Here Come the Cheap Android Tablets

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Apple stunned tech pundits in January 2010, when it announced the iPad for a $499 base price. The company known for premium products was selling its cutting-edge tablet for near-netbook prices.

More than a year later, the competition is about to give Apple a run for its money. Three upcoming tablets — Acer’s Iconia A100, Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 8.9 — may beat the iPad on pricing.

Samsung has promised a $469 price tag for the Galaxy Tab 8.9 when equipped with 16 GB of storage, Acer’s tablet is priced at 299 pounds in the United Kingdom ($483, but probably cheaper when the tablet launches in the United States) and Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer may cost $400 for a 16 GB model without the optional keyboard dock, if accidental product listings prove accurate.

Sure, cheaper tablets already exist. Archos, for instance, sells a 7-inch tablet for less than $300, and no-name manufacturers like Maylong and Eken break the $200 barrier. But none of these cheap tablets run proper tablet operating systems, so they’re no more than gigantic smartphones. The Tab 8.9, Iconia and Eee Pad Transformer all run Android 3.0 Honeycomb, which is designed specifically for tablets and includes apps from Google that are reworked for bigger screens. These tablets, along with the more expensive Motorola Xoom, are the iPad’s first real competitors to run Android.

Of course, pricing alone doesn’t guarantee success. Android 3.0 still needs fewer bugs, more apps and better compatibility with existing smartphone apps. But lower prices will at least get tablet buyers interested, and with the iPad dominating mindshare, that’s exactly what these tablets need.