I currently own a Nexus 7 tablet, and it’s been one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time. The thing is fast and powerful, perfect for writing, web surfing, and moderate gaming. Being quite happy with it, I had in mind obtaining something a little cheaper for work, something I could use essentially as a digital notebook. Over the course of several months, I kept an eye on sales and Amazon just to see if something interesting popped up. I aimed to keep my potential acquisition in the one hundred dollar range with hopes of finding something for a little less than that. The mere thought of getting a tablet for as little as forty dollars never crossed my mind.
Only then, it crossed my path.
While skimming through the sale circulars from the Sunday paper a few weeks ago, a little item caught my attention: a forty dollar tablet. Yep, four-zero bucks, as in two $20 bills, four 10-spots, etc., etc. There’s just no way…I mean, forty dollars…? My mind railed. What would you even get for that? According to the ad, you actually got something that, from all outward appearances, seemed decent enough. Say hello to the Nobis.
This little baby featured a seven inch display, an Android setup with 4.4 KitKat, 8 GB of memory (expandable with an SD card), built-in wi-fi, and a quad core processor. Not too shabby, right? Granted, it was from a no-name company, and further searching and review-watching revealed some noticeable downsides, like questionable construction, rightly crappy resolution, a single speaker with no hope, and front and rear cameras that would have been considered terrible ten years ago. But hey, the thing was on sale for only forty dollars! It wasn’t as if I expected the Crown Jewels; I expected it to be a cheap and useable tablet. So it was off to the store to see if it was all too good to be true. Once there, a gander at one of the boxes seemed to prove that the thing was legit, and it definitely felt like there was something inside the box. They didn’t have one on display, so I took a stroll around the store in deep thought about the fate of forty of my dollars.
And then, I decided, eh, what the hell.
Unboxing the thing was nothing special…though I think the box cost more to make than the actual device.
Yep, it’s cheap. That’s pretty much the best word to describe the look and feel of the Nobis. (But hey, once again…we’re talking forty dollars.) Now, the device does have a little heft to it, despite its plastic casing and plastic screen. And yes, the screen is plastic, and it’s incredibly weak compared to your standard tablets with their fancy Gorilla Glass. As proof, in order to transport the device to my work, I wrapped it in the bag and foam in which it was packaged. When I got to work and unwrapped the Nobis, it looked as if it had been dropped repeatedly on pavement. I was not very happy.
Cheap manufacturing aside, it doesn’t feel totally awful in hand. Like I said, it’s got some weight to it, and it’s an unusual size being narrower in width (4 1/8 inches) than a standard tablet. This made for no fun finding a case for it, but it’s not bad in practical use. It’s the perfect size for my small hands, and I can easily use it with one hand or two.
The Nobis is a very basic Android device with wi-fi (no 4G or Bluetooth, remember…forty dollars.) Unlike many Android devices, it didn’t seem to contain as much pre-loaded software as a I expected. I only had to clear out a few unnecessary programs after setting it up, and I was easily able to install a couple programs that I needed. I’m only using it as an electronic notebook, so it doesn’t contain any games, social media stuff, or productivity apps.
It’s not the zippiest of tablets – it takes a little extra time in all its tasks, from connecting to wi-fi to opening apps to just coming on after being asleep. The time lag is noticeable but not annoying, at least for me. (If you expect top-notch performance in your technology, then you wouldn’t be buying the Nobis anyway.) And once you get things running, it’s responsive enough.
This bring me round to the Nobis’s worst feature: that cut-rate screen. Now, it doesn’t feel bad to the touch – it’s smooth enough to pass for a reliable touchscreen. But once you turn it on…man oh man, is it bad. You know how crisp, colorful, and clear displays look on your iPads and such? The Nobis’s display is the exact opposite of that — dull, faded, and sunken, almost like the screen is buried deep inside the case. The display totally fades out if you tilt too far in any direction. And there’s almost a “double vision” quality to it – like really bad 3D. It’s good thing that I don’t have to stare at its screen for long periods of time, because I think it would eventually warp my sight.
But still…forty dollars, right?
Yes and…yes. I guess. I mean, I had pretty low expectations to begin with, and the Nobis met those at least. But I’m using it on a limited basis for a very specific purpose. This wouldn’t be the thing to buy if you’re looking for a daily-use tablet. The battery life isn’t great. (I have to charge it every couple days, and that’s with maybe an hour’s worth of use per day.) The screen sucks. The device is very plain. It’s an odd shape compared to other tablets. On the plus side, its innards are completely comparable to any higher-priced Android tablet. Plus, it’s got expandable memory, something sorely lacking in my Nexus 7. It works well enough when I need it to, and keeps to itself when I don’t.
The Nobis apparently retails around the sixty dollar mark, which is still pretty reasonable…though, not really. Frankly, this is a solid forty dollar tablet (and I’m even a little unsure about that at times). If you’re in the market for a third-tier wi-fi device for basic, occasional use, and you don’t require perfection in your life, this might be a good choice for you. But don’t pay more than forty dollars for it. Period.
Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play, United We Game, and 8bit Kitchen.