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Can't Afford Apple's iPad? The $38 Tablet Is Coming Soon


The company that redefined the entry-level Google Android device is entering the US market.

As tablet devices go, Datawind's UbiSlate is not going to knock the socks off any geek, but it gets the job done, and for a jaw-dropping price: $38. The name-brand bestsellers are way out of that price range. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad Mini starts at $399, and Google's own Nexus 7 starts at $229. The lowest price for Samsung's (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy Tab is a kiddie version, marked down for the holidays to $199 on the company's site.

The UbiSlate, a fully functioning tablet that uses the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, was designed to bring Internet affordability to the masses in India, and now it's about to launch in the US and the UK. Datawind sees a market for an affordable computing device among lower-income consumers and cash-strapped students, here and in Great Britain. The $38 model is at the low-end of the brand's line. Other models are available, all the way up to a souped-up version for $149.

This tablet is not trying to compete with Apple's iPad or Google's Nexus line. And it's not made for chronic game players or binge-watchers of action movies. It's made for the kind of basic texting and Web browsing that most of us have long taken for granted.

About 15% of people in the US lack access to the Web, according to the latest reliable figures available, from the 2012 US census. It's a safe guess that some additional percentage of the population has less than ideal access-a slow and outdated desktop, or one device shared by a family.

Whatever those figures are, they don't add up to the challenge in India, where about 87% lack Internet access. Datawind was created to meet a challenge from the Indian government to change that, and the company's greatest growth is likely to be there and in other emerging nations.

But at prices like these, there's a market for the UbiSlate in the US. You can imagine people buying multiples for stocking stuffers, or buying devices to keep in the kitchen or the car for convenience. You can see parents buying them for toddlers, without having to worry that it could wind up inside a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The bottom-of-the-line UbiSlate uses Google's Android 4.0 operating system, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, that was introduced in late 2011. It has a single-core processor of a type widely used in 2010. The screen is low-res and the storage is minimal.

At the top of the line, the $149 model comes with Android Jelly Bean, introduced last June, and can double as a "phablet" with phone capabilities.

The company also plans to sell a mid-range-that is, $100-tablet that comes with a year's free Web browsing on a network that uses circa-2007 cellular technology, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The device will be available in brick-and-mortar retail stores early next year, after it is introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. (It is available for order now on Datawind's US site.)

In the UK, the cheapest UbiSlate costs about $80 less than low-cost Android tablets introduced by British retailers, including supermarket chain Tesco and electronics retailer Argo. The Guardian reports that Tesco has sold more than 300,000 of its tablet since it was launched in late September, for about $194 each, and has trouble keeping them in stock.

For the US market, the most expensive UbiSlate model, at $149, doesn't seem like much of a threat to other makers of Android devices.

Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) least expensive Kindle Fire HD is $139. (The Kindle devices run on a customized version of Android.)

The Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) website has a number of tablet models discounted to less than $100, most of them running Android Jelly Bean. The site's top seller, as of Dec. 16, was a $59 model from budget brand Nextbook, marked down from $79.

For a full review of the UbiSlate, see Gizmodo India.

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