As evidenced by our many device reviews, the holiday season brings out a new crop of eReaders, tablets, computers, and MP3 players to provide a large assortment of options for buyers. Much like at the North Pole, the elves here at OverDrive have been busy testing devices to see how well they work with eBooks, audiobooks, music, and streaming video. We try to post as many compatible devices in the Device Resource Center as we can, but sometimes the wide variety of devices can get pretty overwhelming. As much as we may want to, we can’t test them all.
Open-source operating systems like Android can be used by any manufacturer, so you’ll see it on big brand-name devices like the Google Nexus and Samsung Galaxy as well as on devices made by lesser-known brands. The lower prices of these off-brand Android devices may entice more budget-conscious buyers. While the lower prices may be tempting, be warned that some off-brand devices may not have access to major app stores like Google Play, causing undue frustration to users attempting to install their favorite apps. Although OverDrive Media Console for Android can be installed directly from the website, it’s much easier to install from Google Play, the Amazon Appstore, or NOOK App Store.
Despite potential drawbacks, there’s a lot to be said for less expensive devices. With the market being flooded this year with lots of cheap tablets, you may see these or others showing up after the holidays. Here is a sampling of three budget 7-inch tablets that have access to Google Play and work well for the price, even if it’s true that “you get what you pay for!”
Digital2 7-inch Pad Deluxe
This tablet has an impressive amount of features for the low price of $75. It comes with a 0.3 megapixel front camera and 2.0 megapixel camcorder—a far cry from the quality of Apple’s cameras, for example, but at least they are included. Although storage capacity is just 4 GB, the device includes a Micro SD card slot to expand storage up to 32 GB. The Digital2 7-inch Pad Deluxe only has 512 MB of RAM, however, so apps open noticeably slower than in more expensive tablets.
We found that the touchscreen isn’t always responsive, sometimes taking several tries to open an app or flip through the pages of an eBook. When tilting the screen even slightly, the screen appears faded, making it difficult to read eBooks comfortably.
In addition to the power button on the side of the device, there is also a mysterious tiny circular button that doesn’t appear to do anything when pressed. It doesn’t appear in the owner’s manual; it’s just sort of there. One colleague theorized it may be a reset button, but the reset button is a small hole next to the micro USB port. It’s possible that it is an “eject” button for a MicroSD card, but we didn’t have one here to test it with. Even this was questionable, as MicroSD card slots don’t usually have eject buttons— especially not ones relatively far away from the slot itself. Noticeably absent are physical volume buttons, so any volume adjustments need to be done via the touchscreen, which can get clumsy when listening to audiobooks.
Ematic Genesis Prime
Coming in at a slightly higher price of $80 is the Ematic Genesis Prime. Holding this Android 4.1 device itself is reminiscent of the Kindle Fire 1st generation tablet—it’s smooth, a little on the heavier side compared to newer devices, but feels sturdy. The only physical button on the device is a power button, so like Digital2’s tablet, any volume adjustments need to be done on the touchscreen itself.
The box boasts of an “HD video player – supports up to 1080p,” but since the screen itself only has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, that’s sort of misleading. The screen here also fades when the device is tilted, so reading eBooks on this device could be tricky. Opening eBooks and audiobooks with only 512 MB RAM felt a bit sluggish. The rest of the tablet’s specs are also very comparable to Digital2’s offering above. The device comes with 4GB of memory, which is expandable via a microSD card slot. No mystery buttons to be had here, however!
Ematic 7-inch HD Quad Core
For the slightly higher price of $80-90, this device has the most impressive-sounding name out of the three tablets here, but anyone expecting a tablet on the level of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD (and similar HD devices) may be disappointed. With a resolution of 1024 x 600 and an HDMI-out port, the device may technically be “HD,” but it also suffers from the “glare on a tilted screen” problem (though to a lesser extent), in addition to having only 169 ppi. It does expand the storage capacity to 8 GB, doubles RAM to 1GB, and successfully runs Android 4.2, so it feels speedier than the other two tablets.
Strangely, the screen does not lie flush with the sides of the device, leaving somewhat of a sharp edge all around. Again, there are no volume buttons, but interestingly, it has a physical “Back” button, unlike most Android devices that just have the software button to return to the previous screen. However, the “Back” button is the same size and shape as the power button and is located on the top center of the device, so it was not an intuitive place for my finger to go. I mainly used the software “Back” button anyway.
The oddest thing about this device is how strange it smelled coming out of the box (which is probably the first time that’s been written about in a device review here!) Ematic’s Genesis Prime did not have this problem. None of us here could pinpoint why that was—tablets aren’t supposed to smell like anything! (Even Apple, a software company that could potentially market its devices with a pleasant, fruity scratch-n-sniff, chooses not to do so).
The expression “you get what you pay for” rings true for many things, but especially devices. Although budget tablets may not be optimal for eBook reading or streaming video, OverDrive Media Console does work on the ones mentioned here. In conclusion, the blurrier screens, lower performance, and occasionally confusing owner’s manuals may not be so good for Grandma, but cheaper devices may be fine for rambunctious kids who just want to read eBooks or play (slower) games, as well as for users who just want a simple tablet for access to library titles through OverDrive.