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Velocity Micro's sub-$300 tablets, hands-on

CNET's Donald Bell gives his initial impressions of the Velocity Micro Cruz T408 and T410 Android 2.3 tablets.

Photo of Velocity Micro Cruz T408 and T410 Android tablets
The Velocity Micro Cruz T408 and T410 Android tablets. Donald Bell/CNET

Update, Oct. 10, 2011: Velocity Micro has dropped the MSRP of the Cruz T408 to $199.

There are a ton of low-cost tablets out there, many produced by fly-by-night brands, never to be seen from again. We've covered a few of them here at CNET and in most cases it's immediately apparent that you get what you pay for.

Velocity Micro is one of the few bright spots in the budget tablet world. Over the years, its tablets and e-readers have popped up everywhere from Best Buy to Sears and RadioShack. Their designs are never the prettiest and their specs are hardly cutting-edge, but the company has managed to consistently churn out solid little Android slabs, such as the Cruz T301.

Velocity Micro's latest batch of tablets is slightly more ambitious than the last. The 8-inch Cruz T408 ($229) and 10-inch Cruz T410 ($299) are lean on features, but the company has put some work into tuning the system performance for the type of responsiveness and load time you'd typically only see in tablets costing twice as much. Both tablets run customized versions of Android 2.3 on a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, helped by 512MB of memory, 4GB of storage, and hardware-accelerated Adobe Flash. A gyro sensor, microSD memory card slot, and front-facing VGA camera are also included, as well as support for 802.11n Wi-Fi.

As for what's missing, well, there's plenty. There's no rear camera, no Bluetooth, no HDMI output, no GPS, and, most critically--no inclusion of Google's official App Market or Google Mobile apps (Maps, Gmail, Navigation, Talk, Books, and so on).

I suspect many people will be able to live without these perks, given the low price of these tablets. To make up for some of these shortcomings, Velocity Micro does preinstall Amazon Appstore for Android, as well as Amazon's Kindle e-book app, Angry Birds, a full version of Quickoffice, and Adobe Flash Player 10.3.

Will these tablets be able to stand up to Amazon's smaller, less expensive Kindle Fire tablet? Well, the Cruz tablets do have the advantage of not being locked down to one ecosystem of apps and services. Also, unlike the Kindle Fire, the Cruz tablets can be fitted with extra storage beyond the integrated 4GB.

Where I suspect Amazon will get the decisive upper hand is screen quality. Both Cruz tablets suffer from relatively dim screens with some off viewing angles, while Amazon's display for the Kindle Fire supposedly uses the same IPS technology as the Apple iPad.

Still, with so much attention on the sub-$300 tablet space right now, the Cruz T410 and T408 are going to be tough to ignore. Look for a full CNET review of both tablets in the coming weeks.