Why the $99 Android Tablet from China Might be the Best of Them All

Tablet computers have grown in popularity of late. In fact, tablet and e-reader ownership has doubled in the 2011 holiday season alone in the U.S. market, according to Pew Internet. But with a range of tablet offerings from the inexpensive entry-level models, to mid-range content-driven Android tablets, to the iPad, which one is actually the best choice for consumers?

Ainol's Novo 7 Basic is a $99 Android tablet that runs Ice Cream Sandwich

The short answer is that there is no short answer. Enthusiasts watching out for specs would want to buy a high-end Android tablet. Apple fanboys who want something that simply works would go for an iPad. Bookworms would go for an Amazon Kindle Fire. But, when you take into consideration the US$ 1,600 Redpad Android tablet meant for the public sector in China, you might want to think twice about shelling out hard-earned money for such a device. In fact, it’s also in China where one of the more reasonably-priced Android tablet originates — the Ainol Novo 7 Basic. At US$ 99, this device already runs the latest Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich and is comparable in specs to popular tablets like the Kindle Fire.

Specs-wise, the Novo 7 Basic runs on a MIPS-based Ingenic Xburst JZ4770 CPU at 1 GHz, has 512 MB of RAM and 16 GB internal storage. Unlike the Kindle Fire, though, the Novo 7 has rear-facing (2 megapixel) and rear-facing (0.3 megapixel) cameras for video-chatting and picture-taking. And unlike most cheap tablets out there, the Novo 7 actually has a capacitive touchscreen with a 800 x 480 pixel resolution.

Better Than the Rest?

Some would even say that the Ainol Novo 7 is better than other tablets launched in the past year. Byte‘s Larry Seltzer says most tablets launched in 2011 were “mostly garbage,” of course with the exception of few. And while the Ainol Novo 7 cannot hold a candle to the iPad 2 in terms of design and app ecosystem, at US$ 99, it’s a good enough deal. You can buy five Ainol Novo 7 units for the price of the entry-level US$ 499 iPad 2.

The current Novo 7 is meant for the Chinese market, although users from elsewhere can order the device from distributors. In the U.S., the device retails for $139.99 through some online sellers, although the price is still reasonable enough.

Content Rules

However, there is question whether the Novo 7 loses out to other tablets with regard to the content ecosystem. At present, the tablet does not support Android Market, being meant for China. As such, users would either have to resort to third-party app repositories, or wait for the international version. In contrast, Apple’s App Store is considered to be the most secure app ecosystem, with Apple ensuring the security and quality of each app through its stringent review process. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Kindle Fire thrives on its Amazon ebook, merchandise and other content offerings, such as magazine subscriptions.

Still, the Ainol Novo 7 is probably good enough, especially at this price. It doesn’t have to be an iPad 2, nor a high-end Android tablet. What’s great with this US$ 99 device is that it has a lot of potential, just waiting for the right distributor or content provider to tap.  And in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s made in China, just like every other gadget out there.