Huawei (华为) was the first in the world to announce a Honeycomb 3.2 tablet back in the middle of 2011, and Singapore was scheduled to be one of the first countries in the world to receive it. At the IT show in early September, I placed a pre-order and have been waiting ever since.
I received a call from AAAs (Huawei’s distributor in Singapore) to collect it today, just one day before their official launch tomorrow on 15 Oct. The staff politely explained that Huawei has rushed out this tablet in order to meet this deadline, and a freebie tablet case had to be couriered to me at a later date. So much for pre-orders.
Back to the gadget: This is my first Android device, which sits nicely alongside my BlackBerry 9780 and Apple iPad 1. “Honeycomb” refers to the tablet edition of Google’s smartphone Android OS. Version 3.1 was for 10-inch tablets, and this new version 3.2 is for 7-inch tablets. As I understand it, no real upgrades except for resizing to take into account the reduced screen real estate.
Initial impressions are good. The Mediapad has an aluminium unibody construction, endowing it with a premium feel. It’s surprisingly heavy for its size, weighing in at 390 grams. But it’s a reassuring sort of heft, definitely can take a few knocks without further protection. There are two rubberised patches at the back, which allows for a secure grip especially in landscape mode. It could get tiring holding it with one hand for long periods of time though.
The screen resolution is 1280 x 800. In a small 7-inch screen, this means a high pixel density of 217 ppi. This is much higher than the iPad’s 163 ppi. Text is sharp and very legible. It’s a joy reading on it. I’ve got my Zinio and Kindle apps all installed and ready for action.
The dual-core 1.2Ghz processor is disappointing. Programmes can be sluggish at times. Pinching to zoom and swiping betrays a lack of smoothness. The iPad 1 has a much slower processor on paper, yet manages to squeeze out every bit of its available horsepower. I’m not sure whether it’s due to the OS or the hardware, will take comparisons with other Honeycomb 3.2 tablets to find out.
The Mediapad comes equipped with a 5-megapixel back camera. But it displays a surprising amount of noise. I haven’t tested any video conferencing with the front-facing 2-megapixel camera but it should be adequate, given that the iPad 2’s front camera is only of VGA resolution.
There are some design “quirks” in the Mediapad. The micro USB port is only for syncing and cannot charge. I had to use a separate, proprietary charger to power it. That’s another item to bring along on trips. The dual speakers are located at the bottom of the tablet, and sound clear and effortlessly loud. However when using it in landscape mode, the sound is noticably stilted to the side.
After an hour installing new apps and exploring the system, I find that the Android OS is very refreshing indeed. There’s much greater flexibility, with many powerful customisation options. It feels more like a computer than the constrained, hand-held experience offered by Apple.
And I can finally watch Flash content on a tablet. What a relief not to have to switch to the restricted YouTube app which only has a small selection of videos.
However, the Android appstore is not as organised as Apple’s. It’s harder to find good user-reviewed apps, as I can’t seem to be able to sort them by popularity. I find it easier to browse the Internet for reviews before heading straight to the appstore for downloads. There is also a lack of Honeycomb-specific apps. The saving grace is that a 7-inch tablet is not too much bigger than a 4-plus inch smartphone, unlike a 10-inch tablet. So even if an app is not specially optimised for the bigger screen, it’s still very usable.
On the whole, I’m pleased with the purchase. At $598, it’s considerably more expensive than most 7-inch tablets (not running on Honeycomb though) on the market. Plus, this model only has a mediocre 8Gb worth of internal storage. Fortunately it’s easily expandable via a micro SD card slot, and is 3G capable as well.
But if you already have a tablet, be it iPad or Android, then you might probably want to wait for newer models which will hopefully be better optimised for the Honeycomb OS.