tech review

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

With Asda selling an Android tablet at £99, a quarter of the price of Apple’s ipad 2, the wonder gadgetry that is fast reshaping our world is now within reach of people on a budget. william flew reports

Sprouts, detergent, cornflakes, Android tablet . . . Your next shopping list could be going high-tech, because Asda is now selling the country’s cheapest full-size tablet computer. The Arnova 8 is available from bigger Asda stores and through the supermarket’s website for just £99 — little more than the price of an average weekly shop for a family of four. The move brings the technology within the reach of millions of people who might have been put off by the high prices of existing tablets.
The tablet era was ushered in by Apple in May last year, when the iPad made its British debut. Even the most basic configuration cost £429. The iPad 2 — slimmer, better equipped and more powerful — costs less but remains expensive at £399. It’s a price that rivals have struggled to beat. Research in Motion’s PlayBook also costs £399. HP’s 9.7in Touchpad, which went on sale on Friday, starts at the same price, while the 10in Android tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom and LG Optimus Pad, are even more expensive.
So how has Arnova managed to produce a similar device for a quarter of the price? The biggest single saving is probably the display, an 8in, 800×600-pixel, resistive touchscreen. Unlike the sensitive capacitive touchscreens built into more expensive tablets and smartphones, this display does not support multitouch gestures — such as pinch-and-zoom — or quick scrolling with a swish of the finger. Instead, you have to apply pressure and keep your finger firmly in contact with the screen to control the device.
Another saving is the microprocessor, which runs at relatively slow speeds for a tablet. The Arnova contains a 666MHz chip, compared with the 1GHz-plus chips found in the iPad 2 and most other rivals. The result of these two economies is that, to anyone who has become used to a pricier tablet, the Arnova will feel slow and halting.
That apart, this tablet will do pretty much anything its much more expensive rivals can do, including play back 720p high-definition video and run games. It just can’t always do it as fast.
The build quality is surprisingly robust. The casing might be plastic but it doesn’t creak and it even gives a good impression of being made of brushed aluminium. Battery life is typical for a smaller tablet, at about five hours.
The Arnova 8 comes with 4GB of internal memory, which can be expanded to 32GB through the addition of a microSD card. It has built-in wi-fi but no Bluetooth, ruling out the use of a wireless keyboard, although you can link one by cable via its USB port. There is no 3G option available, so you’ll need to stay within wi-fi zones if you want to go online or pick up email.
The tablet runs Android 2.1, also known as Eclair, a version of Google’s operating system released more than 18 months ago. This is software made for touchscreen mobile phones and has been superseded by Android 3.0, aka

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