The battle over the mainstream tablet market all but over, smart competitors are turning to a familiar tactic to attempt to compete with the iPad juggernaut: Slashing prices.
Bargain tablets are set to hit the market in droves — expect CES 2012 to be flooded with the things — as manufacturers race to hit that magic price point that drives so many consumer electronics devices, $200.
Velocity Micro — a brand better known for its ultra-pricey, high-end gaming rigs — is getting there. Its first tablet product, the 7-inch Cruz T301, was met with general disdain, and VM went back to the drawing board to upgrade its offerings. The Cruz T408 (8-inch) and T410 (10-inch) tablets are more grown-up.
While originally introduced at $240, a price that managed to significantly undercut the rest of the market, the 8-inch tablet saw a price drop this week, one month after its release. It’s now available for $200, right in line with Amazon’s Kindle Fire (The larger tablet remains at $300).
Beyond simple cost, the biggest pro about the Cruzes (both of them) is the way they look: These are sophisticated, highly refined tablets that look great and feel sturdy. They’re considerably thinner than most tablets — the T410 is almost half the thickness of the IdeaPad K1, and 20 percent lighter to boot — and their svelte design makes using them a breeze.
VM also throws in a few preinstalled apps, namely Angry Birds and the full version of QuickOffice, for whatever business users might snap up a Cruz.
That said, I can’t imagine anyone doing real “work” on the Cruz, because in order to get the price down, corners clearly had to be cut, and lots of them. Let’s start with biggest problem, the screen: Resolution is a bit lower than on competing tablets (800 x 600 and 1024 x 600 pixels, respectively, on the T408 and T410), but it’s the dimness and rotten viewing angles that are actually the bigger issue. Unless you’re looking at the Cruz dead-on, the screen is completely illegible. While the T410 is marginally better than the T408, neither are even remotely acceptable.
The interface is no-frills and, thanks to Google licensing issues, last year’s model: Android 2.3, a plain vanilla build that’s pretty much straight out of the box. VM promises it will be upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich, whenever that ships (holidays?), but for now, you’re stuck with old news. Amazon’s app store is also installed in lieu of the Android Market (again, Google is blamed), and, as an awfully weak second concession, the GetJar app store appears pre-loaded in the tablets’ favorites.
Specs are minimal: The Cruzes pack an ARM Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB of RAM, a paltry 4GB of onboard storage, and a microSD slot. The camera is a weak, front-facing VGA lens, and there are no other ports aside from one Micro-USB port and a headphone jack. As you’d expect, benchmarks underperformed quite a bit in general, but graphics performance (measured with the Quadrant benchmarking app) was surprisingly and considerably above expectations. Battery life is pretty dismal: Just over 3 hours on the T408, 4 hours on the T410.
It adds up to, well, nothing very impressive. But fortunately the Cruz has a major ace in its sleeve in the form of pricing that can undercut its competition by half. If price is your primary concern, it may be worth a look. But then again, if you’re that broke you probably shouldn’t be buying a tablet in the first place.
WIRED Surprisingly nice design for a budget tablet; very clean, slim, and lightweight. Rock-bottom pricing. Graphics performance is good.
TIRED Unusable screen. Specs are disappointing, performance is uninspired. Angry Birds would be livid about this battery life. MicroUSB used for connection to a PC or wall power, but no charging over USB.
Photo courtesy of Velocity Micro