Are tablets now disposable computing devices?

With the price of 7" tablets now reaching the sub-$200 level, should they be considered disposable computing devices?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
So, it happened like this. It always basically happens like this. Rewind about a month ago.

Me: "Honey, I just got in the new <insert product name here> tablet I ordered to review on ZDNet. Do you want the <insert product name here> that I was using before? I'm going to travel with the new one instead."

Wife: "Um, yeah, okay."

Me: "I'm going to hand this over to you now. It's your tablet. Please take care of it, and be careful not to drop it. We now live in Florida and the entire house is floored with tile. Tablets don't like to be dropped on tile. You know what happens when we drop tablets on very hard surfaces, right?"

Wife: "I'll be careful but I'm not going to give you any guarantees."

Me: "Yeah, I don't like the sound of that."

A couple of weeks go by. My wife enjoys using her new toy without incident. In this case, it was the Nexus 7 I bought and reviewed over the summer. 

I had my fun with it, and I enjoyed it for a few months, but I recently picked up the Samsung Nexus 10 to use as my new travel device. My romances with mobile devices are fleeting. There's always a new one to play with.

However, this is not the case with spouses. Replacing a spouse is a lot more expensive.

The problem with my wife is that she falls asleep in bed with her stuff. Cellphones, tablets, eyeglasses, TV remotes, doesn't matter. Before I go to bed, I put my stuff away in the cubby space in our headboard or in my nightstand dresser drawer, and if I have a chance, I also put her stuff away.  

Well, this time I forgot to put her stuff away. I was watching TV in the bedroom while she had dozed off. I don't recall what it was, maybe the new dog barked at something, or the TV was too loud and it woke her up.

Whatever the catalyst for this incident was, all I know was I heard the sound of my wife waking up, ruffling her blanket, murmuring something incomprehensible, a Nexus 7 falling off the bed and hitting an Italian ceramic tiled floor, and my wife then realizing the consequences and her shouting "Oh $@#%!"

Now, the Nexus 7 was in a case. The problem is, it wasn't a terribly protective case. It was a simple, thin screen cover case that is designed to keep the device from being damaged in a piece of carryon luggage or a pocketbook or a briefcase. 

And at a $200 replacement cost, I didn't think the Nexus 7 merited an OtterBox like my 64GB iPad 4, which is more than three times the price. Or my iPhone 5 for that matter.

Anyhoo, the Nexus 7 fell out of the case, the screen impacted directly on the tile, the device split open like a Gulf oyster at a New Orleans seafood restaurant, and there were shards of glass all over the floor. I picked the poor thing up.

The screen powered on, but the glass, the LCD and digitizer were toast.


So I looked into replacement screens. Turns out, ASUS itself charges about $170 to replace the digitizer/screen/glass assembly. If I were to source the parts myself and do my own repair, the parts would cost about $140. That's not taking into account my own labor time, which I consider to be pretty valuable.

It would be easier just to buy a new Nexus 7. I originally bought the 16GB model for $249 back in July. It now sells for $199, although Google is now completely out of inventory. The 32GB model is now selling for $249 at various retail outlets and is easier to get.

The thing is, I'm not gonna buy a new Nexus 7 to give to my wife. I'm going to buy whatever new 7" tablet comes out with better technology, because these things get outdated so quickly and just around the corner, another $200-$250 tablet is going to appear that is faster, better, more powerful, more storage, whatever. 

And this of course got me thinking. Have tablets now gone down in price so much, that they should be considered a disposable computing platform?

In the case of the 10" devices I'm going to say no, because most of those are in the $400 to $500 entry-level price range, and I think the lifespan of these things are expected to be around 2 or 3 years, this despite my own personal tendency to buy any new gadget that ends up on the market. 

But 7" devices? With the exception of the iPad mini, which starts at $329, I'm going to have to say yes.

At $199-$250 a pop, does it even make sense to accessorize a tablet with cases and other knicknacks? I think your average person will be lucky to get 1 to 2 years out of such a device before killing the thing.

The glass on a Nexus 7 is simply a regular scratch resistant glass manufactured by Corning and it was chosen by Google to keep overall costs down. Additionally, to reduce thickness, the touch digitizer, the LCD and the glass is all one fused part, so you can't just replace the glass if only that part breaks.

Based on the reports I have read on various Internet fora, cracking the screen on Nexus 7 is not an uncommon occurance. But I suspect this is also the case with other brands of tablets that use similar construction methods and components.

That being said, I've heard conflicting reports that the new Amazon  Kindle Fire HD, which costs about the same as the Nexus 7 uses the much higher tensile strength Gorilla Glass (I know for a fact that the original model did) and that would mean the screen is more durable and impact resistant than Google's product if it did.

Barnes & Noble's NOOK HD also apparently uses Gorilla Glass as well.

[Disclaimer: My employer, Microsoft, is an investor in NOOK Media LLC.]

Apple's iPad mini, which has been lambasted by the mainstream media for its much higher cost than either the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7 uses Gorilla Glass 2, the very same used on their iPad 4 and iPhone 5. 

Knowing what I know now, I'd have to lean toward Amazon's, Barnes & Noble's and Apple's 7" products for the more klutzy-inclined. 

Have 7" tablets become disposable computing platforms? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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