New Delhi: After India's ambitious $35 tablet, Aakash, squandered its first-mover advantage with slipshod manufacturing, an inferior screen and sloppy hardware that lagged behind in power, its manufacturer Datawind Ltd is confident that Aakash 2 can at least compete neck-and-neck with - and perhaps even score over - other tablets in its league.
"Aakash 2 competes strongly with others in its range. It has better hardware, is new and improved and does everything else that other products in the range will do," Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli told Firstpost.
Aakash v/s Aakash 2
Some of the big improvements in the Aakash 2, he said, were the capacitative screen (which makes for smoother touch interface), a longer battery life (four hours), faster processing speeds - with a 1 GHz processor and 512 MB RAM and flash memory doubled from 2MB to 4 MB - an additional front-facing VGA camera for video conferences and calls, a G-sensor and Android's latest Ice Cream Sandwich OS.
Aakash 2 is the non-commercial version of Datawind's Ubislate 7Ci tablet and will be available for schools and colleges alone through the Union Government. The government will purchase around 100,000 units of Aakash 2 from Datawind by the end of December, and the tablets will be available for students at a half-price discount of Rs. 1,132 through their schools and colleges. The Central Government, which is purchasing the tablets from Datawind at Rs. 2,263 each, will absorb the cost differential.
Rajat Agarwal, India editor for international tech-blog BGR, who has played with both devices - the Ubislate version of Aakash 2 when it was unveiled earlier this year and the original Aakash when it was launched last year - told Firstpost that Aakash 2 is a more polished product than its predecessor.
"Aakash 2 is a much more usable product than Aakash," Agarwal said. "It now has a capacitive display, which offers much smoother touch interface than the resistive display on Aakash. The processor has also been upgraded and there's more RAM. It also runs on a relatively newer version of Android called Ice Cream Sandwich."
The original Aakash tablet launched in October last year had a stubborn resistive screen that had to be persistently jabbed with a stylus or one's nail, a poor battery life of just a little over an hour, a processor that could not run multiple applications simultaneously, and an outdated OS and a body that was prone to overheating.
However, manufacturers and observers believe that Aakas 2's biggest advantage over its competitors is its pricing.
"The fact that one can get so much processing power in Aakash 2 at this price makes it very functional," Tuli said.
Although there are many more low-cost devices in the tablet market this year, Agarwal believes that the subsidised price of Rs. 1,132 for Aakash 2 is the best thing about it.
"The best feature has to be the pricing, especially after the government's subsidy. Aakash 2 doesn't offer anything new, hardware-wise, that other low-cost tablets don't," Agarwal told Firstpost.
Most of the tablets with similar price points fall in the Rs 4,000-6,000 range. Micromax and some others too have tablets that can be used to make voice calls.
But overall, Agarwal rates Aakash 2 as a competitive product with great features for its price.
What could improve
While Datawind claims that Aakash 2 has a battery life of almost four hours, Agarwal, who used the Ubislate 7Ci (the commercial version of Aakash 2), said the tablet could do with better battery performance. "The battery could have been better; currently it provides just about two hours of usage time," he said.
Datawind's ability to match up to the demand for its tablets is also on test. "What remains to be seen is whether Datawind can supply enough tablets. We still keep getting queries from our readers who had booked the Ubislate a year ago and still haven't received the tablet," Agarwal told Firstpost.
Tuli agrees that the demand for the product has been enormous. The company, he says, is trying to meet the demand as best as it could - which is by selling its products directly through its website and call centre.
"We don't sell in retail stores because the demand has been so overwhelming and there's a backlog. We are concentrating on fulfilling that backlog," he said.
On the occassion of National Education Day on Sunday, President Pranab Mukherjee launched Aakash 2 in the capital. The advanced version of the tablet has been developed by IIT Bombay with support from C-DAC.
On the occasion, HRD minister MM Pallam Raju said Aakash could prove to be an excellent educational tool. "IIT Bombay, along with the HRD Ministry, has created several useful educational applications for the Aakash tablet. Teachers and students in the remotest corners of our country can join a classroom and benefit from lectures delivered by the best teachers," he said.