When it comes to buying an Android tablet for under £200, your options are pretty limited. When it comes to buying an Android tablet for under £150, your options are VERY limited. While the market is awash with sub-par Chinese devices, choosing a tablet that is half decent as well as being backed by a real UK warranty is difficult. Enter the AndyPad and the AndyPad Pro. Conceived by the team behind the 'Mattressman' brand and based in Norfolk, UK, AndyPad are striving to fill this gap in the market with 2 devices at the ultra competitive price points of £129 and £179 including delivery. When you're selling at such a low price, the product design is a delicate balancing act between cost and features... but have AndyPad got that balance right? Are the AndyPads a hit or a miss?
Read on to find out!
I'm reviewing the two devices together as they are extremely similar internally - I will highlight the differences where appropriate.
In the box
The AndyPads ship in smart looking cardboard boxes emblazoned with a picture of the device, a list of some of the features and details of some of the preinstalled software. The back of the box lists the technical specification. Included in the box you'll find...
- the AndyPad / AndyPad Pro
- a mains charger (with microUSB tip), input 100/240V, output 5.0V 2A
- a microUSB cable for PC connectivity
- a 3.5mm headset
- a small 'getting started' leaflet which provides a brief tour of the hardware and box contents (but doesn't seem to cover the software)
No carry case is included, however one is available to buy as an extra from the AndyPad website for £9.99.
Hardware - overview
Make no mistake - these 2 devices fit the mould of the 'cheap Chinese devices' perfectly, but that *can* be OK... by buying the product from AndyPad you are trusting them to have selected the right device from the many out there. While the base AndyPad is actually a bespoke hardware design, the AndyPad Pro is a repurposed Teclast T760 device. As mentioned previously, the internals are very similar on both devices (as are the ROM builds).
The specifications are as follows (quoted from the device boxes with my additions in italics):
- Cortex A7 1.2GHz processor Rockchip RK2918 series (actually running at 1GHz?)
- 512MB DDR3 RAM
- 800x480 'Resitouch' (resistive) screen (AndyPad) / 1024x600 Sensatouch (capacitive) screen with 5 point touch (AndyPad Pro)
- VGA front facing camera
- 2MP rear facing camera (AndyPad Pro)
- miniHDMI output up to 1080p
- Android Gingerbread 2.3.1
- 3600mAh battery (up to 6 hours battery life)
- microSD expansion up to 32GB
- 8GB internal storage (AndyPad) / 16GB internal storage (AndyPad Pro)
- Bluetooth (AndyPad Pro)
- Vibration motor
- Orientation sensor
- microUSB connectivity
Both devices have a common look and feel. Both are white in colour with AndyPad / Pro branding on the rear, but there are subtle differences to some placements, so i'll go through each device individually.
The front of the AndyPad is of course dominated by it's 7" resistive screen. This is set back within a bevelled edge and sits below the front facing VGA resolution camera. Below the screen sit 3 capacitive buttons - menu, home and back. These are not backlit. The back of the device has the aforementioned branding, the speaker and the labelling for the various ports and buttons. The left of the devices has the power button and the reset pin, the right the volume rocker which, rather strangely, seems to be reversed when holding the device in portrait - up turns the volume down and down turns the volume up. The bottom of the device is home to the miniHDMI, 3.5mm headphone, microUSB and microSD ports. The device is constructed from shiny white plastic throughout and feels reasonably solid to hold, with some creak and flex on the 'twist test' but nothing too excessive.
Unlike the standard model, the 7" capacitive screen on the Pro device sits flush with the front panel. The screen surround is best described as 'off white' and contains the front facing camera (resolution TBC) above the screen and the 3 capacitive buttons - menu, home and back below. These are backlit on the pro model. The back of the device has the AndyPad Pro branding, the 2MP rear facing camera, a light sensor (which looks like a flash!) and the labelling for the various ports and buttons (strangely the reset pin is labelled 'power reset'). The top of the device is home to the power button, reset pin and speaker. The right hand side has the volume rocker which, rather strangely (and like the base model), seems to be reversed when holding the device in portrait - up turns the volume down and down turns the volume up. The bottom of the device is home to the miniHDMI, 3.5mm headphone, microUSB and microSD ports. The device is constructed from shiny white plastic throughout and again feels reasonably solid to hold, although bizarrely it actually feels lighter than it's sibling.
On the whole the devices aren't exactly stunners, but they look OK.
Both AndyPads run Android 2.3.1. Yes, 2.3.1. The build is relatively stock Gingerbread, tweaks include:
- Some custom icons in the notification bar
- Customised launcher with additional dock icons
- Custom 'white and blue' UI colours (see screenshots below)
- A ton of preinstalled software (mostly free / ad supported software with the exception of Swiftkey X)
- 'Andy App' application for updating installed software and firmware
So that's the technical blurb, what's it like to use?
When you first take the device out the box and power it on, you are greeted with the 'AndyPad' splash screen then the standard Android lock screen. After unlocking the familiar Android launcher greets you (with 4 rather than 2 icons in the dock area), complete with a desktop full of icons. When I say a desktop full of icons, I mean FULL of icons. Full like somebody has loaded a gun with a bunch of apps and fired it at the homescreen. They're all dumped right there, in no particular order and taking up every spot on the screen. Sure, if you've never used a device before and you just want to 'turn it on and run something' it might be useful but it looks a bit, well, haphazard. At least this is configurable so you can take off what you don't want, add what you do, re-arrange etc. so it's not the end of the world. What is strange is that there is no 'setup wizard' on first boot, you literally are just dumped at the homescreen.
The notification bar is black in colour and shows the notifications, current time, rotation lock status and battery level. The icons are mix of Android stock and 'blue tinted AndyPad style'. Pulling down the notification bar reveals a completely stock look, unfortunately complete with 'No Service' indicator (of course the AndyPad has no phone hardware on board).
Opening up the launcher reveals the multitude of preinstalled apps and there really are all sorts of things here. Aside from the standard Gingerbread apps (including Market, Gmail etc., some of which strangely are the latest versions, some are kinda old) the selection is fairly wide ranging. Accuweather, a bunch of games, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus etc. there's plenty to play with. As mentioned above, Google Talk is not installed. This is unfortunate actually - if the devices were running Android 2.3.4 with Google Talk then the front facing cameras would be useful for video calling. As it stands, there's no software preinstalled to facilitate this, just the usual stock Camera application. A full version of Swiftkey X is preinstalled, which is an excellent software keyboard.
A key difference between the two devices is the screen - so what are the screens like to use? From a touch responsiveness perspective, there's not a lot to call between them. Both respond to the lightest of touches... which is pretty good for a resistive unit as found on the Standard. A resistive screen does of course means no multitouch, which hinders browsing (no pinch zoom here) as well as some games (Angry Birds for example). The Pro screen is a lot sharper with it's higher resolution (1024x600 vs 800x480) but the real difference is in viewing angles and brightness. Put simply, the Pro is pretty good (a wide viewing angle, bright and just about viewable in direct sunlight) whereas the base model is extremely disappointing. The screen is 'OK' when viewed straight on, but stray off center (particularly to the left) and the image quickly deteriorates. Take the device outside in the sun and you basically won't see a thing. The Pro screen is noticeably clearer in landscape mode.
So the screens are wildly different between the two devices, but both are responsive to touch - this is good right? Well, yes it is, but it would be better if the software itself was more responsive. Navigating around the device feels far more sluggish than it should on a device packing a 1.2GHz processor. Clicks often take longer to respond than you would expect them to (or periodically don't respond at all) and graphical transitions stutter when they should zip up in no time. This is particularly weird because, as we'll discuss later, games and videos play very smoothly. It seems very much like the UI is not optimised or is not being properly accelerated in some way... definitely a software problem I would suspect rather than a deficiency in the hardware, but it does adversely affect the experience of using the device.
I mentioned previously that the device had a custom AndyPad colour scheme going on - this is particularly evident in dialogues (which appear in white and blue) and in the Settings menu (which has custom icons). Again, this feels like it's not quite polished and it doesn't really hang together quite right. Pop up menus are a strange two tone grey colour (even halfway through a button sometimes), the icons in the settings menu are just plain bizarre in places and the half hearted colour scheme change leads to some strange combinations in places (green text on a blue background anyone?). One can't help but wonder whether sticking to a stock Android colour scheme might have been wiser if the necessary graphical expertise wasn't available to provide a full themed experience.
If the UI response and look and feel is disappointing, then some respite comes from the games / video performance. When launching games on the device I feared the worst, but indeed 3D tititles such as 'Raging Thunder 2' run great and Angry Birds is silky smooth, always a good test of CPU power as it runs poorly on slower devices (although it needs the Pro's need multitouch to play properly of course!). As a cheap tablet with gaming prowess then perhaps the devices hold some promise? This is echoed when it comes to playing back video. I dropped a bunch of AVI and MKV files (720P) onto a 32GB microSD which I put in the AndyPads and was impressed by the playback. Silky smooth in the stock player and equally impressive over the HDMI output. The HDMI functionality is kinda strange... when you plug in the HDMI cable the device screen blanks and the device effectively becomes a big touchpad - you get a mouse pointer that you can move around on your TV screen! I haven't tried any 1080P content as yet, purely because all my 1080P content is over 4GB and the filesystems on the internal and external SDs won't support files this big.
Although the devices pack 8GB / 16GB storage, it's worth noting that this is primarily set up as an internal SD - the actual available space on the /data partition is limited to ~500MB (and a bunch of the preinstalled content is on /data out of the box). The choice to install a lot of the preinstalled content on /data is quite strange. This means that when you hard reset your device, it disappears. AndyPad say the content should be reinstallable via the 'Andy App' in due course. The flip side to this is that the content on /data is easily uninstalled! Talking of hard resets, I did notice a strange quirk - the hard reset option in the 'Settings -> Privacy' menu doesn't always work - so be careful if you have an AndyPad and sell it on!
The cameras on the AndyPads are very weak, particularly on the base model. I have included some sample images below, but even the 2MP shooter on the back of the Pro is disappointing. Strangely, the images from the front facing cameras are mirrored (see sample images). I mentioned the light sensor on the back of the AndyPad Pro - it looks a lot like a flash, so don't be fooled (I was!). As to the actual functionality of this light sensor, i'm not sure, it doesn't seem to affect anything so far as I can tell!
One internal difference between the standard and the pro is that they use different WiFi chipsets. The way that this manifests itself in use is that the Pro has far, far better WiFi reception than the standard. I have found so far that the Pro is pretty good at holding on to a signal whereas the base model will drop out more frequently (or transfer at lower speeds).
For the techies
So as you can tell from the above... the software needs some work, so the 'hackability' of the device is going to be pretty important on the AndyPads. The device is fairly wide open this regard and there are positives and negatives i've found to the device. Here's some headline points...
- The device ships with the boot image set to 'ro.secure=0'
- The device is using cramfs on /system so the system partition is read only
- There is a working su binary in /system/bin
- EXT3 and yaffs support is enabled in the kernel
- The kernel version is 2.6.32 - the kernel source status is currently unknown
- The device runs the RK2918 chipset, for which repacking tools are fairly widely available
- The device is signed with SDK certs (!!!)
- ADB reports the device serial number as '1234567890ABCD' and is enabled by default. Unfortunately, on my Mac, ADB is seriously broken. It drops at random, won't pull any files, won't display shell output etc. Erk. On my Windows box, it seems to be OK. Oddness.
I haven't yet had the devices long enough to provide a battery assessment, but the batteries are rated at 3600mAh for 'up to 6 hours' of battery life.
Upon technical investigation of the device, the processor seems to be slightly 'underclocked' to 1GHz, however it is set to the 'performance' governor, which means it constantly runs at 1GHz and doesn't lower the clock speed when it's idle / running tasks requiring less processor power. This will absolutely affect the battery runtime (which means, of course, there is scope for improvement!)
Talk about a mixed bag! As you probably know from my tweets over the past few months, i've really been gunning for the AndyPad to do well and, now the final product is here, I feel a lot like AndyPad have got close but not quite there (yet). In the early days of my awareness of the project I expressed the opinion that there shouldn't be an AndyPad and an AndyPad Pro, there should just be one version (ideally priced at ~£149) and I still stand by that. The hardware on the devices will just about do, but the software is unfinished, slow and in-cohesive. Using the AndyPad gives you a new appreciation for both the base Android build (which I believe AndyPad should have stuck to as far as possible) and the manufacturer skins that DO hang together as a consistent user experience.
That said, a lot of the things that are real problems are fixable with a top notch second version ROM. Get the release up to current (2.3.4/5), fix the design quirks, optimise the speed, spend some time thinking about the layout of the device and the user experience, fix the security (SDK certs) and you're in much better shape. Will this be down to AndyPad or the community? Time will tell, but with the device in it's current state it's hard to know whether the device will have the necessary adoption needed to grow a vibrant developer community producing custom ROMs and porting AOSP / CyanogenMod. Never has a device needed a ROM overhaul more.
Should you buy an AndyPad? Right now, i'd advise considering very carefully if the issues mentioned here will affect your usage scenario for the device. IF AndyPad can fix the software problems, maybe it will be a worthwhile purchase for some users... but in the meantime for me personally the AndyPads are a no-go. The real kicker is that the Archos Honeycomb tablets are around the corner (shipping in October). £199 will get you an 8", 8GB storage Honeycomb device and that is likely to be a far more compelling proposition.
Of course, IMHO / YMMV etc. and I'm very interested to hear from early adopters about how they are finding the device and their use cases.
Pros and cons
- Gaming performance
- Video playback performance
- Full Android experience (Market etc.)
- Pretty hackable
- UK support / warranty
- Weak screen on the base model
- Slow and inconsistent software
- Atrocious front cameras
The device is pretty conducive to rooting, but due to the cramfs filesystem will likely require a custom system image to be flashed.
Have your say
Do you have an AndyPad? Are you considering a purchase? Do you have something to say? Post below!
Sample camera pictures
Click thumbnails for full size versions.
AndyPad Pro (front camera)
AndyPad Pro (rear camera)