What exactly do you get in a tablet that costs just $37.99 before taxes and shipping?
The Ubislate 7Ci – which is billed as the "world's lowest-cost tablet" by its maker Datawind – has a seven-inch screen, is assembled with outdated hardware, and not surprisingly runs on Google's Android platform, the common denominator of most ultra low-priced tablets.
But does it work?
Certainly there's no comparing the Ubislate 7Ci to one of Apple's iPads or another higher-end tablet. And it doesn't even come close to rivalling Google's Nexus 7, a cheap but very capable device designed to undercut the tablet market at $229.
But for a device that costs just over $50 all in, there's a lot to like about the Ubislate 7Ci – assuming a buyer has very realistic expectations about what they're getting.
First impressions of the Ubislate 7Ci in action are actually quite good. Users have full access to the million-plus apps in the Google Play marketplace and a quick test of favourites such as Netflix, Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga reveals they all work well. Remarkably well really, given the device's price tag. Although there is some occasional sluggishness with some apps, Netflix and YouTube stream flawlessly with no slowdown or dropped frames, which is a bit surprising. You could make an argument that dropping $50 or so on the Ubislate 7Ci is worthwhile just to use it for Netflix streaming.
While the video streams smoothly, the image quality is weak. The 800 by 480 pixel screen is not easy on the eyes and video playback is reminiscent of the quality you'd expect on an airplane's seat-back screen. Still, for those with reasonable expectations it's good enough.
But problems with the tablet begin to be revealed as more apps are launched. The Ubislate 7Ci seems to handle most apps with ease but once a user starts to multi-task, or jumps from one app to another, the tablet grinds to a halt. Apps that previously ran without issue begin to hang and crash. Getting those halted apps to run again seems to require a reboot.
Lower-end Android tablets typically do struggle when they get bogged down with too many tasks. But there are a few ways to alleviate the slowdowns.
One tactic is to go into the tablet's Settings menu and turn off unnecessary animations and graphical flourishes built into the operating system. Preventing apps from running in the background and automatically forcing apps to close when they're not running also help performance. There are plenty of websites that help outline ways to speed up a sluggish Android tablet, but Ubislate 7Ci owners may not think to seek out those resources or know they exist. That's unfortunate, because performance does pick up considerably and reboots are needed less often with a few tweaks.
There are other annoyances with the Ubislate 7Ci. Battery life is pretty weak, with only up to three hours of usage to be expected. Web browsing can be sluggish, particularly with the default built-in browser that's laden with ads. Users will be much happier with Google's Chrome browser but the tablet does struggle at times to run it.
The Ubislate 7Ci is not a very good tablet. Anyone who's had experience with an iPad or another higher-quality device will find it immediately frustrating to use.
But for about $50, it has just enough horsepower to act as a decent movie or video game player for kids – at least those who aren't old enough to already covet Apple products.
For those who just don't have the budget to spend more on a device and are patient enough to deal with its many quirks, its slow Web performance, and the need to regularly reboot, it does work. Barely at times, but it works.