Playing with a budget 7" Android Tablet


Nextbook 2Nextbook 2I'm visiting my parents in the city of my youth... and it just so happens that my mother has a 7" Android tablet. She has had it for a while but hasn't used it. It was given to her by my younger brother. My mother is 74 and as you would expect, not very good with technology... so she has asked me to figure out how to use it and to write her up some instructions. Ok, I'll give it a try.

To some degree, I too have been written off by the current generation as too old and set in my ways. In August I'll be turning 48 and I have to admit, and as anyone who knows me can attest, I have been somewhat unfriendly to much of the newer technology in the last few years. Should this really be a surprise? I mean, I use Linux, right? I don't have a smart phone... I don't regularly carry a cell phone... and I'm not fond of tablet computing. I have written a little bit about tablets in the past and to me they are primarily freedom restrictive devices.

The Tablet Marketspace

For most people, tablets are NOT a replacement device, they are another device... that is in-between a smart phone and laptop or desktop. Do we really need so many devices? I don't think so... but choice is good... and the more the merrier.

Apple has done quite well in the tablet market because they are mostly a company that makes devices for people who don't like computers... they prefer dumbed-down computers or appliance type devices AND (here is the real reason) they have spent and continue to spend a fortune on advertising.

Android hasn't done very well in the tablet space because there are a ton of different devices to pick from and only a handful of them have been thoughtfully designed. So far, the vast majority of Android tablets on the market are low budget devices with little or no support. There are a few quality Android tablets but they have only spent a small fraction on advertising when compared to Apple... and the market moves so fast that everyone seems to be waiting on the next big thing.

Amazon has done quite well with the Kindle Fire and I think Barnes and Noble is doing ok with the Nook Color and the Nook Tablet. They have at least spent some money on advertising but they are NOT trying to sell those as general purpose tablets... both are content vending machines.

Today Google is probably going to announce a tablet of some sort. Maybe there will be more than one model. Let's hope they have a budget 7" tablet and a premium 10" (or better) tablet... and maybe even one in the middle. Come on Google, surprise us.

Microsoft had a press conference last week and announced two "Surface" tablets. One was a budget ARM-based device running Windows 8 RT and the other was a premium device running a powerful Intel processor. They have an interesting cover that doubles as a keyboard / mouse pad... and the devices are somewhat interesting but the industry was put off by the fact that Microsoft did not announce specs, prices nor release dates... and many were freaked out by the fact that Microsoft will be competing with their hardware partners. The timing of Microsoft's announcement was suspect given the lack of information. It was obvious they they were just trying to sandbag against the Apple tablet avalanche and the upcoming announcement from Google.

One budget Android tablet

Wow, I've really gotten off track. I originally started writing this to detail my experience with a budget Android tablet named the Nextbook 2. Yeah, getting back to my mother's budget 7" tablet... it too was designed primarily as a content vending machine by Borders. Remember Borders? They did a corporate bankruptcy of some sort a while back and have closed most of their stores. I'm not even sure if they are still around... but it is obvious that the Nextbook 2 was a last ditch effort to compete with Amazon and B&N. The Nextbook 2 has an 800x480 resolution color display, a substandard, single-touch screen, 128MB of RAM, 2GB of internal storage, no camera, an SDcard slot, a headphones jack, a mini-USB port for connecting to a computer for data transfer, and an AC power port for charging. Last but certainly not least, it has wifi. The battery seems to be respectable. What CPU? A 600MHz ARM 9 of some sort. It is running a highly modified Android 2.1 and the interface is geared towards being an eReader. It is actually a respectable electronic book reading device and touts the fact that it comes pre-loaded with 25 free titles... all from Project Gutenberg. I guess they could have included more titles as Project Gutenberg does have 39,000 titles but given the limited internal storage I can see why they didn't.

Software Selections

There is no software upgrade path so the software choices are limited. It does have an "App Store" type application and there are actually some applications there. I guess one can "side-load" third-party applications as long as they are Android 2.1 compatible and don't require much resources. There is actually a YouTube application pre-installed but it doesn't seem to be functional. I haven't spent much time with the video and audio players nor the picture viewer. It has a web-browser that seems to be fairly functional with tabs and bookmarks... just be sure to avoid any sites that are resource intensive... and forget about Adobe Flash or any advanced Javascript-driven applications. Given those restrictions, for many sites the web-browser is quite usable... but you have to keep a few things in mind: 1) Since the touch screen is not multi-touch there is no such thing as pinch-to-zoom, and 2) Using your finger sucks so use a stylus of some sort... like a click-to-use ink pen with the writing tip retracted. If you really want to use your finger, don't. Trust me, you'll regret it.

From horrible to not bad

When I first started using the Nextbook 2 I was using my finger with the touch screen and having all sorts of input issues. It was *VERY* frustrating. Once I switched to using a pen as a stylus, 99% of my input issues disappeared.

Android 2.1 is quite simplistic and not quite intuitive but once I fished around and learned the interface I went from being lost most of the time to competent. I figured out the web browser and was reading most of my favorite Linux sites with no trouble. It's got a calculator. It does some playback of the common patent-encumbered formats (no webm unfortunately). It is no speed demon but once you get used to the slower pace of operation it is somewhat satisfying.


I think the Nextbook 2 cost about $200 at full retail when it first came out but have seen that various closeout discounters have sold it for much less. I believe the retail chain Big Lots had it for $90 a while back but the going rate now if you can still find it new seems to be about $60. Is that a good deal? Maybe. Maybe not. If you know where to look you can find newer budget devices in the same price range that have considerably higher specs for CPU, RAM, and internal storage... but hey, if you have a friend getting rid of one and you haven't tried a tablet before, it is a good "starter". Even Nextbook has come out with 5 or 6 refreshed models since the Nextbook 2.

I guess I can kind of see the appeal of a tablet device for users who want a simple device that can do a few common tasks... but as a general purpose device it sucks.

Will I be able to teach my mother how to use it and will she be happy with it? I'm not sure but I think it has a fighting chance. I post an update as a comment once I nailed down the remaining details.