It all began with the iPad. Apple's beloved tablet may not have been the first "more powerful than a cell phone, more mobile than a laptop" computer device to hit shelves, but after selling nearly 15 million of them in the first year of its 2010 release, Steve Jobs and his pals opened the floodgates to what was then a largely untapped market. Just two years later, nearly one-third of all internet users currently own a tablet and, if you believe researchers at the Online Publishers Association, nearly half of all surfers will ride the net with an iPad, Kindle or the like in 2013 [sources: Apple, Moscaritolo].
These days, every technology manufacturer worth its salt is hocking its own version of the device. While the iPad remains the hottest-selling tablet, some competitors have carved out a niche with lower-cost handheld computers. Checking in at around $200, low-end tablets are more affordable than top of the line versions (the iPad 2 goes for about $400), but their quality -- unlike the late Jobs' selection of black mock turtlenecks -- varies widely [sources: Apple, Moscaritolo].
Even Pandigital, the Dublin, Calif.-based maker of low-cost digital photo frames and other electronics goods, is joining the scores of companies dipping their toes into the shallow end of the tablet pool. Pandigital offers four versions of its tablets -- the SuperNova, Nova, Star and Planet -- each of which retails below $200 and offer a number of common features [source: Pandigital].
This line of tablets is certainly affordable, but in technology, as in life, you get what you pay for. So do Pandigital tablets provide enough bang for the bucks? Read on to find out.
Pandigital Tablet Specs
At a retail price just under $200, the 8-inch SuperNova is Pandigital's most expensive tablet. This model offers 512 MB of memory and 4 GB of storage and features a 1.06 GHz Samsung S5PV210 Cortex CPU processor. Shortly after firing up this device, users will notice that its screen carries a disappointingly low -- some might even say "dark" -- 800 x 600 pixel resolution, not enough to give HD visuals their expected pop [source: CNet].
The SuperNova's little brother, the Nova, is a slightly smaller, less expensive model. The 7-inch device checks in at about $180, but offers the same amount of memory and storage space as well as comparable resolution. Meanwhile, the 7-inch Pandigital Planet packs less internal storage space (2 GB) for the same price as Nova [sources: Pandigital, Pandigital].
Taking a step down the tablet totem pole, the Star is Pandigital's lowest-priced ($159) model, offering 256 MB of memory and a 2 GB hard drive. The Star's 7-inch screen also lays claim to an even lower resolution, 800 x 480 pixels, than the other models [source: Pandigital].
Pandigital was once best known for making electronic photo frames. Unfortunately, the maleable, plastic aesthetic of those wares found its way into the company's tablets. "Light weight" is typically a selling point in the mobile device market, namely because it means the device is easier to carry around. The Pandigital models, however, are proof that it's possible for a tablet to be too light. Despite their various functional abilities, it may be difficult for some users to look past the fact that the device feels like it could have been made by Fisher-Price [source: CNet].
Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. The Pandigital tablets may feel like Baby's first mobile device and some users will find the accompanying app store designed for digital toddlers. Nevertheless, these models offer some snappy features for their price range. Read on to learn more.
Pandigital Tablet Features
Anyone who has a smartphone or tablet knows that there is an app for just about everything. Driving directions, social media, dog whistling; software applications can transform a run-of-the-mill mobile device into a versatile -- and for some, life-altering -- tool.
Which is what makes Pandigital's lack of access to many apps a rather large turnoff from some tablet shoppers. The models run on two versions of the Android operating system: SuperNova and Nova feature Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), while the Nova and Star operate with Android 2.2. The devices are not Google-approved, and thus do not come loaded with Android Market (Google Play), the virtual shopping center that offers more than 150,000 tablet apps [source: CNet].
Instead, Pandigital models feature GetJar, a Web-based Android shopping center that touts itself as the world's largest app store, but does not include a number of popular applications. Pre-loaded apps include Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader, YouTube and Facebook. ES File Explorer provides direct file storage system access, while Office Suite viewer, e-mail connectivity, a dictionary and note pad offer enhanced functionality [sources: Pandigital, Segan].
Each of the Pandigital models include some smart physical features, including a micro-HDMI card slot that allows a user to connect it to a TV - a nice alternative to the devices' low-resolution screen - and a microSD card reader that makes game and video play smooth. The tablet also has a headphone jack and mini USB connection, along with rear (3.2 megapixels) and front (VGA) cameras (except for Star, which only has a front-facing camera). Lasting about six hours per charge, the SuperNova's battery power is on par with other tablets in the price range [source: Pandigital].
At this end of the price scale, tablet shoppers aren't likely to find all of the bells and whistles of an iPad, but the Pandigital line of tablets will handle the basics. They're also a bit easier to lug around than that slab of rock that Moses brought down from the mountain. To get a better idea of how Pandigital tablets compare to other mobile devices, check out the links on the next page.
The train to Tablet Town left without me. I have a smartphone, one to which I'm becoming more and more tethered by the day, incessantly fiddling with it to check e-mail, look at sports scores and stalk "friends" via various social media. I also have a laptop, which I used to write this very article. What remains unclear, however, is why I need a tablet. It does just about everything a smartphone does, but is six or seven times the size of my iPhone, making it more of a hassle to carry around. In other words, it's like those huge mobile phones from early 90s movies: anyone who looks at them now wonders how the heck people carried those things without a suitcase. On the other hand, tablets are certainly more mobile than laptops, but that is in part because laptops pack more punch: you know, I could actually write this article on a laptop and store more stuff in it. Why then are tech savvy folks flocking to the tablet? Like the meaning of life, the location of the fountain of youth and the reason why Joe Buck is still on television, this, my friends, is a question for the ages.
- Apple. "Apple Launches New iPad." March 7, 2012. (July 29, 2012). http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/03/07Apple-Launches-New-iPad.html
- Apple. " Apple Reports Third Quarter Results." July 20, 2010. (July 29, 2012). http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/07/20Apple-Reports-Third-Quarter-Results.html
- CNet. "Pandigital SuperNova Review." Nov. 4, 2011 (July 29, 2012). http://reviews.cnet.com/tablets/pandigital-supernova/4505-3126_7-35056112.html?tag=mncol;rvwBody
- Moscaritolo, Angela. "Survey: 31 Percent of U.S. Internet Users Own Tablets." PCMag.com. June 18, 2012. (July 29, 2012). http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405972,00.asp
- Pandigital. "Pandigital Launches Line of Affordable, Full-Featured Android Media Tablets." Aug. 4, 2011. (July 29, 2012). http://pandigital.net/userfiles/file/Downloads/pandigital-tablets-8-4-2011.pdf
- Pandigital. "Pandigital Nova." (July 29, 2012). http://pandigital.net/search.asp?productid=468
- Pandigital. "Pandigital Planet." (July 29, 2012). http://pandigital.net/search.asp?productid=459
- Pandigital. "Pandigital Star." (July 29, 2012). http://pandigital.net/search.asp?productid=469
- Segan, Sascha. "Pandigital SuperNova." PCMag.com. Oct. 18, 2011. (July 29, 2012). http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2394227,00.asp