December 03, 2011

Family Tech: Tablet computers for under $300

By: Mark Stout | For the News & Messenger

When the iPad first appeared, my brother remarked, “I want these to be inexpensive enough I can put one in every room in the house.” He and I both had the iPad on its first day in April 2010. Its usefulness was immediately apparent.
He and I have been around computers since the late ’70s. We witnessed how TRS-80s and Apple IIs became the first computers businesses would buy. We saw the IBM PC explode that marketplace, and the Macintosh upend everyone’s concept of computers. We saw laptop computers become an important accessory for desktop PCs and then gain enough power to be the equal of desktops.
Tablets are as important as any of these previous milestones.
The core functions of a tablet are reading books, magazines and newspapers, watching movies, playing games, and surfing the net. Certainly they can do much more, but I believe buying decisions should be based on your need for those core functions.

If you can afford only one, and need a PC, buy a desktop or laptop before a tablet. A tablet is for someone who already owns a PC or for someone who needs only the core functions of a tablet; it is not yet a laptop replacement.
Two non-iPad tablets are out this season whose price and performance make them worthy of attention. They are the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, and the $250 Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet. They are both selling fast. Amazon recently sold four times more Kindles this year than they did last year over the same weekend.
The Fire updates the concept of the mail-order catalog first sent out by Montgomery Ward in 1872. The front page is all about the products you can buy at Amazon. It includes a free month of Amazon Prime, normally $79 a year, that provides two-day shipping for all the products you buy. With Prime, even toilet paper becomes something reasonable to buy online.
Amazon has its own app store; there is no easy access to Google’s app store. You can rent streaming movies from Amazon or Netflix. You can surf the net and do all the core functions with the Fire.
The Nook Tablet has basically the same functionality, but it does have more memory, although not all of it is available to non-Barnes and Noble sold material. PC World has an in-depth comparison of the two that I will put in this week’s link page. They have an advantage on me as I have not yet handled either of these tablets.
So why buy an iPad 2?

Neither of these inexpensive Android based tablets have cameras, or GPS, or even Bluetooth. Cameras are nice to have for video conference calls. And Bluetooth is nice for wireless keyboards. While we have found our iPad is not a laptop replacement, with a wireless keyboard it is good for taking notes in class, or doing first drafts of papers. Of course, there is still an onscreen keyboard.
I recently was given a gift of an Android tablet, the Motorola Xoom. It came out with cameras before the iPad had them, but now with the iPad 2 has about the same capabilities at about the same price.
I was pleased with how well it does. I do not feel any need to have an iPad instead of my Xoom. The original Xoom can be found on eBay for abut $430 or on Amazon for about $499.

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