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 CPU. It’s not as fast as my other recommended tablet, but it does offer better battery life, better cameras, and a nicer feeling design.

You can find the Sero 7 Pro on a few sites, including Amazon, which has the refurb for $78.

Toshiba Excite Go

toshiba excite go 1My other recommended tablet is the new Excite Go from Toshiba. This is a $99 which offers more power than the Sero 7 Pro, but it also has less storage, a single disappointing camera, and less battery life.

I reviewed it a few weeks ago and while I can attest to its power I don’t think there’s much else to recommend it.

But it is  the most powerful under $99, so I am proposing it as an alternative.

You can find it here:


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Hisense Sero 7LE Budget Tablet Clears the FCC

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 04:24 PM PDT

sero-le_02Hisense has so far only released a single Android tablet this year, the Sero 8, but it now looks like they have a couple 7″ models in the wings. The Sero 7+ cleared the FCC in July, and the Sero 7LE showed up on the FCC website earlier this week.

Like its sibling, the Sero 7LE is a step down from last year’s smash hit, the Sero 7 Pro. This tablet features a 7″ display with a screen resolution of 1024 x 600, and it runs Android on a dualcore 1GHz Rockchip RK3926 CPU with 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, and a microSD card slot.

It also has a single speaker, Wifi, a VGA resolution camera, and a 3Ah battery. The tablet measures 7.5″ x 4.3″ x 0.4″ and weighs about 12 ounces.

Assuming that CPU spec is correct,  the Sero 7LE will be using a newer and (probably) more powerful chip than the Sero 7+, which has a 1.2 GHz Rockchip RK3168 CPU.  But that would appear to be the only important difference.

sero-le_02 sero-le_03 sero-le_04 sero-le_05

Hisense hasn’t given any indication of when they plan to launch this tablet, but given that it is getting rather late in the year they’re either going to have to launch these tablets soon or not at all. Given the glut of tablets on the market, I would bet on the latter option.

Hisense would certainly not be the first to pass on launching a new tablet.

Remember, Google hasn’t dropped any hints about a new nexus 7, nor has Amazon leaked details about a new 7″ Kindle Fire tablet.  What’s more, OLPC appears to have junked their plans for their second XO tablet, which was supposed to have shipped this spring.

With premium tablets like last year’s Nexus 7 going for prices under $150, I think most of the major tablet makers have realized that there isn’t much of a market – not in the US, anyway.



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Hands On with the Pocketbook 840 InkPad eBook Reader (video)

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 08:39 AM PDT

pocketbook 840 inkpad handsonIn what I swear is complete serendipity, a new unboxing and hands on video for the Pocketbook 840 InkPad just crossed my desk.

Pocketbook’s new 8″ ebook reader was announced in May and is scheduled to ship in Europe on 15 September, but it has already shipped to a few lucky customers in Russia. One of those new owners took 6 minutes and posted the following unboxing video.

The video is obviously narrated in Russian, but the narrator’s voice is pleasant sounding so I don’t mind that I can’t understand him. He also nails the demo process, revealing quite a bit of detail about this ebook reader. And since the video was shot in 720p it is worth going full screen for the added detail.

The Pocketbook 840 InkPad sports a one of a kind 8″ E-ink display with a touchscreen, frontlight, and a screen resolution of 1,600 x 1,200. It runs Pocketbook’s reading software on a 1GHz CPU with 4GB internal storage, a microSD card slot, and Wifi.

And as I reported yesterday, this ereader is scheduled to ship in Europe on 15 September. The retail price is 179 euros plus shipping, and Pocketbook’s official site in France will ship to the US.

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A Brief Hands On Video of the Kobo Aura H2O

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 07:00 AM PDT

sam_1522-600x400[1]Reviews of Kobo’s new  waterproof ebook reader are still few and far between, so when this next video came across my desk yesterday I knew that everyone would want to see it.

I’m still working on my review of Kobo’s new waterproof ebook reader, but yesterday Laptop Magazine posted a short hands on video.

From the background noise, I think they shot it at the launch party a couple weeks ago. The video doesn’t show much, but it does confirm that the Aura H2O has a way to detect water on the screen and warn you that the device got wet. It looks pretty cool in action.

The Aura H2O features a 6.8″ Carta E-ink screen, and recently went up for pre-order in the US with a retail of $179. My review unit arrived a couple days ago, and I hope to have a review up next weekend.

The post A Brief Hands On Video of the Kobo Aura H2O appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Ikea Pokes Fun at Apple in Latest “Advert” for Their Catalog

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 06:23 AM PDT

For a multi-national multi-billion dollar retailer, Ikea has a penchance for adverts which take things not at all seriously, and in this latest video the retailer pokes fun at Apple.

Ikea just posted a new video, shot in the classic Apple style, which touts its paper catalog. And yes, it is absurdly funny as it sounds.

At only 8mm thin, and weighing in at less than 400g, the 2015 IKEA Catalogue comes pre-installed with thousands of home furnishing ideas.

P.S. Someone, somewhere, at a marketing firm deserves a bonus for this video.

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The Morning Coffee – 5 September 2014

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 08:20 PM PDT

Today’s reading list starts with a book review which was clearly intended for The Onion but was accidentally published by The Economist, a plaint about the lack of fact checking in publishing – most non-fiction books have facts in them (trust me, I’ve checked), two posts on tech in the classroom, and more.

  • American slavery: Blood cotton (The Economist)
  • Book Publishing, Not Fact-Checking (The Atlantic)
  • Interview with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo (NINC blog)
  • Is It the Golden Age for Journalism? [Smart Set] (Jane Friedman)
  • Lego Mindstorms: How not to do technology in the classroom (TeleRead)
  • My take: There are so many takes now because no one is guaranteed an audience (GigaOm)
  • Should We Ban Laptops from the Classrooms? (Now The Details)

Update: The Economist has withdrawn that review, and removed it from the original page. If you still wish to read it then you can find it posted after the apology/retraction notice here.

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