About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Chinese Android Tablet

I bought a 70 USD tablet (they call it  a CDRKing Fastpad, with model number FP-011-M(TM-FP7-03)) last week from CDRKing  because I wanted to know how well such 7 inch tablets perform compared to more expensive ones such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (GT-P3110) (which I also own). Properly speaking, the tablet is likely to be worth only 50 USD; the extra 20 USD is a markup for shipping and retailer's profits. The tablet information from CDRKing can be found here.

The experience is surprisingly good, at least for the kind of applications that I like using. I've installed the following: EbookDroid, FBReader (these two are for reading ebooks and cover almost all formats I'm likely to encounter), a scientific calculator, and an app for managing the root user, SuperSU. The tablet is pre-rooted, and I didn't need to look for an exploit that gives me superuser permissions.

Of course, since it's a cheap tablet, the resolution of the screen isn't as good as the Samsung Tab. But it's good enough for reading ebooks, browsing the web, doing video calls with Skype, and watching videos. The games that are installed play well--- the pre-installed games here being Angry Birds, Plants versus Zombies, Temple Run Brave, Fruit Ninja, and Skyrider. I've even installed a computer algebra system (CAS), Maxima for Android.

Among other things I did was to run the Antutu benchmark app, and do a plot of the sine function using Maxima. See the following screenshots:

For reference, the net score of my Cherry Mobile Flare is 7036, 5410 for my Samsung Tab, and 1817 for my Samsung Galaxy Y phone (which I now mainly use as a mobile wifi hotspot and music player).

Some of the interesting things that this tablet can do that my Samsung Galaxy Tab can't do are the following:
(1) Using the included USB to go cable, I can connect a mouse and supposedly a keyboard as well. Of course, doing that contributes to the battery drain.
(2) Also, using the USB to go cable, I can use supported Huawei USB modems and connect to the net.
That's something the Tab can't easily do.
(3) I can still use the USB mass storage protocol to access the SD card using my laptop. I find it more convenient when it comes to transferring files because it's a simple copy and paste.

Now what about the things this tablet can't do (compared to the Galaxy Tab)?
(1) The front-facing camera is not very good since its main purpose is for video calls, and there's no camera at the back. But since a Cherry Mobile Flare costs only 97.5 USD, you're still ahead if you buy this phone and pair it with this tablet.
(2) The screen resolution isn't as good as the Galaxy Tab. But then, if it's good enough for what you plan on using it for...
(3) It doesn't have a GPS sensor, nor does it support Bluetooth.
(4) If you look at the benchmarks, you can definitely see the difference between a more expensive tablet and this one.

Would I recommend it to the budget-conscious consumer? Absolutely. Although I do love my other tablet, I do know that I don't need all of its features. So for a student who wants a decent e-reader, a portable computer algebra system, simple games, and internet access, it's good enough. Tablets like these actually make the idea of a computer for every child seem realizable. Give the Chinese manufactories a year or two, and I suspect that we'll see lower prices and better quality.

(What it means for the global economy, and the US in particular, is another topic that I plan to tackle on another day. )

update: December 30, 2012
I've been keeping my eye out for the original equipment manufacturer--I still think it's manufactured in China--but haven't had any luck so far. I did find out that this tablet might also be known as the Ubislate 7ci, based on the exterior build and the specs.

The Ubislate 7ci, by the way, is known as the Aakash 2.  Datawind, the company that won the contract to supply the tablet to the Indian government, didn't seem to have the manufacturing capability needed to produce the tablet in India, and they had to outsource to China in an effort to stem their losses.

I've also seen a teardown of the Aakash 2, and it doesn't look pretty. There's actually a lot of extra space inside, and the manufacturer could have used a bigger battery. But because of the effort needed to keep prices within the contract (should be less than USD 50), this is one place where they skimped.

The tablet itself seems to be easy to open, based on the other reviews I've read, so someone willing to tinker with it might just decide to replace the stock battery to improve battery life. One workaround that I use is an external battery.