Back with a bang

Written by Abhijit Ahaskar | Updated: Nov 29 2012, 09:56am hrs
The worlds cheapest tablet is back, with smarter looks and features. Where the earlier one felt raw, this version looks more like a finished product: thinner, lighter, and perhaps a little more sturdy. The 7-inch screen is now capacitive multi-touch (800 x 480), with better response and brighter looks.

With Android 4.0, the icons are big and easy to touch and swipe. webpages can be viewed up close, with pinch and zoom support. All of this was absent in the first avatar of the Aakash. Placed alongside the older UbiSlate 7+ or the Aakash 1, the difference is stark. The 7Ci is half the thickness, and weighs 286 grams against the formers 398 grams. The Aakash 2 will sell to college students at a subsidised R1,130. The equivalent UbiSlate 7Ci sells commercially for R4,499.

Memory and storage have been doubled to 512 MB and 4 GB respectively. Theres USB 2.0 (through a mini-USB slot), and a micro-SD slot for memory cards up to 32 GB. The original Aakash had two primitive, full-size USB slots; the UbiSlate 7+ had one; this one, smartly, has none. Theres Wi-Fi of course; the higher-end UbiSlate 7C+ adds GPRS, but we havent seen that model yet.

The operating system is Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). You can buy Android apps via the rupee-priced Google Play app-store (formerly called Android market). This is a good move up from the very limited and mainly phone-apps GetJar store that was available on this devices predecessor. The front-facing camera is terrible for still photos, but its what youd expect from a cheap VGA camera: adequate for video chat in good ambient light. Sound is good with headphones, and just about adequate on the built-in speaker.

The processor upgrade (from 366 MHz ARM to 1 GHz Cortex A8) is an improvement, and together with the capacitive touch makes the display quite responsive. We measured its boot-up time at 46 seconds, which is isnt bad for this class. Application performance is a bit lower than other budget tablets weve tested: but then this device is cheaper than all those other budget tablets, even at its full commercial, un-subsidised price.

We conducted three benchmarks to test performance. In An3Dbench and An3Dbench XL, for measuring graphics and animation capability, it scored 6,482 and 20,543 respectively, which is a bit lower than other budget tablets we have tested. For instance, the Zen A100 Ultratab (R5,999) scored 6,585 and 20,806 respectively.

Browsing is slow. In Qualcomms Vellamo Mobile Web BenchMark, which tests browsing efficiency, the UbiSlate 7Ci scored a low 614 (the Zen A100 had scored 729). If you try to multitask with multimedia, such as running several apps in the background while viewing YouTube videos, well, it freezes up. But thats fair enough; you wont do much multitasking with this device.

The Aakash 2/UbiSlate 7Ci is still the cheapest tablet around, at R4.5k. It wont hold up against Apple or Samsung tablets five times its price. But in its class, its a good overall package for a student, or anyone looking at additional devices in the house. What it doesnt do is work for a business user on the go.

Battery life is almost twice of its predecessor at four hours on the 3AH battery. This will be handy for the intended student audience. Lets hope those colleges put in desktop power outlets soon. We could have lived with the earlier thickness and higher weight, if it had meant a 6-8 hour battery.

DataWind sells four variants of the UbiSlate. The lowest two, the 7Ri and 7R+, use a resistive screen and we do not recommend those. We tested the 7Ci. Then theres the top-end one, the 7C+, which adds GPRS access: highly recommended, if you want to use it on the go. We havent tested that model, though, and do not know about its availability.

Overall, this improved version turns the early Aakash into a usable product thats good value, despite the low battery life.

SPECS

Display & resolution: 7-inch display with 800 x 480 pixel resolution

Processor: Cortex A8; 1 Ghz

Operating system: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Flash: 4 GB

Camera: Front-VGA

Sensor: G-Sensor

Ports: Micro SD & Mini-USB

Power & battery life: Upto 180 minutes on battery

Estimated street price: Rs 4,499