Not into the iPad? Here Are Some Smaller, Cheaper Alternatives


After a week of record busting sales if you were uncertain before then you should be now. The iPad is indeed the ruler of the roost on all things tablet. Everyone at Gear Diary was thrilled by this model’s updates, and it’s clear that the new HD display, 4G/LTE, 5MP camera graphics upgrade was enough to put sales through the roof and beyond. Reports were 3 million units moved the first weekend and probably double that count since then. This honestly comes to no surprise as the consumer support behind Apple is evident by its sheer volume of sales as well as the company’s exponentially growing value.

So what’s left for the rest of the world who ‘don’t iPad’? How will Android manufacturers react and what will they do to combat the domination of the Cupertino based tablet? What could possibly be done to catch up to the iPad? I look at it like this, no matter what anyone does, the iPad will always dominate the iPad market. Instead of playing catch up, I’m hoping for a whole new crop of tablets that focus on why they are different, and how much they can offer.

For starters the iPad isn’t for everyone. Not because the iPad could not fit the needs of most tablet hungry humans, but dropping no less than $500 for the latest piece of hardware (arguably) doesn’t fit into everyone’s budget. I personally have never owned an iPad, and until some serious software overhaul will probably continue to be in the minority of living an iPad free life. My job requires me to administer them for my users, but I do not own one or use by any means on a daily basis. I don’t have a personal grudge against Apple or the iPad, it simply does not fit my tablet needs so I look elsewhere to find a device that meets my criteria.



Image Courtesy of Samsung (Galaxy Tab 7 Plus)


If there was single factor that I would say would even allow another tablet to even make a dent on the market then I would have to say it’s the price. We saw this holiday that the Kindle Fire did considerably well. Obviously the fact that it’s designed to run all things Amazon makes it pretty simple to understand why they sold as many as they did and will probably continue doing so. Take the price, add a decent screen, a robust marketplace, and you got yourself a low-budget winner. Despite the restrictions on the Fire, the majority of people using it find that the streaming content, app selections, and well up to par 7″ hardware is enough to fit the bill.   A coworker of mine outfitted his entire family this year with Kindle Fires and one HTC Evo View. He has 4 tablets in the household for far less than the price of 2 iPads. They all love their Kindles and are quite content with this decision. Something he said would not be financially possible if they went the iPad route. I see a huge future for the cheaper-but-acceptable tablet market, especially since better hardware is getting cheaper by the day.


Obviously people found the size of the iPad to be a great fit. As for me I absolutely sold on the 7″ form factor. The fact that I can slip a smaller tablet in to a cargo pocket or quickly into a bag makes it the perfect size for me. I still believe  Apple will be releasing a smaller model iPad despite words a few years back by Mr. Jobs, and am surprised we have not gotten more than just a few leaks and rumors about it. But the fact remains that Apple has nothing smaller in the market, and should be a key element that competitors capitalize on while they have the chance. So far the 7″ market has been decent, but nothing mind-blowing as of yet. Between the staff of Gear Diary and my own personal collection there are not many 7″ tablets that one of us has not owned or used. There are some really great smaller tablets out there, but as we all know there are some that should be avoided at all costs. Either way there is a notable market for the 7″ form factor, we just need to see some quality hardware fit into it.


Image courtesy of HTC (HTC Flyer)

Expandability and Ports:

Most Android tablets give you the option to add and connect many things, but don’t require extra accessories out of the box. One of the best features of other platforms and hardware is the ability to add a memory card. Memory is pretty cheap these days and as great as the “cloud” is, sometimes you simply cannot be online. This is evident with some newer tabs like the Fire, but most native Android tablets have a memory card slot, which means you can carry as many memory cards as your wallet allows. On top of that expect later models having and HDMI out, a USB port, and like most some sort of dock that may or may not include a keyboard. The iPad does allow you use most of these things, but usually by way of an adapter or some other dongle that must be purchased. Not a deal breaker but having expandable memory makes it easy to locally carry all your media, movies, shows, and music even if you don’t have enough built-in storage.


Image Courtesy of Amazon (Kindle Fire)


Top 10 Reasons “other” tablets can and do exist:

  1. Google Integration. Call it what you will, but native Google Integration is built right into most Android tablets with a single sign on. (Talk, Chat, Mail, Calendar, Maps, Docs, Etc)
  2. Price. Everyone feels it in the wallet these days. You don’t have to pay $500+ to get a decent device
  3. Ports. USB, HDMI, MicroSD slot, IR, docks. Many have them built-in without the need of additional hardware, although you certainly can
  4. Size. 5″, 7″, 8″, 9″, 10″. One size does not fit all. Some want smaller, some want bigger. You can find one to fit your skinny jeans on up to the largest cargo pockets
  5. Ecosystem. I don’t prefer the iTunes world so I look elsewhere for content. Amazon, Android, Zune, RIM, and most Carriers have other content at manageable prices
  6. Customization. Android allows for many different themes and flavors of the OS. Some better than others, but most allow for a bit more personalization than the current iOS release
  7. Development. If you want to install a custom Rom on your device then it’s probably out there. The Android Development Community is strong and growing every day
  8. Deals. Shop around. There are no known prices limits (high or low) that I found on most tablets, you can buy from your favorite store or website
  9. Cutting Edge Tech. Android tablets release more often than the iPad, some have more up to date hardware and technology available sooner
  10. Cheaper Apps. Android has the most free apps out there with help from Amazon and Developers. Paid apps have been shown to be cheaper on iTunes than Android, but most Android users choose the (battery draining) ‘free with ads’ versions.


Image courtesy of Samsung (Galaxy Tab 7.7)

 What’s worth checking out (7″ models)

*prices are based on retail and starting at, better deals can be found if you search around a little and as usual price goes up depending on storage selection


  • Amazon Kindle Fire – (+) dual core CPU, quality build feel, beautiful 7″ display, near infinite content from Amazon, custom baked Android based OS, easily modified to run custom Roms (-) no memory slot, only 8GB local storage
  • Nook Tablet – (+) dual core CPU, quality build feel, beautiful 7″ IPS display, expandable memory, 8 or 16GB internal memory, 11 hour battery life, easily modified to run custom OS (-) limited apps available compared to others, slightly heavier than Kindle Fire
  • Blackberry Playbook – (+) Blackberry 2.0 OS, dual core CPU, 7″ display, 16/32/64 GB internal memory available, Front/Rear Cameras, GPS, Native Adobe Flash support, support for Android apps. (-) Blackberry App store limited, no memory expansion
  • Acer Iconia A100 – (+) Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU/GPU, thin bezel design, very fast performance, HDMI/USB ports, GPS, broadband capable, front and rear cameras with flash,  Android 4.0 coming soon (-) battery life very poor, display has poor viewing angles and washed out color
  • HTC Evo View (Flyer) – (+) Sprint 4G enabled, high build quality, 7″ capacitive screen with buttons, Pen/Stylus input, Good Developer support, 32 GB internal memory, expandable memory slot, Front/Rear Cameras, GPS (-) Single Core CPU (1.5GHz), proprietary connector (micro USB compatible), discontinued and getting harder to find
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus – (+) dual core CPU, 7″ PLS display, 16/32GB internal memory, expandable memory slot, USB host port, Bluetooth 3.0, broadband data capability,built-in IR remote, lightweight and thin design (-) Older version of Android, display could be higher resolution. (Currently at Bestbuy for $299, $350 elsewhere)

$500+ (More than current iPad variants)

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 – (+)  Super AMOLED plus 7.7″ display (1280 X 800), 1.4GHz dual core CPU, 16/32/64 GB internal memory, expandable memory slot, huge battery, advanced GPS, Front/Rear HD Camera, dual band WiFi a/b/g/n, extremely thin and light, voice calling (-) very expensive, must purchase int’l model or through Verizon only (My favorite tablet currently available, Verizon on Contract $500, other importing vendors sell WiFi only for around $525 and 3G/Wifi for $600+)
Image Courtesy of Asus (Transformer Prime)

Other larger models worth your time

  • Asus Transformer Prime
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, 8.9 (gen 2 available soon)
  • Motorola Droid XYBoard 10.1, 8.2

Coming Soon

  • Google Nexus Tablet (low-cost high performance 7″ made by Asus, rumored $150)
  • Acer A510
  • Windows 8 tablets

Pricing Updates: (While they last)

Wrap Up:

The purpose of this was not to sway you from picking up a fresh iPad. Instead it’s simply to explain some of the differences and other options out there. The truth is there are some pretty decent tablets at considerably lower price than the iPad as well as higher end Android devices that offer a great experience. If you are in the market for a tablet and don’t want to pay the premium price of a larger high-end tablet then you may not have to look terribly far.

Again, I don’t think that anyone can meet or beat the overall package of the iPad, but the question really is do they need to beat it to be successful? I have some high hopes in 2012 in the “other” tablet market. As developement and technology grow, let’s hope that Asus, Acer, Samsung, HTC, and some of other manufacturers really focus on whats important to the consumer. If you want a lower cost, smaller size, and well performing tablet then the good news is that you have some options. With Windows 8 tablets right around the corner, I expect to see the gaping hole in the market filled where a full weighted OS needs to be. Stay tuned, things are only getting better.

If you have any other options worth noting, please let me know and I will gladly add them.

Categories: Editorials

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3 replies

  1. Great post, Francis – THIS is why I keep buying up 7″ tablets, because I agree with you it is an amazing sweet spot.  But so many are tragically flawed, like the atrocious Acer Iconia screen and laggy performance.  Of course, the fact that Google STILL can’t replicate what makes Android a great phone OS on a tablet remains an issue for me, so while I love my phones … I find the tablets feel like ‘amateur hour’.

    But there are HUGE challenges for the OEMs.  Apple has detailed even more ‘strategic capital and supply chain spending’ – which translates to buying out stock in key components.  This gives then guaranteed supply of the best stuff – and at reduced price because they pay cash upfront.  EVeryone else has to fight for scraps.  Which is why the basic price on a 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is the same as the 16GB iPad 2.

    I have said it before, but I think the Kindle Fire is tremendously damaging to mainstream Android tablets.  Why?  Because it sets a price expectation with almost no profit built in.  Think about it – the Fire is a rehashed Playbook with no frills (or camera or BlueTooth).  Add either of those and Amazon loses money on each one sold.  And while they can manage the ‘razer & blades’ business model, Samsung, HTC, ASUS, etc cannot.  In fact, selling below cost for the sake of gaining market share is illegal (dumping), which worries me about the rumored Nexus tablet.

    But the one thing I know is true – competition is ALWAYS good.  I always point to handheld game systems: from 1989 to 2004 Nintendo basically sold the same system for the same price – added basic color, shrank the system … but basically the same thing.  But in 2005 after Sony actually made serious inroads and was leading market share in the US, we saw them release the DS Lite, then the DSi and the 3DS over the course of 6 years! 

    And the bottom line is this – one size does NOT fit all!  It might ‘fit most’ as many garments say … but for those who want different sizes, configurations, attachments, hackability and so on – it is great to have options.

    • I would also second that the Fire has a tremendous advantage because of their content connections. Sarah loves her Fire, and one of her primary uses is to watch free Prime TV shows as she goes to sleep, or while she’s cooking, etc. Even if you offered her a better Android tablet, she’d probably pick the Fire because the multimedia is so dead easy.
      I have to admit, I was shocked coming from my limited tablet experience to the iPad. The NOOKcolor ran Android surprisingly well, but the iPad software is so much more tablet-y that I cant imagine going back to an Android tablet without a huge software overhaul. Little things like the mail UI make a huge difference.

    • I can’t wait to see the two new “rumored” Kindle Fire’s. It will be interesting if they increase performance and size without adding in the rest of the “frills”. Either way it’s a killer product hitting the target they set out for. The app store is improving and content is simply amazing. I love the 7″ size and hope to see more.