Technology / 9 November 2014, 09:00am / Alan Cooper
Durban - Cheap, mobile internet for all. It’s a dream that’s eluded most South Africans until now. But network operator Vodacom has just taken a huge step towards putting it within reach of the masses with the release of its own branded seven-inch tablet computer.
At first glance there’s little to distinguish the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G from several other sub-R1 000 Android tablets on the market. But appearances, as they rightly say, can be deceptive.
You see, the Smart Tab’s killer feature is not to be found under its unremarkable glass and plastic exterior. It’s what Vodacom has bundled with it that makes this tablet a game changer – data, 1GB of the precious commodity and at a price unheard of to date.
Buy the Smart Tab 3G outright and Big Red will throw in a SIM card and three month’s data at 100MB a month. Not bad. Nothing to Skype home about either.
But sign a 24-month contract for R59 a month and they’ll give you the tablet and 500MB of anytime data plus 500MB of night-time data every month for two years.
When you consider that a 30-day 500MB data bundle for a Vodacom SIM card out of contract is R99, the Smart 3G deal is really a no-brainer. It’s close to half the price. And you get the tablet free, for Pete’s sake.
Vodacom’s Chief Commercial Officer, Phil Patel, explained the thinking behind this radical approach: “Just over a year ago we stepped back and looked at the devices currently in the market in South Africa and realised there was a massive gap.
“The smartphones and tablets on offer were either prohibitively expensive or cheap and badly specced. We sketched out what we thought the ideal specifications were for South Africa, and using the purchasing power of Vodafone’s global device team, we were able to have the device manufactured at a price point that works out at R2 per day.”
Setting aside the ridiculously good value data, what do you get specs-wise for your R2 a day? Quite a bit, actually, given we’re firmly in budget tablet territory here.
The Smart Tab 3G runs one of the most recent versions of the Android operating system – 4.4 KitKat. It weighs in at just 275g, making it pleasantly light and thin for a budget device. The seven-inch 960x540 TFT capacitive touchscreen display isn’t a patch on one you’d find on a top-end device like the iPad Mini, but it’s as good as any, and better than many, in the budget segment.
The two megapixel rear-facing camera for pictures and video and 0.3 megapixel front-facing selfie camera are, to be blunt, pretty poor. But just think of all that cheap data while you’re posting those fuzzy pics to Facebook or Instagram.
The 4GB of onboard memory is also a bit miserly, but is easily and cheaply expandable up to 32GB via micro-SD card. There’s also wi-fi, Bluetooth and Zulu language support.
Finally, it’s name should be a clue to something that sets the Smart Tab 3G apart from most of its cheapie competitors – 3G as well as wi-fi connectivity. To be sure, more and more free wi-fi hotspots are popping up around the country. But for true on-the-go web freedom, a reliable 3G data connection is still a must. Most other tablets cost R1 000 extra if you want 3G on top of wi-fi connectivity. For that price you could buy another Smart Tab 3G!
With this little tab, Vodacom has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors. The closest deal I could find in value was from Telkom Mobile: R99 per month for an Asus Fonepad, 500MB of anytime data and 1.5GB of “night surfer” data, plus free wi-fi at Telkom-linked hotspots. If you’re a night owl who’ll use the extra data and you want a quality, name-brand tablet, then I’d consider forking out an extra R40 a month for this deal. But for anyone else in the market for a budget tablet/data bundle, there’s really nothing to beat the Smart Tab 3G.
Cynics will charge that Vodacom is pushing it out as a loss leader, a gateway drug aimed at hooking the masses on the pleasures of mobile data web connectivity. I predict the reaction from the masses will be, “At this price, point me in the direction of my nearest pusher”.
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