Looking for an inexpensive tablet? Your options are increasing in number

Are you interested in a tablet, but not so interested in the current $499 starting point of an iPad? Or do you insist on Flash support? You’re in luck, as a number of manufacturers have lined up to try to take a chunk out of Apple’s tablet dominance.

NewImageThe Kindle Fire from Amazon is perhaps the new leader of the non-iPad pack. Announced last week and powered by a variant of Google’s Android operating system, the Fire boasts a 7-inch display, good battery life, and heavy integration with Amazon’s ecosystem–as PC World points out, “it’s meant to be a dead-simple slate for consuming Amazon content.” In other words, if you’re more likely to buy e-books or digital music from Amazon than from Apple, the Fire may be right up your alley. Any book you’ve bought for an existing Kindle (or the Kindle app for iOS or Android) transfers over as well. The kicker, perhaps, is seamless video streaming through Amazon Prime, the up-and-coming alternative to Netflix for online video.

What doesn’t the Fire include? Four things of note: A camera, a microphone, 3G data, and significant internal storage (8 GB, whereas the iPad starts at 16 GB). The Fire relies on Amazon’s massive cloud computing infrastructure to house your content, and even speed up web browsing through its Silk browser (which many privacy pundits are already questioning).

Those issues aside, many are predicting the Fire to be a big hit this upcoming holiday season. It will be available beginning November 15; you can pre-order one now.

The Fire isn’t the only tablet to consider if you’re on a budget or are desperate to get something sooner. PC World has a good summary of discount tablets, including the BlackBerry PlayBook, the HP TouchPad, and a number of Android-based products. It’s worth noting that some of these are inexpensive because they skimp on components; others are priced low as a result of poor sales. Pay particular attention to the pros and cons–while bargain-priced, some of these options may wind up frustrating more than anything, especially those lacking significant software options (PlayBook) or those discontinued models destined for hobbyists (TouchPad). However, if you’re looking for a tablet that can handle the basics, there are plenty of options on the market these days.

Image: Washington Post

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.