This tablet is named simply "MID" (short for "mobile internet device") and is based on the WM8650 chip from VIA Technologies, who designed it specifically for building the lowest-priced tablets on the market. There are a number of vendors -- Elonex, FlyTouch, HTC, SmartQ, MayLong, EPad, TomTech, InnovTek, and ViaPad -- producing tablets using this chip and they all have the same look (roughly). In fact, I wonder if the new $100 tablet from Archos is based on this design. I have no idea who made mine.
The specs for this CPU include the following:
- 800MHz CPU.
- Android 2.2 OS.
- Floating point calcs 45% faster and power consumption 20% lower than the predecessor CPU (VM8505).
- Supports AVI format up tp 720P video; Flash 10 playback; supports HTML5 video online.
First, the bad news. As expected for $80, there are problems with the build quality:
- The touchscreen does not always respond as I expect. For example, I'll swipe down to scroll, but the nearest item is selected instead.
- When I plug in an audio cord, I have to jiggle it to hear both channels.
- I haven't got the USB ports working, but files can be exchanged through Dropbox, GMail, or through a microSD card.
- It looks like an iPad, complete with "Home" button. But this button actually performs the Back function; useful in most cases, but not when using full-screen apps, like Angry Birds. On the edge is a Menu button, puzzlingly enough. (Other buttons: power and volume.) I haven't found where the buttons can be reassigned.
- The power connector is a standard round pin, rather today's more common microUSB. Not a big deal, but it can't use the microUSB chargers I have around the house and car. (Other connectors: microSD slot and proprietary connector for USB-and-ethernet dongle.)
- Not all Android apps work with this tablet. For example, the HMV music apps runs, but won't download the music I've purchased. I haven't been able to install AutoCAD WS, but there are a few more workarounds I need to test. OTOH, Kobo works, and downloads the ebooks I've purchased. Sketchbook Mobile works.
Now, the good news. For an $80 device, this thing does a lot:
- While its USB ports don't work for file transfer, they do work as ADB (Apple device bus). I have attached the wireless transmitter for an external keyboard that has an integrated touch pad. This lets me type more quickly, but -- more important -- overcomes the touchscreen quirks.
TIP: On the touch pad, scroll handles left-right and up-down swipes: I hold down the first button, and then scroll sideways or up-and-down.
The special keys work, as follows:
Home - takes the tablet to its home screen; press Home a second time to see all screens.
Cursor keys - move between icons on the screen.
Enter - runs the app associated with the currently highlighted icon.
Esc - acts like the Back button.
Windows key - brings up the current app's menu
Windows Shortcut Menu key - brings up Google Search.
F1 - opens the browser
F2 - Music app
F3 - Video app
F4 - Photo app
F5 - Calculator app
F6 - Weather app
F7 - Sound recorder app
F8 - Clock app
F9 - Calendar app
F10 - File Browser
F11 - Task manager
F12 - USB settings
(You can change the meaning of the function keys in Settings.)
ScrollLock - Settings
PrintScreen - nothing, although a dedicated button on the status bar takes screen grabs.
Pause - nothing
PageUp and PageDown - nothing
Insert and Delete - nothing
End - hibernates device and locks screen
Ctrl+Alt+Del - reboots the device
- While some apps don't work, and Google's official Apps Store won't let me access some apps, there are work-arounds. For apps that don't work, I can usually find a substitute, or just live without. For apps blocked by Google's store, there are plenty of other sites that allow side-loading. I found that Opera Mini browser makes it really easy to sideload apps.
- The screen's coating successfully resists finger smudges, unlike the glossy screen of the iPad. The thicker body, smaller size, lighter weight, and rounded back make the MID easier to hold than an iPad.
- There is a community dedicated to customizing the OS on this device. One of the best is at TechKnow, which has a replacement version of Android 2.2. This Uberoid ROM roots the devices, installs some HoneyComb-like UI changes, and so on.
TIP: When installing Uberoid WM8650 HYBRiD HoneyCombMOD ROM at step 7, try a different number for CHANGER.BAT until the OS successfully boots on the MID. I found that #8 worked best for mine.
In summary. This device is great for seeing if a 7" tablet is right for you, and is cheap enough to experiment with custom ROMs. With the Uberoid ROM it runs faster, and with the external keyboard-touchpad, it runs more smoothly.