Update 2: Just saw FreshGear’s write up on the Mi700. Nothing extensive, but they gave better photos of the device. Go check it out here at: http://freshgear.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/review-csl-spice-mi700-google-android-powered-tablet/. Again, I am a bit skeptical with what they write since they are a gadget shop dealer. So, go there for the pics only (I am so bad )
Update: Steve Paine (Chippy of UMPC Portal and Carrypad) explained via e-mail that “I recognise it as the Camangi FM600 / Viewpad 7 and I think there’s an Indian version too.” No wonder it looked familiar. CSL rebranded the same device made else where. Anyway, the specs for the Camangi and Viewpad can be retrieved here: http://www.umpcportal.com/products/Camangi/FM600/ and http://www.umpcportal.com/products/Viewsonic/Viewpad%207/.
Check the actual product page from here.
CSL is a local Malaysian company who has in recent days garnered some headlines when it supported Fusion Garage’s controversy-laden JooJoo tablet early this year and later with its entry into cheap Android devices. Early this month, it announced its entry into the Android tablet, with its own version, called DroidPad. No, it has nothing to do with Motorola (and it shows). I took the opportunity this evening to visit one of the sales outlet which had a fully functioning demo unit of the product that is being sold for RM1,599 (no discount, at least from their retail outlet). That would be approximately USD500.
Just for your information, this is not a detailed review, since I only managed to spend 30 minutes in the outlet before feeling a bit uneasy, not giving the sales person a definite yes or no, in purchasing it. Nevertheless, thanks go to the outlet for giving me free rein on the DroidPad, to test everything that came to mind (I missed a few critical ones, as I will point out below).
This is a compact tablet at 7 inch (same as the Samsung Tab). It can definitely be held with one hand, although do not expect that hand to hold it for too long since it weighs half a kg. The size of the device makes it seem less bulky than it really is. The build itself feels solid, since it is lined with metal (aluminium? or a knock off material? I couldn’t tell). It feels sturdy enough that I am confident it won’t break after a fall. However, this is not a beauty to behold. It really does look ‘fat’, at half an inch (see picture compared to a 20cent coin). The unit was still wrapped in a thin plastic wrap (cheap way to prevent scratches I guess). I did not take note of the speakers, although I believe they are located at the sides.
The resolution is only at 800 by 480 (WVGA). The colours seem washed and not as vibrant as it should have been. This is one of the downsides of the DroidPad since they needed to cut cost from somewhere. However, the viewing angles were not that bad. You could still make out the images even at 30-45 degrees. Nevertheless, the display is of the capacitive variant (yay!) and I have to admit that it feels quite sensitive to the touch. Typing was a breeze and with ample room, I was typing away fairly quickly.
Interface and Feel:
The DroidPad uses stock Froyo, Android 2.2. The good news is: you can customize your own homescreen to your hearts content! The bad news is: CSL has put their horrible looking widgets at the side of the screen [update: this seems to be the same horrible widgets on Viewpad 7 and Camangi FM600]. The unit I was using had both the stock Launcher and Launcher Pro on it. I also found that the accelerometer did not kick into action when I rotated the screen to potrait (it seemed stuck on landscape) even though I toggled to auto-rotate in the settings. I find this is just poor implementation on CSL’s part; just slap some of their own icons to make it ‘theirs’. I am confident most users would just ditch the whole custom interface provided and run their own (ADWLauncher or Launcher Pro).
The transitions were smooth and there were no lag (not surprising since the DroidPad uses Qualcomm’s improved MSM7227 600Mhz CPU to power the device). Things just zip open. The only problem that I could detect was in some crazy input detections while using Google Maps (the pinch-to-zoom was doing the opposite of what we wanted). The screen also froze once (before it had to be ‘forced close’). I’ve seen this sort of behaviour only in the ROM flashing scene, when using an un-optimised ROM that has been freshly released. I suspect this is the problem for the DroidPad… poor development quality control. The importance is that this is merely software-related and not hardware; it can be fixed!
According to the sales person, there is no Flash available for the unit. I tried downloading from the Market (yes, they have the Market available) but it did not show on it. Which brings me to the Market; it is available from the apps menu (but sorry, no paid apps).
I tested out Aldiko on the device, and found it very usable as an e-reader (see the picture). Would I use this to read Kindle? Why not? The screen is as big as a paperback anyway, and from my normal reading angle and distance, the words and text seem clear enough to me. I also tested the GPS and found it very speedy (again using the wifi connection only); managed to get a lock on my location in Google Maps in a few seconds.
What about browsing? It is acceptable. It won’t beat the iPhone 4 and the latest Android devices (of course), but it is not slow either. The best thing is the screen size allows a full site to be viewed without zooming into its part (see Engadget’s homepage that fit nicely in landscape mode). Even at that size, the text on the website can be easily read off the screen (see screen for yourself). The sales person told me that the DroidPad comes bundled with MapKing and a free one year license (good for Malaysians!). I think this device can easily replace any Garmin standalone devices for the car.
It is a paltry 3.0MP camera in the back and a VGA (I believe) in the front (top right hand, see picture above for the smaller front facing camera). It takes adequate pictures (which reminded me of the camera on my old HTC Dream). Don’t expect much from it. For simple photo taking, it is quite fast. Video was basic and low quality. Unfortunately, I should have downloaded Fring/Skype or Qik to test out the front facing camera also. But I forgot all about that.
Besides not testing the front facing camera, I did not test the phone functionalities also. What I was told is that calls can be made via a handset that will be supplied along with the tablet. You can also pair it up with a Bluetooth headset if you want. Oh, please do not trust what the website says about their battery usage… CSL products are known for their poor battery quality. [Update: 3240mah battery made from an unidentified ODM, Original Design Manufacturer, is really hard to validate, without formal testing] Really sad but true. I think it should last at least 6 hours of heavy usage. It should, but again this is mere speculation until I get my hands on an actual unit (if ever).
Is the DroidPad worth the money, given that the screen is only adequate and has low resolution? Does the USD500 justify the 2 cameras, the GPS and phone functionalities? I think on the matter of hardware, it seems a good price to pay for those abilities that were non-existent on the iPad. But if you are looking for high-quality builds that you can show off to your friends, well, let me suggest that you just walk away from this one. DroidPad at the end of the day, may not be an iPad alternative, but it sure is a Tab alternative.
I suspect that the DroidPad would be popular among the developers and Android hardcore developers and users who would like to rebuild the ROM and fix all the software flaws that was inherent in CSL’s work. I am sure that there is just so many things that you can do on this device that were not possible in smaller phone screen sizes. On that hope, I think the Android fanboy would be more than willing to spend that money on something that is a much cheaper version of the Samsung Tab.
Or you can just wait a month or two for the price to go down another RM100-RM200 before buying it. At RM1,300, this device is a MUST buy, given that it really delivers the basic Android experience that we have come to love.
The device is already available locally in Malaysian stores. No word about international sales though.