A few months back, I asked the question "Should I buy a cheap tablet?" and investigated the influx of incredibly cheap tablet hardware flowing out of unknown unbranded factories in China. My overwhelming feeling was that, although the prices were incredibly low, the value wasn't really there and that it was worth paying more for a decent branded one.
Since then, Google and Amazon have come along and completely shaken up the budget end of the market with their Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire respectively. For my post last week, I got to enjoy an hour in the company of a Nexus 7 and completely loved it. This tablet is insanely cheap and yet the compromises are so few. I would definitely conclude now that cheap tablets are worth a look, at least from known brands.
So where does this leave all those Chinese unbranded tablets? Are they going to simply disappear? Well, possibly not..
For fun, I decided to spend a weekend with a Chinese unbranded tablet and see if it could offer anything the Nexus 7 couldn't.
Well, let's get one thing out the way now. It doesn't compete on style or build quality. Things aren't going to start falling apart around you, but a Nexus 7 is leagues ahead here. The Chinese tablet does land a punch in return immediately by having a larger screen in spite of costing significantly less. It's possible to buy this particular tablet with a 7" screen, the same size as the Nexus 7's, for nearly half the price at just £79 in the UK. This 10" model, the same size as an iPad's also undercuts the cheapest Nexus 7" by £40. Could the Nexus 7" actually start to seem expensive?
Not when you turn it on no. That large 10" widescreen only has a resolution of 1024*600. Lower than your average smartphone's by quite a margin and significantly lower than a Nexus 7's. A 10" screen can display an entire webpage, but the text is far too fuzzy to be a comfortable read, although zooming in nice and close does create a usable surfing experience. The smaller screen on the Nexus 7 is so sharp, that despite my reservations of a tablet that size, I found surfing to be a pleasure.
So Chinese unbranded's screen isn't as sharp, it's not as well made and certainly under the hood it's got nothing to compete with the Nexus 7's bang up to date processor chipset. So it's all over?
Well, no. Actually the chinese tablet does achieve a couple of things that might cause a Nexus 7 owner to look down and their feet and mumble.
Where this tablet is really, really good is as a media player. I don't mean for sitting watching fuzzy movies on that rather poor screen, but as a playback device for movies on that great big TV screen in your living room. Whilst this tablet isn't powerful by any stretch of the imagination, it has absolutely no problem at all driving an HD movie or TV show. There is also no problem getting said movie or TV show onto the unbranded, you see the unbranded cheapo can read SD cards, something the lovely Nexus 7 had cut to manage the cost I assume. A 32GB card costs little these days and yet it can hold a lot. Unbranded can keep a large movie collection in your bag ready for an impromptu movie session, wherever you happen to be. It will also read USB sticks should you want. With the Nexus 7, if you buy the basic 8GB model, beware, you don't actually get 8GB. Some of it is being used by Android. You'll only get 5GB. Better go for the 16GB, but even then, this is not expandable without a bit of technical black magic and not a lot of storage for HD video.
I also mentioned that the unbranded will pump out the video to your nearest HDTV and it couldn't be more easy. Purchase a 5M HDMI lead from Ebay for a few pounds (these used to be hundreds!) and the HDMI socket on the unbranded (no socket for you Nexus 7) turns the tablet into a handy (wired) remote control for your telly and a damn fine job it made of this too.
For all things 'tablety', I do think that if you're trying to spend as little as possible, the Nexus 7 16GB is the best tablet on the market. However, if you're all about portable video these Chinese unbranded tablets do offer a solution and the Nexus is fairly weak here. If the player doesn't have to be so portable, then for similar money you might consider getting a media player for your television instead, but maybe those unbranded Chinese factories still have a strength or two left to play with.