Tablet PCs are the new computer superstars. Smaller than laptops but bigger than your smartphone, tablets offer a pleasant mix of power and fun that you won't see in any other device. No wonder some experts expect that tablets sales could hit roughly 300 million units by 2015 [source: Guardian].
Apple's seemingly omnipresent iPad is expected to make up the bulk of those shipments. But plenty of other companies want a piece of the tablet pie -- and they see an opportunity in offering lower-priced models far cheaper than the iPad.
Nextbook is just one of numerous brands focused on providing budget-priced tablets. Like so many similar companies, Nextbook jumped into the market thanks to Google's Android OS (operating system), which is open-source and free, and thus, not subject to huge software licensing fees that would otherwise serve as a significant barrier to entry.
With an OS in hand, the primary concern becomes hardware. On these tablets, you won't find bleeding-edge CPUs and loads of RAM. Rather, they have slower processors, less RAM and storage capacity that befits budget-priced machines.
However, Nextbook is continually tweaking its lineup. All of its tablets are engineered and manufactured by E-FUN Inc, which is based in California. The company's small size means it can reengineer tablets on a short timeline and ship them fast, too. As evidence, you'll see dual-core tablets from them soon.
Inexpensive computer products, no matter the brand, often garner mixed reviews. The same goes for this lineup of Nextbook tablets. Some users get frustrated with what they see as aggravating limitations. Others, however, view these devices as an affordable way to get their hands on a fun tablet without jacking their credit card balance into the stratosphere.
Like the idea of tablet computing on a budget? Keep reading, and we'll show you exactly what kind of computer power you get for surprisingly low prices.
You might initially think that choosing a lesser-known brand means you'll have fewer tablet options. Think again. Nextbook offers not one, not three, but a whopping 11 different tablets. The company divides them into three different series: the Classic, Premium and top-of-the line Premium SE.
At the lower end of the spectrum is the Classic series, which includes the Next2, Next3, Next5 and Next6 models. The Next2 is definitely a bare-bones unit, including Android 1.5, 2GB of built-in flash memory, and a 0.6GHz Pentium 4 CPU. It has a 7-inch touch-screen display (800 by 400) packed into a form factor that measures 7.48 by 5.11 by 0.44 inches (19 by 13 by 1.1 centimeters) and weighs 0.77 pounds.
It includes a USB cable, a protective case and an A/C adapter for charging purposes. The lithium-ion battery is rated for approximately 10 hours of use. There are built-in speakers and WiFi connectivity; however, there's no camera whatsoever.
Nextbook touts this model primarily as an e-book reader, and as such, it's preloaded with 25 books. It's also set up to work directly with Barnes & Noble's online store so that you can easily download new titles. The price? You can find this one for less than $100.
Contrast the Next2 with the $280 Premium 10SE and you'll see plenty of differences. The latter has a 9.7-inch (1024 by 768) capacitive display, a speaker and a 0.3-megapixel camera. There's 8GB of onboard flash storage, but you can boost capacity to as high as 32GB thanks to the microSD slot.
The improved OS is one of the most critical upgrades in the Premium series. Instead of being stuck with an antiquated version of Android, you'll have Android 4.0.3, which is nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich. Thus equipped, your device will have a fuller range of capabilities (such as Flash compatibility) and more app options.
Perhaps you want to find some middle ground between these devices. In that case, you can sift through your options in the midrange Premium (that is, non-SE) tablets. The most apparent difference here is, again, the OS. Instead of Android 4.0, these come with Android 2.3. You can choose between a 7-, 8- or 9-inch display.
The 8- and 9-inch versions have a front-facing, 2-megapixel camera. They also ship with a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU and 512MB RAM.
Of course, hardware and software specs are just pieces of a complex tablet puzzle. How all of these pieces come together really makes or breaks your tablet experience. On the next page, we'll check out Nextbook tablet features and performance.
Nextbook Tablet Features
It's one thing to amass a collection of tablet hardware and sew it together with the Android OS. Assembling all of those components into a sleek, fast and usable machine is another feat altogether. It seems that Nextbook's tablets have succeeded in some aspects and perhaps failed in others.
Online reviews of the Classic series are decidedly mixed. Yet anyone who expects a full, flawless tablet experience for under $150 might have unrealistic expectations. With outdated CPUs and little RAM, you can't anticipate fast performance or lickety-split multitasking ability. On the other hand, reviews of the Premium SE models are more positive. Users praise the snappy performance and crisp displays.
But online reviews only tell part of the story. One of the most important things to realize about these products is that although they are indeed Android-based, they don't have all of Android's features. Most glaringly, they won't let you access the Google Play store, the online clearinghouse for thousands of Android apps. Instead, you're stuck with GetJar, a lesser-known third-party store. GetJar does have more than 350,000 Android apps, but if you're a hardcore app freak, you'll undoubtedly miss titles from the official Google store.
Company representatives are quick to point out that they've requested certification for the Google Play store. They expect to offer full access to Google Play soon.
Nextbook highlights its partnership with Barnes & Noble. Customers in the United States use the Nook app to find and download new books, while those in Canada engage the Kobo Books app instead. In comparison to other e-readers, there are notable differences. Of course, the full-color display is great for Web surfing and other tasks, but for reading in bright light, monochrome e-readers (such as the Kindle) are often superior.
But it's worth noting that you'll easily find Nextbook tablets for sale online far below their suggested retail price. So these already wallet-conscious products are actually even more affordable than at first glance.
Before you jump to buy a low-cost electronic gadget of any kind, it's always worth weighing the pros and cons. If you're bent on getting a full-fledged tablet experience, with access to every raved-about app and all of the bells and whistles, a Nextbook probably isn't the best choice for you. But if you just want a tablet for light use, including e-books and Web surfing, you might find that one of these models fits your lifestyle very well, and at a remarkably low price, too.
Smartphones are great devices, but one of their biggest assets -- their pocket-friendly size -- is a major drawback when it comes to screen size. Tablets, then, are one way to get much of the smartphone experience without graduating all the way to an ultrabook or a full-sized laptop. But tablets themselves often have an Achilles heel in the form of high prices. Manufacturers understand your frustrations and it's why they're clambering all over each other to offer tablets at much lower prices. Not every low-cost tablet is worth having, so be sure to do your homework, but gadget geeks should rejoice in their rapidly expanding number of tablet options.
- Alvarez, Edgar. "E FUN Launches $130 Next 7S Tablet with Ice Cream Sandwich." Engadget.com. May 3, 2012. (Aug. 3, 2012) http://www.engadget.com/2012/05/03/e-fun-next-7s-android-ics-tablet/
- Howley, Daniel. "E FUN Nextbook Next5 Review." Laptopmag.com. July 6, 2011. (Aug. 3, 2012) http://www.laptopmag.com/review/tablet/efun-netbook-next5.aspx
- Liszewski, Jason. Managing director, VP of sales at E Fun USA. Personal Interview. Aug. 2, 2012.
- McGlaun, Shane. "Nextbook Premium 8SE Tablet Runs Android on the Cheap." Slashgear.com. June 12, 2012. (Aug. 3, 2012) http://www.slashgear.com/nextbook-premium-8se-tablet-runs-android-on-the-cheap-12233454/
- Nextbook USA. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Aug. 3, 2012) http://www.nextbookusa.com/faqs_new.php