How cheap is too cheap for Android?

by: Shawn IngramDecember 5, 2013
The HP 7-inch tablet is just one example of the new wave of sub-$100 tablets.

The HP 7-inch tablet is just one example of the new wave of sub-$100 tablets.

Late in November, Intel announced a partnership with HP that would bring a $99 Android tablet to Walmart stores, making HP the latest in a long line of companies to produce cheap Android tablets.

Cheap Android tablets (around $99 or less) aren’t exactly a new phenomena. Since Google introduced Android for tablets with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, many companies have put out their own cheap tablets. These are the cheap no-name tablets you’d find on shelves or behind the counter at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. But now more recognizable companies are trying to get into the market.

The $99 Intel powered HP Mesquite is available at Walmart

The $99 Intel powered HP Mesquite is available at Walmart

Companies like HP, Acer, and Dell are putting out Android tablets that trade off specs for price. The HP and Intel tablet, for example, has specs that make it seem straight out of 2011. It has a 7-inch 1024×768 display, 8GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, and a battery that’s rated for just five hours web browsing. It uses a year-old Intel Atom Z2460 processor, and runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean which is now almost 18 months old.

If there’s anything appealing about the HP 7-inch tablet, and most of the other cheap Android tablets, aside from their price, its that most of them run stock Android. With year-old Intel processors or no-name ARM processors, it’s hard to say if any of these tablets can even run stock Android smoothly.

Despite the poor specs, however, the low prices mean these tablets sell and will continue to sell. And they apparently sell very well. This year Walmart had its best Black Friday sales ever in the company’s history, and among the top products sold to mobile users that day were the Nextbook 7-inch Tablet with 8GB Memory with Google Mobile Services and RCA 7-inch Tablet with 4GB Memory. Both tablets currently sell for $69.

While it’s hard to imagine a good experience on most cheap tablets, reviews for both of the best-selling tablets on Walmart’s website are overwhelmingly positive. The same goes for many tablets under $100 on Amazon. While those of us who spend our days obsessing over the latest and greatest smartphones and tablets look down on these devices, others are perfectly happy with last year’s specs, low-resolution displays, and limited storage.

The new Nexus 7 remains the best value in its class.

The new Nexus 7 remains the best value in its class.

It’s tempting to tell them to just save up and buy a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire HD, and maybe someday they will. But for now, as tempting as it is to look down on these cheap tablets, they might be the key to getting better tablet apps on Android. If more people buy these cheap tablets, they will consequently demand better apps. Google has shown that it’s paying attention too, with the much needed Featured Apps for Tablets that was  that was recently created on Google Play. Now, whether users are willing to pay for quality tablet apps is another question, but we’re confident the economics will work itself out.

And maybe someday, these same consumers looking for bargains tablets will look towards better Android tablets that we accept as quality devices. That is, of course, unless they become frustrated and turn to cheap Windows tablets or save up for an iPad mini. Android is the most popular tablet and smartphone operating system in the world, and is on tablets and smartphones at all ends of the price spectrum, from cheap to premium. A natural byproduct of the intense competition in this space is that there is such hardware diversity in the wide world of Android. The beauty is that premium device launches always push the technological envelope, and lower the barriers to entry for lower priced segments. Technology gets cheaper over time through economies of scale, which is why we now have before us a remarkable device like the Nexus 7, which really does pack industry leading technology at a very competitive price.

And while $99 tablets might not offer the best Android experience in their current form, it is almost guaranteed that a $99 tablet or smartphone will soon hit the market and will be able to offer a very nice user experience at this price segment sometime within the next 12-15 months.

Do you think cheap Android tablets are good for the platform? Or do they run the risk of frustrating and potentially alienating a whole new segment of users? Leave your thoughts down below.

  • RarestName

    I personally don’t care if they’re cheap or not. If it has good performance and good battery life, I’ll be satisfied.

    • Memphis May [S]unjay

      Sounds like the Moto G :D

      • RarestName

        One more week and that phone’s mine!

  • joose

    I personally have had two low end phones (less than 100$) and both got me into roms and seeing what android is made of.

  • thartist

    The HP Mesquite looks good in my third-world eyes. Very acceptable specs for that price.

    • dodz

      dont look down third world countries, even here in the PH, people are also choosy, majority of people still buy and ipad or a note tablet. cause a lot of people here are social climbers and think they have some status symbol lol

      • diggs

        oh come on. don’t you wanna factor in the anti-china sentiment?

      • thartist

        I am from and live in a 3rd world country, Argentina. Again, very acceptable specs for that price, i could actually use/afford one easily to study with my PDFs.

  • Arturo Raygoza

    you gotta understand that a lot of those cheap tablets are for kids to play with and eventually break without costing parents too much and also saving their iPads or high end android tablets from damage and where they can actually use them without being bugged by their kids since they have their own. also, kids download a lot of stuff and can get viruses that u wouldn’t want on your main tablet.

    I bought my niece a 80 dollar agtek tablet from amazon while I ordered a Samsung galaxy tab 2 at the time and god was I glad I did. since then the kids broke their tablet and I still have mine. for the cost, I’ll probably buy another one soon. kids don’t care about the specs either or what version of android it runs as long as angry birds and subway surfers works. as they get older and more responsibleyou can buy them a higher spec tablet

    • Matt

      Exactly! I think that as gifts for children that are young enough not to care about specs or brand then it is a great buy!

  • perfectalpha

    I look at it like this… if it is what is in your budget, great. If that is all you can afford, even better. It is great to see there are solutions out there for those that don’t have the money for the “premium” products out there.
    I saw a few folks had devices that are in the inexpensive range, do you folks purchase many apps or media? I am curious about that. Not saying everyone that purchases them are broke as heck, but what ultimately are they using their tablets for? Is it for easier access to free apps (bigger screen makes using it better) or is it something else?

  • superdry

    The cheaper end is getting better and better every year. Sure, the Nexus 7 is still king for powerful, cheap Android, but for under $200 there are more and more options that are decent – especially if you’re looking for a larger screen and/or something with a microsd slow to store movies and media.

    That HP tablet for $99 isn’t bad spec wise. Sure it runs an older version of Android (I don’t know why it’s not on 4.2.2 at least), but the Intel CPU is decent (has to be much better than some super low end Allwinners or Rockchip SoC that are usually used). The only bad thing is the low-res screen. Definitely good for the kids or as e-book reader that can also do more than just read books.

  • Balraj

    Every time I read of android
    I also hear the word cheap !!!
    Android is not cheap, it’s just the hardware that’s cheap !!!!!

  • Chris Voyce

    The nexus “7 tablet is rated high in the UK connectivity a plus

  • Jaun Lombard

    Anything cheaper (or less speced) than a Samsung tab 3 7.0 is too cheap!

  • dfqere

    in malaysia, there are tablets priced at around $25.

    • abazigal

      Is that US$25, or 25 ringit (which works out to what, US$10?) Are you sure that is not some discount-bin etch-a-sketch device? :D

      • dfq

        US dollars. it was offered on promo. it’s branded “ampe.” looks great actually. i’m just not sure how long it will last. would be good gifts for kids who want their tablet experience. it’s a 7-incher and still at ICS.

  • Shark Bait

    Its becoming more difficult to do something new with a tablet , so the place left to compete it price.
    This tablets are probably for people watching you tube , checking Facebook or so!e light gaming. So the cheaper specs pull that off fine. I think the cheaper the better ! That’s why I only buy nexus ATM .

  • abazigal

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a cheap tablet (it’s not as though someone is holding you at gunpoint and forcing you to buy one, much less use it), but I believe it won’t do anything to spearhead the app market.

    For one, I doubt these devices will be able to run that many apps. I can see someone buying it for the basic tablet stuff (light web-browsing, email, and watching movies). Does that thing have a sd-card slot? If not, that severely limits the amount of media I can store on it.

    Second, it bears reminding that Google is one of the few companies who can afford to subsidies their hardware because they expect to earn it back via advertising revenue. I think there will be a huge different between the quality of hardware Google puts out at a particular price-point, and what other competing OEMs can muster. I doubt we will be seeing Nexus7-level quality of tablets at $229 anywhere in the near future, however much component prices fall.

    It’s good for google in that the more of these devices out there, the more people will (likely) use their services, meaning more revenue for them. However, I question the wisdom of hardware companies like HP racing to the bottom like this. What do they expect to earn? Sometimes, I wonder if Google is actually paying them to flood the market this way (to encourage the proliferation of Android)?

  • Zodiak

    Good performnce and good battery life is what I look for. Anyways Update your Galaxy Nexus to Android 4.4 right here!!!

  • Mochammad Santaka

    Why is ‘cheap’ a derogatory term? Because cheap also means that it is accessible to more people. And one of the reason why I like Android is because it is an accessible technology for a lot of people. And Smartphones (especially in the developing nations) is the cheapest way to get them connected to the internet. So getting it cheaper is actually a good thing IMO. And If there are people who finds that this ‘cheapens’ the Android brand, well I guess they’re missing the point.

    Also people also generally understands that you get what you paid for. So you can’t compare a Samsung Galaxy S4 with an 80 dollar handset.

    • stucrmnx120fshwf

      Yes of course it’s a good thing people are getting access to devices with a gig of RAM and Jelly Bean. Don’t any of us remember how happy we were when we got Gingerbread in our hands let alone JB with project butter. Project svelte is all about getting Android into lower speced devices, with half a gig of RAM, Kit Kat on $50 devices. True next year we can build 7″ UD 4k, 14nm, 64 bit tablets, but the technology won’t hurt the cheaper devices either. At the beginning of 2015 people will be able to pick up quad core, FHD, 5 GHz, 3 GB GRAM devices for $100. Obviously a good thing.

  • APai

    other than the “mosquito” name, I absolutely have no problem with the tablet! HP can really do wonders in the space where they absolutely belong – OEM. get the tablets that are cheap enough and make money on accessories.

  • Marky

    False economy. They are cheap cos they’re terrible. Then people go “Android is slow and crashes”. No. The tablet is whats slow and crashes. People buy these £100 tablets expecting the same performance as an ipad or Nexus 7 then moan in reviews. You get what you pay for. Pay pennies, get garbage.

    • ichuck7

      Couldn’t agree more. I’ve heard lots of people buy cheap and then think that reflects on Android. They set up this false dichotomy that Android is low end and Apple is the high end.

  • Magneira

    The nexus 7 remains the best android tablet in all classes, period.

  • Michael

    I bought an Asus Memo 7 HD for $150 a couple weeks ago and added a folio with Bluetooth keyboard for $35. So far it’s been great for replacing my old netbook for meetings. We see plenty of potential for our salesforce and service departments for these cheaper units. Spec requirements really depend on what you’re planning to do with them.

  • Zhen

    I don’t see the debate in this; cheap and good-quality goods are a consumer’s heaven ^_^

  • Влатко Стојанов

    There’s no such thing like “too cheap”

  • Absar Ahmad

    I think its a good thing specially for developing countries like India. I strongly support these cheap tablets. I think they will make the Android more famous and loved by people.