A look at the ePad

After hearing BIT Computer had an ePad (a slate/tablet device like an iPad, but running Android) I was curious to take a look as I’ve been looking for a cheap Android reader. Watching videos online with all these cheap Android tablets I knew not to expect much. So I managed to play with it and did come back with a few nice features that I wish other Android phones / tablets would implement.

The ePad has a 7″ screen with a resolution of 800×480 and thus is smaller than the iPad in terms of size and screen resolution. It also has a big bezel close to that of an iPad making it quite big for a smaller device. It has a single microSD card slot for expansion, a single 3.5mm headphone jack and a single micro USB port. It also has a front facing camera and a few other buttons on the side (power, volume up/down) and a ‘home’ button on the front (like the iPad). It is also equipped with standard wireless (presumably 802.11g) and even has an option for ethernet connection (I saw a PPPoE item in the settings).

There is a cable included with the device that converts the micro USB port to standard female USB port which can be used to attach a standard USB keyboard. I personally love this feature as I brings about possibility of using the device as a productivity tool to do regular word processing (Documents To Go is included with the device). I forgot to ask if you could attach a USB drive and have USB On-The-Go just like upcoming Nokia N8 which would allow you to transfer files to and from a USB drive making it more like a mini computer. The webcam seemed to auto focus and I guess it was taking a 320×240 snapshot, the screenshot application was not optimized for the screen resolution and thus had a weird layout (camera output was in a little section on the left and the ‘take picture’ button was all the way on the right of the screen).

Now the device is very unresponsive/sluggish. It was much hard to use than any of the cheap Android tablet videos I’ve seen online. I knew it would be slow and pretty hard at first but it was worse than I expected. After playing around with it, I found the touchscreen sensitive in certain locations but insensitive in others. Pressing the ‘back’ button in the top right corner was pretty hard but selecting input boxes and typing on the keyboard seemed pretty responsive.

The device has a custom toolbar on the top of the screen with custom buttons, most particularly a rotate screen and a screen snapshot button. A screenshot utility is something that no stock Android phone/device has even until now. You can install screenshot application only if you root your device which is not something I would recommend a typical user to do. This leads me to believe that this device could be running as root or that they have done quite a bit of customization.

Android 1.6 is running on the device and it has the Google Market Place among other APK managers/installers in order to install applications. It also has a full license of Documents To Go allowing you to view and edit documents. PDF viewing is done through Documents To Go but I was not able to view PDFs as it was requesting registration of the product in order to proceed. I was not able to test and video playback or web browsing as I did not have any videos on hand or Internet access. So I cannot comment on the abilities or speeds in those areas of the device. I will try go back to test them and take screenshots of all the applications installed.

While this tablet is far from perfect and isn’t a device I could really recommend, I like to see the possibilities that could arise. This device usability is a nightmare due to the unresponsive screen, but this is not an Android problem: it is just that the combination of the touchscreen technology used in this device and a slower processor is causing it. Recently Shanzai showed off a USD$200 Android tablet which seems to be pretty snappy, so it isn’t Android that is to blame. Check out Shanzai for more videos on tablets and at Deal Extreme for reviews by users with these devices. The Eken M001 is one of the cheapest tablets and firmware updates have sped up the device but still is underwhelming in terms of battery life (3 hours max). Another similar tablet would be the US$199 Archos 7 Home Tablet which actually looks better than any of these cheap tablets as it has a more polished product but has it’s own issues (720p playback, good battery life 5+ hours, but no Market Place and iffy touchscreen). Give me an improved version of the Archos 7 Home Tablet with a better touchscreen and slightly better battery life and I would be perfect. While the iPad is a very good product, I still don’t think it’s worth the price and I personally do not like the environment of iOS: I can’t even develop and test applications on my own device without jailbreaking the device or paying Apple for the developer program. I do not like those barriers of entry to a platform. So here I will be waiting for a better Android tablet

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