by December 3, 2012 0 comments



Over the past three months that I used the commercial twin of the Aakash 2

(a pre-release unit), many people asked me where they could buy it. But this was unusual.

My mother’s maid saw the tablet last month, and asked what it cost. Under Rs 5,000, I told her. She now wants one for her grandson, to be adjusted against three months’ salary.

Now, you have to see her to put this in context. She’s over 60, can’t read or write, can’t use the phone, has just about figured out the microwave and Tata Sky. But she wants a tablet for her grandson, who goes to a government school.

I’m getting her an Aakash 2. Her grandson will need the GPRS-and-phone version (no WiFi at home) and that one will take a few months — sometime in 2013.

So, the Aakash 2 is finally here, and this time round, it works rather well.

Everything’s changed: it’s slim, smart, lighter than the iPad Mini, starts up in 22 sec, runs Android 4.0 ICS on a 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor, doubles storage to 4 GB and RAM to 512 MB.

It replaces the old Aakash’s two clunky USB slots with micro-USB and micro-SD (up to 32 GB cards), throws in a budget front-facing VGA cam, and even gives two charging ports, including the micro-USB.

So what’s the big deal, in a crowded tablet market?

First, the price. After duty waivers and 50% subsidy, college kids will get it for Rs 1,130. The identical UbiSlate 7Ci version is Rs 4,299.

Second, the scale: the HRD Ministry’s ambitious plan to give “all 220 million students in India” an Aakash tablet in the next seven years.

Take that number with lots of salt, but even at the initial order of 100,000, and an expected second tender of 5 million (to be distributed among multiple suppliers), this could be a game-changer.

How? Well, not in the way the government expects. To change education in India will take more than a smart, cheap tablet.

But the Aakash helps drive down the price of tablets — and gets people interested in a new information device.

There’s now a dozen new sub-Rs 10k tablets around, and even a half dozen $100-level devices. Tested in PCQuest’s December issue is the BSNL Penta IS709C, with identical specs and the same price tag as the UbiSLate 7Ci.

PCQ’s tests find the BSNL Penta and the Aakash neck to neck in performance, as you’d expect with similar hardware, but the Aakash has double the battery life-nearly four hours.

And performance isn’t that bad compared with more expensive tablets, either. The $199 Nexus 7 is 25% faster than both in graphics performance, and has about double the browsing performance.

Like the Nano, which set a new benchmark with a Rs 1 lakh (then $2,500) car, the Aakash is helping create a new market.

India has over 800 million mobile phones, but way less than a million tablets. With so many people getting interested in a budget tablet for their kids, this opens up a new world of information for a population used only to voice connectivity and a bit of SMS text.

Arguably, people can do a lot with phones too, which are getting smarter and cheaper. But the tablet form factor encourages more web use, and entertainment and education apps.

So whether or not the Aakash program reaches its unbelievable numbers, I’m excited about the product. And I hope Datawind sorts out its supply issues enough to deliver to people who want to buy the commercial product.

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