Sylvania Netbook

Not all netbooks are created equal, nor are all Android tablets. So if you’re shopping for bargains this Black Friday or this holiday season in general, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for.

First, just because a computer looks like a netbook doesn’t mean it acts like one. For the past few years companies have been cranking out tiny netbook-like devices with 7 inch displays, sluggish processors, and Windows CE, Google Android, or simple versions of Linux.

When Windows netbooks were selling for over $400, these little guys could be had for as little as $100. Now that you can get a 10 inch netbook with an Intel Atom processor and Windows 7 Starter for as little as $200, we’re seeing the prices for these little guys fall even further.

The Examiner reports that CVS stores (at least in Northeast Tennessee) are selling a Sylvanis netbook for just $59 this week. Last year the same model was on sale for $99.

The Sylvania Netbook has a 7 inch, 800 x 480 pixel display, a VIA 8505 processor, 128MB of RAM, and runs Windows CE. It’s relatively slow, doesn’t run many modern apps, the battery won’t last very long, and the device generally feels like an 8 year old PDA rather than a modern computer.

You may see similar “netbooks” advertised under different names. A number of companies produce devices that look a lot like the Sylvania Netbook and sell them through a variety of channels in the US and abroad. And it may very well be that these devices offer all the features you need, including a slow web browser, calendar app, and maybe a little word processing. Just make sure you know what you’re getting before you’re lured in by the promise of a $60 netbook.

The same goes for Android tablets. There are dozens, if not hundreds of Android tablets on the market today which sell for $150 or less. Most of them offer a pretty unpleasant user experience. Without singling any out here, you should know a few things:

  • Android is designed for use on capacitive touchscreens. That’s not to say that all tablets with resistive displays are bad, but if you have to use a stylus or a fingernail instead of a fingertip, you may run into some problems with apps that really expect fingertip input.
  • Generally if an Android tablet has 256MB of RAM or less, it’s not going to feel very fast or responsive. At a minimum you probably want 512MB of RAM. There may be some exceptions to this rule.
  • Many budget Android tablets ship with 4GB of storage or less. Typically half of this is used by the operating system, which doesn’t leave you with a lot of space for music, movies, or other content. If you’re looking at a tablet without much storage you might want to see if it also has an SD card slot or microSD card slot that lets you add storage.
  • You probably want a tablet with Android 2.2 or higher if you want to be able to run most Android apps.
  • Most dirt cheap Android tablets ship without access to the Android Market, which means it’s tougher to find and install the hundreds of thousands of apps available for Android. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, since there are alternative app stores available. But if you don’t want to go through the hassle of digging through alternate app stores or hacking a tablet to include access to the Android Market, you might want to choose one that comes with it pre-installed.

That said, there are a few good options this year for anyone looking for a tablet for under $250. You may not get the same features or performance as you’d find from a $400+ tablet, but the Amazon Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color, and Lenovo IdeaPad A1 all offer a pretty decent user experience.

The 2010 model Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is also often on sale for around $250, the Dell Streak 7 tablet and ViewSonic gTablet also often hit that price range, and the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e should soon be available for about $200.

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6 replies on “Deals to avoid on Black Friday”

  1. Quite a timely article. Each year at Black Friday companies try to outdo one another and outdo previous years. These companies don’t care about the quality of the sale items, only that it allows them to advertise (what appears to be) insanely low prices.  They rely on fooling unsuspecting consumers… expecting that a fair percentage of those sales will NOT be returned.

    I’m not a gadget snob, and I’ve personally owned many of those cheap electronics being sold this season. Those WinCE netbooks are worse than worthless and those “under $199” Android tablets are no bargains either.

    I’ve done my share of rooting and flashing custom firmware on the Pandigital Novel and Sylvania netbook. Even after all of the tweaking, they’re not very good. Even a basic Android-based smartphone is more usable.

    I just picked up a Kindle Fire, and out-of-the-box it is surprisingly open. Anyone with just a little comfort around PC’s can sideload a file manager which opens the door for additional Android app stores and even a different interface.  (of course media: books, comics, pictures, music, and video can be sideloaded as well) There’s really no need at this point to attempt to root it or install custom firmware.  In spite of the lower storage, I think that it is an excellent device for $199.

    1. I am a gadget snob, but I think that these super cheap devices are awesome.  Clearly, these devices have limitations, so they’re completely inappropriate for anybody who can’t live within those limitations.  That said, “can’t” is different than “wont”.

      I think that the luckiest consumers in the land are those whose digital lives are sufficiently simple and manageable that these cheap devices are completely adequate.  It’s just like anything else, really, and I think it’s pretty stupid that most people buy super capable devices and then use them up to their capability just because “they can” or “they want to”.  Could you imagine how ruined most people would be if that’s how they purchased a car or a house?  Everybody would have a luxury sports car parked in front of their enormous house, and no money left over for anything else.  You should buy what you need, not what you can afford (by the way, that also means that if you really need to spend then you should go out there and spend as much as you need to in order to get what you need).  The big difference is that a super capable device doesn’t steal away your disposable income.  Rather, it steals your time and blinds you to opportunities.  Instead of working so hard at saving money or investing so much time in fooling around with your devices, go out there and live your life, or at least work really hard at MAKING money so that you don’t have to be so preoccupied with saving.

      So, don’t buy anything this Black Friday (advice based in the intention that gave this day its name), unless it’s something that you actually need.  At that point, forget about price.  In fact, if you’re going to buy anything, then buy one of these super cheap devices.  Then, go home and figure out how to simply your digital life to the point that it all fits nicely inside that $60 world.  You may just discover that doing so removes your self-imposed barriers to prosperity.  Furthermore, you may even learn that once you can finally afford anything that you want, you may not end up wanting much of this trash in the first place.

      1. There’s a difference between “inexpensive items” and “cheap junk”.  

        The difference is in the value-for-the-dollar.  For example, the Aluratek Libre Pro eReader is selling at Big Lots on Black Friday for $47.  THAT is an inexpensive item. It uses reflective LCD technology instead of eInk and lacks the “polish” of the ownership experience of the Kindle or Nook.  But in and of itself, the Libre Pro is a quality device for the price.

        The items referenced in Brad’s article fall under the category of “cheap junk”.  That cheap junk is no bargain.  Not only will they not perform well at what they promise, they will waste countless hours of the purchaser as they stumble and fumble trying to get it to work (not including the extra time to return the item to the store for a refund).

        The Velocity Cruz Micro would be an example of an “inexpensive item”.  A well made, lower functionality device at a lower price.

        There are indeed true bargains to be had on Black Friday, but “cheap junk” are not them.

  2. Gotta love it when they’re advertised as:

    (inch screen)

    Somehow the line break is always between “7” and “inch”, but never between “Windows” and “7”.

  3. YMMV, the dirt cheap Android tablets have their place. I just gave one of my best friends who is unemployed a $60 CM6 flashed White Pandigital Novel to read comics and manga on. He loves it to pieces! The screen is responsive enough for page turning and the res and screen size are great for ebooks and comics. Not every tablet application requires an iPad “SUV”.

    If I can flash those Sylvania notebooks w/ Linux I might just buy a few for lab control and process monitoring. 

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