The Aakash tablet was supposed to revolutionise the tablet industry when it was launched last year, but really failed to achieve all it promised. And then it slid into controversy.
Last month its maker, DataWind, launched its new version (commercially marketed as Ubislate and sold to government as Akash), again with much fanfare and a sense of déjà vu. We decided to try this one out and also another government-backed device being distributed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, called Penta.
In the age of cool iPads and Galaxy Tabs, the real way to look at these cut-price Android devices is to see whether they are worth the money you pay for them. And that’s exactly what we are doing here.
The Aakash tablet has already been tweaked to suit the government’s cash transfer plans linked to the Aadhar unique ID project. A full-fledged revolution for the masses may be just months away, including services such as education and bill payments, and of course e-commerce.
The government has set the ball rolling with the Aadhar project. More such initiatives may follow.
Lifting people above the digital poverty line
The Aakash opened up avenues for companies that one had never heard of. In the Chinese markets, you can buy tablets as cheap as $60 (R3,200) apiece. If you buy a hundred, they’ll print your brand on it – and the box!
Thanks to this revolution, Indians who could not think of buying computers can suddenly leapfrog to a tablet. You can imagine vegetable vendors and paddy farmers owning one in the near future.
Aakash2 Rs 4,499
The Ubislate starts at just R3,499, but the model that we liked is the one priced at R4,499. With a capacitive touch screen, the tablet is built very well and feels nice and compact in the hand. It has a front VGA camera that is good enough for a video call over Skype, though it needs a bright room. The RAM is just 512 MB, so some applications would need to be shut down, not just minimized, to extract adequate performance. The default version ships with 4GB of on-board storage, expandable with SD card.
The Android 4.0.3 OS, which has been slightly customised, still needs some more work. The screen is bright for indoor use, but outdoors use brings up issues. The built-in speaker is adequate, and there is a 3.5-mm jack for earphones. The 3-hour battery is up to the mark, and surprisingly retains charge even after a week if left unused, booting up pretty fast.
The only downside is that the device is only for wi-fi usage. The next model is slated to have 2G (Edge/GPRS) data access. DataWind has signed a contract to offer a Rs 100-per-month connectivity, though you can use a dongle to access the Net through a USB link even now.
If you are a basic user, using your first tablet and are learning your ropes, the Akash 2 is wonderful. If you have owned a tablet previously, you may end up comparing the two, and find it inadequate. Overall, it squares up nicely.
IS701C Rs 4,999
T his tablet is white in colour, which set off mental alarm bells: white devices are known to be dust magnets!
However, after some use we found that this was not really so. The device is slightly heavier due to a bigger battery that promises six hours of usage and delivers about 4 hours.
There is a hideously huge PENTA logo on the front. The specifications are more or less same as the Aakash 2, but for some reason they have put the front camera on the side rather than in the middle, so you may need to tilt your face to look at the camera during video calls.
You get a SIM card slot, which can take a 3G SIM as well. There is also a big surprise in the form of an HDMI port, which means you can connect it up to a TV. That’s a big plus point. Does all that make up for the R500 extra that you pay over the Aakash 2? Quite so.
It is a pity that BSNL is not a very active marketing organisation and the Penta is not being talked about as much as its private sector-led cousin Aakash.