Does the World Need Another Cheap Android Tablet?

Ubislate 7Ci

If The Toronto Star is to be believed then the Canadian darling of this year’s CES is Ubislate, a Mississauga-based company that makes a $38 CAD Android tablet for education in the developing world.

Are you cringing yet? I kinda am.

I’ve used a low-powered Android tablet in the past, and the experience was decidedly unpleasant. In fact, I’ll go quite a bit further and say that cheap tablets like this give Android a bad name.

Nailed It

The following tale of Christmas woe echoes my own opinion on this particular subject. It’s a bit of listener feedback read on the Android App Addicts Podcast, Episode 161:

I was also able to see utter disappointment in someone else’s face with the tablet they were gifted. I was asked if I could speed up a very cheap tablet and told them there was nothing I could do. Someone muttered it was slow because it was Android; I wanted to scream: “It’s slow because they only spent sixty dollars!” — but I held my tongue and said it was a less expensive tablet that doesn’t have the best hardware, so it’s just not going to be fast.

You can see this segment of the episode — and the ensuing discussion — via the unedited On-Air YouTube Hangout.

Current Crop and Past Crap

Back in the spring of 2011, when the first-generation Nexus 7 was more than a year away, I snagged a “deal” on a cheap and cheerful $110 CAD Android tablet from Tiger Direct — the Velocity Micro Cruz R103. It was a complete waste of both my money and time.

I could live without the Google Play Store (then Marketplace), and make do with an earlier version of Android (2.0 Eclair), but the instant deal-breaker was the resistive touchscreen. I literally had to press hard for a second or more to get any kind of response. I ended up donating the unit to my local HackLab so they could harvest it for parts, or burn it with fire.

Cut to present day, where you can find all manner of cheap and cheerful no-name Android tablets on eBay and Alibaba. The specs are all fairly similar: 800 by 480-pixel screens, half a gigabyte of RAM, sub-megapixel cameras… The Ubislate is actually worse off with its mini instead of micro USB connector. What’s up with that?

There is one area of improvement, though: most of the tablets you’ll find, Ubislate included, have proper capacitive touchscreens — though they’re mostly 5-point instead of 10, so it’s not like you’ll be able to learn piano on them.

The Education Angle

So the Ubislate, known as Aakash in India, has apparently found favour with various government officials there for deployment in schools. I can’t help but wonder how much this has to do with the cost of the hardware, rather than how well it performs…

Anyone remember the OLPC? I’ve actually got one tucked away in a closet somewhere. Thinking about it conjures up warm and fuzzy images of impoverished children huddled together in makeshift schoolrooms discovering together the wonders of computing for the first time.

The reality of using an XO laptop is altogether different. It’s slow, non-intuitive and lacks the software necessary to produce any of the standard file formats that you’d find on a more traditional laptop or netbook. OLPC has since switched gears and developed a cheap Android tablet of their own. I’m not convinced that this is the way to go; as much as I’m a fan of tablets, they’re still best suited to the consumption of content, rather than the creation of it.

Prove Me Wrong

Is it unfair for me to bash the Ubislate before I’ve even tried it? Probably. So I’ll be reaching out to Datawind today to see if I can get a loaner for review. Failing that, I guess I’ll just buy one — at $55.24 CAD shipped I don’t have much to lose!