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The $50 experiment
Its announcement caught the world's imagination. India was going to one-up Nicholas Negroponte and his $100 laptop. The country that had already built the cheapest automobile was now going to develop a tablet PC for under $50 - a device that promised to revolutionize education across the nation. Three years and a failed attempt later, the government has unveiled Aakash-2. But can this slate be called a success?
The moment we got the Aakash-2 in the office, everyone wanted a look-see. The 'world's cheapest tablet' generated an interest that surpassed even the Galaxy Notes, iPads and ultrabooks. But is this device worth all the hype?
WHAT WE LIKE
Look & Feel:
The first impression the Aakash-2 gives you is of a solid, compact product that is ready to take whatever you throw at it. It looks good and is surprisingly light - much more than most tablets we've used. The dark grey body isn't too thick at any point, making it a comfortable grip.
Let's face it;you aren't going to get a top-of-theline screen at this price. And given the budget tablets we have seen so far, the Aakash-2 is among the better ones. The touch response is the best we have seen in its range, and although the panel is still smoky and grainy, it's not a deal-breaker any more. As for the viewing angles, you get pretty good renders from three sides, but it suffers a lot when viewed from the side opposite the camera.
When it comes to high school education, we can't fault the performance that the tablet delivers (even most casual games work fine). However, we can't imagine engineering or medical students working on the Aakash-2, because the moment it gets resource-intensive (such as running multiple heavy apps), the touch response falters and the tablet gets too slow for normal usage.
WHAT WE DON'T LIKE
No USB, Poor Internet:
The most significant outwardly difference between the Aakash and the Aakash-2 is the lack of a USB port, and boy, this is a biggie. USB is currently the easiest way to transfer data from one device to another. Imagine the plight of a child in a classroom who wants to share notes with his friend. Just email it, you say? Well, again, there's no SIM slot nor a USB port to stick a 3G dongle into. And it's not like schools in India come equipped with free Wi-Fi connectivity. In fact, the Wi-Fi antenna doesn't latch on to connections as well as other devices in its category, so you are going to need amazing routers to connect a whole school. Note: There's a microUSB to USB dongle, but that's in the form of an add-on.
The battery life of the Aakash-2 is on par with others in its category. However, the 3-3. 5 hours of average usage you would get on it just isn't enough for a tablet. Additionally, battery life suffers greatly when you use Wi-Fi. That said, it performed better than similar tablets during our continuous video playback test, lasting almost five hours. Overall, we got about three hours with browsing, reading, light gaming, and a few YouTube videos.
Where the Aakash-2 triumphs in hardware, it fails on the software front. As a pure Android tablet, there are no complaints;Ice Cream Sandwich is great to use, and the Play Store works perfectly to let you download apps. But the custom content created for students is a problem. A lot of it has US-centric information (such as food facts in 'A Science Explorer' ). Besides, content isn't formatted correctly for the tablet's screen (Aakash Pusthak) or is just plain tacky (like the Archimedes Principle PDF which constantly mixes fonts, including the garish Comic Sans, making for an inconsistent experience).
The built-in speakers of the Aakash-2 tablet have poor sound and are placed at the back of the device, so it's almost impossible to hear audio playback. Invariably, a student will have to use earphones if he wants to hear any video tutorial.
The front camera (no rear camera) is pretty much useless in low light, and in regular conditions, the images are grainy.
If you grip the Aakash-2 tightly, the screen gets affected. You will see a deformation, much like those ripples when you tap on an LCD screen. Given that this tablet is to be used by kids, we would want a sturdier build.
AAKASH VS AAKASH-2
The first Aakash was a non-starter : At 350gms, it felt bulky, its buttons and the body felt flimsy and it heated up to the extent where it was uncomfortable to hold;sometimes even automatically shutting down.
As for performance, it lacked the horsepower (800MHz CPU, 256MB RAM) to do even basic tasks, often crashing when running simple apps like Gmail, Google Maps and QuickOffice. The screen (7-inch resistive touchscreen) was an eye-sore with poor viewing angles, and horrible touch response. And the lesser said about its 3000mAH battery, the better. It barely lasted two hours.
Along with all this, the preloaded Android (v2. 2 Froyo) often hanged. Plus, it came with the substandard GetJar market, not the Android Market, so the options for apps were severely limited.
Indeed, Aakash had set the bar so low that its successor was bound to be an improvement. And on paper, the Aakash-2 does manage to look much better: 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, superior capacitive touchscreen, and a new version of Android (v4 Ice Cream Sandwich) that doesn't need physical buttons.
The Aakash-2 also brings in a front camera that was missing in its predecessor. But on the down side, it doesn't have a USB port like the first version.
Subsidized price for students, as announced by government: 1, 130
Price of UbiSlate 7Ci, the commercial version of Aakash II: 4, 499
UbiSlate 7C+, an upcoming version with GPRS connectivity: 4, 999
UbiSlate 7Cz, an upcoming version with GPRS and rear camera: 5, 999
June 2006 |
India rejects Nicholas Negroponte's $100 OLPC laptop, saying it is too expensive;announces plans to develop its own low-cost laptop. Later, the project replaces laptop with a tablet.
July 2010 |
Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal unveils the Aakash prototype. It is termed 'the $35 tablet'.
September 2010 |
HCL successfully bids for the tender to manufacture the slate.
January 2011 |
HCL backs out.
February 2011 |
Datawind is awarded the contract to manufacture 1 lakh tablets after it promises to offer it to the government at a cost of $49. 98 per unit. Datawind and IIT-Rajasthan collaborate to make the device.
October 2011 |
Datawind supplies 6, 440 tablets to IIT, but only 560 are accepted. Kapil Sibal launches the tablet at a ceremony in New Delhi on 5th October, 2011. 366 tablets are handed out to students at the ceremony. It sports a 7-inch resistive touchscreen, 256MB RAM, 366MHz ARM processor and 2GB internal storage.
March 2012 |
Aakash-2 is announced with availability scheduled for May.
November 2012 |
Aakash-2 is launched by President Pranab Mukherjee. It is powered by a 1GHz ARM processor, 512MB RAM and has a 7-inch capacitive screen with support for multi-touch.
December 2012 |
Minister for Human Resource Development Pallam Raju informs the Lok Sabha that one lakh (Aakash-2 ) tablets from the first phase are for the purpose of testing and teacher empowerment.
The low price of Aakash has generated lots of controversy. In 2010, TOI spoke to several experts with iSupply, a research firm that tracks supply chain for tablets, who said that it was nearly impossible to build a functional tablet at a price of $35 at that time.
IIT-Rajasthan and Datawind squabble in 2011 after the former refused to take delivery of thousands of Aakash units saying that they were not up to the mark. Commenting on the controversy, Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli said: "IIT-Rajasthan was trying to defame us by saying that we could not meet the quality required by it. When we were awarded the contract, there was only a specification sheet. But when we started supplying tablets, IIT-Rajasthan started rejecting the tablet based on biased and unscientific testing methodology. "
Datawind launched several versions of UbiSlate, the commercial tablet modelled after Aakash, in late 2011. It even started accepting pre-booking orders. Till date, a few consumers have alleged that they are yet to get delivery, even after having paid for it. lQaud Electronics, which assembled tablets for Datawind in Hyderabad, sued the latter over nonpayment of dues. Qaud officials alleged Datawind asked it to make 50, 000 tablets but then didn't take delivery.
The "Made in India" Aakash-2 units were found to be procured fully-assembled from Chinese firms. "For the first 10, 000 units, for expediency sake we had the motherboards and kits manufactured in our Chinese subcontractor's facilities. The units have been 'kitted' in China at various manufacturers for expediency, whereas the final assembly and programming happened in India, " Datawind explained in a statement.
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