Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I just got an Android tablet!

SP717 Product Page
Yes, you heard right, the Apple Fanboy got a Droid.  But this is not the droid I was looking for.  It was a freebie.  Why did I accept it?  I plan on using it for app development.  Granted, this is some off-brand, and granted it is a low-end item, but brace yourself, because I am going to review it.  Here goes.


SKYTEX.  This seems to be a company that has targeted the low-end market.  However, at $75 brand new, they have to compete with the Galaxy Tab and Kindle HD which, for a few dollars more, I am certain are much better quality.


While this SP727 review seems to ooh and ah over the unboxing, it is absolutely apparent to me they have never unboxed an Apple product.   The packaging is a very cheap material (cheap grade of paperboard, plastic, etc.), and the design of the internal packaging is an obvious mimic of Apple's packaging - but without the nice feel, and without anything more than the most basic slip of paper for documentation.

Model and Specs

SP717, 8GB RAM, n WiFi, 1.3 GHz Dual Core Processor.  This whole "Dual Core" is all over the box, all over everything - like it is some big deal to be hyped.  Again, I ask you - what does specs have to do with anything?  Who cares if it's dual core - it is slower than snail snot.  Its sluggish performance reminds me of the old iPhone 3G.  The 800x600 screen is pathetic, like a kid's toy (think LeapPad), and the response to capacitive resistance is really sucky, because it responds to any touch, not just your skin (like the iPad).  I am amazed at the huge border around the screen - everything about it screams "I am cheap" - except the price.  By the way, the screen in real life looks nowhere near as great as the picture above on their web site.  Yes, I am comparing the bottom of the barrel to top of the line, but hey.  You are reading on!

The camera - please!  2MP back-end, and VGA front camera.  These are 15-year-old cameras (or more) in a 2014 model.  Pathetic.  They probably got the lot from the supplier for free, because it freed up their warehouse space.  And 8GB RAM is seriously pathetic - no device nowadays should have less than 16, and I applaud Apple's 16/64 jump to the next level up, I expect 16 will be eliminated soon.  True, it has a MicroSD slot, so that alleviates the pain a bit.

Hey, it does have a mini HDMI out port, so that is one nice thing.

The device is quite thick compared to competitors, and feels very cheap and not sturdy at all.  The screen bezel is a sharp corner, and swiping fingers across it, it feels like cheap plastic.  I contacted support, and asked them if they offered any protection plan - they don't.  I wouldn't either, it would drive me out of business!

This comes with Android 4.2 JellyBean (June 27, 2012).  Do you remember that?  From over 2 years ago?  How do I upgrade it?  Answer from support:  I can't.  They aren't planning on coming out with one.  So apps, security, bug fixes - forget about it.  (Remember - fractured market, lots of device manufacturers, lots of versions out there - and mostly none of them ever ever EVER get updated.)  In this day and age, that's inexcusable.

Buttons -  there is such a thing as well-designed minimalist, and this is not it.  This is minimalism taken too far - there is one button - a power button.  All the others are soft buttons on screen, which responsiveness, touch-feel, and everything else make me cringe.  This is pretty hard to use.  At first power-up, it was OK (took a long time to boot), but after sitting on standby overnight, when I re-activated the tablet, it was freakishly slow, took forever to respond to touches, and when it did, it responded to all the touches at once.  Even after reboot, it is slow.

The charger I was frankly REALLY surprised is a proprietary, non-standard very small round jack (1.5mm?), with a HUGE transformer end that plugs into the outlet.  It is not designed for the modern user, for someone who has multiple devices plugged into an outlet or outlet strip.  It does use one of the standard small USB connectors, but only for data, not for charging.  The battery life seems to be pretty poor, as I had it off overnight, and the charge went from full to 66% (this was hard to tell - I had to go into Settings, then Battery to see the percentage, instead of trying to interpret the tiny little icon on screen, which seems to show more than 66% if I look at it).

Let's get into the Apps.  It has the Google Play store, and what?!?  What!?  There is a SkyTex App Store as well.  With "thousands" of apps in it.  (Yes, that's what it says in the manual.)  Hmm.  Anyhow, I was able to download some apps from Play, and let me say - pathetic!  The way it handles app updates, it is up to you to proactively download them.  And find out about them.  I can guarantee any non-geek will not even think to do it.  But then again, look at the OS, they aren't concerned about keeping you up to date.  Or secure.

I was able to easily enough connect e-mail and calendars, but then again, I am using Google accounts.  It should.

They do have a backup service - online on the cloud.  But, there is nowhere I can go to see its status, verify that it did backup, and I have no idea how to restore.  There appears to be no companion app on a computer to download and help manage it, to allow me to back up and restore.  I mean, who would keep this thing any longer than a year or so?

I took a look at the Google Voice app, and surprise - I was sorely disappointed.  It is much easier to use and much more feature rich on iOS than Android.  The LinkedIn Pulse app crashed a lot, was not very responsive, but otherwise behaved the same as iOS.

Overall, I found Android 4.2 to be not user friendly at all.  This tablet - I personally woudn't have paid for it, but if I were so inclined to get an Android, I wouldn't pay more than $50 for it brand new, taxes included.  It isn't even worth that.


I accept that this is a cheap (quality) tablet, an unknown brand, and an old version of Android OS.  However, this is typical of the Android market - a myriad of hardware, a myriad of manufacturers, and forked OS from old versions.

I also accept that this is a bottom-of-the-line model.  It seems like the lowest level of components available as "manufactured new" today was chosen.

However, my overall experience has left me not wanting to use this thing, for gaming, for the Internet, indeed for anything other than what I have to use it for.  Certainly I do not recommend Skytex brand products, and the overall insecurity of the Android platform makes it hard for me to recommend it as a user.  As a developer, the fractured market makes it difficult to target your app development efforts.  Do you go for 4.2, and not take advantage of anything new in the past few years?  Or do you need the newer features, and thus eliminate portions of your target market?  Or, do you simply give up, and author it as a web application, hoping they will go to it from their browser?  Then, you have the myriad of app stores to deal with for one "platform" - and indeed, the lack of thorough debugging, testing, and community involvement tools available.  Frankly, the costs of developing for Android are much higher than iOS, and the reward much smaller.

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