Android tablets: Not such a bargain after all

Remember those innocent days of last year when Apple's iPad was first launched? We gasped at the price: $500 for the low-end model!? Preposterous! But then, that's Apple for you, right? You always have to pay the Apple tax. We snickered at the thought of Apple being crushed under an avalanche of cheap Android tablets.

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Hmm, so when is that going to happen, exactly? It's still a little early to claim the sky is falling, but we're seeing some disturbing indicators in the Android tablet space. Samsung's 7" 3G Galaxy Tab lists for $600 and seems to be selling for $500 now. The same price as a basic WiFi 10" iPad. That's not too bad. But then comes the Motorola Xoom, a 10" tablet. We've heard rumors of an $800 price for it, but a few days ago it showed up on the Best Buy site available for pre-order for a gasp-inducing $1,199!! Best Buy has since pulled the page (but you can find it in Google's cache) and we can only hope that it was a mistake. $1,200 for a tablet!? Crazy! $800 suddenly seems like a bargain.

Ad that appeared earlier this week on the Best Buy website

But it isn't just Motorola. LG's Optimus Pad is priced at 999 Euros in Germany according to Engadget, who points out that once you factor out the 19% VAT that Germans pay, leaves us with a price of about $1,075 USD. The Optimus has an 8.9" display. Sure it's got a dual-core processor and can shoot 3D video via a pair of cameras, but still, I'm hoping to see a lower price here in the US when the Optimus arrives in March (possibly called the G-Slate over here). There are affordable Android tablets available, to be sure. Barnes & Noble sells the NookCOLOR for $249, and it can be rooted into a decent Android tablet. Archos is trying to carve out a niche with devices like the $300 Archos 101 — a 10" device with a 1024 x 600 resolution screen — but they seem to be struggling for marketshare in spite of their low cost. And Viewsonic's G Tablet is $400, has a 10" display and an Nvidia Tegra 2 under the hood. It doesn't offer a great experience out of the box, but friends tell me you can root it and put a hacked ROM on there and it can be a nice tablet. But still, all the high-profile tablets seem determined to price themselves out of the market, from my point of view at least. These inflated prices are great news for companies like HP and Asus who're working on $1000+ Windows 7 tablets. Those prices used to sound crazy but now they seem right in line with their Android competitors. The iPad, in the meanwhile, is starting to seem like the reasonably-priced alternative. Apple's product is the reasonably priced one? What's the world coming to!? It'll be interesting to see what price the iPad 2 debuts at. Then there are the other guys. When HP introduced the WebOS-based TouchPad they didn't offer a price, but rumors say it'll be out in June at a $700 price. Depending on what you get for your $700 that might end up seeming like a good deal. Likewise, rumors have put the low-end of the Blackberry Playbook line at an under-$500 price, which is suddenly seeming like a real bargain. Eventually these prices have to start dropping, probably once the buzz around tablets eases up a bit. I'm content to stick to my iPad until that happens. What about you? Assuming you aren't one of those "a netbook can do everything a tablet can and more" types, what do you think feels like the right price for a good tablet? Are you planning a purchase any time soon? Have you already taken the plunge and if so, what'd you get? Please leave a comment!

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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