Monday, March 7, 2016

Inexpensive but decent tablets...? The RCA Viking Pro, 10.1", Android tablet....

In today's society, pretty much everyone has some kind of computer.  If it isn't a laptop, then it's a tablet or a smartphone.  Schools are giving kids laptops, iPods, and tablets to use throughout the school year; devices that become "theirs" for the entire year.

Needless to say, the age of personal computing has expanded and the latest must-have is a personal tablet.  Tablets are used for surfing the 'net, reading books, playing games, and much more.  That said...the king of tablets, the iPad ain't cheap.  Equivalent Android tablets aren't much better.  These devices are effectively priced outside the viable range of millions of users.

Enter the budget tablet.  Graphics are decent, but not quite the same level as the flagship tablets of companies like Apple or Samsung.  Processing is pretty good, but not as fast as those flagship tablets.  You can watch movies but maybe the speakers aren't super duper, Dolby, hi-fi, magical.  The big thing though - these budget tablets are pretty darn inexpensive.

There are a lot of dogs on the market; the typical $50 tablet is just awful with stuttering functionality, terrible viewing angles, off-putting colors, and poor resolution.  Any money you save on these will end up being funneled to an eye doctor.  The only exception in this range is the Amazon Fire Kindle.  At $50 with ads ($65 without offers), it's got a great display, fast processor, ok camera, and ok storage.  The only's running a fork of Android that is exclusive to Amazon's eco-system which means you miss out on a bunch of great stuff.

Getting closer to $100, the quality improves appreciably.  There are some decent brands here, not the least of which is Google's and Asus' early Nexus.  Yes, these are all smaller tablets (typical 7" tablet) but they're great for reading, surfing, and most general use.

Then there's another recent entry - the RCA Viking Pro.  This is not your typical budget tablet.  First and foremost - it's a 10.1" tablet.  That's the same size as the iPad and Galaxy lines.  It comes with Android 5.0 (Lollipop); a quad core, 1.3GHz processor; and ***32GB*** of built-in memory.  The screen is 1280x800.  To top it all off, it even comes with a keyboard that is custom built to the tablet.

The best thing about it - you can buy it right now from Walmart for $99.99.

When I first heard about this tablet, I could not believe the specs.  I had to see for myself.  I ordered it online from Walmart, chose their free shipping option, and it was here within a week.

The tablet and keyboard fit together with a magnetic catch that holds pretty well.  It's easy to separate, but isn't going to fall off.  I was surprised at the heft of the unit; it's basically a netbook running Android.  The tablet is a bit thicker than some others on the market, but it feels good in the hand and it's made of plastic so it isn't heavy at all.

The power switch is a slightly recessed button on one side and the tablet itself has all the ports and such (not the keyboard base, as you might think).  This is important as it means you have a full sized USB port right there on the tablet along with mini USB, HDMI, and a round power connector.  This was a particular curiosity; although it charges just fine via the mini-USB port, it comes with a regular/old-fashioned, round charging port and the charger uses this port, not the mini-USB.  Aside from the first charge, I've used a USB cable ever since and experienced no issues.

The real surprise is when you power the tablet on.  I have to admit - the graphics are impressive for a tablet that costs less than $100.  I've had tablets that cost two and three times as much but not even come close to the clarity of the screen on this Viking Pro.  My Galaxy Tab A doesn't look this good and even though I got it for $200 after discounts, coupons, and rebates, that's a $300 tablet compared to this one.

I took a week to put it through it's paces.  First thing I did, was install a game (Clash of Clans).  Again, the clarity of the screen is really very good, certainly better than many (if not most) budget tablets.  The game plays fine, although you can definitely tell the difference between the Viking Pro and my iPad Pro.  Things move slower, but it's still very serviceable.  (And, seriously, you could not expect the two to be comparable.)  The screen seemed a bit less responsive than my other tablets; it didn't really stop me or slow me down, but I've definitely experienced better.

The sound is a bit tinny and I put that down to the speaker being on the back.  I'm not sure why RCA would do that, but...go figure.  Nice thing about this supports BlueTooth so, if you want, you can pair with an external speaker and use your own sound.  Video ran smoothly and looked very good as well.  Did I mention it has a 10.1" screen too?

Android is capable of limited multi-tasking and can be set up to run multiple users.  In the past, I've found it doesn't take a whole lot to bring an Android tablet to its knees with multiple apps running, and I'm convinced there are memory leaks that zap the CPU's memory allocation as the tablet is used across multiple users.  The Viking Pro is no different here; in fact, it's pretty easy to bog down with my multi-user set up.  However, this would not be an issue for a single user and tablets tend more to be personal electronic devices than group- shared.

The cameras are nothing to write home about.  They'll do fine in a pinch but this is really more for Skype than anything else.

Battery life is ok; I estimate 5 or 6 hours for normal users, and it does seem to run down fairly evenly when in standby.

The keyboard is a basic keyboard, small, and works well if you're into that sort of thing.  It holds firm to the tablet and I'm surprised they could include what seems to be a well built keyboard in a $100 tablet.  You can flip the tablet around and use the keyboard as a stand or even keep the two attached with the tablet facing upwards.  One thing to note - the keyboard mount does not flip all the way back; it only comes open to about 110 degrees or so.

Another noteworthy feature is the memory - this tablet comes out-of-box with 32GB of memory.  That's pretty good but to make it even better, it has a micro-SD slot on the back where you can add up to 128GB more.

The end analysis - this is a really decent little tablet for $100.  I can't find any reason to not buy it, other than being able to afford the higher performance of a much more expensive model.  If you're looking for a second tablet, something for a child, running tight on funds...then you just can't go wrong with this tablet.  Among the budget tablets on the market, this one is hands down the best one I've played with so far (and I've handled a bunch).

RCA has a 7" tablet called the "Voyager II" that sells at Walmart for $40.  Maybe I'll pick that one up next....