Global Observer

Check out India's new $66 tablet

Check out India's new $66 tablet

Posting in Government

DELHI -- Fresh excitement and cautious optimism over the new low-cost tablet available on March 1.

DELHI – India could be on its way to becoming the land of cheap tablets. The question, of course, remains do any of them work well.

A state-owned telecom company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), has launched three new tablets in the price range of Rs 3,250 - Rs 13,500 ($66 to $275). The model costing the least is about $20 more than the Aakash tablet, which priced at Rs. 2500 ($47) and is least expensive in the world (read about it here).
The BSNL tablets have been developed by Pantel Technologies Ltd. based in Noida- a suburb of the capital Delhi. These will be available in retail stores and BSNL outlets on March 1.

The first model, Penta IS701R, is powered by Android 2.3 operating system. The 7 inch Wi-Fi only tablet with a resistive screen runs on a 1 GHz processor and has 256 MB RAM. Users can attach 2G/3G modem via the USB port. The internal memory is 2GB, but it can be extended via microSD cards to 32GB. It has a 3000mAh battery and 0.3 mega pixel camera. It also has a HDMI port that can be connected to an HDTV.

Over 100,000 tablets have been booked in less than four days. Delivery of the pre-booked tablets will begin on March 5. Comparisons have obviously been made to Aakash, which was created by Montreal-based Datawind, a company owned by Suneet Singh, an Indian-Canadian entrepreneur (read our interview with him).

Datawind got a huge order from the Indian government, which is on a mission to provide low-costs tablets to millions of users especially students who can’t afford high-end tablets. Launched with great fanfare, last year, the device has failed to impress due to a slow processor, low battery power, bad connectivity and shoddy workmanship.

Experts are yet to give their final verdict on the new tablet.  Going just by specifications, techies are cautiously optimistic for the moment. The new tablet has a faster processor than both the basic and upgraded models of Aakash. It also has more battery power than the basic Aakash, which runs on 2.2 Android Operating System.

Prasanto K.Roy, an expert at CyberMedia-India, who has been quite critical of Aakash, says the new tablet seems “marginally” better and its cost is more realistic. Since a telecom service provider is backing the tablets, the device is expected to have better connectivity as well.

Roy, however, would prefer another telecom company.  “BSNL's track record with new tech launches, including 3G itself, is abysmal,” he said. “To cut a long story short, I expect this to be a marginally better product than the Aakash, better connected, but not very much more successful in the market.”

Whatever the differences between the BSNL and Aakash tablets maybe, they were certainly launched in very different styles. The BSNL tablets had more subtle entry compared to the premature declarations by Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal that the government was ready with the world’s cheapest tablet. Frankly, some experts feel it both ridiculous and irresponsible for the government to have strongly pushed the product on the public (especially students) without thoroughly testing it first. Now, the government has bid farewell to Datawind.

So why is India obsessing over creating a cheap tablet? Roy thinks that companies are looking to score government bulk orders for schools and other facilities, which can sustain them for a long time. In the case of telecom companies, he noted, it's an effort to shore up data revenues, amidst a consistent downslide in voice average revenue per user.

The two other models

The second model, Penta TPAD WS704C, at Rs. 10,999 ($224) is a 7 inch tablet powered by Android 2.3 operating system and a 1 GHz processor. But it has a multi-touch capacitive touch-screen and 512MB RAM along with a 4000 mAH battery, internal memory of 4GB, a regular and mini USB port, Bluetooth, SIM card slot, an HDMI port, 2 mega pixel camera, Gravity-censor and a GPS.

The third model, Penta TPAD WS804C, at Rs. 13,500 ($275) is an 8 inch tablet with multi-touch capacitive touch-screen. It runs on 1.2GHz processor and has 512MB RAM. The internal memory is 4 GB that can be extended. It has battery rating of 4200mAh. Other features include a 2MP camera, SIM card slot, GPS, G-sensor, a regular and mini USB port and an HDMI port.

Photos- Pantel Technologies Ltd.

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Betwa Sharma

Correspondent

Betwa Sharma has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Time, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, AOL News, GlobalPost, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Tribune. She previously worked as the United Nations/New York correspondent for the Press Trust of India, the country's largest newswire. She holds degrees from the National Law Institute University in India, Cambridge University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Delhi, India. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure