PSA: Don’t Buy Cheap Android Tablets on Black Friday

If you happen to walk into your local JCPennys on Black Friday and you see a bargain bin filled with cheap Android tablets, you should probably just keep walking. I know that the iPad costs $499 and that the one in your hand is on sale for $80, but there is a very good reason for this.

After the original iPad was released in 2010, China flooded the market with affordable “bargain” tablets. Some of these aren’t that bad, but the majority are truly horrible. You can identify the really awful ones by their incredibly long and techy-sounding names. There is the 4Sight 9, the Mach Speed Extreme, the Mach Speed Trio Stealth, and the 10″ Google Android 4.0 Tablet 4GB Flytouch 10.1 VC882 ePad Laptop Wifi . . .

I had a brief experience earlier this year with the Idolian TouchTab 10. The screen resolution was so grainy that it actually gave me a headache when I used it. The processor worked fine, and the ports were great though. It had a full-sized USB port, a microSD card slot, and I could even plug it in to my Ethernet cable with an included adapter! In fact, I had to use my Ethernet cable to access the Internet as the Wi-Fi connection/signal did not seem to work. But all of these features couldn’t make up for the ghastly screen resolution. The nausea and eye strain became too much, so I sent it back to Amazon. The TouchTab 10 was not a bad deal though; a 10.1″ Android 4.0 tablet for just $179. If you aren’t phased by low display quality or the retina-burning backlight, the Idolian might be okay for you.

When it comes to most Chinese tablets, quality takes a steep plunge. That is how they can afford to price them so low (that and, well, slave-wage labor). Memory and storage space are extremely limited. Most of these tablets have resistive touchscreens, but the boxes will lie to you, insisting that they are 5-point capacitive touch. Resistive touch can make navigation, image quality, and speed of use a real pain.

Cheap Android tablets are bulky, heavy, and made from low-grade plastics. You really can’t compare these junk tablets to the $199 name brand devices, and now that the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire can be had for around $160 (eBay is offering refurbished Nook Tablets for a mere $99 now), there is really no reason for you to go for one. You will get that extra $60 back in device performance and longevity ten times over.

I have read a lot of Chinese tablet reviews on Amazon.com (there are a million of them listed), and the chief complaints I regularly see are about ports not working—or total tablet failure. Most seem to have a life span of just two months to a year. Some lucky folks receive flawless, fully-functioning devices, but this is sort of like winning the lottery. How do you like your odds?

Chinese tablets also throw in a bunch of extras, like different types of adapters and ear buds, but these don’t make up for the financial loss you will incur when your tablet dies.

A few customer reviews I have read online have even claimed that malware was pre-installed on their devices or that their email accounts were compromised after use. I’m not sure how I feel about trusting Chinese-installed software with my Google Wallet or Paypal passwords. If China could hack the Furby, who knows what they could do with a tablet computer?

If the guy from TechnoBuffalo doesn’t want to enter his passwords into a cheap Chinese tablet, then neither do I. Note the hilarious copyright infringement found on the ePad’s box in the video below. The ePad and aPad are one of the more popular cheap Chinese tablets on the market, and apparently they come with Windows and Internet Explorer. Interesting; they beat Windows 8 RT by two years!

Many retailers will be offering “deals” on no-name, knockoff brand tablets this holiday season. Please note: I’m not saying that everyone will have a bad experience, and Chinese tablets could definitely be good starters for kids (who don’t use password-protected accounts) or people on a very tight budget, but, most of the time, it will be worth it to spend that extra $100 for a Kindle Fire HD, Google Nexus 7, or a Kobo Arc.

Since my blog mostly focuses on using tablets for reading purposes, I’d have to say that I would not chose a tablet with a screen resolution of less than 1280 x 800. Most Chinese tablets average 800 x 480. A cheap tablet can be a fun toy, but it’s not really suited for long-form reading. Text looks blurry, faded, or grainy. The TouchTab 10 would have been a great device, if only it had a better screen.

Hopefully a new batch of Chinese tablets will hit the market with improved specs now that all of the major brands are stepping up their game. Until then, buy at your own risk.

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12 Responses to PSA: Don’t Buy Cheap Android Tablets on Black Friday

  1. Rodney_H says:

    I remember when the ePad came out and sold for a list price of around $250. This seems insane today. Great post.

  2. Andrew says:

    Chinese tablets do have one thing going for them: I love the number of ports they offer. You will often find mini-Ethernet, microSD, full SD, full USB, microUSB, and HDMI slots/ports all on the same device! I don’t understand why (other than greed) Amazon, Apple, and Google refuse offer expandable storage on their devices. They are forcing customers to pay $50 – $100 more for internal storage. If an $80 Chinese tablet can have like six different types of ports, why can’t the Nexus 7?

  3. Erik says:

    I am playing with the 4sight one right now, not too bad for the price. Touchscreen has nice fast response. Claims to be 800×480 but seems sharper, perhaps they used a different sceen not sure. Build is ok nothing great. Off angle viewing is so so. Plays video quite well. Sound through the speaker is marginal. TF card is hard to get in and out. Overall its pretty servicable gets a couple of hours on a charge but you can not really charge and use it at the same time as it sees to cause errors. response on the Allwinner 1.2ghz on android is good. No iPad, which I have, but no one is going to steal it at work either. Again, the speed of the touchscreen is great, that inpresses me the most, I can actually type on it at a decent pace.

    • Andrew says:

      Erik, thanks for offering some more detailed info about this tablet. Did you get it on Black Friday? I know a number of places were running sales on 4sight tabs. The specs you describe are predictable, but at least you have a decent screen and a device you can throw in your bag and take to work without fear.

  4. Jim says:

    Hey man, $100.00 hits the pocketbook hard for some people. I got the 4Sight tablet, for 80 bucks, what more could you want??

    • Andrew says:

      Right, I am not insensitive to the fact that many people don’t have an extra $100 to throw around on a tablet, but that is the exact reason why I wrote this post. There is nothing worse than thinking you are getting a great deal on your first device, only to have it die on you a few months later. Then that $80 goes straight down the drain.

      Many cheap tablet makers take advantage of customers by falsely advertising the specifications of their tablets. They use cheap components, achingly slow processors, and unspeakably bad displays that make everyday use a pain. Ports don’t work, you get resistive touch when the box says capacitive, ect. Even if the user gets used to the grainy display or constant app crashes, there’s a good chance that his/her tablet won’t make it until the following Black Friday.

      With brand name tablets, you are getting a much better specification-to-dollar ratio. Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Google are making devices meant to impress customers and entice long-term commitments to their ecosystems. For $100 more, you get great build quality, high resolution displays, and reliable customer service. The tablets themselves are compatible with multiple file formats and different marketplaces (most cheap tablets sell apps through limited and sometimes shady third-party Android markets).

      The jump in quality from an $80 tablet to a $129 Amazon Kindle is really incredible. The Nook Color was down to like $99 on Black Friday, and the Nook Tablet, was $139. For just $20 – $40 more, customers could have a device ten times better than a cheap no-name tablet. Everyone likes saving money, but, in the end, sometimes it is better to wait or save up until you can invest in a quality product.

    • Andrew says:

      Also, rumors have been circulating that Asus and Google will be releasing a $99 Nexus 7″ tablet sometime soon. Nate at the TDR just posted about specs leaked on a website that look much more impressive than any current budget tablet offering (1024 x 768 screen resolution, plus Android 4.1.1 running on a 1GHz CPU!). Finally, people will be able to purchase an affordable tablet that isn’t junk.

  5. tie xiao says:

    You don’t think Apple does not use slave labor. Working conditions at the factory making IPhones are so bad workers are committing suicide, company thugs are forcing emotes to work when they can’t stand another day. You are not informed about China if you believe Apple treats workers good.

    • Andrew says:

      Oh, Apple does too. I know all about that from ABC News. Fair wages and worker representation are basically nonexistent in China for tech workers.

  6. Danielle says:

    I purchased 2 of those 4Sight Tablets and they are working good. I know that there are better ones out there but for me and my daughter good for fascebook,music, movies & tv shows. The only thing I don’t like is there was not enough information about what you can and can not download. But I guess that is what Googling is for.

  7. john says:

    Purchased 2 of the xtreme tab 7″ models from kmart on black friday 2012. Yes the resistive touch display is awkward at first. But if you install swype and use a stylus, its just fine! They are already rooted. Getting the play store installed is a breeze.

    These are certainly no Galaxy Tab or Nexus 7. Sometimes they run a little slow. But I am content with $40 that runs the xfinity player perfectly. You can even download episodes directly and play them on the road. You do get what you pay for. And yes, its shiny black plastic scratches fairly easily, but they come out just as fast with a 3 way nail file.

    • Andrew says:

      There are a lot of positives to a cheap Android tablet, especially if you find one that suits your specific needs, but you basically are rolling the dice when you order. Nathan got a new Archos Titanium HD and it lasted 37 days before it fried out. The incredibly low screen resolution is a serious deficit when it comes to the older 7″ tablets, but newer ones with higher resolution might be more promising, again provided that they manage to last longer than a few days before dying.

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