2011 was the year of tablet glut, as PC makers pushed heaps of iPad-like slates onto store shelves. Although many of these tablets were too expensive at launch, and not as refined as the iPad, Black Friday changes the equation. For one day, tablets with unique features and capabilities can be had for cheap. Here are some of the most noteworthy Black Friday tablet deals of 2011, and whether they’re worth braving the crowds and the lines.
Best Buy: Acer Iconia Tab A100 for $189.99
Before the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, this 7-inch Android Honeycomb tablet would’ve been a steal. Now it’s harder to justify, especially with a reported four hours of battery life. Skip it.
Best Buy: Asus Eee Pad Transformer for $249.99
The Asus Transformer’s optional keyboard and trackpad dock, which fold up like a laptop, makes it one of the most unique Android Honeycomb tablets of 2011. Although the dock’s not included in Best Buy’s Black Friday deal, $250 is a great price for any 10-inch tablet. Throw in the dock later and you still crack the $400 barrier. A quad-core sequel to the Transformer is coming soon for $500, so early adopters with money to burn will want to wait for the new model.
Best Buy: Toshiba Thrive 10.1 Inch Tablet for $279.99
The Thrive is an ugly tablet, but it’s got full-sized USB, MicroSD and HDMI slots for transferring photos, connecting keyboards, hooking up hard drives, plugging in wired game controllers and viewing content on a larger screen. Not a bad option if you want to use your tablet like a regular computer.
HH Gregg: Galaxy Tab 10.1 with Free Keyboard Dock for $499.99
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the slimmest Android Honeycomb tablet available today, and it’s generally regarded as the best, although without USB ports or other unique features, only Android enthusiasts are going to want this over an iPad. If you do find yourself craving the widgets and open app store that Google’s operating system provides, HH Gregg will throw in a free keyboard dock on Black Friday. It’s not a great deal, but one to consider if you’ve been looking to buy anyway.
(MORE: The Best Holiday Shopping Apps for Black Friday and Beyond)
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Office Depot: Lenovo IdeaPad K1 for $299.99
Lenovo’s K1 is chunkier than some other high-end 10-inch tablets, and I’m not a fan of its custom interface that slaps huge buttons in the middle of the screen, but it does have a full-sized USB port and HDMI output, plus 32 GB of storage in the Black Friday sale model. If you mainly plan to load your tablet up with music and video files, the K1 will get you there for cheap. Otherwise, save your money for something better.
$200 Blackberry Playbook at Staples, Office Depot and Best Buy
Once again, Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook tablet has fallen in price, this time to $200 for the 16 GB model. The Playbook experience has improved somewhat since the tablet launched in April, thanks to bug fixes and a slow-but-steady stream of new apps, but it won’t be getting native e-mail and calendar programs until February, and its app ecosystem simply doesn’t compare to the iPad or Android. If you can deal with those major downsides, the Playbook provides a solid design and a cool swipe-based interface for moving around whatever go-to apps you can find. Best Buy has already lowered the price, but you don’t have to rush this decision, as the price cut is in effect until at least December 3, according to VentureBeat.
Staples: Acer Iconia A500 for $299
The A500 is a thick slab of Android Honeycomb with 10-inch display and a full-sized USB port. It’s not a terrible device, but there’s nothing remarkable about it either. I’d shoot for the Asus Transformer or the Lenovo K1 instead.
Cheap Tablets Everywhere
Looking through the list of Black Friday tablet deals on sites like bfads.net and BlackFriday.info, I see a lot of budget Android tablets from obscure manufacturers, such as Sylvania’s 7-inch tablet for $79 or Coby’s 7-inch tablet for $99. In general, you get what you pay for with these super-cheap tablets, but in particular, steer clear of any tablets that have less than a 1 GHz processor and less than 512 MB of RAM, that run anything lower than Android 2.2, that have resistive touch screens instead of capacitive ones, and that don’t have access to the Android Market. Otherwise, you’re going to have a bad experience.