On October 22, 2013, Apple unveiled the iPad Air — the fifth iteration of Apple’s 9.7” tablet series. While the iPad Air packs some impressive specifications in a rather small size, as is standard for Apple hardware, it does so at a premium price. The 16 GB iPad Air is $499 (USD), which is the same price that previous iterations of the full-size tablet were at launch, but that SKU won’t get you any cellular connectivity or (also standard on Apple hardware) expandable storage.
Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the 4 GB SKU was discontinued with the original iPhone, and the last model to feature an 8 GB SKU was the iPhone 4S. However, the baseline configuration of 16 GB has persisted since the introduction of the first generation iPad in 2010. For comparison, the Surface RT’s introductory model is 32 GB, and it has a microSDXC slot for the same introductory price.
The world of Android tablets is a bit different, as there are a great deal of options and expandability to be found and at prices much easier on the pocketbook than the iPad or Surface. To find these values, we must look outside the big box stores and look for options from some of Asia’s best device designers.
Archos 97b Platinum HD
The Archos 97b Platinum HD should look familiar — or, more precisely, the screen inside it should look familiar. It has the same 9.7” IPS 2048x1536 display found in the Retina display iPad models, including the iPad Air. Interestingly, mass-market Android tablets from larger brands have eschewed the 4:3 screen ratio, making the Archos 97b the first widely-released Android tablet with that screen size. Archos does have the advantage of being somewhat more mass-market than other low-cost vendors, as their products can be regularly found on Amazon and Newegg. Note: The corporate headquarters of Archos is in France, though the devices are manufactured by Archos in China.
The Ramos i9 is something of an odd duck, as tablets go. It’s not terribly common to see Android tablets powered by Intel processors, though the ASUS MeMO Pad FHD 10 uses the slightly lower-spec Atom Z2560. Actually, the two tablets are exceedingly similar. The aforementioned ASUS product uses the same GPU and display panel, and it's also limited to 32 GB of expansion memory with a microSDHC slot. The only discernible differences between the two products are the lack of microHDMI output on the i9, the type and placement of the camera on the Ramos (2.0 MP front vs. 1.2 MP front on the ASUS, with identical back 5.0 MP camera), and the bezel not being tapered on the Ramos i9. As for cost, the MSRP of the ASUS tablet is $329.99 (USD), where the Ramos i9 is available from the manufacturer at $229.99 (USD).
The use of an Atom processor would typically indicate that particularly industrious people could install Windows 8 or some manner of Linux distribution on the tablet. Ramos has stated that this isn’t supported. However, what the manufacturer does and doesn't support rarely has any bearing on how typical IT pros proceed. Your mileage may vary.
Onda’s latest offering, the v975, is better suited to less processor-intensive tasks, like eBooks, basic web browsing, and other lightweight tasks, such as using shopping apps or updating a food diary on services like MyFitnessPal. However, it’s very easy on the pocketbook. You can find it available for $189.90 (USD), even though the MSRP is $229.99 (USD).
The Cube U39GT is an interesting device that only costs $199.99 (USD), and it packs a decent amount of features inside. The U39GT has some rather impressive specifications, including a quad-core 1.8 GHz Rockchip RK3188 processor and 2 GB of faster DDR3 RAM onboard. It is, unfortunately, still limited to microSDHC, so with the 16 GB of NAND Flash onboard, you won’t be able to get more than 48 GB of internal storage. While the U39GT looks like a great tablet, it does have one major setback: the back of the tablet is an aluminum-magnesium alloy, which looks great but limits the power of the Wi-Fi radio onboard.
There's a wide world of tablets popping up from various manufacturers in Asia all the time, far more than the ones featured here, though these represent the more powerful and budget-friendly of full-size tablets. While these tablets don’t have the processing power of more expensive, cutting-edge devices (at their launch, these all compete fairly well with the current generation Google Nexus 10), they're certainly capable devices to use as your daily driver.Did we mention your favorite budget-friendly Android tablet? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.