Much to my surprise, I now have two tablets — that, after some weeks ago writing a screed about how there was no way I would buy any tablet, especially not this year.
Then the 1-2 punch knocked out my anti-tablet stance:
1. A month ago, I fell for a 7" Android v2.2 tablet listed on eBay for $80, shipping from China included. (I can't tell you the brand or model, other than "MID WM8650": link.) I justified it as my Father's Day present, and last week it arrived. At $80, even my wife approved.
2. Last week, a CAD software vendor asked if I had an iPad with which I could test his upcoming iOS software. When I replied in the negatory, he offered to loan me one, and on Monday it arrived. Free. This time, my wife lost interest.
Now that I've had the two for a few days, here's my reaction:
Size and Shapes
The MID 7" tablet is a nice size, and I can see why many Androids come in that size — provided you don't intend to type with the on-screen keyboard. The rounded, plastic back makes it easy to hold.
The Apple 10" size is a little too large to hold comfortably, and the sharp edges with the aluminum back make it hard to hold for more than short periods.
The 7" is all-plastic, including the screen, with a battery that lasts just 2-3 hours. This makes for a lightweight tablet, and one that feels cheap.
The 10" is all glass and aluminum with a 10-hour battery. That makes it heavy, and it feels even heavier than it looks — making it feel expensive.
The 7" has headphone, power, microSD slot (I inserted a spare 2GB card), and a proprietary port. It includes the dongle with 2 USB ports and an ethernet port. (Naturally, it has WiFi, but no Bluetooth or GPS.) A nice touch is that the USB ports can be toggled to act like ADB (Apple device bus) ports, making it a snap to use the tablet with external keyboard and mouse. There are two small speakers and apparently there is a mic built-in, but I have not yet tested it.
The 10" has a headphone and a proprietary port. The proprietary port handles power, USB, and other interfaces, but Apple only includes the power cable. It also has Bluetooth, GPS, Wifi, a speaker, and a mic.
The 7" runs Android v2.2, which includes means it runs Flash 10.1. It does not have official Google support, so Google's market is missing. Using a Web browser like Opera Mini, however, it is trivial to sideload (download and install) any Android app from sites like freewarelovers.com/android.
In addition, it is trivial to root the device — trivial compared to Android phones — to install better versions of Android, such as HYBRiD WM8650 HoneyCombMOD (registration required). TIP: I found this mod installed best on this model when I specified 8 in changer.bat.
The 10" runs iOS and I had to suffer through a surprising large number of authentication and registration steps to get onto the App Store, even though I already have an Apple ID. Apps cannot be sideloaded, which makes me wonder how the CAD software vendor will get me access to their still-confidential app.
At this point, I gotta say that I just don't like the iOS and OS X interfaces. I avoid using Apple products, except when I have to for work reasons. Android is just more me.
Interfaces and Operation
I find it interesting that the 7" runs Android 2.2 (meant for cell phones) on its screen like a tablet. I am guessing that some Android apps are already tablet-aware, meaning they take advantage of the larger screen area. This cheap tablet's screen has the same resolution as my 4" Android cell phone (800×480), but it does not look coarse. It's as if there is some anti-aliasing going on.
As you would expect, this 7" is not the smoothest performer. When you start using it, keep in mind it costs $80, and then you'll be impressed by its performance. For the most part, it runs as well as the iPad. Where it falls down is with the screen, because it is resistive. The pro is that you can use a finger or a stylus; the con is that it is not as sensitive as a capacitive screen, and so sometimes I have to swipe or pick more than once to get a reaction.
The 10" runs many iOS apps in tablet mode, which means that apps tend to split the screen, with a selection area on the left, and the larger work area on the right. The resolution is 1024-by-768, exactly 2x in area as the Android. Being a capacitive screen, it is very responsive, but can only be used with a finger.
I mention cameras, because this is the weakest point on each.
The 7" has one front-facing camera, VGA resolution and, if you can believe it, 256 colors. It takes stills and video clips, but poorly.
The 10" has a front- and a rear-facing camera. The front one is as bad as on the Android tablet, but captures more colors. The rear one has such an embarrassing spec that Apple does not list its still resolution. The images made with the 0.7 megapixel camera are noticeably grainy.
The 7" Android is cheap, is built cheap, has no vendor support, but is fun for playing around with, like rooting, using as an ebook reader, or running as a music player (which is what I do with it). As a result, it is a pleasant but sometimes frustrating surprise.
The 10" Apple is well-built and well-supported, but is large and heavy, and surprisingly lacks in a few areas.
Neither is perfect, confirming my earlier anti-tablet column.