10 Windows Tablets, Laptops Under $200: Holiday Steals - InformationWeek

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11/26/2014
08:36 AM
Michael Endler
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10 Windows Tablets, Laptops Under $200: Holiday Steals

Gadget shoppers can choose from an array of sub-$200 Windows 8.1 tablets and laptops -- offering more power than you'd guess.
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A few years ago, if you needed an inexpensive gadget to round out your holiday shopping, you'd grab an iPod Nano or some other portable media player. Nowadays, for about the same price, you can get a tablet, laptop, or two-in-one device running Windows 8.1. These new devices have their limitations, but compared to yesteryear, $150 to $200 gets you a lot of computer.

When Black Friday hits this week, some of these new devices will cost less than $100, putting Windows devices in impulse-buy territory for the first time. Even if you miss out on the best deals, several new models are still available for less than $200.

The least expensive of these new Windows machines are pretty utilitarian. They don't have the brightest or crispest screens. Nor do they have the most processing power, the highest resolution webcams, the most onboard storage, or the most RAM, compared with higher-priced laptops and tablets. That's because many of these devices are essentially scraped-together, low-end components that satisfy Windows 8.1's new minimum hardware requirements. Can they run demanding programs such as Adobe After Effects? Technically, yes. But with only 1 GB of RAM and processors designed for energy efficiency and low cost instead of power, these devices aren't ideally suited to the job.

Still, many are an intriguing value, offering impressive power for the money if all you need is Internet access, Skype, Netflix, and a core set of Windows applications. In fact, most include a free one-year subscription to Office 365, or in some cases a standalone copy of Office. This means that if you were already planning to shell out $70 for a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, you can get the software and a new tablet for as little as $30 more. Not bad.

Not crazy about Windows 8.1's tile interface? Windows 10 is just around the corner. By upgrading your new Windows 8.1 device to Windows 10 you won't have to deal with Start menu withdrawal for long. There's even a good chance the upgrade will be free, given that Microsoft wants to move both Windows 7 and 8 users to Windows 10. In the meantime, Windows 8.1 is not as bad as its reputation -- if you take the time to tune your system's settings.

Why the sudden windfall of cheap Windows tablets and laptops? You can thank Apple and Google. iPads and Android devices dominate the tablet market. Google Chromebooks, popular because they offer productivity apps and web browsing on the cheap, are eating into the low-end PC market. Microsoft needs more users, and quickly, if Windows is going to have a chance on mobile devices; and if you need sales in a hurry, aggressive pricing is a good tactic.

To make these new, inexpensive Windows devices happen, Microsoft eliminated or reduced license fees for several consumer versions of Windows 8.1 while also relaxing the operating system's hardware requirements. These moves decreased costs for manufacturers and incentivized them to fill the market with inexpensive Windows tablets, laptops, and two-in-ones.

The strategy seems to be working. In October, as many of these new Windows devices hit the market, Windows 8.1 enjoyed by far its biggest monthly market share gain this year

It remains to be seen whether the cheaper Windows devices eventually will translate into Windows 10 sales for Microsoft. Neither do we know whether the cheapest of the new devices -- which skimp the most on hardware -- will live up to buyers' expectations. What's certain is that Microsoft's new strategy gives consumers more options than ever, and could help mobile devices running Windows end up under more Christmas trees this year.

Check out our gallery to see 10 of the least expensive tablets and laptops available on Black Friday. All of them run Windows 8.1 except one, the Microsoft Surface 2 tablet. It uses the less-capable Windows RT operating system, but we include it because of its irresistible Black Friday price drop.

One final word: As has become the norm over the last few years, Black Friday for many outlets will start Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. local time and end when supplies run out. So if you have your heart set on one of these super-affordable Windows 8.1 machines, you'd better head to the store soon after eating your Thanksgiving turkey, much as you might prefer tryptophan-fueled slumber.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 12:25:38 PM
Re: tablets
@Michael Exactly, the frustration outweighs the savings!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 12:17:12 PM
Re: tablets
I hear you. In San Francisco on an average day, it takes me at least two hours roundtrip to go to Best Buy. When it's that bad on a typical day, there's no way I'm going to deal with all the traffic and crowds on Black Friday. Maybe I'd save $10 here or there, but the costs to my sanity would be much higher!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 12:14:33 PM
Re: Beware ...
Interesting link, Lorna, thanks for that. I notice that the "trustworthy" Android devices in that suvey came from big manufacturers (e.g. Samsung) whereas the less trustworthy ones were often from smaller or lesser-known OEMs. I know big manufacturers sometimes load crapware on their devices, but still, seems like the most malware-susceptible of these Android tablets came from the fringes, rather than the center, of the market.


In any case, it goes to show you that it's always good to check out a device in person before buying. Perhaps you can buy sight-unseen if it's a device that's been reviewed to death (e.g. Surface Pro or iPad), but if it's a device that's less known, like some of these Windows tablets that are either suspiciously cheap or from relatively unknown OEMs, it's best to exercise caution. A $100 tablet might seem like a great deal at the time, but was the purchase really worth it if, a year later, the tablet's spent 95% of the time in a desk drawer?
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 11:49:14 AM
Re: tablets
@Michael, thanks. Though my own area is really trying to push the madness on the local stores, I prefer to stay out of it. I also dread the traffic jams that will ensue.  I'll have to look into online order options and check Lorna's link to skip over the models that bring trouble with them. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 11:46:14 AM
Re: Beware ...
@Lorna thanks for that. I'll have to do my homework before falling for a bargain.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 11:42:18 AM
Re: tablets
Some of the best deals are door busters that require you to purchase in-store, but others are available online at Amazon, Microsoft.com, and some others-- so even if you don't want to brave the Black Friday madness in person (and who could blame you?), you can still get some of the deals.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:52:18 AM
Exploit the moment
Sweet deals here, although it feels strange to buy a laptop/ultrabook for $200, like there's a catch, like you'll get what you pay for. Reminds me of the "netbook" days of 2008-2010. But if you're on a tight budget and just need to do basic computing, it doesn't get better than this. Microsoft is at a vulnerable point where they really need to get some Windows 8 laptops and tablets out the door. Might as well take advantage of it.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:32:57 AM
Beware ...
Before buying an inexpensive tablet, check out this testing Bluebox did: https://bluebox.com/blog/business/santa-or-the-grinch-android-tablet-analysis-2014/

They found malware, including backdoors, on many sub-$100 tabs. Very much worth a look.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:18:15 AM
tablets
I'm very tempted to buy one, but I'm certainly not going to enter a store on Black Friday in order to get a special price.
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