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How useful is a cheap Android Tablet? A Review of the Pandigital Star

Updated on January 20, 2012
Pandigital Star Tablet
Pandigital Star Tablet

Background

It is now 2012 and the tablet market has expanded to include many other products beyond the Apple iPad. Most of these new (non iPad) tablets can be categorized into 3 main categories:

1) Higher end tablets which normally include Android 3.0 and above. These tablets are generally priced in the $300-500 range, offer nice specifications and are marketed as iPad alternatives by companies like Acer, Samsung, and non-Android tablets like Research in Motion's Playbook.

2) Mid-range Android tablets which generally include recent versions Android (typically Android 3.0). These generally reside in the $200-$300 price range and are manufactured by "2nd Tier" manufactures like Archos and Coby. You can also lump rooted e-reader tablets into this bunch, like the Nook Color.

3) Budget Android tablets which generally have lower specs, older versions of Android (Android 2.2 or 2.3) and are priced at under $150. These tablets are often time cross-marketed as e-readers also. Often times they have inferior quality touch screens and lower specifications. Examples of budget tablets include Pandigital and Velocity Cruz.

Since I really only wanted a tablet for a limited purposes; mainly reader blog posts, checking email, and the occasional video, I wanted to see how a sub $100 tablet would work for that.

I narrowed by choice down to two older style budget tablets - the Pandigital Star and the Velocity Cruz T301, both 7" tablets. Ultimately I chose the Pandigital Star because the Velocity Cruz tablet had more restrictions on what apps could be loaded.


Using the Pandigital Star

Since I know that electronics (and particularly tablets) become obsolete in such a short amount of time, I was looking for something very cheap. I'm realistic and know that I will probably only use this tablet for less than a year before something new, better, and cheaper will be available. I was happy to find the Pandigital Star on Walmart for $99. (The Velocity Cruz T301 was also similarly priced).

When I received the Star I was reasonably pleased with the product. I had low expectations to start with, so I was not all that disappointed with the plastic case and the cheap external buttons - when expectations are low to start with it is not that hard to impress. The weight of the tablet was nice and the feel was pretty nice in the hand.

When I fired up the machine it was reasonably quick to load and it took less than 10 minutes to set up and be ready for use. The touchscreen is nothing less than unspectacular, but that was fine. The resistive screen is terrible compared to a capacitive screen but Pandigital has made nice strides with their "Active Touch" patented technology. It is not that responsive, but feels better than some of the older resistive screens.

One thing to be aware of with cheap Android tablets is that most do not include the official Android Market. The Star include the "GetJar" market which I am assuming is developed by Pandigital. This was not that much of an issue for me since I side-loaded many of the popular apps that I like to use like the Kindle, Nook, Aldiko, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Flash apps.

The battery life is not great, but not horrible either. Overall I would say it is somewhere in the 3-4 hour range. Not good enough to make it last for a long periods of time without recharging, but good enough where you don't have to do it everyday. Right now I charge it probably one every 2-3 days and I use it probably 1-2 hours a day.

The processor is adequate for light browsing and reading ebooks. For anything extensive, it won't work that great. When trying to load Barnes and Noble Nook books it does take a while to load, but I have been able to live it.

In Conclusion

The Pandigital Star is a nice budget tablet for light browsing, reading e-books, and for watching the occasional video or listening to podcasts or music. The feel of the tablet is cheap, but for the price it is something I have been able to live with. The older Android operating system has been OK as long as you set your expectations appropriately, but the lack of the official Android Market is an inconvenience if you are looking for some nice, quality apps. One method for getting around that is to download APK files for the apps you are looking for them and install them from your microSD card.

Overall, I would recommend this tablet to people that don't have high expectations for a tablet and for those who are looking for a cheap table that allows for reading and light browsing. It has worked out very nice for my needs.

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