Will Vizio escalate the Android Tablet price wars?

At $349, Vizio's 8" Tablet with Wi-Fi could take Android Tablet prices to new, stomach-churning levels for the top tablet OEMs.

At $349, Vizio's 8" Tablet with Wi-Fi could take Android Tablet prices to new, stomach-churning levels for the top tablet OEMs.

If you've been paying attention to the Android Tablet space, you've probably noticed there's been something of a price war going on lately.

Recently, two major tablet manufacturers, Acer and Motorola, have adjusted their tablet street pricing in response to pricing pressure from competing manufacturers which have introduced similar devices, such as Asus and Toshiba.

Acer's Wi-Fi 16GB Iconia A500, which recently received an Android 3.1 update, is now streeting at $399 or less and in my opinion is still a very good tablet buy.

The Wi-Fi 32GB Motorola XOOM, the very first Android Honeycomb tablet out of the gate and which is still considered to be Google's "reference" device, recently received an upgrade to Android 3.2 and has been reduced to $499, no doubt in response to the release of the thinner $499 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

So will the price wars escalate further? I suspect they will, and even sooner than the OEMs think.

Vizio, which caused a great deal of disruption in the HDTV space a few years back by introducing value-priced but high-quality 1080p home entertainment displays appears to be doing the same thing with Android tablets.

We've now learned that their 4x3 aspect ratio, 8" VTAB1008 (Formally known as the "Vizio 8-inch Tablet with Wi-Fi") is going to hit the streets next month for $349.00.

Now, the Vizio 8" Tablet's general design and specifications have been known for quite a while, as it was shown at CES 2011 way back in January. But we've learned a few new things about it that other publications may not have yet revealed.

For starters, the screen resolution is 1024x768, which is identical to to the currently and previously shipping Apple iPad. It also has an aspect ratio identical to the iPad, even though the screen real estate is slightly smaller, at 8" versus 9.7".

So Vizio is of the same mind as HP (with its TouchPad) that consumers want something that looks a lot like an iPad.

Secondly, it has a lot less power-hungry hardware in it than most Android tablets, and more resembles the original iPad in terms of overall capability.

The Visio 8" Tablet has a low-power 1Ghz processor (which after some investigation into this matter and receiving a log of the /proc/cpuinfo output from the device, we believe it to be a single-core Marvell Armada 600 series SoC) and 512MB of RAM, with a total onboard user storage capability of 2GB.

The device has 4GB total flash, with 2GB reserved for OS and system data.

It also sports a single front-facing VGA camera, similar to the iPad's or the HP TouchPad's.

This device is obviously a great deal less beefy than any of the other Android tablets out there. But it does have a few notable advantages.

Firstly, it runs a highly-modified version of Android 2.3 "Gingerbread", the proven, stable OS with the highest amount of application compatibility and lowest resource requirements.

And if it does have the low-power single-core Marvell CPU as we suspect, it might even have decent battery life, which is currently advertised as "Up to 10 hours of normal use" on Vizio's web site.

Secondly, we have it on very good authority that this will be one of the first Android tablets to ship with a Micro-HDMI port that supports HDCP.

[UPDATE: In the original copy of this article, we stated that the product will ship with the Netflix player out of the box. According to Vizio's official public relations firm, it will not. However, HDCP has been a pre-requisite for licensing Netflix's software on devices that have HDMI output, so it would not surprise us if the software became available shortly after the product's release.]

To make up for the anemic on-board flash storage, the device will have a MicroSD slot that will support up to 32GB SDXC cards for installing apps and user data.

It also has an IR blaster on it so it can act as a universal remote control for your TV set. Vizio's PR representation has informed me that the universal remote software, which was developed internally at the company will be shipping with the device, and it can be used with 95 percent of all North American consumer electronic devices.

[UPDATE: In the original copy of this article, I had stated that the tablet will ship with a media streaming service, MOG, as well as Barnes & Noble's NOOK, Hulu and the ooVoo Voice and Video chat/conferencing service. Vizio's PR representation has informed me that it will not.]

The device will ship with three onboard speakers, so that no matter how you orient the device, it will have stereo sound.

Additionally, the hardware button limitations of Gingerbread have been overcome with illuminated "smart buttons" along the screen bezel area which are used as UI elements when the device is rotated.

A special "Skin" for Gingerbread has also been designed to optimize the device for tablet use, so that it doesn't suffer from the original problems of the first 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was based on Android Froyo 2.2.

If there was any doubt about it, this is targeted as a low-cost home entertainment and media consumption device for the masses.

The Vizio 8" Tablet isn't likely to attract anyone seriously looking at an iPad 2 or even a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. But for the millions of people that don't have a tablet and need something "Good Enough" this may fit the bill.

Just as plenty of people didn't want to pay premium prices for the SONY Bravias, Sharp AQUOS and Samsung HDTVs and opted for the cheaper Vizio sets, I expect that there will be a market for lower-end Android tablets for people who don't want XOOMs, Galaxy Tabs or even iPad 2s.

Vizio is about to put that theory to the test.

Vizio will not be the only company to come out with these "Good Enough" sub-$350 devices. If Vizio can do this, then I suspect so can Amazon, which actually can monetize something like this with "Special Offers" and their own cloud services such as Amazon Appstore, Amazon MP3, Amazon Video and Kindle.

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I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon's tablet had near-identical specifications to this thing, or maybe even less, and ship for under $300. Maybe even considerably under $300. Which brings us a lot closer to the price points of things like netbooks and even lower than things like Chromebooks, which probably puts both of those device categories in serious jeopardy.

And that may force even the premium Honeycomb device players to start thinking creatively.

Are you planning to purchase one of these inexpensive Android Tablets when they come to market? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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