It never ceases to be surprising when the price of tablets drops to new lows.
Take Hisense’s Sero 7 LT tablet, for example. The 7-in. (17.8 cm) Android tablet is on sale now through Walmart for a mere $99, undercutting bargain-tablet front runners like the Amazon Kindle Fire ($159), Barnes & Noble Nook HD ($199), Google Nexus 7 ($199) and HP Slate 7 ($170).
Despite the low price, the Sero 7 LT doesn’t seem terrible on paper. It runs Android 4.1 — not the newest version, but close — on a 1024-by-600-resolution display. It has a 1.6 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of storage and a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera. A micro-HDMI slot allows the tablet to connect to external displays, and a microSD card slot allows expandable storage.
But there’s one big caveat with the Sero 7 LT, not listed on Walmart’s product page: according to Engadget, TechRadar and others, this tablet will only last for about four hours on a charge. Most other tablets last at least twice as long. Even if you’re not planning on hours of consecutive use, a big battery allows you to keep your tablet lying around for days at a time, using it on and off throughout. With a four-hour battery, you’ll need to be extra mindful about plugging the tablet in when it’s not in use.
Also, keep in mind that while the Sero 7 LT’s microSD slot compensates somewhat for the measly 4 GB of built-in storage, it’s not a cure-all. Some Android apps and widgets can’t be installed to a microSD card, and juggling two sources of storage can be a hassle.
If the Sero 7 LT’s weaknesses amount to deal breakers, Hisense is also offering a $150 Sero 7 Pro model, with a 7-in. 1280-by-800-resolution display, a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 8 GB of storage and — best of all — a 10-hour battery, plus it runs Android 4.2. The specs are similar to Google’s Nexus 7, but with half the storage. On the plus side, the Sero has HDMI out, a 5-megapixel rear camera and NFC support, so you can transfer photos and files to and from an NFC-supported Android phone with one tap.
While tablets that break price barriers make for interesting stories, they rarely stand alone for long. As I’ve said before, these are interesting times for the cheap-tablet wars. If Hisense can manage to hit $99 with a retail partner and maintain a profit margin, it can’t be long until Amazon and Google follow. Both companies rely on the razor-blade business model of selling low- or no-margin tablets and making money on apps and media. The race to the bottom will continue.