If you're in the market for a tablet computer and have been doing your homework, you've no doubt run into a few low-cost models and maybe even been tempted by them. We tried out a couple and offer our first impressions below.
Archos 7 Home Tablet ($185). This 7-inch tablet uses an early version of Android, which had a very high tendency to crash. In addition, the marketplace for apps is not Google's Android Apps Market, but rather Archos' own more-limited store.
The display is a resistive touch screen. We had to press hard with our fingers to select items on the screen, and there was often a delay before the device responded. It was also very inaccurate. A stylus might have made using the touchscreen easier, but none was included.
Although you can zoom using the Archos, this function does not work as intuitively as on the iPad. The display is locked in landscape mode except when you're reading books, when it's locked in portrait mode.
Among the included apps is an e-book reader, but pages turned slowly, and the text quality wasn't up to par. There's an included e-mail app, but we couldn't open attachments. In addition, Adobe Flash isn't supported, so you'll need a separate app to view YouTube videos or perform other tasks that require Flash.
Augen GenTouch78 ($180). Like the Archos 7, the 7-inch GenTouch78 uses an early version of Android and has its own apps marketplace. And its touchscreen also uses resistive technology. It was extremely difficult to scroll, and we often accidentally opened an app instead of simply scrolling up or down. When we did want to open an app or perform some other function that required pressing the display, we had to try multiple times before we could successfully do what we wanted.
The Augen's app store left a lot to be desired. For example, two of the top "hot" apps we saw when we visited the marketplace were porn-related. We also had difficulty downloading apps.
Video play didn't go smoothly either. One test unit didn't display videos at all, and the other had no sound.
The navigation keys (Back, Home, Search, and Menu) are located on the back of the device, so you either have to memorize the location of each or keep flipping the device over to use the buttons.
The GenTouch78 is sold at Kmart.
CR's Take: At this point in the development of the tablet market, the old adage applies: You get what you pay for. If you want a tablet, be prepared to invest at least $500 in an iPad, wait a few weeks until new product intros really start to ramp up, or if you're more flexible, buy a netbook.
—Chris Lam and Donna Tapellini