Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adventures in Tablet-ing

As a nerd, I am a fan of shiny, new gadgets. I have an iPhone and a Nook, but I've been tempted to get a tablet since the iPad came out. I don't really want an iPad, as I am very curious about some of the Android tablets that have been in development for a while. When the Nook Color was recently announced, I decided that I would either get one of those, or one of the android tablets, as they pretty much all run eReader apps now.

Interestingly, most of the Android tablets are pretty new, so there have not been a lot of reviews on them. As I was doing some research, the Velocity Micro Cruz eReader and the Cruz tablet caught my eye, as Borders was partnering with them. Borders has an online eBook store, and they were pushing the Cruz devices, which just launched in the past few weeks. The devices had color displays, ran on Android, and could download apps, browse the web, play video, etc. The tablet was a more robust device than the eReader, so I set my sights on that one.

I went to Best Buy and they had just gotten a shipment of the Cruz tablets in. They didn't even have a display up yet, but I looked at the box, read the specs again, and decided to go for it. $300 for a tablet I could run Android apps on? Sold!

Big mistake.

After getting the device home and playing around with it, I was very disappointed. First off, the Cruz does not connect to the Android marketplace, but instead to a watered down version of it called the Cruz Market. The Cruz Market only has a handful of apps, none of which were really appealing to me. The Borders app that comes installed on the tablet crashed repeatedly. The touch screen was non-responsive at times and overly sensitive at other times. No instruction booklet came with the device, and the manual you could download from the official website was not much help. When I loaded a few PDFs onto the device, the reading program could not process them, so I had comics that featured word bubbles but no art, or art with no lettering. All in all, the Cruz didn't function well as an eReader or a tablet computer. I decided after one night of using it that I was going to return it.

Once I had decided to return the Cruz, I was initially thinking of getting the Nook Color and being done with it. I did some further research on the Android tablets though, and found a few rave reviews of the Huawei Ideos S7 tablet. Huawei is mostly known for their cell phones, so I wasn't too familiar with them. However, the S7 tablet has some pretty sweet features, namely a great processor (Snapdragon) and full access to the Android Marketplace. When I went into Best Buy to return the Cruz, I spoke with one of the staff and actually got my hands on the S7 tablet. It seemed to get right all the things the Cruz got wrong, so I took a chance and exchanged the Cruz for the S7 tablet.

In the past five days, I have put the Ideos S7 through its paces, and I am very impressed so far. First off, the thing runs like a dream. Moving from app to app is smooth, and the user interface is solid. The touch screen is resistive, not capacitive, so there’s no multi-touch, but it’s very responsive overall. While the S7 virtual keyboard isn’t great, I was able to switch to the Android keyboard with no problems. The S7 also comes with a stylus, which I prefer for certain tasks.

As advertised, the S7 does have access to the full Android Marketplace, so I have loaded up on everything from the Opera Browser to Angry Birds. I also downloaded the Adobe PDF Reader app, which means I can view all of my PDF comics with no problems. That alone makes the S7 a better deal than the Velocity Cruz.

As an eReader, the S7 way outperforms the Cruz as well. In installed the Nook app on the S7 and had access to my Nook library in a few minutes. Everything worked smoothly, and the 7” screen is perfect for reading. The one drawback is the lack of E-Ink, so you’re reading off of a backlit screen—not the best for prolonged reading.

So, I’m really digging the S7 so far, and I haven’t even played with all of its features. There’s a 2 megapixel camera (mostly for video calling), and the tablet can function as a phone if you put a 3G sim card into it. The biggest drawbacks so far are the battery life (3 hrs or so), the lack of multi-touch, and the fact that it runs Android 2.1 instead of 2.2. My understanding is that sometime next month I’ll be able to upgrade to 2.2, so that shouldn’t be an issue for much longer. I also want to get a mini keyboard for it, as I can’t see doing any serious writing on the S7 with the virtual keyboard.

I’ll keep people posted on how I feel about the S7 after playing with it some more.

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