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The £30 tablet and the humble front door key
Jan 08, 2014 // Reviews //

Move over Tesco Hudl, Aldi Medion Lifetab and Argos MyTablet, there’s a new tablet on the block. The “world’s cheapest tablet” has been manufactured by Datawind (http://datawind.com). Welcome to the UbiSlate 7Ci costing a mere £30.

7Ci

The UbiSlate was originally made for an Indian government education scheme at which time it was branded as ‘Aakash 2′. In India, the tablet is used by students and was originally designed to provide cheap access to online services to improve education.

So, what exactly do you get for your three £10 notes?

  • A 7-inch (18cm), 800 x 432 capacitive touchscreen.
  • Android 4.04 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • 1GHz Cortex A8 ARMv7 CPU (the same calibre of processor found in the original iPad)
  • 512MB RAM, 4GB storage (with a Micro SD slot allowing for expansion of storage up to 32GB)
  • Wi-Fi (with a cellular model also available)
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • Power, micro-USB and headphone connectors
  • 3-hour battery life

The specs are not going to blow you away, they are ordinary at best. Anyone comparing the build with any other tablet on the market today is going to be disappointed. The reality of any consumer electronic device is that you truly get what you pay for. If you were to order the UbiSlate 7Ci and expect performance to be akin to the latest tablets from Apple, Samsung and Microsoft then stay away. This device is not about performance, it’s about affordable technology, it’s about delivering the Internet, it’s about Digital Inclusion.

During recent conversations with my colleague Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht) and our friends at HACT, a comment was made by Matt Leach of HACT (@matt_leach)

“The big leap is to get your head around technology being near disposable now. It’s no longer a capital investment, but rather a detail lost in the service costs.”

This is exactly what this tablet is all about. Datawind chief executive Suneet Singh Tuli explains,

“The development of the tablet stemmed from the realisation that lack of internet adoption in many parts of the world was primarily because of lack of affordability. Our aim is to bridge the gap by offering cost-effective, high-specification devices and internet-access that offer excellent value to all”

We no longer need to be concerned with the cost of a device. What is more important is the end goal we are trying to achieve, to get those online who previously did not have the resources, kit or funds to get online themselves. The cost is now negligible it’s all about what services they can access once they are online and how we can help to deliver those services.

key

Take the humble front door key. You place no monetary value on this piece of ‘kit’, but without it you could not leave your home. You could not access those services that are beyond your front door. We can now apply the same thoughts to a consumer device, it has no (or little) monetary value but it unlocks the door to online services for the masses.

So what did we think? Our order was placed online (http://www.ubislate.co.ukon the 16th December, the day the tablet was announced to the UK. At the time there was a 2 day delivery time quoted. By the following day the 7Ci was out of stock in the UK and the website and Twitter feed were stating that any orders placed then would be delivered after Christmas.

By 3rd Jan 2014, there was no sign of our delivery so we contacted Datawind, a challenge in itself! No answer on their UK helpline number, no reply to emails and no reply to Twitter messages. I found the email address of their PR department and tried there instead, from which I got an almost immediate reply apologising for the delay but they were indeed out of stock and we would be waiting a further week for delivery.

We expect that the lack of communication and delays in delivery were partly due to the festive break and partly due to the release of the tablet to the UK market and what may have been an unexpected demand to get hold of one of these devices.

Unboxing

Once the device arrived we were eager to take a look. The tablet comes well packaged with an outer sleeve around the main box

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Inside the box we’re presented with the device, the charger with a surprisingly short lead, USB leads, a user manual and a quick start guide.

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Onto the device itself, I was pleasantly surprised when I took the device from the packaging. The build quality is good and the aesthetics are pleasing. It does not look or feel like the cheap plastic tablet I was expecting.

IMG_0696

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The rear of the tablet has a little too much writing on it for my liking. It’s perfectly acceptable to have the logo and model present here but I am sure users are able to work out where the USB port, the headphone connection, the volume buttons etc. are without the text and symbols appearing on the casing.

I was disappointed to discover that the UbiSlate I was testing only had 2% battery charge when it was first switched on. There are not many tablets that I have taken delivery of that have less than 30% battery enabling you to at least set it up immediately. So a charge was required before I went any further. But in fairness, the second device my colleague Nick was testing had 60% charge. The manual also does advise an 8 hour initial charge so we can’t complain here. As mentioned earlier in the post, the lead from plug to device is surprisingly short, you certainly couldn’t use the device when it was on charge without sitting on top of a socket. I also have an issue with the power socket on the device, the power lead jack does not seem to fit all of the way into the socket on the device, you feel like you want to push it in further but it goes no further. It does charge at this point though.

Usability

Powering on the tablet does take a moment. Initially you see a blank screen other than the Linux penguin logo in the top left corner for about 8 seconds (the tablet is based on Linux before loading the Android operating system). Once the penguin logo disappears you are presented with a full screen Datawind spinning logo while the tablet boots the Android OS. This takes around 20 seconds. So around 30 seconds in total before you see the home screen.

Before you are able to do anything of real interest on the tablet after first boot, you need to set up a Wi-Fi connection and enter your registration details. This includes name, email address, age, location, phone number and interests. All fields are mandatory so takes a minute or two to register.

Screen navigation – Once you’re into your home screen there are more surprises to be had. Sliding from screen to screen to view your app icons is without lag. This is a refreshing change to other sub £150 tablets we have tried. You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tablet with a higher price tag just based on the fluid user interface.

Media playback – this was our next test and the test we expected to be the place where the UbiSlate showed its true colours of a budget device. Again, we were pleasantly surprised. The tablet comes with a video pre-loaded, a Delta Goodrem music video to be precise. Whilst the graphics are low-res, they are not as bad as you may think. The UbiSlate presented us with stutter-free media playback that was perfectly viewable on the easy to handle 7-inch device. Whilst the sound was tinny at times, you would not expect the sound quality of an iPad or Galaxy Tab. Just for info, it also comes with two preloaded music tracks, ‘Pretty Boy’ (M2M) and ‘Say You Say Me’ (Lionel Richie)!

Screen view – Colours are sharp enough and I’ve noticed no pixelation of graphics. Some images can be slightly grainy (see Social Interaction) but it’s adequate. The viewing angle is very slightly limited, once you get to about a 40° angle you lose a lot of what you can see on the screen. This can be frustrating if using it when relaxing on a settee or trying to show others what is on your screen.

Social interaction – Twitter and Facebook apps that were downloaded from the standard Google Play store ran perfectly fine on the device. No, they were not quite as quick as you come to expect from higher end devices and photo images can be slightly grainy but I was able to use Twitter without frustration. We had issues downloading Facebook from the Datawind store that is presented on the device with a limited number of apps, we ended up staying clear of this and just using the standard Google Play store.

Speed – The opening and closing of apps is fine. The app is not immediately on screen as with higher end devices, but I waited no longer than 3 seconds before I was into any app from touching the icon which was perfectly acceptable. So far I have not experienced any app crashing whatsoever which had been another concern prior to getting hold of the device. Internet speeds were fine on the device, no real issue here. We did notice that occasionally letters typed would not be picked up, we found ourselves pressing slightly harder than the top end devices to ensure all letters were picked up.

I do have a little issue with the browsing experience on the device. The manual advises to use the Datawind browser and email apps on the device claiming that you will receive a faster browsing experience as they have been developed specifically for the device. I followed the advice. Annoyingly, the Datawind browser app has a permanent Google advert displayed at the bottom of the screen. Regardless of which site you are browsing the ad is in place and takes up a portion of the viewable area of the webpage. This very quickly got too much to put up with and so I switched to the standard Android browser which is also pre-installed. I noticed no difference in browsing speed after the switch but I was pleased the Google Ad had disappeared.

Those who follow the advice and use the Datawind browser will no doubt inadvertently click the ads whilst trying to browse, as I did. For each click, Datawind will be earning revenue from Google. This, in my opinion, feels a little cheap on Datawind’s part.

To summarise, it is a workable, affordable tablet. It’s more than good enough to give people access to apps and to get online. No, it isn’t cutting edge, but it is good enough. The size and weight of the device is excellent, it is ideal for holding for sustained periods of time. The best thing about it, you hold it in your hand and you can imagine the millions of digitally excluded UK residents coming online.

What would I like to see improved on the device that should not impact on the low cost of the tablet?

  • An improvement in battery life
  • A longer power lead to enable usage when on charge
  • Less writing on the casing
  • A quicker time-to-boot
  • A shorter or optional registration setup

The 7Ci costs £30 in the UK, this is a Wi-Fi only version. If we were to consider these devices for our customers we would need to look at the 7C+ or the 3G7.

The 7C+ supports Wi-Fi and Edge connectivity at a cost of £69.99 (includes 1 year of unlimited basic mobile Internet). The 3G7 supports Wi-Fi and 3G at a cost of £129.99 (again includes 1 year of unlimited basic mobile Internet)

At the moment we’re not reviewing the UbiSlate for what it can offer in mobile data terms, at what cost and what terms for data usage. The potential demand for this in the sector means this could all be negotiable. What we are looking at is tablet hardware that works and which can be produced for very low cost with excellent possibilities for organisations in the housing sector and their customers.

It is excellent value for money for what it is – an easy to use and decent spec/quality Internet browser with the added functionality to write the odd note etc. A good halfway house between a cheap phone and a tablet.

It is the best sub £150 tablet I have come across to date.

These are our initial thoughts, we will continue to trial the devices over the next few weeks so look out for our final analysis then!

Please feel free to add your comments below!


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