The good-enough $99 Android tablet

Last month, low-end television maker Hisense introduced two new 7-inch Android tablets. The $149 Hisense Sero 7 Pro is a fairly close clone of the Google Nexus 7 that adds an SD card slot. With its quad-core processor and 1280×800 display, a lot of people are excited about it. Overall, the reaction I’ve seen on xda-developers has been very positive. The $99 Sero 7 LT, which is decidedly below the Nexus 7 in capability, hasn’t gotten as much attention.

But I found this teardown. Their verdict: Nothing to get too excited about, but it’s good enough for the average user most of the time, much better than the other sub-$100 tablets on the market, and as good as or better than most of the sub-$149 tablets on the market. The two weak spots are the wimpy camera and weak battery.

From a security point of view, Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) is the minimum you want–and this tablet meets that. Prior to Android 4.1, Android was lacking some security features, but even the security pros who disliked Android at first acknowledge that 4.1 brought Android up to par with modern standards for operating systems security.

I would love a 1280×800 screen, but usually for $99 what you get is an 800×480 screen, so 1024×600 is certainly acceptable for this price point. The onboard flash storage is very weak, but since it has a card slot for expansion, the minimum is really all you need. The dual-core 1.6 GHz CPU is a significant improvement over the single core, 1 GHz-ish CPUs we usually see in this space, and 1 GB of RAM is what you need for an adequate Android user experience.

For that matter, even those who don’t want the $99 model as a main tablet, for that price, could potentially justify keeping one at work. It could serve as an extra screen to follow documentation while keeping work displayed on the company’s computer, and use to access my external e-mail when needed. It’s a possibility, and I’m sure I’m neither the first nor last person to think along those lines.

Tablets are still expected to be a growth segment this year, and this pair of units will continue that trend. The Sero 7 LT isn’t a flawless $99 tablet, but it’s a $99 tablet with a lot fewer flaws than we’re used to seeing at that price point. It’s probably the first $99 tablet worth having. And based on the teardown analysis, it leaves a profit margin for both the manufacturer and retailer while hitting that price.

And the Sero 7 Pro delivers what we’ve grown used to seeing at the $199 price point for $149. I expect these tablets to drive sales, increase adoption, and increase people’s expectations, none of which are necessarily a bad thing.

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