A $200 tablet

Let me start by saying that the Apple iPad2 is an amazing device, and while it exceeds the price point that I want to talk about it is still a very good value if you treat it like a portable computing device. The lowest price I’ve seen is $299 for the 1st generation iPad, the iPod Touch sneaks under the $200 price point but only has a 3.5″ screen.

Some will point to the HP TouchPad starting this but the race to the bottom has been on for a while in the android tablet market. Of course at the very bottom are tablets like the Aakash, with a retail price in the $60 range. There is admitedly a big difference between the two; the TouchPad is high capability hardware at a fire sale price and the Aakash is a series of price/performance trade-offs.

If you simply want a cheap tablet, there are plenty in the sub $100 price point. It will have wifi, a 7″ screen, resistive screen input (non-multitouch), and a lower end processor. You’ll likely be stuck with the software that is installed on it, if you’re lucky it might have access to the Android Market or have ‘hacks’ available to expand it’s software capabilities. A fun device if you can live inside of its limits.

I’ve been looking at tablets for a while, and while the iPad is very nice I personally prefer an Android based device. As for price point, I had mentally set my price at $200 – in part influenced by the Nook sale that happened earlier this year.

What I liked about the nook is it has reasonable community support, including CyanogenMod. I had the chance to play with a Nook running CyanogenMod, it felt fine but I had missed the sale price and at the retail price of $250 it felt like there wasn’t enough to it. Recently the Nook Color has dropped to $199 and while it is still tricky to get in Canada, eBay has refurbished ones under $200 with shipping to Canada.

After looking around at various 7″ tablets I kept coming back to the Galaxy Tab. It had all the features I wanted and more, and as it turns out every once in a while they appear on kijiji for around $200. It does take a bit of waiting around, and I used the RSS feed [RSS] to watch the search term to keep me alerted when one was posted.

I suppose I should also drop in a reference to the very recently released Kindle Fire. This is a bold move by Amazon, but one that is an obvious evolution of their storefront if you think about it. There is currently problems getting them in Canada, but it is a very interesting device and price point. Certainly a direct threat to Apple due to the ecosystem Amazon is providing with the devices.

Let’s take a look at the three and compare a few features I think are key:

Nook Color Kindle Fire Galaxy Tab
Screen 7″ 1024×600 7″ 1024×600 7″ 1024×600
CPU 800MHz 1GHz(dual core) 1GHz
RAM 512MB 512MB 512MB
Storage 8Gb + MicroSD 8Gb 16Gb + MicroSD
Weight 450g 413g 380g
Camera none none 3.2MP + 1.3MP front
Wireless Wifi b/g/n + bluetooth Wifi b/g/n 3G GSM + Wifi b/g/n + bluetooth
GPS none none yes
Community Yes Not yet Yes

The Galaxy Tab beats the Nook on all fronts, but if 3G data, GPS and camera are not important features to you, the Nook looks very nice. The Nook probably has the strongest community support right now, but the Galaxy Tab is not far behind. The Kindle is very new, so there isn’t much of a hacking community yet (I’m sure there will be) and if you live in the US then the Amazon ecosystem looks very compelling.

I’ve actually purchased two Galaxy Tabs so far. The first I ended up passing along to my father in law who had been on the hunt for a tablet for some time. He had actually tried the iPad2 and Playbook out before settling on the Galaxy Tab. I think price point and functionality combined to meet his criteria. The second one appeared the other day for $150 including a leather case, how could I say no? Yes, that’s my $150 tablet pictured at the top of the post.

I haven’t had any time to play with it so we’ll see if it finds a niche in my gadget use, I’m encouraged by folks like Tim Bray who seems to prefer the 7″ tab vs. other more powerful and newer devices. It is a little tempting to turn it into a phone as it’d make the Galaxy Note seem a bit undersized, but I’d never live down the sidetalking comments at work.

Parting words:  WOW!  If this is the price point we’re at now the future looks amazing for gadgets with mind blowing technology.

Kingston RAM

RAM is one of the most important aspects of your computer system, but spending a lot on fast RAM is usually not worth it – better to get more RAM that is cheaper. I’ll frequently just buy whatever is cheapest that meets the specs I need.

Back in 2006 when I bought a refurbished Mac Mini (G4) from Apple it came with 512MB of RAM. The PPC Mini was limited to a single RAM slot, and 512MB was ok – but not really enough.

For Macs there was RAM specially tagged as compatible, or I could go the aftermarket route and just buy some RAM with the same specifications. If my memory is correct, the price delta was 30% or so. In the end, even at the premium price (about $100) the 1Gb of RAM I needed wasn’t a huge expense so I went for the guaranteed to work. The memory arrived, it worked fine until just recently.

The mini stopped booting, running a memory test resulted in it indicating the RAM was bad (I thought maybe the hard drive had gone). As Kingston has a lifetime warranty I figured it was worth seeing if I could get a free replacement (vs. a $30 price for a new unit at todays RAM cost).

Wow! Kingston’s support/warranty process is amazingly good.

I called and almost immediately got a real live person. It was really hassle free, they asked why I thought the RAM was bad and I said I had run a self test on it – and that was it. I was immediately in line for a RMA #.

The RMA process is really slick. Once you get the right documentation from Kingston (via email!) – you only need to package the RAM and drop it off at a FedEx location. Kingston picks up the cost of shipping it both ways.

The shipping was fast (and free to me):
Oct 4, 2011 9:45 AM Delivered FOURNTAN VALLEY, CA
Oct 4, 2011 8:57 AM On FedEx vehicle for delivery COSTA MESA, CA
Oct 4, 2011 8:03 AM At local FedEx facility COSTA MESA, CA
Oct 4, 2011 5:59 AM In transit LOS ANGELES, CA
Oct 4, 2011 4:04 AM Departed FedEx location INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Oct 4, 2011 2:04 AM International shipment release INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Oct 4, 2011 12:27 AM Arrived at FedEx location INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Oct 3, 2011 10:44 PM In transit MIRABEL, PQ
Oct 3, 2011 8:04 PM In transit OTTAWA, ON
Oct 3, 2011 6:23 PM Left FedEx origin facility OTTAWA, ON
Oct 3, 2011 5:16 PM Picked up OTTAWA, ON

A brand new stick of RAM arrived on my doorstep on October 12th (again via FedEx). It was amusingly over packaged (as you can tell from the photo at the top of this post). Of course it works perfectly.

Sure I paid Kingston a premium form Mac specific RAM, but that was back in 2006. To get such red carpet service 5 years after I bought something is really amazing. Their warranty also covers the regular ValueRAM etc, so you should get similar great service. They usually have very good pricing on their RAM, but given my experience with the warranty even if they aren’t the best price it will be tempting to spend a few bucks more to get Kingston.

Your old car: Sell or Trade-in?

Recently I got a new car (my old Civic pictured above). In the past when doing this I’ve let the dealer take my old car as a trade. Generally when trading in a car, you’re at a disadvantage. The sales person is able to manipulate two values: the price of your trade in and the discount from MSRP on your new car. Other interesting twists in the price are financing, administration fee, destination charges, etc. The standard trick in sales is to confuse you a little about the numbers, and try to get you to make an emotional decision on the new car (I really love feature X and can’t live without it).

Generally, selling your car privately will result in you coming out ahead. I had never sold a car privately before, I’d been a buyer in the past and selling isn’t much harder than buying. I’ll try to cover what is needed to sell your car, and later touch quickly on how to decide if you’re better off trading it in.

What you need to sell a car (in Ontario):

  • Used Vehicle Information Package
  • Emissions Test (eTest)
  • Safety Standards Certificate (Safety)
  • Buyer

Technically, you don’t need the Emissions Test or the Safety Standards Certificate – those are requirements for the buyer to have in order to register the car. You could sell the car “As Is” and let the buyer sort these details out.

On the day of the sale:

  • Fill in the ‘bill of sale’ on the Used Vehicle Information Package
  • Complete the Application for Transfer found on the back of the “vehicle portion” of the registration
  • Keep your plates and the plate portion of the registration

Looks pretty easy right? Check the Ministry of Transportation site for additional details.

So how much is your used car worth? There are plenty of places that will charge you for this information, but you can get by without paying anything (much). First check out the CanadianBlackBook site, it has both listings for used cars but a reasonably nice interface to query the trade in value and the average asking price for your car. No registration required.

In my case – a Honda 2004 Civic with 93,000kms came out like this:

  • Trade in: low $4535 high $5885
  • Average asking price: $6725

There isn’t a big delta between those numbers, but keep in mind that’s average asking price. Looking on AutoTrader and Kijiji there were plenty of comparable Hondas being listed for $8000 or more. Speaking of those two sites, they are also good places to go to check for used pricing – but lack useful interfaces to extract the data.

Let’s say the initial research convinces you to sell privately. Go get the Used Information Vehicle Package, it was $20 including tax. This also lists two values for the car, a wholesale and a retail price. In my case:

  • Wholesale: $4450
  • Retail: $6250

Now the buyer is going to need to pay sales tax (%13 in Ontario currently) on the purchase when they register it. Tax is paid on the greater of the sale price, or wholesale.

So now you put on your thinking cap, and decide on a reasonable asking price. Expect to be bargained with. I got lots of low-ball bids, but generally people were starting 20% lower than asking if they were at all serious. I’ll suggest Kijiji is a good site to use, it is free and seems to have lots of people looking for cars. One problem with Kijiji in general is there seem to be a lot of no-shows and people who aren’t serious at all (I got an offer that was %60 below asking). The internet is full of stupid, don’t let it get to you.

Consider seriously getting your car professionally cleaned. Shop around a bit, but you should be able to get it done under $150 taxes included. Buyers will be impressed at how “spotless” your used car is looking. The eTests is about $40, and the Safety was around $100.

I’d suggest getting the Safety done first, you may find that there are unexpected repairs needed. Of course the Safety is only good for 36 days – but unless you’ve set an unreasonable price it’ll sell before that. The eTest might turn up problems not found by the Safety, but it really shouldn’t. Having both the Safety and eTest done will attract more serious buyers and help justify a premium price.

When you write up your ad for Kijiji, make sure you’ve got some nice pictures of the car. Make sure to list the details of the car, any special accessories, the eTest and Safety status, any value adds you might have (winter tires). Spend some time reviewing the various other listings for similar cars and take some notes. You want things to read clearly and provide details (and you’ll be surprised at how poorly people read).

One bit of advice I got from the Ministry of Transport – it’s best to finalize the sale at the service counter so you can see that the new owner has registered the car. Until it has been registered against someone else, the VIN is still tracked to you as the owner.

In my case, it was a learning experience. I might have balked at doing the private sale if I had looked at the price delta between wholesale and retail, but at this point I’m glad I didn’t. I cleaned the car 1st, and assumed the eTest and Safety would go fine. The eTest did, but the Safety turned up a very common problem with my Civic – a cracked exhaust manifold. This is an expensive repair – then again, it’s possible the dealer would have spotted that too and offered me basically nothing for a trade-in.

I had found a buyer via Kijiji in no time at all (less than 12hrs). At the time I hadn’t had the safety done yet, and once that failed things went south with that deal. After some thought, I put it on Kijiji again – “as is” with a lower price to accommodate the repair. Within 36hrs I had a buyer, and the transaction was complete within the week.

Doing a trade-in with the dealer is certainly a lot easier, but selling a car privately is easy enough that I’ll likely do it again.