Can you really get a decent Android tablet for less than $300?

Vizio tablet

It seems like every week we see a new Android device from a company we either haven't heard of, or one that's not known for portable computers.  More often than not, these devices end up at a discount store or on a television shopping channel at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday.  The Vizio tablet has a couple advantages that most of those devices don't -- a little bit of experience with bright, colorful LCD screens and a distribution channel that's pretty darn good.  They've also hit a very interesting price point, if you shop around you can pick up a Vizio tablet for under $275.  That only leaves one big question -- has Vizio succeeded where others have tried and failed, and delivered something that's actually worth the $300?  Hit the break and see what I think, and hopefully it can help you decide.

A hands-on look

 


Youtube link for mobile viewing

So, yeah, this one is a bit different from what we're used to, especially in the software department.  Before you call it DOA, you'll want to keep reading.  Some of what's different is done well, and some not so much.  It's real saving grace is the construction and design -- the Vizio tablet is one well-built piece of gear.

Hardware

    Android Central   Android Central

The Vizio tablet is eight inches of well-built electronics.  It's a case where the total exceeds the sum of the parts, as the specs don't have anything that stands out above the crowd. What does stand out is the very nice look and feel of the Vizio tablet.  It's made from a mix of matte finish and glossy plastic, and you won't think you have something "cheap" in your hands.  The power button and the volume rocker are solid, none of that wiggle you see from other inexpensive gear, and overall I think you'll be impressed by the construction.

Android Central   Android Central

Android Central

On the top of the Vizio tablet (they really have to find a more friendly name for this one) you'll find two stereo speakers, a power button between them, and a 3.5mm headset jack perched precariously on the corner.  The speakers sound very nice, with decent volume.  The power button does just what you want a power button to do -- it just sits there without protruding and getting bumped.  You won't be accidentally hitting it.  The headset jack is in an odd place, but it works.  I was certain that I would find something I didn't like about having it right on the curve of the corner, but other than being different, it was just fine.  I'm still not sure why that design choice was made, but I'll stop questioning it now.

 Android Central   Android Central

Android Central

The volume rocker switch sits all alone on the side of the tablet, and like the power switch isn't sticking out waiting to bump everything you don;t want it to bump.  On an 8-inch device, placement isn't as big an issue as it is on a device designed for one-handed use, so it works just fine.  On the bottom, you have a USB connection and an HDMI connection, both of which work just fine with no wiggly plugs to be found.  There's a surprise down there, too -- a third stereo speaker.  This is pure genius, because in both portrait and landscape you have sound coming from both sides of the tablet instead of coming from the top and bottom.  I want to see other manufacturers pick up on this idea, little things like this make a big difference that you don't appreciate until you try it.  Also included, tucked under a protective plastic flap is a microSD card slot if you need some extra storage, and with only 2.4GB of storage available internally after all is said and done, you will.

Android Central   Android Central

The tablet isn't the thinnest out there, but it's not unwieldy either.  It's about a half-inch thick, putting it somewhere between the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the average smartphone (in this case the Nexus S).  Even if it were a full 10-inch tablet, it would probably be a little heavy, but at 8 inches, it's just fine and you'll have no problem using it to web surf, watch and listen to your media, or even read a book.

Specifications

  • 8-inch 1024×768 pixel resolution display
  • 1GHz Marvell Armada 600 processor
  • Android 2.3
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 4GB of storage
  • front facing VGA camera
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS
  • microSD slot, micro-USB port
  • HDCP compliant micro-HDMI port
  • three stereo speakers
  • accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • 6.6×8.1×0.48 inches
  • weighs 1.2lbs
  • up to 11 hours battery life

Android Central   Android Central

The Vizio (that's what I'm calling it -- if the OEM won't name it, I will) is not the snappiest Android device you'll ever use.  It's not horrible, and it doesn't "stutter", it just plods along at it's own pace.  It's almost as if the animations were designed to keep things at an easy, relaxing clip .  We'll take more about that when we get into the software a bit later. 

The screen is better than expected from a tablet in this price point.  It's not an IPS display, or any other fancy series of letters, but it's a bright, clear display with just barely acceptable viewing angles.  If you and your significant other want to sit together and watch a video, you'll have to sit close.  Speaking of video, Netflix is not in the Market for the Vizio.  HBO Go is in the Market, but doesn't work.  The new Market doesn't give you the video player, but does have the Movies section.  In short, you'll have to copy your own media to the device, or rely on web streaming via things like Youtube or Amazon video.  For television content, Hulu plus has been updated and works well.

Battery life isn't bad -- you'll have to charge every day or so, depending on how much you use it.  I'm not buying the 11 hours of use time, but it's plenty to watch a movie or listen to a bunch of music. 

Software

Home   Widget Board

Lockscreen   About

The Vizio tablet runs Android 2.3.2, with it's own custom skin.  Underneath, things are mostly the same, as you'll see when you go through the settings, but on the surface it's very different from what we're used to seeing in Android.  The "Home" screen, what you'll see if you press the home button, is the grid of installed applications.  Vizio has included an app called "widget board" that has seven different blank screens for you to fill with widgets.  It works well enough, but it feels clunky compared to what we're used to with Android.  If Vizio's goal was to set themselves apart from the crowd, they succeeded, but I just don't think changing the entire experience of Android was the way to go.  There's a bit of customization allowed in the icon homescreen, and things we're used to like the notifications panel is still there.  It's just an odd, less intuitive way to get to it all.

The Vizio skin feels a bit off as well.  It feels artificially slowed down, and the whole UI is full of animations and transitions.  This is great the first couple of days you use it, but you'll soon wish you could shut them off and just let the launcher do what it does best -- launch other stuff.  You'll see lag every now and then, depending on just how much you're trying to do, but there's the slowness on top of it all.  Think how slow the Honeycomb home acts compared to Gingerbread, then multiply it a little.  It's something you get used to, but I really wish we didn't have to.

Customize dock   Customize grid

Notifications   Menu

Vizio has included a couple of really nice additions to the OS, namely the IR remote app and an very nicely done user manual.  The remote app isn't just for Vizio products (although one would imagine it works best with them) it also worked great on a couple newer Samsung televisions, and an old generic 17-inch LCD television ordered several years ago off eBay.  All the basic functions were there, and on the newer televisions after entering my model number I even got most of the special function buttons.  This opens a whole 'nother usage case for the Vizio tablet -- a smart remote.  My wife remarked that you could use the same device to switch channels as you could to view your cable providers online channel guide, and with things like the IMDB app you even have a reference source if you aren't sure what a movie is about.  She's a smart cookie -- I'm glad she lets me hang around. 

The user guide shines as well.  It's fairly detailed, nicely laid out, and will answer most every question you could have about using the tablet.  The best thing is you'll never have to hunt for it, it's right there on your device.  More manufacturers should follow suit.

Remote

User guide   User guide

Also included, as should be on any Android tablet you're considering, is the Android Market.  In fact, all the Google apps, shy of the ones that need a cellular connection like Google Voice, work really well on the Vizio.  Because you're not using Honeycomb, you'll be using the phone versions, but most apps scale well to the odd (for Android anyway) 1024x768 resolution. 

Market   Calendar

Google Music   Google Maps

Of course, some of the more finiky apps (ahem, Popcap) don't quite scale as they should, but you'll find plenty of games and utilities that work fine in the Market.  The nice screen and smaller size made for an exceptional eReader, provided you stay inside and away from any glare.  The web browser also works well (it's the standard Gingerbread browser) and the Vizio has Flash support out of the box.

Rut-ro   Pinball wizard

Nook app   Browser

The wrap-up

I'll cut right to the chase -- this thing is less than $300.  If you are expecting something on the level of the Xoom or the Tab 10.1, you'll be disappointed.  On the other hand, tablets in this price range aren't exactly spectacular, and the Vizio stands head and shoulders above most.  Go into the purchase with the right expectations, and I think you'll be pleased.  It's very well made, and while the software is a bit odd feeling, on the whole it preforms well.  For the kids, or the less technically inclined parents in your life, this would be a great choice, and at the right price.

 

Reader comments

Vizio tablet review

27 Comments

I saw this at Costco yesterday for like $285 plus tax. I bought an Asus Transformer, but returned it -- nice tablet, but for my taste, too large, too heavy, too unwieldy. To each his own.

I'm most interested in the smaller Amazon tablet, 7 or 8", when those come out. If the price is low enough, I'll pop for that one.

"It feels artificially slowed down, and the whole UI is full of animations and transitions. This is great the first couple of days you use it, but you'll soon wish you could shut them off and just let the launcher do what it does best -- launch other stuff."

Can you use spare parts from the android market to either turn off or speed up window animations and transition animations? that's what I use on my Galaxy S II and Motorola Atrix... I mean, I get the jist of what you are saying here. they shouldn't be slow from the get-go, but I'm just curious if spare parts works on this. it should...

Didn't need to go any further than the specs list. Single-core processor? 512MB RAM? Android 2.3? No thanks, I'll pass. I'm better off buying a TouchPad on Amazon for $250.

no it isn't this tablet is definitely not worth the price, even at 300 my phone has more ram than that and seriously gingerbread for tablet with no real home screen? , definitely better tablets out there, asus eepad transformer, or just a touchpad if you have an android phone will be a good tablet just to have different platforms.

I'm seeing a cheap device, might bring devs into the mix. If Developers can make some killer ROMs for this device it should be a nice all around device.

Do you get a regular homescreen and everything? I'm curious to know. I like the price range of this thing, but the look is hideous, plus i'm not too fond of the irregular configuration.

When I first heard that this device had a built in IR transmitter, I thought it had potential as a "super" universal remote control/ Android@Home controller; lots more functionality than the Harmony remotes. If it makes the jump to ICS, I might pick it up as a secondary tablet to my Transformer.

The IR works quite well. I just got the Honeycomb update for it and any changes must be in the background. The screens etc are still the same. I put another launcher on it and that worked well but the background/wallpaper was flakey. Otherwise I really like this for a universal remote/tablet. Those against the gingerbread feature should remember that in that version, apps can be moved to sd card. No so with honeycomb. I got mine at Sams Club for $225. I think it was a steal.

Had mine for a couple weeks now. This is my fist Android device so the interface feels totally natural to me and seems logical. Vizio claim Honeycomb is on the way so I will hope it comes soon. Gingerbread goes fine most of the time. I love this size for reading my Zinio magazines. The remote app could be more robust (Macros, give us ALL the options for my Vizio TV at least). Hoping they will have Netflix for it soon then it will be pretty much perfect. You CAN turn off the screen animations which helps a little. It is a little slow switching among the favorites list and also a little slow switching devices on the remote app. They really need to work on the remote app, this is half the reason I bought the tablet. I am not taking it back though :) It really is a perfect size for my magazines which is the other reason I bought it for. Everything else is a bonus.

You can get the 8" Acer Iconia from Walmart at $300 bucks. Or, you could get the full-sized one from the web at $399 with a $100 e-gift card.

This is what I was thinking. The Acer seems like a much nicer piece of Kit if you ask me... Full blown processor, RAM and memory for the same price as this "concessions" device...

No you can't... ACER does not make an 8" tablet, only 7" & 10. 1".

For a lot of people, 7" is still too small and the 10" is too big (That's what She said! ".). When that dimension is a priority the choices are limited - especially if you are looking for a sub $300. 00 option.

Has anyone used it to video chat? I'm thinking about grabbing two and giving one to my folks to chat with us and the grand kids.

I just bought it for $235 at Costco. If it's big enough to warrant its own AC review, I suggest granting its own forum on AC please! It doesn't even have a heading in 'other tablets'. I'd like to maximize it's potential but not have to look at all the other websites to do it.

like drinkw40 I got mine from Cosco. Was using a Coby 7015 for a couple of months and using tipsters rom upgrade was great fun but this vizio is better on my 75 year old eyes. Netflix and hulu plus works but i still would like to root just so i can use titanum to back up my stuff. here is hoping someone will open pandoras box. not an old software guy just a old hardware computer teck.. but this tablet is very good and does last me for over eight hours of movies, etc.. lets get a forum going or at least rooted..

Bought this at Cosco 1 week ago for $185! I bought it for my wife mainly as an ebook reader, so everything else is a plus. Having played with it for a few hours to upload some stuff before she opens it, I think its awesome. This being my first tab, i had no real expectations. I've looked at them as an oversized mp3 player and have had little interest until now. Considering this is going for 298 at Walmart normally, it was a steal for the price. I'm more than happy with it.

I have owned the Vizio for almost three months and I love it! I am fairly new to the android operating system, my former company was all Apple. I changed jobs, so I had to find an economic replacement for the company ipad I had been using. I purchased the Vizio tablet at Sam's Club for $198.00. I was prepared to be disappointed, but I was quite pleased with what I. Got for the money.

Let me address some of the points in the review.

1) Clunky user interface. One of the first things that I did was install Launcher Pro. It was not listed as available for this tablet, but I read an excellent tutorial on another android forum on how to "side load" programs and I got it right from the developers website. It is quite faster than the vizio ui, and very customizable. Easy enough for any new user to do.

2) Browser. I installed "boat Browser" from android marketplace. A great browser, fast and customizable.

3) Memory. It does have limited onboard memory, 2.3gb available. I have about 20 apps installed so far, and have only used 500mb. I cannot foresee ever using all of the internal memory. I have installed a 32gb micro sd card in the device, and I use Astro file manager to back up all the apps to it. If I ever need the space I can just uninstall any apps I am not using and re-install them later from the backup on the sd card. Only takes a minute or two to do this.

4) Viewing angle. This is a non issue. I use this device for me. Looking directly at the screen on the tablet the picture is fantastic. I don't look at it from an angle. This isn't met for group use, it is meant for personal use.

5) Battery life. With mixed use while traveling, meaning wi-fi, watching movies and surfing the web, I average a solid 8-9 hours of use before charging.

Overall it is a great device, I love the HDMI out for watching netflix or hulu on the tv's when I am staying in hotels, which I do quite a bit. Beats paying the hotel fees for movies. I play a lot of different games on it like words with freinds and angry birds.

I also use it through my new android phone's mobile hotspot to go online.

While i've been a smartphone power user for years, and this is my first tablet. I bought it specifically to experiment with the usability of tablets in general. My expectation was to upgrade if I liked this (at $189. 00US COSTCO, this was a good choice).

I don't dispute the pros & cons above but, find the weight of this this thing to be ridiculous. It is HEAVY and that makes it frustrating to use.

I don't have a scale that will accurately weigh something under 3 pounds but I am NOT Buying the "1. 5 lbs". It's a damned BRICK.

Also, I'm only getting 6 hrs battery (pure websurfing & no video playback so far).