Some time ago, I’ve set out to answer a simple question: When it comes to inexpensive Android tablets, how low can you go? What sort of tablet can I get for less than $100? To answer that question, I got the Coby Kyros, a 7-inch tablet that currently sells on Amazon for around $70. I’ve taken it through its paces, and I’m here to report on what can a sub-$100 tablet do, and what it can’t.
We’re also giving this review unit away so read on to find out how you can be in the running to win this Android tablet for free!
The Coby Kyros features a 1 GHz processor of unknown make (really – that’s what the Amazon spec sheet says). It has 256MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. It features Wi-Fi connectivity, and has no 3G module. The best-known 7″ Android tablet is none other than the Kindle Fire . Just like the Kyros, the Fire does not have built-in 3G connectivity. At 14.6 ounces, the Fire is significantly heavier than the Kyros, which weighs in at a light 11.3 ounces.
The weight difference is noticeable, especially when holding the tablet with one hand: The Fire feels very solid and heavy, while the Kyros feels fairly light. The difference in weight may well be due to the battery: The Fire provides up to 7.5 hours of video playback, while the Kyros is only rated for 3 hours of “normal use.”
All of these specifications don’t take into account one huge difference, which you would miss even if you read every word on the Kyros sales page: The Coby Kyros uses a resistive touch screen. If you’ve ever used an old Windows CE phone, you know what that’s like: One of those screens you have to push really hard with your finger to get it to do anything. Swiping across the screen involves pressing really hard, and then dragging your finger while keeping the pressure on. This is a glaring omission in the product page, and frankly, and had I known in advance that the Kyros features a resistive touchscreen, I would probably not have gotten it for review.
The Coby Kyros ships with a stylus. I don’t mean one of those funky touchscreen styluses like we recently gave away – I mean a piece of plastic to help you push the resistive screen. It also ships with a screen-cleaning cloth, common on many touchscreen devices (and a nice touch). But here’s another surprise:
Rather than charge via USB, the Kyros uses a dedicated charger with its own DC-in connector. The power brick is small, and looks a bit like an old Nokia cellphone charger. It accepts 110-220V, but comes with an American/Canadian prong and does not include other power connectors.
The Kyros also comes with its own velvety carrying case:
The case became smudged within seconds of the moment I took it out of its plastic bag. It is made of suede-like material that picks up fingerprints and stray molecules of dust very easily. Last but certainly not least, comes the coolest accessory to ship with the Kyros:
A USB OTG (On-The-Go) cable, also known as a “USB host” cable. This cable connects to the Kyros’s USB jack on one end, and to a regular USB keyboard or mouse on the other end. I’ve tested it by connecting a keyboard to the Kyros, and it worked very well (more on that in a moment).
Design and Ergonomics
The Kyros features four hardware buttons, a power connector, a mini-USB plug, microphone and headphone jacks, and a memory card slot for extending the amount of storage space available. It is a clean design, and does not attempt to be flashy. It features a relatively wide bezel, which makes it easy to grip with one hand without accidentally touching the screen.
In daily use, the most important part of a tablet is probably its screen, so here’s a quick brightness and color test:
Above, you can see the Kyros displaying the MakeUseOf homepage, and below is my Galaxy S II showing the same page – both are at maximum brightness. The Kyros is not as bright, and the colors appear slightly muted compared to the Galaxy’s vivid AMOLED screen. Here’s a closer look at the LCD panel:
It is not a top-of-the-line panel, but it is perfectly usable for watching videos and reading Web pages.
What The Kyros Can Do
The Kyros ships with the Aldiko eBook reader app, which is an excellent use for the device: When reading an eBook, you don’t need to interact with the screen much, and there’s no need for a fast processor. The only drawback in this case is the Kyros’s somewhat short battery life, but for daily use around the house, it shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
Just like how you can use the Kyros for reading, another great use is for writing: I used the bundled USB OTG cable to connect a regular Logitech USB keyboard, and it worked very well. The tablet was not super-responsive and there was a noticeable lag between my typing and the moment letters appeared on-screen, but it was still perfectly usable. As you can see in the screenshot above, the on-screen keyboard still shows up when you connect an external keyboard, but this is standard Android behavior.
The Kyros also ships with Android’s stock Music app, so you can listen to MP3s using its built-in speakers or headphones. The speakers are usable, and are at about the same level of quality as the entire tablet (i.e, not stellar, but generally okay). While its processor is no powerhouse, I was able to play an MP3 while doing other work on the device without any noticeable stuttering. Unlike the Kindle Fire, the Kyros includes hardware volume buttons which make it easy to control the music no matter which app you’re in. It also features on-screen volume buttons on the Android notification bar, just in case.
Google Play is not bundled with the Kyros, but GetJar is, and it’s pretty much your only option if you want to install any third-party applications. Another notable omission is the Android YouTube app: There’s a homescreen shortcut that says “Watch Videos” but it just runs the built-in Android Web browser and loads up YouTube. The YouTube video I tried played smoothly, even in the browser.
Living With The Coby Kyros
The Kyros costs about half as much as the Kindle Fire, but doesn’t provide half the functionality. Its short battery life makes it impractical as a tablet for toting around town, unless you also want to bring along the compact power plug and hunt for an outlet as soon as the battery starts draining. But other than the battery, its biggest drawback in daily use is the resistive touchscreen: It makes the Kyros impossible to use with most games requiring any sort of speed or responsiveness. You could still play Sudoku on it, but that’s about it.
On the plus side, the Kyros is easy to hold and doesn’t weigh much. If I had the Kyros to keep, I think I would end up using it as a distraction-free typewriter: I would just install an application like Writer, plug in an external keyboard, and write from anywhere. This doesn’t require any interaction with the screen, and the tablet doesn’t have to be super-responsive.
Should You Buy It?
This is a rare case in which I’d have to advise against buying this product. If you gave it to me for free, sure, I would find an interesting use for it – but I would not advise spending your money on it. If you have around $80 to spend, I would advise you to save up a bit more and go for a Kindle Fire. Then again, if you are just curious to find out what it’s like to use this inexpensive tablet for simple daily tasks, participate in our giveaway below!
How do I win the Coby Kyros?
It’s easy, just exchange your MakeUseOf points for an entry into the competition. It’s really simple: create a MakeUseOf account, earn points and exchange your points for an entry!
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 3rd. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.
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