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Aakash?

This was the subject of an email I received from someone I know. The message asked for my review of the Aakash tablet, a low cost tablet which the Indian government in promoting. I replied with a verdict: uninspiring.

My reasons were thus: The processor was pathetic; I cannot expect an ARM running at 366 MHz to provide any reliable computing. My mobile phone runs Android 2.3, and has a 600 MHz processor. Yet, I find it sluggish. To compound the problem is just 256 MB of RAM. I really cannot expect any performance from this tablet. Pathetic configuration is the first thing that ruins a computing experience.

Further, the tablet has no 3G or GPRS, only WiFi (This is set to change in the next release of the tablet, with a better processor and Android 2.3 and GPRS connectivity, but still, I really cannot understand the point of including WiFi over 3G. After all, how many people who are the target audience of the government possess access to WiFi. If they did, why would they buy Aakash over anything else?

The battery is just pathetic, with 2300 mAh, it lasts for just 180 minutes, or 3 hours. In contrast, my laptop lasts me for 6 hours on a fully charged battery, a MacBook lasts for up to 9 hours on battery. If I would design a mobile computing platform, I will definitely design it so that it lasts for a considerable amount of time on battery. It will be pretty useless if it runs out of juice in 3 hours, considering that unplanned load-shedding in non-important villages in India extend for around 18 hours.

The touchscreen is resistive. Frankly, this is the best way to screw up any product today. Everyone loves capacitive touch screens, they are much easier to use, and support multi-touch gestures. Put in a resistive touch screen, and suddenly, you've lost everything people expect nowadays from touchscreens.

Aakash does not retail for $35. It costs INR 2500, which is around $50. The $35 is a subsidised price announced by the Indian government. This means that every time a college student buys the Aakash, the Indian taxpayer spends around $15 to support the purchase. Just to offer a comparison, the amount of the subsidy is approximately the earnings of a "below poverty line" family for a month. A million tablets, that's a lot in subsidy, considering that most students already have access to computers, either in their college labs, or possess their own computers.

While we are discussing students, I cannot see any student write his undergraduate thesis on an Aakash tablet. It does not have a real physical keyboard, and hence is a pain to type upon. So, I wonder, what are the students supposed to do with the Aakash. Most colleges don't have WiFi all over their campus. My own university has very select WiFi hotspots, and they are all secured. Even so, I really don't fancy walking over to the department in the middle of the night to access my email. Well, maybe that's what the government really wants. When internet access is difficult, students will not access it, and will sleep on time. Yes, that's what it's about.

Aakash is made by DataWind, a company based in London. I really cannot fathom why the government has agreed to offer a contract to a company based in London, for a tablet that is sub-standard, and heavily subsidised by the Indian taxpayer, when the money for the subsidy could easily be put to better use (in my humble opinion) supporting a family below the poverty line for a whole month. Moreover, the "Take it or leave it" offer made by the government in a market flooded with Android based tablets will hardly go down well with the people.

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