When Simmtronics announced
a few weeks ago that they were debuting the world’s most affordable tablet PC at a press event in Dubai, I was excited. There are many of us who have yet to jump onto the tablet bandwagon, and for a lot of people it boils down to how pricey some of the newer models tend to be. The iPad of course remains a firm favorite amongst people, but some have still held off from purchasing one. So would Simmtronics be able to deliver an affordable tablet that would allow so many people to enjoy media and entertainment in the palm of their hand?
Build quality & design
To answer that question, I received the Simmtronics Xpad SIMM-T701 for review. Simmtronics makes tablets in a variety of sizes and configurations, and it’s this apparently flexibility that apparently makes the tablet so affordable. Need a tablet for viewing websites and recipes in the kitchen? They’ve got one. Need a larger tablet for enjoying movies? They’ve got you covered. Surely then, the diminutive 7” Xpad is a great place to start with the Simmtronics lineup.
The build quality on the Xpad is – mostly plastic. Black and white, fingerprint-loving plastic. The back white plastic can get quite greasy and alarmingly slippery after being passed around by various people, and the front is equally as bad, framed by a thick black bezel. There’s a very stiff power button and volume rocker on one side of the tablet, and three buttons on the front of the tablet for back, menu, and home.
At the bottom of the device are a selection of ports for audio, microSD, mini-HDMI, micro-USB, and power. One of the unique features of this tablet is the apparent ability to plug in a USB 3G dongle to provide internet on the go, but surely it would have made more sense to just include a slot for a SIM card. There are small labels at the back of the device that indicate what port is for what, along with stickers for “3D Vision” and “HDMI 2160P SuperHD”, which mean absolutely nothing. Finally there’s also the lone speaker at the back, oddly located at the lower left when holding the device horizontally, so 90% of the time you’ll end up covering the speaker when holding the device and muffling the audio.
There are a variety of configurations for Simmtronics’ tablets, and the Xpad probably sits at the lower end of the spectrum. Though it runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, that means precious little when you’ve only got basic hardware under the hood.
UI and Apps
The Xpad runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is good because it irons out most of the kinks that plagued Honeycomb. But the downside is that because the hardware here is so underwhelming, the actual experience of enjoying ICS is completely lost. Apart from the usual Google apps, there only seemed to be two custom apps, one for recording voice notes and another for playing back videos and photo slideshows. There are also no widgets available besides the stock options, which is good because anything more than two widgets being active at the same time causes the tablet to drag.
Screen and Touch Interface
Ah yes, the screen – the 7” 800x480 display won’t be wowing you with its performance, but for basic web browsing and viewing videos, it tends to be up to the task. Watching a HD clip off the internal storage played back fairly smoothly, while YouTube videos tended to be a bit grainer even at 720p. The screen also takes a good couple of seconds to wake up when you hit the power button, as well as when you turn the tablet around to switch orientations.
The touch interface is again disappointing, thanks to the diminutive hardware inside. Zooming into webpages took a short while, but once zoomed in I had to wait a good couple of seconds for the Xpad to rerender that section of the web page and make it clearer. Flash websites loaded fine, and for the most part navigating through web pages is acceptable, but not as smooth as on the iPad or other Android devices.
Camera, Sound Quality and Battery Life
If you’re one of those strange people who enjoys taking photos with a tablet, then you’ll be disappointed to note that the Xpad only has one camera, and it’s a forward-facing 0.3 megapixel one. That’s right, 0.3 – I have older Nokia phones that have a better resolution than that.
Sound quality is average, but due to the awkward placement of the speaker you’ll have to make sure that you aren’t covering it when you’re holding the Xpad. Don’t expect any earth-shattering tones here, the Xpad does basic audio with plenty of vibrations and high pitches if you crank up the volume too loud.
Battery life on the Xpad was atrocious, with it clocking in just under 3 hours at 50% brightness and Wi-fi on, playing a full HD clip off the tablet’s internal storage. Essentially if you watch a few videos and maybe play a few games, you’re going to eat through the Xpad’s battery life quite easily.
Simmtronics set out to make an affordable tablet, and that they certainly accomplished. However it’s quite pointless if said tablet then runs slowly and generally ruins what is otherwise meant to be a fluid and enjoyable piece of technology. Yes, in a nutshell you’ll be able to afford this tablet for an absolute barebones tablet experience, but in all honesty it’s not the best device for an induction into the world of tablets.