Android has been the dominant platform for cheap tablets for years, but now it seems that Windows 8.1 is the new black for a number of vendors.
A number of factors are in play, ranging from what could be described as Android fatigue to Intel’s decision to shovel hundreds of millions into its Bay Trail contra revenue programme.
As a result, leading vendors like Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Acer already have Windows 8.1 tablets priced $199/€199 or less. Smaller vendors are now joining the fun and we are starting to see even more cheap Windows 8.1 tablets, so let’s see what’s on offer.
Bay Trail’s race to the bottom
Just a couple of years ago the notion of $99 tablets based on x86 chips would have been downright ridiculous, but last year Intel announced that it hopes to hit the $99 mark with Bay Trail. This would have been next to impossible without subsidies, but Dell and Acer made it happen with a couple of cheap 7-inch Android tablets.
Today we will focus on Wintel tablets and the cheapest Windows 8.1 tablet in Europe comes from a brand best known for its graphics cards. The Point of View WinTab 800W is priced at €129, but PoV had to cut a few corners to get there. It is based on the quad-core Atom Z3735 clocked at 1.33GHz, but it has just 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Storage can be expanded via microSD cards, but you are stuck with 1GB of memory.
The rest of the spec includes an 8-inch 1280x800 display, micro USB port, 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth and a 4000mAh battery.
The Odys Wintab 8 16GB, pictured on the right, is more of the same. It is based on the Atom Z3735E and the rest of the spec is practically identical, as is the design. It sells for €135 to €149 depending on the market.
More 8-inch flavours from big brands
Acer’s Iconia W1-810 has an MSRP of €149 and a somewhat better spec, with a Z3735G processor 32GB of storage and a 7.9-inch 1280x800 panel. It was launched a couple of weeks ago and it ships with Windows 8.1 Bing Edition. However, it sports just 1GB of RAM.
Lenovo, Asus, Dell and Toshiba also offer a number of 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets based on 1.33GHz Bay Trail variants. There are a number of SKUs out there, but most of them are available around the world.
The Lenovo IdeaTab Miix 2 ships with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, as does the Asus Vivo Tab Note 8, Vivotab 8 M81C, Toshiba Encore 2 and Dell Venue 8 Pro. They usually sell for €199, but you can get them for a 5-10% less depending on the market. Since they've been around for a while and since they already received extensive coverage, we won't bore you with specs and additional info.
10-inch netbook replacements
In case you are looking for a Windows 8.1 tablet with a somewhat bigger screen, you won’t have to spend a fortune.
Point of View offers the WinTab 1000BW in two SKUs, with 1GB and 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. This is a 10-inch 1280x800 tablet and it is based on the Z3775 processor like its 8-inch sibling. The 1GB version is priced at €199, while the 2GB model goes for €219.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 goes for €249 and it has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. However, it is based on the ancient dual-core Atom Z2670. Although many geeks have a soft spot for all things ThinkPad, the processor doesn’t come close to 3000-series Bay Trail parts. It just doesn't cut it in this day and age.
The Odys Wintab 10 32GB has a 1280x800 panel and a Z3735F processor. It boasts 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage for €199. It also has a dock connector, but the keyboard is sold separately. It makes it an interesting proposition for school kids, maybe even some businesses.
In case you want a big brand convertible, Acer has you covered with the Aspire Switch 10. The tablet ships with a decent keyboard dock and it has a 1366x768 panel. It’s based on the Z3745F processor and it packs 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The dock is included and it has a full-size USB 2.0 port. European shoppers should be able to pick one up for €319.
Last but not least there is the Onda V975w and although it comes from a relatively small Chinese brand, it has one thing going for it. Unlike other cheap Bay Trail Windows tablets, it is an iPad lookalike and it features a 4:3 screen, a high-resolution 9.7-inch 2048x1536 IPS panel to be more specific.
It is based on the Z3735D processor, backed by 2GB of RAM. There’s 32GB of storage and a microSD slot, along with a 7800mAh battery. The asking price is €223 on Amazon.de, which doesn’t sound bad given the resolution.
Although most consumers will still choose big brand tablets, and there is no shortage of affordable models, affordable white-box models should not be ignored. White-box outfits have managed to grab a sizable chunk of the Android tablet market over the last two years and their products are getting better, with increasingly competitive specs and, in many cases, surprisingly good build quality. If possible, it is best to get a hands-on feel in a physical store, but truth be told cheap big brand tablets aren’t exactly known for bulletproof build quality.
Besides, the pricey iPhone 6 Plus can bend in your front pocket (if you are a clumsy oaf), so let’s not expect miracles from proper Windows tablets that can run Office and other legacy apps at one quarter of the cost of high-end phone.