What have we here? Well, the lovely people at Gemini have sent me their new Joytab Duo 7 3G for review. I’ve spent a few days playing with the device to a point that I have started to get a feel for its capabilities. You can see some unboxing shots at the end of the article.
When I took it out of the box, the first thing I noticed was the textured back which makes a wonderful noise when you run your fingers over it. It may not be the most premium of finishes, but it does the job and the build quality is of a surprisingly good level – it feels like that it could take a drop to the ground (even if it is solely made of plastic apart from the screen).
The vast majority of the things you will need are on the right hand side of the device – the Micro SD & SIM card slots (standard size SIM) along with the power and Vol+/Vol- buttons. These are well spaced, although I found the rubber card slot covers and the chrome-esque plastic buttons a bit on the tacky side. It therefore lacks the smooth surfaces and excellent industrial design of a Nexus 7 or a BlackBerry Playbook, but it is important to note that this is 3G capable, unusual for tablets at the £140 RRP mark.
The front is where it starts to get interesting. It uses capacitive buttons, which I have to admit I prefer to the on-screen buttons of my Nexus 7, but due to the form factor of the device it is hard to not draw comparisons with the original Galaxy Tab. The placement of the buttons and front/rear facing cameras are very, very similar to the first generation Tab, something probably very hard to avoid given the capacitive buttons on the front.
It is very easy, however, to avoid using a proprietary 30-pin cable for charging and connecting the device to your computer. This part of the device certainly draws inspiration, shall we say, from the original Galaxy Tab and from the iPhone before that. This type of connector is one of my bugbears, and the sooner that companies begin to realise that the consumer wants a standard Micro-B USB port the better.
It comes with 4GB of internal storage, so all you need to do to get started with the device is to pop in a SIM card (if you have one) by opening the slightly dubious rubber port cover. The instructions don’t actually say which way you should put the SIM card in, so take it from me that it’s gold contacts down (which does, in hindsight, make sense). The boot time was very fast, much faster than pretty much any of my other Android devices and the Playbook (which you could go and make a coffee, drink it, come back and it would still be displaying some admittedly very pretty circles) and was usable pretty quickly.
The first thing I found was that, due to the DPI of the tablet, it is essentially a big phone – all the Android apps and layout were optimised for a phone resolution rather than the tablet interface depicted on the front of the box. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would have preferred a hybrid UI. However, that isn’t possible at the moment, as the device only runs Ice Cream Sandwich – although relatively recent, Jelly Bean would have been preferable – but it could have been worse! I initially found the UI very laggy, with animations stuttering and the stock launcher not performing well at all. I was bemused by this, as my test games Temple Run 2 and Jetpack Joyride ran very well and AndTuTu gave it a respectable quadrant score. So, what was going on?
I found the answer when I pressed the ‘Updater’ icon. It found an update, I pressed it – and the ‘Superuser Request’ dialog box popped up. Now, at this point I was rather shocked – surely, they wouldn’t have shipped a tablet that was pre-rooted?
Well, inadvertently, yes they had. It was running development firmware, which explained the choppiness I’d witnessed earlier in the day. After a Twitter DM conversation with Simon from MoDaCo, I was pointed to the correct retail firmware and then spent a couple of days wrestling with Windows to install the device drivers (the drivers are provided as a 3rd party unsigned INF file, so for those on Windows 8 you have to reboot it as described here – I use OSX normally but the reflash tool isn’t available for Mac).
So, after the firmware update, my experience vastly improved. Any trace of UI lag had been replaced by sleek transitions. Apps loaded quickly and the overall experience was surprisingly good for a tablet of this price and specification. Rendering pages via Chrome, perhaps the most crucial aspect for a 3G tablet, was again responsive – not earth-shatteringly quick but still at an acceptable speed. I haven’t tested the actual 3G connectivity on the tablet yet, but that will be in the full review in a few days time.
The screen on the device is passable, although I found it washed out with middling colour reproduction. This can be aided by enabling automatic brightness, but it isn’t the best panel I’ve seen on a tablet before. It is by no means bad, on the contrary it is good at this price, but I would have preferred a better panel on this even at a higher cost – after all, it is the thing you use most on a tablet! It’s a similar story with the rear camera – good but not excellent. I’m not as bothered by this, as I still haven’t found a use case for a tablet camera considering I will always have a dedicated camera or a phone to hand.
Speaking of phones, this is exactly what this feels like – a big phone. Due to the DPI setting on the device it displays Android in the phone layout as mentioned earlier. This feeling is aided by the speaker grille on the front – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you remember to enable Desktop view in Chrome.
All in all, so far I feel that this is a solid device that represents very good value for money if you are looking to buy a 3G tablet. It may not have the best specs, build material or screen, but you can’t go far wrong for £140. I’ll include more information including samples in my update in a few days time.