Once the stomping ground of Archos and companies you've never heard of, the budget tablet market has exploded this year as household names set out to prove Apple, Samsung and their high prices aren't the only option.
The budget tablets of 2013 (l-r): Amazon Kindle Fire, Argos MyTablet, Tesco Hudl (IBTimes UK)
This time last year Amazon priced its 7in Kindle Fire tablet at £159, which was over £100 cheaper than the slightly larger iPad mini, and it was said the only way the retailer would make money from the device was by selling content from its vast digital catalogue of books, films and TV programmes.
But now the bar has been raised - or lowered - again, first by Tesco and its £119 Hudl, then a month later by Argos its £99 MyTablet.
Both have 7in screens, run Google's Android operating system, and are both aimed at the claimed 75% of UK households yet to own a tablet. Add this to Intel claiming this Christmas will see the first $99 (£61) tablets, and the industry's barrier to entry looks set to drop even lower before the year is out.
Two years ago these would have been dismissed in the same way consumers shunned the HP TouchPad, BlackBerry PlayBook and HTC Flyer, all of which seemed to prove that the biggest names in computing and telecoms couldn't hold a low-cost candle to Apple and, later, Samsung. But now the tide has turned.
Tesco Hudl - £119
Tesco is an interesting case. Where Argos hasn't explicitly tied the MyTablet to its online store, Britain's biggest supermarket chain has installed a whole suite of applications to access its ever-widening product portfolio.
Now including film and TV streaming as well as groceries, clothes and consumer electronics, Tesco's entire remit is covered by the Hudl's own app. With its acquisition of Blinkbox and launch of free Clubcard TV streaming service, Tesco has already built the foundations needed to make the Hudl a cut-price alternative to Amazon's Kindle platform.
Tesco has also employed its Clubcard reward system to make the Hudl even more affordable. The supermarket will double the value of Clubcard points used towards the purchase of the tablet, meaning the Hudl is free in exchange for £60 worth of points. Throwing an Android tablet in your trolley along with the meat and veg, a crazy prospect two years ago, is now an attainable reality for many.
Argos MyTablet - £99
Argos' entry to the budget tablet market has been less thorough. The MyTablet is £20 cheaper than the Hudl, but instead offers a completely standard, unmodified Android experience with no emphasis on using Argos' service.
Produced by Bush, which is also owned by Argos' parent company the Home Retail Group, the tablet has a slower processor than the Hudle, less storage and a lower screen resolution; but where the Tesco tablet uses matt black plastic, the cheaper alternative features an aluminium construction available in white and pink.
Argos says the MyTablet "fits neatly in the range of tablets" that it already sells on behalf of other manufacturers, suggesting the catalogue-based retailer is placing a much smaller bet than Tesco, which could see the device, without any discernible unique selling point, disappear into obscurity, as although the price is low, the Amazon Kindle Fire now also costs £99.
Amazon Kindle Fire - £99
Just two days after the launch of the MyTablet, Amazon reduced the price of its entry-level Kindle Fire from £129 to £99.
Access to Amazon's digital content store means books, magazines, newspapers, films, television programmes and music tracks are never far away - but there's a problem. The Kindle runs a heavily modified version of Android, and does not provide access to the Google Play store.
Amazon offers some of the most popular games and apps - like Angry Birds and Facebook - through its own marketplace, but the choice is limited compared to regular Android tablets like the Hudl. Google's own apps - such as Chrome, Gmail, Drive and Calendar - are also absent, and while the Kindle Fire has alternatives, they're simply not as good.
But if you don't rely on Google and can manage with a smaller selection of apps, Amazon's custom interface and vast content library could be enough to convince you that this is the way to go.
Amazon has also reduced the price of the Kindle Fire HD, which now costs just £119, and gives you a much higher resolution screen compared to the regular Kindle Fire.
Which should you buy?
At £99, it's hard to look past the Kindle when compared to its lesser-known rivals. But Tesco's future looks more interesting: how will it's multimedia offerings expand, will there be incentives to shop using the Hudl, and how will the supermarket's tactic to aim the device at families and older users pan out?
Argos has played it too safe with the MyTablet by not combining it with its retail service. The tablet is being sold as little more than a cheap Bush device 'exclusive to Argos' rather than being a product of the retailer itself.
But, as we said, it's hard to ignore the Kindle Fire and the Amazon brand's pulling power when it comes to publishing - for readers and watchers this is undeniably the best option.
But for those who want unmodified Android with all of Google's service, the Hudl is excellent value - and we can't help but be interested in where Tesco is going with it.
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