My dear grandfather, the man who instilled within me a love of technology (and specifically consumer electronics), is fond of telling me that you just can’t skimp on hardware. Frank Zappa, on the other hand, famously declared “If we can’t be free, at least we can be cheap.”
As much as I respect my Grandpop, I’m honestly leaning more toward Zappa’s philosophy these days. It now seems perfectly possible to pick up budget electronics and not be wholly underwhelmed with your purchase. Sure, Apple and Sony and Samsung and LG are your heavy-hitters for a reason, but sometimes it pays to be thrifty.
E-Fun’s 10.1″ Nextbook is just such as device. At under $250, it’s a nice enough looking hybrid with a really attractive price point. While the tablet itself is a little on the bulky side, its detachable keyboard is properly weighted and perfectly responsive.
The Nextbook marked my first experience with Windows 8.1, and, while I’m generally a Mac man, I found the operating system to be stable and relatively intuitive–after I got over that initial culture shock. Plus there’s the added bonus of knowing I could step away from Window’s integrated app marketplace in favor of tracking down good ol’-fashioned executables.
Navigating the tablet both with the touchscreen and the keyboard’s integrated touchpad proved easy enough, and, while you’d never mistake the Nextbook for a full-fledged laptop, it certainly proved its versatility on this front. Its 32GB of internal storage is nicely supplemented with microSD support (up to an additional 64GB) and a free additional year of 1TB OneDrive storage that comes with your complimentary Office 365 subscription.
The visuals are crisp and clear on the 10.1″ display, and its physical volume controls and Windows quick-button are joined on the tablet’s outer edge by a bevy of other ports and interfaces: microUSB, microHDMI, the aforementioned microSD, and a combo mic/headset port. But then there’s the surprising inclusion of a traditional pin-type power adaptor. Yes, this thing has microUSB, but it can’t be used for charging!
There’s also some unfortunate speaker placement; with the keyboard attached, those bottom-mounted speakers pipe sound away from the listener, and it’s even worse when the Nextbook is resting in your lap as opposed to on a flat desk surface.
Now we get to the issue of horsepower. Sadly, this device is a lightweight, not so much for its 1.83GHz processor as its single GB of RAM. This means the Nextbook can usually chug along just fine for single application work, but multitasking quickly overwhelms it.
All that said, the E-Fun Nextbook is a solid enough deal at Amazon’s $240, but the $180 price at your local Wal-Mart definitely makes this little fellow a more compelling option for barebones on-the-go computing.
Like the Nextbook, the Kurio Xtreme also isn’t likely to hit any staggering benchmarks for mobile computing, but this kid-friendly Android tablet similarly provides a pretty solid product for the price. Its 7″ screen, which falls just this side of adequate, is set within a flat black plastic frame that’s complemented by a light blue band set around its bezel. This color coordinates with the Kurio’s own rubberized bumper case, which both adds a dash of flare and a little extra protection right out of the box.
I initially compared this device to the (slightly smaller) Fire HD 6 that both my children use as their own personal tablets, and on a number of levels the Xtreme pales in comparison. The Fire provides a snappier processor, a more appealing form factor, and a much more attractive display. But that’s not to say the Kurio is without its own unique charms.
While Amazon’s Freetime service provides a ton of curated, age-appropriate content, it does so at an extra cost–an annual subscription fee–and, while the Kindle Fire profile system allows for multiple users with different levels of content access, sometimes managing who can view what gets to be a bit of a chore.
The Kurio Xtreme, on the other hand, makes management a synch. Simply download the apps of your choice from either the Google Play store or Kurio’s own App Store using your parent account, and, on install, the Xtreme asks you for a category and user designation. Is it a game that your daughter will enjoy, or is it a productivity app for your own use that your little shouldn’t even see on her program list? It’s really that simple.
Speaking of games, the device includes 10 exclusive Kurio Motion games–Kinect-style running/jumping/wiggling games that somehow manage to actually function using the system’s front-facing camera–as well as what Kurio touts as “$300 worth of free content” like additional games, e-books, music, and the like.
While obviously designed from the ground up as a kid’s tablet, complete with a monitored e-mail application and the Kurio Genius Internet filtering system, it can also pull double duty. With support for up to eight individual user profiles, you’d be forgiven for turning your nose up at its paltry 16GB of internal memory, but microSD card expansion is both possible and highly encouraged.
On more than a couple of occasions I’ve slipped the Kurio away from my 6-year-old and used it for a little gaming of my own. It even managed to push bigger titles like Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Though there were occasional crashes, and at times I swear I could hear the little gadget moaning under the strain.
Available for between $120 and $150–depending on retailer–the Kurio Xtreme is a bare-bones Android tablet that’s reach manages to exceed its grasp. Still, it offers excellent flexibility for the price, providing, of course, you’re planning to use it primarily as a safe computing option for one or more of your geeklings.