Ian Cliffton was nice enough to let me repost his review of the SmartQ V7 – enjoy!

Tablets are starting to become mainstream, particularly with all the publicity the iPad has received. Cisco announced their Cius business-oriented Android tablet, and many other companies have products lined up. However, right now tablet choices are fairly limited.

There are a few different reasons for getting a tablet, most of them revolve around the same reasons for getting a smartphone but with the need for a larger screen. The two most obvious uses are probably browsing the web from a convenient device and reading. I think tablets have quite a way to go before they can adequately do both for a reasonable price, so I’m holding off buying one for regular use until we see some good innovation. Then why would I pick up this SmartQ V7 tablet?

I needed a lower-end Android device for testing. I own a Nexus One, but that is still one of the better Android devices out there (especially with Froyo), so it’s good to have something on the other end of the spectrum for developing against. I looked at picking up a used phone such as the HTC Hero, but eventually I thought it would be more fun to pick up a cheap Android tablet. There aren’t too many Android tablets widely available in the US right now, so I picked up one in a shady back alley (of the Internet) deal. I’ve had it for a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d post a review.

More after the break.

Physical Factors
SmartQ V7 and Nexus OneThere is no real standard for tablet size at this time, so we’re seeing devices that are the size of large phones being called tablets as well as devices bigger than your average sheet of paper. What size is best? It depends what you’re using it for, and I haven’t made up my mind. The iPad is a very nice size for use but not so great for portability. The SmartQ V7 is in the middle range with a 7″ (diagonal) screen, and it actually fits into a cargo pocket. The screen is actually just 800×480 pixels, so the density is a little under the previous iPhones. If the dimensions were more like 1200×640, the device would be significantly more usable.

Weight-wise, it’s about one pound (480g). For some reason that makes it feel more solid (dense) than you’d expect, but it also feels a bit cheap. It is relatively durable though, which comes in handy when actually using it….

Usage
This tablet as a resistive touch screen. That means it requires physical pressure to sense touch. The advantage is that it’s cheaper to produce (than a capacitive touch screen; consider that this device was less than half the price of the cheapest iPad even after taxes/shipping/etc.) and you can use a regular stylus, your finger, or just about anything to interact with it. The disadvantage is that it’s less responsive, especially to swipe motions. The processor is not fast, so you’re sometimes left wondering if your swipe registered, and you may want to punch the tablet (or “test its durability”). For simple touch, it’s pretty good, but the processor and limited RAM can make that frustrating as well. If too much is going on at once (in other words, more than one thing), a touch can take a while to register. Sure sometimes it’s virtually instant, but other times it can be a few seconds. For that reason alone, I don’t think this product is a good choice for the average consumer (of course, it’s probably intended for tech users, considering it does triple boot).

Android mascot drawn in Ubuntu

I haven’t really played around with Windows CE on it (and doubt I ever will), but Ubuntu is decent. If you’re bored, you can play around with the simple paint program. If you don’t try to draw too quickly, the stylus is actually pretty accurate. Well, assuming you’re not as shaky as me.

As far as Android goes, it’s running 2.1, though the old home program is set by default. You can change it to the newer one, but I found that the new one had some color problems with the app listing pulled up. It doesn’t come with the Android Market, but you can find many other app sources pretty easily, and some of those have their own market app to access and downloads apps easily. This tablet works okay for browsing the web. It definitely has “stability issues,” meaning I see force close dialogs somewhat regularly.

The One Amazing Thing
Okay, so this tablet sounds pretty bad, right? Well, mostly, yeah, but it does have one impressive feature, and that’s the ability to really dim the backlight, which makes it very usable as a simple book reader (I recommend the Aldiko app), especially at night. I took a bunch of photos to try to demonstrate this compared to my Nexus One. Keep in mind, the Nexus One has an AMOLED display, which means it doesn’t have a backlight. AMOLEDs generally have a much, much larger contrast ratio than LCDs, and have very accurate blacks. That said, this tablet can get even darker than the Nexus One.

First, take a look at the clock app. Android has a great clock app that works well with a dock because it’s visually pleasing and can be made very dim (to the point where it almost seems like it’s not emitting light in a dark room). Here are two photos of that app. The first has the brightness maxed out on the tablet and phone. The second is in dim mode. I kept the camera settings the same for both photos. (For you photographers out there, the settings were F/5, 1/50 sec, ISO1600. And sorry for it being crooked… shooting photos in the dark is tricky and I didn’t want to apply any software correction that might affect the accuracy of the photos.)

smartq-v7-nexus-one-clock-darksmartq-v7-nexus-one-clock-bright

Hopefully your monitor’s contrast ratio is good enough so you can see the tablet is indeed on in the darker photo. I also took some photos to demonstrate what that means for reading in the dark. This shows the devices at their brightest settings, then the Nexus One at its dimmest, and then both at their dimmest, using the same settings for each photo (f/5, 1/160 sec, ISO1250).

Aldiko comparison

Some devices can’t set their displays dark enough to make that white background usable in low-light conditions, so Aldiko also has a night theme, which uses a black background with light text. I took three photos to demonstrate how this looks. The first uses the exact same camera settings as the previous three photos. Then, I let a lot more light into the camera by setting the shutter speed to 1/60 sec, and I upped the ISO to 2000, so you can see the tablet is actually on. Then I switched the tablet to the day theme (white background) and took another photo with the same, adjusted camera settings.

Aldiko comparison (night theme)

SmartQ V7 homescreen

Other Features
This tablet has a USB port as well as an HDMI port (and it actually came with an HDMI cable!). Some people apparently use it to play videos on TVs via the HDMI cable. I haven’t tried that out, but that could be a decent use. It also has a kickstand and better-than-expected speakers, so it’s okay for watching videos on directly too. There is a stylus that easily slips into the tablet, which comes in handy for Ubuntu where many of the menu options are small. Since Android was designed for relatively small screens, the stylus isn’t really necessary. Also, it’s good to note that this uses regular (not micro) SD cards.

Conclusion
This is definitely not a tablet that is ready for the average user. The specs are pretty low, so it isn’t as responsive as it needs to be in order to avoid frustration. If you’re a developer, you could consider this tablet, particularly if you want to keep an Android 2.1 device around for testing. Still, an HTC Hero is probably a better low-end test device, and you might be able to pick up a used one cheaper than this. Of course, if your app runs well on this, it will run well on any main-stream Android device.

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