We've been promised them since the start of the year, and sure enough just in time for Christmas the Australian market is filling up with Android tablets. Planhacker looks at what's on offer from telecos and retailers, and what you can expect to pay.
The advantages of Android as a platform are a familiar theme here at Lifehacker. It's an open source platform that's easy to tinker with and customise, it offers simple, reliable syncing with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google services, and there's a massive and growing range of applications on offer in the Android market (even if that's sometimes messy to navigate). The additional advantages of Android in tablet format are that you've got a bigger screen for video, web surfing and games playing, and a larger on-screen keyboard. Unlike Apple's iPad, you can also easily access Flash content online.
The disadvantages of Android also come into play here: there are multiple versions of the software available, and not many of the tablet devices so far actually take advantage of the newer releases. Manufacturers add to the confusion by pushing out their own app launchers and overlay interfaces, though at least with Android these are relatively easy to get rid of. If you're already a heavy user of Google services, however, the ease with which Android integrates is likely to overcome those objections. But if you want to buy one, what are your choices?
Our normal format for Planhacker is to assemble information into a single table. We haven't done that here because there's not an enormous number of product variants on offer, and there's two quite distinct methods of buying: an outright purchase, computer-style, or a contract-based purchase including 3G access, phone-style. Which approach works depends largely on your own use case. If you're mostly going to use your device at home (or in other locations where Wi-Fi is readily available), then buying outright makes more sense. If you want greater portability, or plan to use the device as an occasional phone, then going with a contract may be a better choice.
Outright buy options
At the cheap end of the market, both Telstra and Optus offer simple seven-inch models. Telstra's T-Touch Tab costs $299, while Optus' MyTab (due in mid-December) is $279. Both are aimed at entry level users and have have one big disadvantage: a resistive touch screen, which means they don't have anywhere near the responsiveness you might expect. We'll take Nick from Gizmodo's verdict on this field: "as a device for kids or grandparents, it has potential".
Another similar option, which after a price reduction this week is only $199, is the Millennius SmartQ. The SmartQ offers the unusual option of also booting into Ubuntu if you don't want to work with Android.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab is a much more powerful and elegant beast than any of these devices. However, if you want to buy it outright, you'll have to pay the fairly ridiculous price of $999. At that price, going onto a contract and getting some 3G data isn't necessarily much more expensive.
There are two main contenders here right now: the 5-inch Dell Streak, which is available exclusively through Optus, and the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is being sold on contract through Optus and Vodafone. (As noted above, you can buy the Galaxy Tab outright for $999, but that seems pretty expensive compared to the contract prices. Telstra is also due to sell the Galaxy Tab, but hasn't announced pricing at this writing.)
For the Streak, Optus is your only choice, and there's five plans to choose from on a 24-month contract: $19, $29, $49, $59, $79 and $99. The $49 option is poor value over the life of a contract compared to the $59, coming out at just $52 cheaper. The Streak is essentially being promoted as a "large phone" rather than a small tablet, so the price details for calls are also relevant: check our Planhacker guide to Android handsets for more details.
Optus offers a range of 24-month contract plans for the Galaxy Tab, but as we've pointed out before, the cheaper plans are a waste of money: once you factor in handset charges, you pay just as much over the life of the contract and get less data for your pains. In practice, there are two options: $59.95 ($1318.80 over the contract), which gives you at least 10GB a month of data, and $79.95 ($1918.80 over the contract), which offers at least 16GB a month. Unless the Tab is going to be your sole computing device, the $59.95 deal is probably sufficient.
For occasional users, or people who want to make calls on the Tab as well, Vodafone's plans (which go on sale on November 15) are more varied and more useful. Vodafone is offering both broadband-only and broadband-plus-voice options, and has month-to-month as well as 24-month deals. Its $45 a month deal ($1080 over the contract) is a cheap way to score the device if you don't want a huge data allowance. Its data-only contract deal at $65 a month ($1560 over the contract) is pretty similar to Optus'; for that amount, the $55 a month contract plan ($1320 over the contract) that includes voice looks like a better deal.
Know of other good Android tablet deals? Share them in the comments. (We certainly wouldn't be surprised if there are other bargain basement models out there from small suppliers we haven't noticed.)
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