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.


Tim said...

This was helpful, Mike, thanks for posting it. I've seen them and have been tempted by the price, but always too skeptical to actually purchase one.

I want one to give to our daughter so she has her own sandbox to play in. Every time we loan her one of our devices, it comes back with new games installed.

The second, more pressing curiosity is finding inexpensive Android devices to pair with Android / Arduino kits. This looks like a perfect match because it comes pre-rooted, is easy to take apart and won't break my heart if I accidentally fry it.

The other one I was looking at was the new(er) Coby model, but the touch response was so latent that I didn't bother, though I could have dealt with the poor resolution.

Mike said...

@Tim: My brother bought one for his kids so that they could use it instead of his phone (a Samsung Galaxy Note). His kids do notice the difference in responsiveness, so I wouldn't be surprised if they go back to using their Dad's phone.

If your daughter has been using your (higher end) phone or tablet, she may be disappointed by the performance of this tablet.

The other possible uses do look intriguing; I just don't have enough savvy to actually implement them. For now, the cheap tablet's main purpose is to allow me to read two books at the same time, or have a book open in one tablet and a browser on the other.

Mike said...

One other issue: the plastic screen doesn't work well with my fingertips. It's probably a coefficient of friction that's a tad too large.

I recently bought a screen protector (identical to the one I use for my Galaxy tab), cut it so it would fit. After putting it on the tablet, the screen felt better while swiping.

Helen Mary Labao said...

Hi Mike! You seem to know a lot about Android. Do you know which of these tablets are most hackproof? :)

Mike said...

@Helen I don't really know. I suspect that most tablets with the same Android versions are interchangable in terms of security.

One way malware can get into your tablet is through apps with dodgy payloads. So if you download an app and install, and it turns out that it has a hidden payload, you're cooked. I always look at the permissions in the apps I download and install. Apps that have permissions that are a lot larger than they ought to have are suspect. For example, if a calculator app needs system access or network access, it's a bad sign.

The second thing I do is keep my various online accounts secure. The most important rule is: protect your google account. If your gmail account has been compromised, it's a big hole. One can actually install an app into your device by using another computer: just visit the play store once you log-in using your google account and then install from there. Once your tablet goes online, it automatically downloads the app and installs it.

It's also a good idea not to let anyone else use your tablet, especially if you set your tablet to remember your log-ins. A lot of mischief can be done once your log-ins are available. You might also want to set a password for your device so that not just anyone can get past your lock-screen.

That's all I can think of right now. As I learn more, I'd probably write about it on my blog. I hope it helps. :-)