To Buy or Not to Buy; That is the question
August 14, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

What is a good mini tablet to gift an 8-yr old? External Storage is critical as this will be used primarily as a wi-fi device and on long drives.

My kid's B'day is coming up and we are looking for a sub $200 mini-tablet for her. She will use it to primarily read books, watch movies on Netflix and Youtube, check her school emails and play games.

The requirements from this device are pretty simple: decent screen, responsive processor, long battery life and external storage (for music and movies).

The external storage option stumps me, since both the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 don't have the option to connect a USB flash drive or an SD Card and [the inbuilt storage is pathetic], while the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.0 7" does not have the recent Android OS and is dual core.

The other factor that kind of scares me is that there might be new Amazon Kindle Fires, iPad minis and even the Microsoft tablets coming out soon and I don't want to be feel foolish with an older device (recently happened with a DSLR purchase).

What device should I buy? or should I wait for a couple of months?

I have both Netflix and Amazon Prime, if that matters.
posted by theobserver to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd wait a couple of months. As for right now, the Nook tablet just went down to $199 for 16G of memory, less for 8G, and you can use as micro sd card). I think the Nook has a really nice and responsive screen too.
posted by BibiRose at 8:22 AM on August 14, 2012

Just a note on Buyers Remorse - technology moves so fast that you will be forced to buy nothing if you always wait 'for the great thing around the corner' you need to make a definitive checklist of needs vs wants for your particular shopping requirements and then get the best thing availible for you NOW.

You say that you suffered buyers remorse with a DSLR recently, would the features in the newer cameras really have made such a difference to YOU? Also look at it this way, all those pictures you took I the past wouldn't exsist if you hadn't bought the DSLR when you did.

Unless the 8 year in question is a particularly sophisticated tech shoper, or has a wide circle of friends with substantially better tech, then the tablet specs will be mostly irrellivent in comparison with having a tablet it the first place.

Of course the above assumes you are relatively normal person, and not the parent of a child who in the future is likely to feature on a "My Sweet 16" type of reality show.

My only coda to this is that there is an Apple keynote happening in early september and they do release new hardware on a fairly regular yearly cycle. If there is no hurry to buy a tablet wait two weeks and see what the Keynote brings - there are strong rumours of a cheaper, smaller iPad, but no one really *knows*?. Of course, this assumes that wiuld even consider any kind of iPad.

Good luck
posted by Faintdreams at 8:28 AM on August 14, 2012

The Nook might not be the best option if games are a major requirement; its options are limited and unlikely to improve dramatically in the near future.

My own gut instinct is to get the Nexus 7 and just deal with the relatively limited memory - yes, it's not a lot, but all you really need it to hold is enough movies to get her through those long drives, and movies ripped and compressed really aren't *That* big.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:32 AM on August 14, 2012

You can get a Nook Color cheaply, and slap on CyanogenMod as an alternative ROM fairly safely. The NC has a slot for a microSD card, so storage should be fairly expandable.
posted by chengjih at 8:50 AM on August 14, 2012

I'm not sure the external storage is a big deal if the use case is what you say it is, books don't take up massive amounts of space and youtube and netflix are both streamed (I assume, I've never used netflix) so take up nothing, the higher end nexus 7 is 16gb which while not massive hardly constitutes pathetic either.

If she's going to be reading lots on it I might consider a traditional ebook reader, the e-ink style display is a lot easier on the eyes then a tablet, I've got a nexus and I love it but I'd never read e-books on it over my kindle and I know many people who feel the same way.
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 9:04 AM on August 14, 2012

Normally I agree with the "if you need it now, buy it now" approach to technology, but if you can wait for whatever Apple and Amazon put out over the next couple of months, that will probably define the market in a pretty stable way for a while. That said, you're not likely to see anything from those two that offers built-in capability for external storage.
posted by holgate at 9:27 AM on August 14, 2012

Tablets can't have USB because to be a USB host, you have to provide power to the port for devices connected to it. A tablet carries such small batteries, which is barely enough for itself; it can't spare any for external devices. However, you can find tablets that read microSD cards. 32GB microSD cards are common now-a-day, which should be enough for 8 movies at DVD4 resolution, or more if you compress them to the size of the screen of the tablet.

I don't know how you plan to stream Netflix or YouTube on the road, but if you can afford the connection charge, then you should be able to afford an iPad with 3G or a Samsung Galaxy. If you plan only to use WiFi for connection, then there are a lot more choices.

So, what you really want are: decent battery life, capacitive touch screen, Android 4.0 or iOS 5 (which usually means that it must have at least an ARM Cortex A8), microSD card slot, WiFi.

What you won't get in a sub $200 tablet: dual-core, 3G.

I am happy with this one:
posted by curiousZ at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2012

If you wait another few weeks, there may be an announcement about iPad minis. I'd wait until then. You'd probably be able to get good internal storage options there.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2012

Wait a month, then buy an iPad mini at, and I'm guessing now, $249ish. External storage really isn't necessary when you can hold a dozen hours of video and a fistful of games internally.

Other Nooky and/or Androidy things might be better price/value options, at least on paper, but it's hard to put a price on the actual joy of using the thing, not to mention peer judgment. (Her friend who has a 'real' iPad will tease her, and even if she doesn't, they'll know it's the uncool choice.) Unless you're super-nerd, it'll also be easier for you to manage/supervise her via Apple's parent-control tools, which are pretty nifty.

I use both Netflix and Prime (thank you, proxy server) on my big-person-sized iPad, and both work very well, even behind Great Walls of Fundamentalist Censorship. So well that I've kept my Prime membership even though I'm nowhere near a free shipping area anymore.
posted by rokusan at 10:47 AM on August 14, 2012

We'll likely know in the next month if there will be a new Kindle Fire (almost certainly), Nook device (probably) and iPad mini (who knows?).

Right now, I would go with the Nexus 7 and deal with the lack of storage. Ripped (and compressed) DVDs (not Blu-Rays) don't take up that much space, so you could likely fit 4-5 movies at a time with space to spare.

There is no guarantee there will even be an iPad mini. Apple doesn't compete on price, so if it does show up, my guess is it will be either $299 or $349 for 16 GB of storage. This wouldn't meet your price or storage requirements. Rumor has it that the iPad mini would have a 1024 x 768 screen, which won't be as sharp as the Nexus 7's screen.

The Nexus 7 is the fastest and has the sharpest (highest resolution) screen of the current Android 7" devices. However, in spite of the moaning you hear in reviews, any of the dual core devices (Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, Galaxy Tab 2.0) will perform just fine, especially for an eight-year old.

I'd also note that the Nook Tablet (which takes SD cards) has a plastic band around the screen, and while this isn't as attractive as the other devices, I think it's probably more durable in terms of being dropped.

Also, rumor has it that Amazon will be releasing a new Kindle Fire imminently, so you *may* end up overpaying for the current device if you choose that one right now.

To sum up, I would wait until the middle of September, if possible. If I were buying now, my first choice would be the Nexus 7 based on screen quality and speed, then the other Android devices depending on how important storage is to you.
posted by cnc at 11:19 AM on August 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks All

To answer a few questions:

1. Buyers remorse - I am worried only because there may be a device coming out shortly that would directly solve my current problems, instead of me spending time and money on workarounds

2. She will use it on wi- at home and as a standalone, unconnected device while on the road.

3. She has her B'day coming up next week, so if its to be a present, it should ideally be this week, but if there are better devices coming up, I am willing to wait.

The reason I am bothered by lack of external storage options is that there will be a lot of work involved in getting the current movies off the device and getting in new ones. Also, after ripping those DVDs, I would have upload through Dropbox or some service, which again may count towards bandwidth.

Keep those answers coming!
posted by theobserver at 1:07 PM on August 14, 2012

I don't know many 8 year olds that are 'on the road' traveling extensively without an adult who has a device with greater storage capacity. You could rip a couple of dozen movies for the road trip and carry them on (some storage that can be attached to) the grown-ups device, and copy them to the Nexus 7 (I mean whatever else you choose) a few at a time (via USB/WiFi/NFC/Bt etc.) as needed. Just delete the watched ones - they'll still be available on the back-up at home.

E.G. If I don't take my little Thinkpad as well as my Nexus 7 when I go traveling for a few weeks, I'll have an extra mircoSD card or 2 with some movies that I can put in to my phone just to transfer them to the tablet.

There will be new products in the next few months, but whether they'll meet your needs is doubtful. The recent trend is for manufacturers to be dropping support for external storage, but if there is something that has it, it's not really likely to fall within your $200 budget.
posted by dirm at 2:40 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would really wait to see what the surface rt and rumoured ipad mini prices will be. If the rumoured $199 is the price for the surfacert that might be perfect.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:18 AM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for answering my question with so many details. I finally decided to wait for a tablet, since Windows 8 is coming out and so other manufacturers will also bring in new models.
posted by theobserver at 8:29 PM on August 18, 2012

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