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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Tablets on the cheap

Easy on the wallet and light on the wrist, these low-cost devices are the new darling of budget-conscious buyers looking to do simple tasks
The Straits Times - May 29, 2013
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Tablets on the cheap

Today's Android tablets can work like a basic desktop or notebook, yet may cost as little as $200.

Some of the functions these tablets can perform include word processing, movie playback and Web surfing.

Due to the rising popularity of such budget tablets, even the No.1 PC maker HP, which takes 29.4 per cent of the market here, according to research firm IDC's figures for the first quarter of this year, has identified the need to introduce its first affordable Android tablet, the HP Slate 7.

"We have learnt that value and quality have consistently been key concerns for some segments and we saw the introduction of the Slate 7 as a fitting personal Android tablet to fulfil their needs," said MsSerena Yong, general manager (printing and personal systems) of HP Singapore.

In the face of declining PC sales, traditional PC makers are targeting this new segment of budget tablets.

IDC estimates that the PC market here contracted 18 per cent from 2011 to last year. In contrast, there has been a 300-per-cent increase in demand for tablets under $400, rising from 13,700 in the first quarter of last year to 49,600 in the first quarter of this year, according to market research firm GfK Asia.

The Android tablet, said IDC analyst Melissa Chau, is the preferred choice for vendors who want to produce a low-cost device that moves fast on the market.

"Companies such as Acer and HP have also made Windows 8 tablets because of their PC background. But the high cost and the minimum 10-inch screen size have made them unsuitable for the budget market," said MsChau.

The downside is the lack of differentiation between Android tablets. "Vendors try to customise their tablets with different hardware and user interfaces but, for now, Samsung is still the top choice when consumers are looking for a recognisable and affordable alternative to Apple's iPad," added Ms Chau.

PC makers, however, are merely following the trend set by Amazon, which launched its budget-friendly Amazon Kindle Fire in late 2011. Positioned as a budget tablet to rival Apple's iPad, the Kindle Fire was popular because it is affordable.

However, its limited availability here has prompted game and gadget retailer Qisahn.com to import them.

"We received a lot of requests for the Kindle Fire when it was just launched. Between its launch from 2011 to last year, we have sold nearly 300units," said owner Soon Qishan, 27.

However, Mr Soon noted that there are fewer requests for Amazon's first Android tablet and its updated Kindle Fire HD this year.

This is because the availability of affordable Android tablets at local electronic retail stores Courts and Challenger has reduced the demand for imported units.

Gartner's principal analyst Lillian Tay said users are more likely to purchase budget tablets as they increasingly realise that they do not need a premium tablet for basic needs.

"If they want a tablet that is easy to hold with one hand or constantly used for content consumption, a basic tablet is enough. Because of the 'reduced needs', the device can and should be more affordable," said Ms Tay.

In line with consumers' basic usage, affordable tablets are fitted with modest hardware. There are no bells and whistles such as Near Field Communication, sharper Amoled screens and generous storage capacity.

Mr Jeremy Wong, 30, a sales executive, said he would rather get an Android tablet over a more powerful notebook that costs more.

"There is no real incentive to spend more for a notebook, which is bulkier than an Android tablet," he said.

He is also convinced that with so many apps available on the Google Play Store, there will be quite a few that will enable a tablet to do what a notebook does normally.

Digital Life rounds up a list of budget tablets that will not burn a hole in your wallet.

teinhee@sph.com.sg

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