Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

Summary: Android tablets should be cheap. Just not THIS cheap.

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Android tablets should be cheap. Just not THIS cheap.

Everybody loves a bargain. Not just us Chosen People either.

A few weeks ago, Walgreens, of drug store fame, began offering a $99 7" Android tablet for sale, the Maylong M-150, an off-brand made in China. It sounded like a good enough deal -- the device as advertised can do web browsing, with a front-facing (albeit low-res) video camera, with built-in Wi-Fi.

I figured for a goof, it would at least be worth testing out. So on October 27, I ordered it.

On November 5, I finally received notification that the product had shipped from Walgreens' warehouse. On Friday, November 12, it actually arrived, netting a 15-day turnaround door-to-door. I have to suspect that due to overwhelming demand, Walgreens got seriously back-ordered and had to order a container or two from China, which would explain the unusual delay, as the web site advertises a 5-7 day shipping time.

For $99.00, you really don't expect and shouldn't expect much from a tablet device. I do, however, actually expect the thing to work, albeit in a mediocre fashion. However, I don't even want to call this device mediocre because it's worse than mediocre, it barely functions at all, as you'll see in the video above.

[EDIT: Note that in the video, the wireless network appears to have not been connected, so it explains why the web pages wouldn't load, but you should be able to discern what the other problems evident in the device are. Even when the Wi-Fi network was functioning during our testing, the performance of the web browser was ungodly slow.]

What do you get for $99? Well in terms of pure specs, it should tell you quite a bit. You get a 533Mhz ARM9 processor (read as: very basic cell phone chip) 256MB of RAM, 2GB of internal flash memory, 800x400 color touchscreen, 802.11g Wi-Fi and an SD card slot, with a USB adapter dongle. Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast.

The first thing I take issue with is that on the Maylong website, the picture of the product looks completely different from what you actually get. The aspect ratio of the device's screen doesn't match the photo / screen shot on the web site, or even on the box, which depicts an iPad-like UI with even an "Internet Explorer" icon (I'm guessing that they had to yank that out of the real product as to not incur Microsoft or Apple's wrath).

The real product has a much thicker bezel with a much more cramped screen area than what is shown on the product's web site.

In terms of device responsiveness, the UI is incredibly slow -- so slow as there is a several second pause between touching the screen and doing essentially anything. I might be able to tolerate this if it wasn't for the fact that the device's touchpad is so extremely imprecise.

Unlike the iPad or even most Android smartphones, the display on the M-150 is resistive, aka pressure sensitive, rather than capacitive, so you actually have to apply considerable pressure to the screen for it to sense that you've touched it. If you have big fingers, you're in for a very unpleasant experience and will likely want to engage in a violent act shortly after you begin using it. Actually, if you have normal sized fingers, you'll probably want to chuck it against the wall too.

The Android build that's loaded on the device isn't much to write home about either -- it's Android 1.6, which is considerably backlevel from what's running on most Android smartphones -- 2.1 or 2.2. This wouldn't irritate me so much if the device could actually run some useful software or could actually browse halfway-decently, which it can't, unless you feel like joining the hacker community and try putting a newer, hobbyist-created ROM on it.

This device, like many other inexpensive Android tablets doesn't have Android Market capability, so unless you have an APK file to side-load onto it, or use the Maylong's pitiful "App Market" (which makes Soviet-era state-run stores in Russia look like Wal-Mart by comparison) you're not getting new apps onto this thing, unless again, you decide to hack it.

They've included a media player app if you side-load your videos and music files, but don't expect the measly battery to last more than an hour total while using this thing. There's also an E-Reader App which is pre-loaded, but you'll need DRM-free EPUB files to read on it -- forget about the Kindle or the Nook Android apps, you won't be able to use them.

The best thing about this awful piece of junk is Walgreens' return policy -- you can bring it back to a brick and mortar Walgreens store for a full refund after you decide you hate the thing, which I can assure you, you will.

I don't want to pick on Walgreens too much here -- as they buy and sell a ton of inexpensive stuff and probably don't do too much research on any one particular item they might buy from a large distributor. I certainly wouldn't think twice about buying an electric razor, clock radio or digital camera chips from Walgreens, or even a basic $100 Garmin or Tomtom GPS unit, but an Android tablet? Nyah.

My experience should be a warning to anyone looking for an Android tablet "bargain" right now. At bare minimum, I wouldn't buy any cheapo Chinese Android Tablet product unless it ran 2.2 Froyo and has Android Market support, at least a 1Ghz processor, 512MB of RAM and a capacitive -- not resistive -- touchscreen. And even then I would still be very, very wary.

That being said I have no doubt that within the next year or so, we'll definitely see relatively inexpensive 7" Android devices with similar specs to a current generation iPad for $200.00 or less, which will be able to run more palatable tablet-optimized software, but that time is not now.

Did you get suckered into buying a cheap Android tablet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Android, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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83 comments
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  • Cheap junk is still junk

    I'd hate for this to be the first impression consumers had of Android. Yuk!
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • And it won't be the last

      only because to many people are going to be putting out crap like this thinking it'll be the next iPad
      Ron Bergundy
      • Google doesn't care at all ...

        ... to put any kind of quality assurance in place. This won't be the last turd in the Android swimming pool.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        Google, unfortunately, has little to no control over this type of thing. It's no different than Microsoft selling a copy of Windows 7 to an OEM. That OEM then turns around and puts that copy of Windows 7, along with their crapware, onto underpowered/cheap/crappy hardware and sells the whole thing at a bargain basement price. Of course Windows isn't going to work correctly. But is it really rational to blame Microsoft for this? Of course not.
        K0DEAN
      • Of course it's rational to blame Microsoft in that case.

        @dbeilhartz

        Microsoft should not allow OEMs who make crappy products to sell those crappy products with Windows on them. They can actually have standards of quality and reject poor products.

        Android's licensing is practically designed to attract garbage hardware manufacturers out to make a quick buck.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @RationalGuy No, they (Microsoft) don't have any choice at all. You imagine the fuss if Microsoft refused to supply Windows to ANY of the OEMs. The problem for Microsoft is all the OEMs engage in this kind of nonsense to a lesser or greater degree. If you can get an OEM install DVD of Windows 7 and install that on your new PC you'll find the experience of the machine is usually dramatically improved (assuming you have all the drivers for the hardware). Multitouch might be an exception, but I don't think that's all that useful on a Windows 7 system anyway. If you have a buddy who builds PCs getting you to burn you a copy of the Windows 7 OEM install DVD might not be a bad idea (this is quite legal, as long as you're installing it on a system with the install key printed on THAT machine).
        jeremychappell
    • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

      @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes I'd hate for this to be the first impression consumers had about Chinese electronics in general. I mean, everything I buy from China is, er, nevermind....<br><br><img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink">
      bmgoodman
    • First 7 inches is just too small for a tablet, next, Android 1.6 is NOT

      acceptable for this form factor. The 1GHz of the iPad is about the minimum acceptable processor speed. Now we MAY eventually get a quality $300 unit with 10 inch screen and Gingerbread. But, it will NOT be this year.<br><br>iPad reigns supreme for the near future.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @DonnieBoy
        Jobs just put your check in the mail.
        Droid101
      • Well, I will NOT buy an iPad, my 11.6 inch screen netbook suits me just

        fine for now, and netbooks may be better for me in the future in terms of price/performance. But, sooner or later, when the price is right, I WILL buy an Android based netbook running Gingerbread or later. Or, who knows, maybe ChromeOS. Somebody WILL come up with a system on a chip that is as good as Apple's, EVENTUALLY.
        DonnieBoy
    • Never buy Chinese garbage

      @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes ... Korean or Japanese or better only.
      HollywoodDog
      • If you take that attitude...

        @HollywoodDog ...you will not be buying HP, Dell, or Apple products either because guess where they are all (as in 100%) made?
        cornpie
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @compie--Actually Dell laptops are put together in Ireland.
        AttackComputerWhiz
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @cornpie: "?you will not be buying HP, Dell, or Apple products either?"
        Certainly not Apple. My family has had five iPods (Classic, Nano and Touch). All of them have had serious technical failures in the first 18 months and three (including the Touch) are fit only for the bin.
        Patrick Neylan
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @HollywoodDog
        So for the record then, HollywoodDog would rather have a Korean Made Samsung WP7 phone than a Chinese made iPhone... :-)
        Stark_Industries
      • Ok, you got me

        @HollywoodDog ... Apple products are assembled in China, albeit with critical components being Japanese. However they do have Apple design and quality control.
        Seriously though, imagine you're shopping for a TV at Costco or Best Buy. They have Sony, LG and some Chinese brand you've never heard of. Tell me you're willing to roll the dice on China.
        HollywoodDog
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        [i]@compie--Actually Dell laptops are put together in Ireland.[/i]

        Actually, only some are assembled there. Notice I only said "assembled". That's not the same as "manufactured".

        And then when demand outstrips supply, they get them from sources in Asia.
        ahh so
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        A large percentage of the electronics we buy today are assembled in China but even for those that are not a larger percentage of the components are manufactured in China.
        non-biased
      • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

        @AttackComputerWhiz

        Uh, no, they moved European laptop production mostly to Poland in 2009.

        And even so, the parts for them were still Chinese made, just like any other DELL assembly plant.

        www.rte.ie

        "Dell will move all production of computer systems for customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa from Limerick to its Polish facility and third-party manufacturers over the next year."


        @Patrick Neylan

        Then why on earth do you buy the brand if you have such bad luck with them? After just one going wrong any intelligent person would have stopped.
        Win3.1
    • RE: Disaster: What happens when you buy an Android tablet at Walgreens

      @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

      Well, if it's now selling in places like Walgreens and WallBox at that price point, this will be the first impression of the brand for many unknowing consumers. Especially with the holidays approacing. Junk like these just make the iPad looks that much better.
      dave95.