Although PC sales are slumping, tablet computers might be just getting started. In 2011 alone, consumers snapped up nearly 67 million tablets [source: WorldTVPC]. Apple has been leading the way with its popular iPad series, but the California company finds itself faced with more and more competition from other manufacturers, including those that will stop at nothing to provide tablets at the lowest possible price.
iDea USA is one such company. It sells a range of electronics, including three different models of tablet computers. Hardware and software aren't the extraordinary aspects of these tablets. Instead, it's the fact that all of these tablets cost hundreds of dollars less than many other models you'll find.
These iDea tablets are an under-the-radar kind of product. That runs contrary to the standard tablet feeding frenzy, in which new and improved models from behemoth companies are met by widespread media reports. As of 2012, you'll find them for sale only at Amazon and Fry's.
Although you may have to do a bit of hunting to find this brand, when you do you'll have plenty of options. The company routinely adds to its lineup by tweaking either the hardware or software (or both) on its tablets.
Of course, frequent updates don't always equal quality products; and some cut-rate tablets have a reputation for being sluggish, hard to use or simply not worth even their low price. Others, however, prove that even bargain-basement tablets are great when they find the right audience.
On the next page, we'll show you just what these inexpensive tablets are made of -- and how in some ways, they might be preferable to better known products.
Tablet Triple Threat
Tablets aren't a one-size-fits-all product. That's why iDea USA offers three different models. In keeping with the company's pricing philosophy, all three tablets cost well under $300. Each of these tablets ships with Android 4.0 preinstalled.
For anyone who doesn't need a full-sized tablet, the CT720 is a cost-effective option. This $170 tablet has a capacitive, multi-touch-capable, 7-inch (800 by 400) display and a 1.2GHz processor. It packs 8GB of built-in flash memory, which you can expand via the microSD slot.
Notably, it ships with only 512MB of RAM, which is less than many consumer-grade tablets. Likewise, the rechargeable lithium battery is a little short on robustness; it's rated for only about 5 hours of use. Also worth noting -- this one has a USB host adapter, so you can connect a full-size keyboard or mouse for easier input.
For the same price, you can grab the T1003, which boasts a 10-inch resistive display with a resolution of 1024 by 600. It comes with 4GB of flash memory, which can be expanded to 16GB through the microSD slot and 512MB RAM. For processing power, you'll have a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU.
As with its 7-inch cousin, this one doesn't have much oomph, battery-wise. Factory specs list battery life at between only two and three hours. Neither of these models has Bluetooth, but you can attach a dongle for 3G support if you'd like. Both also have a single, low-resolution, front-facing camera.
The superstar of iDea USA's tablets is the CT920, which has a 9.7-inch (1024 by 768) display. It sports a 1.5GHz ARM Cortex Dual Core CPU, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage capacity that's expandable to 32GB. The CT920 measures 9.5 by 7.4 by 0.4 inches (242 by 190 by 9.9 millimeters) and weighs 1.3 pounds (0.6kilograms).
It has not one but two cameras. The front-facing camera is 0.3 megapixels, while the back camera weighs in at 2 megapixels. Better yet, its rechargeable lithium power pack is rated for close to 6 hours.
With the improved specs comes a higher suggested retail price of $260. Still, this is far cheaper than most tablet computers. Of course, all three tablets have built-in WiFi. And because they run Android, you'll be able to download and install many apps from the Android Market.
The iDea USA tablets are the brainchild of Stephen Perl, director of iDea USA, which is based in Los Angeles, Calif. Perl says that the tablets are designed in the United States and built in China. Employees in the U.S. also do quality control and preload a series of popular apps.
He adds that iDea tablets aren't meant to compete with iPads or other high-powered tablets. Rather, they're designed for consumers who want a tablet with a full range of capabilities that doesn't empty their wallets. Perl says students, small businesses and cost-conscious buyers make up the bulk of iDea tablet buyers.
Each tablet runs a version of Google's Android OS (operating system), including Android 4.0, which is also called Ice Cream Sandwich. Perl notes that iDea USA chose Android because it's an open and universal platform. What's more, he says, the version of Android on these tablets is actually more universal and less restrictive than versions you might find on tablets from, for example, large carriers in the United States.
The reason for this is simple: Large carriers, particularly those that sell smartphones or other products, encounter conflicts of interest if they unleash Android in all its universal glory. In fact, he says, doing so would potentially cannibalize other parts of their business model.
With iDea USA tablets, however, you get a truly universal version of Android. For anyone who wants to have full control of their Android-based product, this is one way to get your wish.
One of the most interesting aspects of Android's proliferation is that it gives manufacturers (large and small) the ability to make affordable, universal devices. Because Android is an open-source and free platform, there are no expensive licensing fees or restrictions serving as barriers to entry. That means all sorts of companies (even little-known ones like iDea USA) can provide fresh products at extremely competitive prices. As a consumer, you still have to choose wisely and spend carefully, but the end result of Android's popularity is a new range of products and a lot more choices.
- Bloomberg. "Fake iPads Flood U.S. Market." The Times of India. Nov. 2, 2011. (July 26, 2012) http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-02/hardware/30349997_1_tablet-market-ipad-app-store
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- iDea USA. "Product page." (July 26, 2012) http://ideausa.us/product.php
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- Perl, Stephen. Director at iDea USA. Personal Interview. July 23, 2012.