I’m Writing This on a $78 Laptop/Tablet Hybrid and It Doesn’t Suck Completely

When I was a kid, I wanted one thing more than any other: a computer of my own.

Not a BB gun, or a football, or a PlayStation – I wanted a PC without daily additions of malware and viruses, without one of my five siblings or my mother occupying it. It didn’t have to be fast or a portable laptop – it just had to work.

I did eventually get that computer – two, in fact. In high school, I got our then-decade old Pentium 166mhz desktop (our family PC rocked a 2.4ghz Pentium 4 HT – the first model with hyperthreading!) and a broken hand-me-down laptop that would eventually catch fire. They were great though! I dared to put Windows 2000 on the ancient PC, and Red Hat Linux, and so much other software that struggled to run on an ancient, so so ancient PC.

Imagine where I’d be if I were in high school today. I tell you where I’d be: glued to this $78 tablet that I would’ve paid for with McDonald’s money. It is almost unfathomable that I can get a convertible 2-1 PC (tablet with detachable keyboard) for less than $100.Heck, even in college, the eeePC/netbook craze didn’t start until my senior year, and those were 7-inch laptops with not-touchscreens running Linux.

I love that any nerdy kid like I was can work a few hours (okay, days) at a fast food joint and get a serviceable PC of his or her own.

But will the PC they get be worthwhile? Or will it frustrate them into picking a different hobby?

Fortunately, this little RCA Cambio 10.1-inch tablet is actually not half-bad. It has the aforementioned detachable keyboard, which is a tiny bit flaky at times (but a few frustrated connects-and-disconnects of the tablet from the keyboard seem to get it working) and the build quality is worse than  most of those fake laptop toys that you can buy a one-year-old. Seriously, the keyboard is so cheap feeling, I feel like I stole one of those mock laptops that furniture stores sit on display desks. But it works. And cheap plastic or not, there’s actually some damn good key travel. And the typing experience – I’m starting to get comfortable this far into the article, if that tells you how long it takes to get acclimated. It’s similar to my old 8.9-inch netbook’s keyboard. We won’t talk about the touchpad, which is utter crap, because it doesn’t matter when you have a 10-inch touchscreen.

And yes: it runs full Windows (not that RT crap that existed for five minutes on five devices). Plus, the latest Atom processors don’t suck – for web browsing and typing quick blog posts,it’s way more than adequate. (You do need 2GB of RAM and 32GB of flash “hard drive” storage space though at minimum. I have a 7-inch tablet with only 1GB of RAM and 16GB of hard drive space and it is unusable.)

What else is awesome about this? The full-sized USB port (not sure if 2.0 or 3.0), the mini-HDMI out for using this thing as a home theater PC/streaming slate, and the microSD expansion slot.

What are the drawbacks? It is the worst fingerprint magnet I’ve ever used – the plastic keyboard, the soft touch plastic, and the tablet screen all glow with hand oil in seconds (and I wasn’t eating fried chicken). The build quality is hilariously crappy – not just the toy keyboard, but the tablet which seems to be bowed at the middle. And the screen quality itself – terrible PPI (pixels per inch – more is better for eye fatigue and screen clarity) and the brightness is weak enough to make this an indoor-only machine.

But for what it is: a fully functional PC for $78, it’s downright phenomenal.

Notes for anyone buying one of these: update Windows. Reset to factory mode. And do ClearType configuration. I’d also recommend bumping up the screen font sizes as well – the tablet comes pre-configured to display text that would be too small for an ant to recognize.

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