Some live by the school of thought—in design, as well as in life—that less is more. And for some, that works. Apple, for instance, is a perfect success story of making less feel like more. The company typically provides limited port connectivity on both its laptops and tablets, and it generally allows for only one way to do things. But this works because Apple makes “simple” beautiful, and its products always use high-end materials, so they just feel good to use.
After spending some days with the Le Pan II tablet, we realized we needed to look at it through that same lens. At first glance, it has some similarities to the tablet-king Apple iPad, minus some of the panache of the Apple brand. But it also comes in at a much lower price.
At only $299, the Le Pan II is sure to catch the eye of many bargain hunters. Like the iPad, it has a 4-to-3 aspect ratio, a 9.7-inch screen, and solid build quality. A quick, uninformed comparison of the two might seem like a no-brainer—in Le Pan’s favor—when the price difference is a whopping $200. (Apple’s iPads start at $499, unless you count the last-generation iPad 2, whose 16GB base model now sells for $399.)
Le Pan isn’t the only tablet maker to bring a quality budget slate to the market, however. Acer’s sturdy $349 Iconia Tab A200, which we recently reviewed, also impressed us with its performance and build quality, giving us hope that the days of cheap, insubstantial-feeling plastic chassis on bargain-priced tablets are over. On the other hand, all three have attributes we don’t like. With Apple’s iPads, not including HDMI and USB ports is a design choice that we dislike but tolerate because of the lack of direct competition, whereas with Acer and Le Pan, eliminating ports is a sacrifice in the name of price. (Note, though, that the A200 does have a mini-USB port.) The other area where a choice that works for Apple doesn’t necessarily work for an Android tablet is the 4-to-3 screen aspect ratio. (We’ll talk more about that in a bit.)
All told, our biggest gripes with the Le Pan II are the lack of four things: an HDMI port, a USB port, a rear-facing camera, and the latest Android operating system. The last is the most fixable; instead of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich, or ICS), you get Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), but it’s possible a future update will fix this. Regardless of the feature set and the price, however, every tablet should perform well, and in this regard, the Le Pan II delivers. It turned in respectable scores on most of our benchmark tests, and it impressed us during our hands-on evaluation. For couch-bound Web surfers and Facebook users—or anyone who won’t mind any of the missing features we listed—the Le Pan II is a surprisingly good deal.
See this review at Computer Shopper.