AT&T, Verizon Android Tablets Have Big Negatives

New Android tablets from Sony and Samsung hit AT&T and Verizon store shelves this week. But they don't run the latest version of Android and come with expensive contracts.
New Android tablets are hitting AT&T and Verizon's store shelves this week, but the Honeycomb software and contract pricing makes them questionable purchases.

Both tablets run the Honeycomb version of Android, not the latest version of the operating system that's called Ice Cream Sandwich. There was no indication as to when--or if--either would be upgraded to the newest OS.

The Sony P Android tablet will be available from AT&T starting March 4. The 4G tablet will be sold for $399.99 with a two-year service agreement.

The Sony Tablet P is unique for a tablet. It is a sideways clamshell that has two 5.4-inch displays (1024 x 480 pixels) that, when opened, make a larger display -- albeit with a black bar running down the middle. It will have cameras, a customized user interface and can make use of one screen for game controllers.

The P will be PlayStation certified and come with support for DLNA media sharing.

The P will be able to access AT&T's HSPA+ (no, not LTE) 4G network. The Sony Tablet P will also have unfettered access to AT&T's 20,000 Wi-Fi access points in case its HSPA+ network isn't available. That means free Wi-Fi in tons of airports, hotels, convention halls, and restaurants.

To get the subsidized price, you have to agree to a two-year contract. There are two contract options: 3 GB for $35 per month, or 5 GB for $50 per month. That's $840 for mobile broadband over the course of the two year agreement at 3 GB, or $1,200 for 5 GB.

By way of comparison, you can choose to buy the Tablet P outright for $549.99. You won't have to sign a contract, and you'll still have the option of using AT&T's HSPA+ network at month-to-month rates. AT&T's monthly data plans cost $15 for 250 MB, $30 for 3 GB, and $50 for 5 GB. Buying the tablet off contract costs $250 more, but you'll save gobs of cash over the course of the two years and have tons of flexibility with respect to your data options.

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If Verizon Wireless is your network of choice, you'll be glad to know that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 reaches stores March 1. It will cost $499.99 with a two-year contract.

This variant of the Galaxy Tab family has a screen that measures 7.7 inches across the diagonal. The Super AMOLED Plus display is particularly impressive because it boasts WXGA resolution, with 1280 x 800 pixels. Samsung says the display offers brighter colors and higher contrast.

The Tab 7.7 has a small footprint, making it more portable than some of its competitors. It is thin at 7.89mm, and weighs in at a mere three-quarters of a pound (12oz). Despite the small size, the Tab 7.7 packs a 1.4-GHz dual-core processor; storage options that range from 8 GB to 32 GB; a 3-megapixel main camera and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera; and a massive 5100mAh battery.

It will be able to use Verizon's LTE 4G network, though at a cost. Verizon's least-expensive contract option costs $30 per month for 2 GB of data. It also offers 5 GB of data for $50 and 10 GB of data for $80. You're looking at a contract cost of at least $720 over two years. At the moment, the Tab 7.7 isn't yet listed on Verizon's website, so I can't say with certainty if there's an off-contract option available. If there is, it is likely $100 to $200 more than the subsidized tablet.

To me, it is crystal clear that buying a tablet on contract is a financial disaster. The economics just don't add up. It's better to pay more up front for the device and less on a per-month basis. Besides, at the rate new tablets are reaching the market, who wants to hold on to one with an outdated operating system for two years? If purchased off contract, you'll have an easier time selling it or trading it in to upgrade.

This week at Mobile World Congress, nearly a dozen new Android tablets were announced, and most will ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. That sounds like a more delicious dish to me than Honeycomb.

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