Saturday 15 October 2011

Aakash low cost secrets revealed!

The world’s cheapest tablet will soon be hitting store shelves, come November, and if you were as anxious to get your hands on one as we were, CNN-IBN’s review might make you think twice. Building a cheap tablet, that’s also user friendly is no easy feat which is what the brainiacs from IIT Rajasthan found out the hard way, at least we hope so. Don’t get me wrong, we think it’s great that they’ve managed to deliver on what they set out to accomplish, making the world’s cheapest tablet, but that alone does not make it a good product. There will be different editions available and the one that was reviewed (and eventually taken apart) was the student version.

For roughly Rs. 3000, you get a 7-inch tablet with a resistive touchscreen. This makes the interface quite unresponsive and not user friendly. It also comes with Android 2.2 Froyo instead of Gingerbread. Currently, the student edition does not support 3G, only Wi-Fi. However, there are plans on launching a 3G model sometime in the future. You do get two USB ports so it should be possible to use a 3G USB dongle, provided they’ve added support for it. Some of the pre-loaded apps include Documents to Go and arXiv Droid, of which the latter lets you browse science articles on physics, math, etc. Another major problem is that it heats up really quickly even in an air conditioned room. This could be attributed to poor design and cheaper components. While the Aakash tablet reads pen drives, it will read file formats natively supported, which is pretty limited with stock Froyo. Common formats like AVI and FLV are not playable on the stock player which is something we’ve witnessed on most Android phones as well. You may think that this is easily remedied by installing MoboPlayer, but the harsh reality is that you cannot install apps from the Marketplace, which is a big downer. The battery life seems to be really poor as well, 3 hours isn’t exactly ground breaking.

Diving into the tablet’s internals, we come across even more disturbing facts. The components used can be purchased off the shelf, which is not really surprising given it was built by students. The worrying bit is the way everything is put together. Components and wires are held in place by simple electrical tape and the quality of wires appears to be cheap. The chassis itself is very flimsy and delicate so spending a bit more for that pouch doesn’t seem like a bad idea, at least when you drop it, all the bits will be in one place.

The tablet designed by students, for students; doesn’t seem like a very good investment at the end of the day. I guess there’s really no such thing as cheap and cheerful. Even though we’ve not tested it, it’s pretty clear from the video that you’re not going to get a whole lot of work done. We feel you’d be better off with some of the 7-inch tablets closer to 10K or even a netbook maybe. It’s more money, yes, but at least it will be functional. What are your thoughts on this?

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