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Hands On: India’s $35 Aakash Android tablet lands in America

1 November 2011

From Mobile Beat:

The Indian government thinks the $35 Aakash Android tablet has the power to change the world. After testing one out, we’d tend to agree.

An Aakash tablet was brought to the VentureBeat office on Tuesday by Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Duke. Wadhwa, who is researching the Indian education system, and is a columnist with the Washington Post, was given the tablet by Kapil Sibal, the Indian minister of human resources and development, who has been the driving force behind the tablet project. The device (whose name means “Sky” in Hindi) was produced entirely in India — a point of pride for the Indian government.

. . . .

The 7-inch Android-based device will be distributed at a government subsidized price of $35, making it the world’s cheapest Android device. The general retail price will be $60, which is still remarkably cheap for such a powerful device. A contract between the Indian government and Canadian development partner DataWind, should put between 10 and 12 million devices in the hands of students across India by the end of 2012, according to Computer World.

. . . .

Jugaad is an Indian word which means “to make-do.” The Aakash tablet is a Jugaad in a very high tech way. The components inside the Aakash tablet are cheap, and easily sourced. For example, the Aakash tablet has a headphone jack and an audio-in jack, but no external speakers — an obvious cost-savings measure. However, with the addition of cheap headphones, and an equally cheap microphone, the owner can make calls on Skype and has the potential to communicate with people around the world.

The screen is pressure sensitive (also called resistive touch) and responds somewhat slowly to gestures. It’s definitely not as dazzling as the high-end tablets familiar to Western audiences, such as the capacitive touchscreen iPad, or even the HP Touchpad.

The Aakash is running Android 2.2, Froyo, with the UniSurfer browser installed. Made by DataWind, UniSurfer is supposed to make webpages process faster, probably to compensate for the slower processor and connection speeds. However, while browsing the Internet and testing out apps, we couldn’t help but notice that the reaction time seemed very slow. Scrolling, for example, is a swipe-and-wait affair. However, the speed is going to be quite sufficient for someone who has never in his or her life had a smartphone or computer. It’s all relative after all.

. . . .

What makes the Aakash tablet different is that its creators didn’t strive for perfection. Instead, the emphasis was on getting the product into the market quickly so it could be adopted, tinkered with, and improved over time. As Wadhwa said, “to get the cost down, you have to make some compromises.”

The unmistakable impression we all got from using the Aakash tablet was that it is built for performance. Every design choice that might seem like a negative reveals three, four, five — or more — net benefits.

Why does it have two USB ports? So you can plug in a keyboard, of course, and still have a free slot for an external hard drive, or some other device. What about that screen cover that seems like it’s made from laminating material? If the tablet is meant for educational use, it’s probably going to have to contend with some pretty rough handling, dirt, dust and moisture. Better that it should withstand damage than look the extra bit nicer.

Link to the rest at Mobile Beat

Non-US, Tablets/Ereaders

2 Comments to “Hands On: India’s $35 Aakash Android tablet lands in America”

  1. If I wanted one, how would I obtain it?

    • B.L. – My impression is that they’re going to be limited to Indian customers for a period of time, but would be happy to have one of our international visitors provide more authoritative detail.

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