Cheap Tablets and Phones: Penny Wise, Tech Foolish

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If you bought a craptastically cheap mobile device in the past year, I have just two words for you: I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you've had to carry a piece of unresponsive, slow-moving junk with you when you could have either spent a few more dollars  or waited a few months for prices to drop. On second thought, I take back my apology. You got what you deserve. If it looks like a cheap gadget, it is, and you get what you pay for.

There's simply no good reason—other than a unique combo of impatience and stupidity—to buy a bargain-basement tablet with performance issues. Last Wednesday, we learned about the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, which, with its dual core CPU and extra-bright screen, should hammer the final nail in the coffin of tablet pretenders such as Coby, EFunPandigital, and Vizio. But even before the discovery of Fire, there was no excuse to throw good money after bad slates.

Imagine how bad you'd feel today if you bought an Archos 7 tablet last year. Sure, it gave you Android for less than $200 at a time when a $500 iPad was the only other consumer slate out there, but you'd break your finger trying to tap the resistive touchscreen and the back was hot enough to sterilize Kevin Federline.

Fast forward a little more than a year. How would you feel now if last fall you'd foolishly purchased the Viewsonic G Tablet, whose slow-poke Tap n' Tap (and tap and tap and tap) UI and bulky plastic chassis made it feel much cheaper than its $399 price tag? Today, an Eee Pad Transformer with a gorgeous Honeycomb UI and a dual-core CPU costs $399 or less.

Purchasing a feeble phone such as the small-screened Sharp FX Plus is even worse than buying a bargain-basement tablet, because you have to pay for data and carry the handset with you every day for a minimum of 1.5 to  2 years. Meanwhile, you'd be paying the same data fees per month for a state-of-the-art handset like the Samsung Galaxy S II.

Serving 18 to 24 months with a slow, low-res phone is worse than doing that time at the state pen with an overly affectionate cellmate. Over the course of 24 months, the typical wireless plan on one of the major four carriers will cost you anywhere from $1,700 to $2,400. So why on earth would you compromise on features or performance to save $100 or even $200, when the cost of the phone itself is less than 10 percent of your investment and you plan to use it every single day?

I can't help but think about a friend who, in 2009, chose an HTC Droid Eris over a Motorola Droid, because the Eris—which had a much slower processor and lower-res screen—was free and the Motorola Droid cost $200. She's been regretting her decision ever since, as her underpowered phone crashes constantly and makes molasses seem fast, but in 2011 she's stuck paying for service on that clunker until the contract is up. 

This month's hot superphone is next month's low-cost sale item. So why not take advantage? While you're gawking at the $79.99 LG Enlighten with its pokey 3G connection, low-res 480 x 320 screen, and slow 800-MHz CPU, both the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung Droid Charge—big-screened LTE phones which cost over $200 when they came out in spring—are available for free on  You'd have to be huffing screen wipes behind the Verizon store to choose a brand-new budget phone over a slightly older flagship device. 

The golden rule for electronics purchases is this: If you want a gadget and can't afford a decent one, either splurge or wait for a price drop. Never compromise on something you plan to use every day.

Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch oversees the production and content of LAPTOP’s web site. With a reputation as the staff’s biggest geek, he has also helped develop a number of LAPTOP’s custom tests, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. Catch the Geek’s Geek column here every week or follow Avram on twitter.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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  • PBAJT Says:

    I purchased a VIZIO tablet and liked it so much I went out and bought a 2nd one for my son. I works great and runs all the Android apps I want very quickly. It has an upgradeable external memory slot and a brilliant screen. I can also use as a excellent eBook tool. I think it is the best tablet deal out there for the money.

  • Scuba Steve Says:

    "Fast forward a little more than a year. How would you feel now if last fall you’d foolishly purchased the Viewsonic G Tablet, whose slow-poke Tap n’ Tap (and tap and tap and tap) UI and bulky plastic chassis made it feel much cheaper than its $399 price tag? "

    I have owned a G-Tablet for a year now and have enjoyed the device. I do agree with the slow and glitchy nature of the ORIGINAL Tap n' Tap interface, however the updates provided by Viewsonic and the costume ROM's available have improved the usability and speed of the device 10 fold. Bench marking my G-tablet against the newer devices (both running Honeycomb), the G-Tablet out performs most of the newer $500+ devices you praise in your article with stability to match. Buying the most expensive device on the market is not always the best thing to do, when buying a bargain device that performs as well or better will give you the same experience for hundreds of dollars less. Also knowing more about the device you purchase than, where the power button is, always helps

  • Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Bill, if you knew what you were getting into with the G Tablet and planned to root it, it may have worked out of for you and I'm glad it did. But for most people who bought that device, it was a clunker.

  • Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Sam, I'm glad you feel that way, but for most people these low-end tablets are a huge disappointment.

  • Sam Says:

    My Coby model MID7022 was and still a great value. This writer apprently did not do his research.

  • RFD Says:

    If you can't afford a good tablet, you shouldn't be buying a tablet at all.

  • Bill Says:

    "Fast forward a little more than a year. How would you feel now if last fall you’d foolishly purchased the Viewsonic G Tablet, whose slow-poke Tap n’ Tap (and tap and tap and tap) UI and bulky plastic chassis made it feel much cheaper than its $399 price tag?"

    My condolences to your way of thinking. My G-tab has been a great piece of equipment with some of the best hardware in any tablet. I've had the use of it for a year. I've had a custom ROM in it from the day I received it. I've also tried different ROM's and currently have Honeycomb running at 1.4gh and can play the best of games. I use the Google Market for any app that I need.
    Again I've had it for over a year. I didn't buy anything foolishly, I've had a great time with my tablet. Many of us did not sit and wait for what may be made, or is expected to be released or anything else. We had our tablet in hand and was making use of it.

  • Travis Says:

    It is funny how this magazine and now I believe this website is breathes and eats BS. First the magazine (Oct 11) blows on the vienna sausage of Gates saying it will compete with Android and iOS in the mobile market. Typical of brainwashed losers but hey we can't all be smart. Then I try to get online to Laptop Mag to try and let out my frustration with the typical dorks who write such garbage and low and behold I come upon this stupid article talking crap about the cheaper priced tabs out there. First of all your friend who got free phone over a 200 buck phone should lose you as a friend due to disrespect. Some of us do not have the money to blow on a phone so we get what we can afford. A free phone running Android is still better than nothing and dorks who talk crap about is should have to get a free phone because they can't afford it because they got fired from their job due to the fact they are sorry writers. Anyway I have a VIZIO and it does what I need it to do and guess was cheap. GOTOHELL!

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