Aw Yeah Bus Ride Comix!
November 10, 2011 6:50 AM   Subscribe

How are those cheap Android tablets?

So, I'm thinking of buying one of those 70$ el cheapo Android tablets. I'm not expecting great things from it obviously, but there are a couple of things I'd like to use it for. Primarily, I want to use it to read comics. Is there an app for these tablets to view .cbr files? And do the big comic apps (Comixology, etc) run on them? I think the specs on these tablets is generally about 256 RAM, with a 1 GB hard drive (expandable with memory cards?).

So, can I do this? Also, they have a 7 inch screen. Is that big enough to legibly read comic pages? I don't want to do any panel zooming or anything. I just want to look at the whole page at once.

I'd also like to be able to watch videos (mostly .avi files, but possibly some .mkv files).

The web surfing would be secondary, as I already have a laptop and an iPod Touch.

Side question: There seems to be alot of talk about replacing the Android version once you get the tablet. How easy is this to do? I've jailbroken an Apple TV, so I'm not a complete naif, but I don't have any experience with the Android platform.
posted by joelhunt to Technology (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Caveat emptor on any of these "cheap" tabs - try to find a user forum for the tablet and see how many people are happy versus those who are struggling just to do basic tasks. Check the Android Tablets forums for your brand.

I have a Coby MID7015, which is last year's model, priced at around $130 at the time. I have no problem watching MKVs; haven't tried an AVI. I don't read comics on it, but I do read books when I travel. Can't do it too much because there is something about those tablets that dries my eyes out - may just be the small screen. I also check email and surf the web, although surfing with Dolphin is pretty slow.

Before that I had an Archos table that was about twice the price. I was stuck with donut, which didn't thrill me, so I returned it.

The ease of rooting, or an OS upgrade, depends on the brand of tablet you get and how many tech-savvy users are doing development on it. The Coby forum over at Android Tablets is pretty active, as are several developers on that forum, and they publish directions of varying degrees of readability on how to do the mods. Helps to be familiar with a Linux-like environment first and if you're not comfortable with the command line, I would think twice before rooting or modifying the OS.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:02 AM on November 10, 2011

We bought one for 179 and it was so slow as to be unusable. It was returned pronto.
posted by toastchee at 7:09 AM on November 10, 2011

They will leave you wishing you ponied up another $150 for a Kindle Fire or Nook. They're truly pieces of garbage and a kind of crime against the environment.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:16 AM on November 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Almost all the cheap tablets I've monkeyed with were slow, hot, had lousy battery life, etc. Buy a Nook Color and root it if you're up to it; it runs like a dream, though the screen is smaller than what you can get on some fancy tablets. The new Nook Tablet will probably be even better-suited, though obviously we don't have our hands on one yet.
posted by introp at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I bought a Gpad Gforce (10 inch, capacitive two-touch screen). I think they can be had for about the price of a Nook. It doesn't have a pretty 10 inch screen. It was reasonably responsive, and had good battery life. Until it died while being charged during a lightning storm I used it pretty much daily, for comics, ebooks, and simple games (no g-sensor/tilt games) and rather liked it. It's since been replaced with an Asus Transformer that I love.

The resolution of most of the cheapy 7 inch tablets is 800x480. That's not enough to view comics reasonably in portait mode, but it is in landscape mode, and then you scroll the screen up and down. On the 10 inch 1024x768 screen, I only read comics in landscape mode and scrolled. On my Asus Transformer (1280x800) I can comfortably read comics in portrait mode. I use android comic viewer, and at least 6 months ago it reliably crashed with cbr's, but it's lossless and quick enough to convert to cbz that I haven't checked to see if cbr works now.

Perhaps I'm spoiled, but I don't think anyone should buy a tablet with a resistive touch screen. Sadly, the capacitive screens seem to be a high cost item. If I were to buy a 7 inch tablet (and I'm thinking of doing so for the kids), I'd either wait to see if the Kindle Fire is rooted, or get one of the Nooks. That's coming from someone who liked his cheapy tablet.
posted by nobeagle at 7:48 AM on November 10, 2011

I bought a Pandigital 7" Novel last spring for $120, they're now running at around $50-$70 around the internet, and I enjoy it for as much of a tablet as it can be.

It only has Android 1.5 on it, which has made it hard to find apps, but I managed to get Evernote and Pandora and a couple different readers and Opera installed, so it does pretty much everything that I want it to. I read ebooks, and browse the internet, check mail, watch videos, and it does everything I expect for what I spent on it. I don't use it constantly, but if I'm using it for a couple hours a day I get a half a week of use out of one charge. I take it with me when I'm on the road for work, so I can lie in bed and not sit at the uncomfortable hotel desks at my laptop.

But, again, it's an Android 1.5 touchscreen tablet with no camera, no microphone, poor quality speakers, and a lower battery life than other tablets. But, for the price I paid, my cost/benefit ratio is well in my favor. I don't expect a lot from it, but what I want it to do it does nicely.

The biggest warning I have for you when shopping for a cheap tablet is to look for as modern a version of Android as possible. I found out too late that, for a little more, I could have gotten the next-step-up Pandigital which is upgradeable to Android 2.x.

As for your comics, I've had OK success in reading image PDFs from Google Books, but it is tiny; the resolution isn't that great, and even if it were better 7" is still pretty small. I don't know about .cbr files, but a search for "cbr android" pulls up a bunch and the more modern version of Android the more likely you'll be able to get apps for it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:01 AM on November 10, 2011

Every cheap Android tablet is different so the answers to your questions depend on which you plan on purchasing. The cheap Android tablet that I have (but no longer use) was purchased also to read comics, which it actually did pretty well. I bought mine a few years ago (2 or 3) and back then I primarily used jjcomics for reading .cbr and .cbz files. The two main issues with these cheap tablets are battery life and stability. The battery life was seriously abysmal no matter what I was doing with it and trying to do anything other than simple tasks like reading comics or books frequently caused the tablet to become unresponsive and made me have to reboot.

All of that being said, I read a LOT of comics (for instance, all of the Walking Dead series that had been released up until that point plus a few other series) on that thing before it became too annoying and buggy for me to use. Because it was a 7", I read all of my comics holding the tablet in landscape, fixed to the width of the tablet and scrolled up, which was fine for me. Before that I'd read comics on an iPod touch, so it was certainly better than that.

But I still wouldn't recommend that anyone purchase one. And definitely not if you want to use it for watching videos. Even with whatever changes have been made to these tablets in the past few years since I bought mine, battery life and stability are always going to be an issue with a cheap tablet. I now use a HP Touchpad (onto which one can install Android, though the native OS has a pretty good comic reader as well), which is a 10" device and I still end up doing a bit of scrolling in portrait mode (I don't like straining to read lettering). Touchpads were originally as expensive as iPads, but were firesaled at $99 (for 16GB) and $149 (for 32GB) so if you can find one on Craigslist or elsewhere online selling for relatively cheap, it's probably your best option right now for a larger tablet to minimize scrolling. If you want to stick with 7" tablets (I use mine on the bus, but you might prefer something smaller), then I'd go with a rooted Nook Color over one of the cheap tablets.

Oh, and now I use ComicRack to read comics on my Touchpad, and of all of the apps I've used on various platforms (and I've used many), it is, hands down, the best.
posted by eunoia at 8:05 AM on November 10, 2011

No experience myself, but that marvellous chap at Techmoan reviewed the LeoTab tablet in September; it currently costs 99 of your American dollars.

It's an 8 inch, 800x600, 800mhz ARM, Android 2.2 tablet with an ethernet adapter and MicroSD Slot. His conclusion was, roughly speaking, that if you set your expectations at the right level (not that it'd be like an ipad), it was a very good value product for web browsing, though fussy about video formats, especially HD. The whole review is 15 minutes and characteristically thorough, so have a look if you're in this market.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:05 AM on November 10, 2011

UK site PCPro actually wrote a whole article explaining why they think budget tablets aren't a good investment. Maybe you should give it a read and decide if their gripes are something that might bother you in the long run.
posted by doctorpiorno at 8:07 AM on November 10, 2011

You can find cbr viewers all over the place and for every OS. Not all of them are perfect, but most of them work well enough considering you are holding a crate of comic books in a tiny little device.

The only real restriction on comic book reading on a tablet is the size of the screen. I think that if you have to scroll to read a comic page, or if you have to zoom to read text, then it defeats the purpose; you might as well be reading on a laptop. The 9.6" screen on an iPad, for instance, is pretty much just the right size for a normal sized comic book page to be read on. It's slightly smaller than a normal comic book page, but you can still see the detail in the images, and you rarely have to zoom in order to read tiny text. Also, when there is a two-page spread in a comic book page, you can at least get a good gist of what's on the spread and maybe even read it without having to zoom in.

I think something less than 9.6 inches makes reading comics on a tablet more of a chore than necessary, considering the fact that comic panels are not standardized and nearly every comic book page these days requires you to see the full page in order to appreciate it.

I don't think you need much else to read a comic book on a tablet in terms of processing power, although you would want a good amount of memory capability. Sometimes I feel bad because it feels like the primary function of my iPad is to read comic books, and there is way too much horsepower in there to justify it as a comic book reader. I'm sure there is a happy medium, but the screen size seems to be the best predictor of comic book reading experience.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:08 AM on November 10, 2011

Save up 'til you can get a used Nook Color, or a new Kindle Fire or Lenovo Ideapad A1. Any of these are great devices that will last you a long time - and they all have capacitive touch screens which are miles beyond the cheap resistive screens you'll find on the Chinese no-name devices. Any new Android tablet you get new cheaper than $150 will likely greatly disappoint you.
posted by speedgraphic at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would strongly recommend waiting on the release of a Kindle Fire or Barnes and Noble Nook, until reviews come out from the press, before putting money done for one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2011

I had a Archos Home Tablet 7 inch that I couldnt resist buying for 140 dollars and the best part about it was that it ran android.

And that was the only good thing about it. It could barely run Angry Birds with the background off and reflashed. The battery was quite short and it was not responsive at all. The worst part was the wireless. I pretty much had to be in the same room as my router. The cheap resistive screen was almost unusable. You really get what you pay for.

7' tablets are great though. They are the perfect size for me
posted by fuq at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2011

Oh yes, I forgot tp mention how hot that cheap tablet got. It got hot like a laptop.
posted by fuq at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2011

I have a 256 RAM tablet (it came in Android or Ubuntu flavours and I chose Ubuntu). It's one of the SmartQ line. It runs very slow, but the battery life is great if you are mostly using it as an e-book (10 hours or so) and I know a bunch of people who bought this specific tablet precisely to read comics on. By "slow", I mean you press the on button, and then go make yourself a cup of tea and come back and it's booted up. And when you open a program, it takes maybe 10 seconds before anything happens, and then another 10 before it is usable. Responsiveness for page turning or zooming etc is fine, although noticeably a tiny bit laggier than an iPad or similar.

The screen is 7 inch and that's perfect for reading, including comics, in my opinion. It's much easier to hold in bed or on the bus or whatever than an iPad or similarly sized larger tablets. It feels like holding a slim paperback book.

The touchscreen is fine, which surprised me. I don't even use the stylus half the time: a fingertip works fine. A lot of people complain about touchscreens on these cheaper tablets. But maybe it was because I hadn't been spoiled by playing with expensive touchscreens previously.

It was a bit more than your $70 budget, though, so I'm not recommending that specific brand: just telling you what the experience is like on a 256 RAM tablet.
posted by lollusc at 2:22 PM on November 10, 2011

Thanks for the info MeFites! I'll probably hold off until a more reputable tablet encheapens itself to my level.
posted by joelhunt at 7:00 AM on November 12, 2011

Of possible interest: Will Kindle Fire kill the $500 tablet?
posted by Artw at 5:24 PM on November 12, 2011

Some reviews for the Kindle Fire, one regarding comic book reading (scroll down).

The similar new Nook is coming out, but it's also 7" and probably reads comics the same way as the Fire.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, reviews the Kindle Fire.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:48 PM on November 20, 2011

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