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A hands-on look at India’s $35 Aakash tablet

by David Needle

October 26 2011

Apple co-founder CEO Steve Jobs hated netbooks and shrugged off many requests that Apple get into the market. His main complaint was that netbooks don’t do anything better than laptops and Apple didn’t know how to bring value to the market at such a cheap (under $500) price.

You can see Jobs dissing netbooks in this brief clip. Well, there’s reason to make the same assumption about a $35 tablet computer. WIth iPad prices starting at $499 and lower cost Android devices coming in at $200, how useful could a $35 device be? 

The short answer is, more than you might think. The Aakash tablet made a big splash earlier this month when the Indian government announced plans to deploy millions of the Aakash tablets for $35 each to the country’s schools by the end of next year. The $35 includes a government subsidy for the 7-inch Android-based device which will be generally available for a still breakthrough retail price of $60. The Aakash was developed by the Indian Institute of Technology with the help of Montreal-based DataWind.

VentureBeat just posted a review of the Aakash and found it to be surprisingly useful at some tasks, while subpar at others. 

Custom software makes up for some of the device’s slow speed but performance is an issue. “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,” says VentureBeat. 

On the other hand, “... given how slow navigating the user interface is, watching videos on the device was incredibly impressive. We used YouTube to watch a clip from a Bollywood film, and the video came through fast and clear, with no hiccups.” 

To save on cost, the Aakash tablet has a headphone jack and an audio-in jack, but no external speakers. But as VentureBeat notes, with the addition of cheap headphones, and an equally cheap microphone, an Aakash user can make calls on Skype and potentially communicate with people around the world.

The Aakash has both GPRS and Wi-Fi capabilities. Its battery power is limited to 180 minutes of use on a full charge, but it comes with an AC adapter.

As Steve Jobs said about netbooks, the Aakash doesn’t appear to do anything better than the current crop of faster, more full-featured tablets, but the price is an incredible breakthrough. 

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