Help me pick a wi-fi mobile device
January 26, 2012 8:56 PM   Subscribe

What mobile wi-fi device can I get for $300 or less that will rock?

I would love to get a wi-fi device with a touch screen interface that will work well, but hopefully not break my budget of $300.

I already have a cell phone with the pre-paid provider Straight Talk, but the browser is crap (one button press to scroll down each line of text and web pages don't display well) and the phone is not a touch screen phone. Straight Talk does offer Android phones, but they are not available in my area.

I'll mainly be using the device to check email, get maps, browse various webpages, and check weather. Games would be a nice, apps would be good too.

Could I simply get an android phone and put it on "airplane mode"? Or maybe just an iPod touch since I don't need a phone?

An Amazon Kindle Fire seems like it would meet all of my needs, but I've heard that it's actually not that great. Any thoughts?
posted by mtphoto to Technology (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
An iPod touch would fit all of your needs very nicely.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:06 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: I really liked my 2nd gen iPod Touch. The iPod Touch will do pretty much everything an iPhone will do, I believe, other than making calls. I see there is also an Android equivalent, the Samsung Galaxy 4 Android MP3 Player. One nice thing about the Samsung is that there is a 4 and 5 inch option, whereas with the iPod Touch there is only one size.
posted by imalaowai at 9:15 PM on January 26, 2012

iPod touch. I bought the one I'm typing this response on for $150.00. In 2010.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2012

Also, I have had a bad cellphone year, so I use this thing for texting too. Gotta love Google Voice!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:24 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: Definitely go for the iPod Touch. It's pretty much designed for what you're after. Don't pay extra for a device with a cell phone built in if you don't need that.
The fourth-gen iPod touch is a pretty great device, with good battery life, great web browsing, and a really nice high-rez display. And it's the cheapest way into the iOS app store, which has a great selection of inexpensive and really fun games and apps.
posted by raygan at 9:33 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

iPod Touch. It is pretty much an iPhone, but without the phone/contract. You can even text or video chat on it if you add the Skype app.
posted by ainsley at 9:54 PM on January 26, 2012

The Motorola Triumph for Virgin Mobile is selling for $230 on Amazon right could get it and not activate it and just use the wifi (though their plans are crazy cheap)...bigger screen than the iPod, replaceable battery, upgradeable memory, and a phone if you need it to be one. Android is a totally different ecosystem than the mac, but it's not hard to figure out and the app stores are becoming more identical all the time...
posted by sexyrobot at 10:32 PM on January 26, 2012

I bought a couple used HTC Incredibles around Xmas for about $80 a pop. Gave one to my dad as an iPod type device - no cell service. They're awesome, the hardware is much better than the (older) Touch (modern 1ghz CPU, Flash, broad format compatability, 800x480 display, 8Mp camera, SD slot). Easily rootable and customizable. I had an older 2g touch before, it ran poorly with ios4.

If you're willing to drop $300 though, I'm sure the recent idevices are a pleasant enough experience.
posted by unmake at 11:39 PM on January 26, 2012

I'm reasonably happy with my HP TouchPad -- I got one of the last factory-new ones about a month ago. It does seem that availability has driven the price (for the 32Gb model) up past $300 now, which is more than I paid, and I'm less sure it's worth it at that price. (I was unable to get one at $150, alas, which would definitely have been a bargain.) Still, HP is going to open-source webOS, and that means continued life for them, in addition to the supposed scores of HP employees continuing to work on support and engineering. If I break it, though, it will be difficult to replace at the same price.

I was pretty sure that I wanted the larger form factor, although I would have been almost as happy with a 7-inch diagonal (e.g. Galaxy Tab). I noticed some of the reviewed slowness when I first activated, but after a software update it got a lot snappier. I actually half enjoy keeping up with Facebook on it and it's neat to watch music videos while I eat at the kitchen table. Weather? Check. Maps? Check (it's really Sims-God-like to use your fingers to stretch a Bing aerial view to zoom in). Games? Check (even Angry Birds). The app ecosystem is obviously not as deep as iOS or Android. I'm thinking about jailbreaking it with the dual-boot Android port, giving me the best of both worlds.

I was seriously considering a Kindle Fire, but I got the message a lot of reviewers were sending that it was primarily an Amazon content consumption device versus a good general tablet computer, and I didn't really need that.
posted by dhartung at 12:00 AM on January 27, 2012

Some things to consider: (Assuming a phone-size device is OK for you) I bought an LG Optimus one (Android phone) used for about $90. I unlocked it so it works on all carriers. I use it as a phone on a pay as you go plan. Worked beautifully when traveling to Europe.

(I have a 3rd gen Ipod Touch that I gave to my wife.) The benefits of the Android phone over the 3rd gen Ipod Touch is that the Android device has GPS, a camera, replaceable battery, built in Microphone, expandable memory. When we were traveling in Europe, I used WiFi to cache the local Google map, and the phone was an excellent traveling companion. I don't know if the newer Ipod Touch's have the GPS, camera, etc.

I also have an Android Tablet (ASUS Transformer, TF101) which I use at home.

I've used both the Ipod and Android devices, and really cannot see the vast differences in operating system behaviour that others talk about.
posted by mbarryf at 5:10 AM on January 27, 2012

Added to my post. Having said all that about Android vs IOS, I would say that for the easiest experience with the devices, I recommend non-technically-interested friends (read that as "friends who I do not want to call me constantly with questions") to go with the IOS devices.
posted by mbarryf at 5:12 AM on January 27, 2012

mbarryf: "I don't know if the newer Ipod Touch's have the GPS, camera, etc."

I have the 2010 iPod Touch (the one launched alongside the iPhone 4) which afaik is identical to the current Touches as for some reason they didn't bump the hardware. They don't have GPS, and while they do have a camera, it's awful: no focus control, no flash, low resolution. It records passable video for youtube, though.

If you're happy with a 3.5 inch screen (I am), then I'll agree with practically everyone else: the iPod Touch is great. The high resolution of the screen (960x640, better than all but the most modern of Android phones) makes it perfect for web browsing and reading books. The overall screen quality isn't as nice as the iPhone 4 or 4s (it's not an IPS screen like the one in the iPhone, so the colours are less vibrant, the blacks aren't anything like as deep, and when you look at it from an angle colours shift) but for everything you list, it's more than adequate.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2012

Got a refurbished 32GB Motorola Xoom tablet, running Honeycomb, for $335 including shipping from Don't know whether they'll run that deal again, or whether you're willing to go that far above $300, but might be worth checking out their 'sellout' site, where people aggregate deals. I would think a refurbished 16GB Xoom, should it ever be offered, would be in your price range.
posted by troywestfield at 6:50 AM on January 27, 2012

Thirding the ipod Touch -- but if you can pick up a 1st gen 16GB iPad (no 3G) at anywhere near that price point, do it.

Keep an eye on DealMac and the refurb section of the Apple Store.

(Somewhere around the house is a Touch that we no longer need... DM me if interested.)
posted by omnidrew at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2012

I'll be the lone voice out - I have a Kindle Fire, and love it - is it a full-fleged computer? No. Have I traveled with it and done everything you listed above? Yes, very well. As long as you have wifi you can get just about everything.
posted by pupdog at 10:21 AM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: @Pupdog

Does the web browser on the kindle fire work well and display web pages similar to the way they would look when using a laptop or desktop computer?
posted by mtphoto at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2012

Second omnidrew: check the refurb section of the Apple Store. Occasionally, 16GB 1st generation WiFi iPads go on sale there for $299, right at the limit of your price range.
posted by zsazsa at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2012

You can easily use any Android phone as a WiFi device. Some of them are pretty cheap ($100-ish) if you check eBay.

Also, I don't know how attached you are to Straight Talk, but for a while I used T-Mobile's prepaid by-the-minute with an Android phone. Went online with WiFi and did calls/text over T-Mobile's regular network. Advantage: fewer things to carry around.

If you'd rather have a tablet, and its affiliates often have refurbished Android tablets in the $200-$300 range.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:41 PM on January 27, 2012

Most pages look like they would on a regular browser, with the ability to zoom in and out and such - some pages default to their mobile equivalents (especially Google pages), but you usually have the option of defaulting to the regular view. If it's not going to be the main device you use for all computing-type work I would think it would be great. I have a full laptop I use for anything 'big', but the Fire is what I check my mail on when I wake up, read on, go through my normal reading, etc. I've even started splitting my hulu time between the full PC and the Fire, since the Fire is easier to lay in bed with, stand at the kitchen counter, carry around the house in general...
posted by pupdog at 2:19 PM on January 27, 2012

iPod Touch (or an iPad) plus Google Voice (and the Google Voice app, of course) should equal a phone with the only catch being that you have to use a headset/mic. No?
posted by 2oh1 at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2012

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