Take two tablets, and call me in the morning

JISHOU, HUNAN — Come listen, children, to this story of transpacific electronics shopping.

I haven’t quite graduated to be a wholesale exporter of electronic goods, but it seems every time I visit the USA, I end up being a courier of some sort of assorted gadgetry. This time, I even bought one for myself.
iPad Envy
Last trip, I brought two media players from China to the USA as gifts. These Android-powered “MP5’s” cost about $45, play movies, music, etc., on a 4.5-inch touch screen, and are very popular among Chinese students. It seems they’re also popular in the US, since I had a request to bring three more with me on this trip.

Ditto my iPad courier service. On my winter trip, I picked up an iPad for a friend in China, and got to play with it for two weeks before I handed it over. This time, I had to get an iPad2 for his cousin.

While I was in Beijing, I visited the Zhongguancun district, where scores of computer and electronics shops huddle in several malls. Unlike American malls, most shops in China that sell similar merchandise are clustered near each other, making shopping and bargaining really easy for the consumer. I figured this was the best place to pick up the MP5’s (the brand name is Bmorn, model BM-581). We found a shop with good prices, but it was pretty busy. My friend Alex played with her iPad while I noodled around the Android tablets on display.

Before my winter trip, I sort of sneered at the whole iPad phenomenon. My experience with Windows-based tablets did not exactly win me over to the future of tablets, but I did like the touchscreen features of my long-gone Palm Treo.

Then I got to play with my friend’s iPad. It changed my mind pretty quickly. It was easy to use, and I could see how it would be a lot more convenient than lugging around my brick of a Lenovo notebook or squinting at the tiny screen of my Nokia e63 to read my emails or surf the Internet. A few disadvantages restrained my enthusiasm. First was the cost. Five hundred bucks is just a bit much when you consider I already have a smartphone, a MP5 media player and a notebook computer. (Which I usually leave at home, due to its heft.) I had some trouble adjusting my typing reflexes to the touchscreen’s virtual keyboard. And for some reason, even when I had a strong WiFi signal, the iPad would inexplicably drop the connection.

So, I decided, thanks but no thanks. My friend can have his iPad. No gadget envy there.

Well, meanwhile, I had read about Android tablets, since my stepson was keen on getting one. These are cheaper and have the look and feel of an iPad without the traditional high Apple price point. But I really hadn’t seen anything cheaper than about $300, which was still too high for my budget.

YuanDao N10 tablet

My YuanDao N10 Android tablet

Back to the noodling at the Beijing shop. One of the models on display was a 7-inch tablet that seemed pretty good. Startup seemed to take an agonizing length of time, but once it finished booting, it was pretty responsive. So, I had to ask how much it cost … $150.

My brain went into budget-busting mode. Having the tablet would make surfing the Internet, checking email and so on easier than using my phone. The screen was bigger than my Bmorn media player, so I could see my movies easier. And it was small enough to slip into the small shoulder bag I use to carry my travel documents and what not when I’m traveling.

YuanDao N10 back view

The back of the new gizmo

So I bought two. One for me, and one for the stepson hankering for one.

Here’s some details about it. The manufacturer is a Shenzhen-based company, YuanDao (原道), model N10. But it’s an OEM item marketed under other brand names. I found one at Tigerdirect.com for $200 with the moniker “Mach Speed Trio Droid 7 Internet Tablet.”

It runs Android 2.3 on a 1GHz Rockchip CPU, has 512 MB operating memory and 8 GB storage space, which is expandable with a microSD card. It has WiFi, Ethernet and Bluetooth built in, and can connect to 3G networks. There are two mini-USB ports, headphone connection and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera.

I’m pretty happy with it, despite its even smaller virtual keyboard. I’m still getting used to Android, which just seems less polished than iOS, but after three weeks nothing really bad has happened. I guess I’ve joined the tablet generation.

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