The iPad 2 still dominates the premium tablet market, with a range of Android Honeycomb tablets now lining up to as contenders with comparable specifications and features – leaving tablets like the Arnova 10 to try to corner the budget end – now with an upgrade available to the far-from-cutting-edge but serviceable Android 2.2.
The original launch of the Arnova 10 on Android 2.1 saw the device criticised for slow operation, an unresponsive touchscreen and limited functionality – but with a firmware update to 2.2, will this give Arnova the lease of life it needs to find a niche?
The first thing that we should state is that this isn’t a comparative review of a tablet against higher-priced, higher-specced and more capable alternatives. What we’re more interested in is whether Arnova can now claim to handle the “basics”, so as to suit more casual users – namely web browsing, eBooks, emailing, media and perhaps even the odd game or two.
The 2.2 upgrade
We installed the completely reversible third-party Android 2.2 firmware update created by BirdieBNL, and were pleased to note that despite being at a relatively early stage of development it worked first time. Since speed is one of the main benefits of 2.2, and speed was one of the main drawbacks of the Arnova range, we were hoping the more efficient OS would squeeze just enough potential from the device to make it usable.
The refresh is immediately apparent. The Arnova 10 was noticeably more responsive when scrolling through homescreens and loading applications, the keyboard delay was reduced and you’ll now find full access to the Android Market. Browsing the internet, including watching YouTube and other online videos is more enjoyable, though sadly there’s still no support for Flash content.
Though the display still has an annoying tendency to mistake a swipe for a ‘click’, thereby inadvertently registering a key press, there’s a learning curve here – and being a 10in resistive display (and therefore not capable of multi-touch), it’s not surprising to see that accuracy is increased if you use the tip of a finger, a nail, or another object lying around that might double as a stylus.
What can it do?
With the upgrade in place, we think the Arnova 10 is now capable enough to serve for the purposes described above, with the possible exception of gaming. Though less graphically intensive titles performed well enough, popular favourites such as Angry Birds were still a little too slow to enjoy properly, and of course you can forget anything more advanced than that.
One area in which the original did perform was media playback, and this is still pretty good. Backed up by impressive format support both standard and HD movies and video clips can be enjoyed with very little lag, and the player itself is responsive enough to skip back and forth, play and pause without delay. Though the display is far from the best we’ve seen in terms of recreating this content, it’s adequate enough to enjoy and if this area ticks one of the boxes you’re looking for a tablet to support, it’ll do the job.
Reading eBooks and browsing the web is also pretty responsive, and with a choice of browsers now available from the official Android Market to replace the stock software supplied, you can benefit from many of the speed improvements on offer to mobile devices. The on-screen keyboard, while better than before, is still a little temperamental, so tasks that require a lot of text entry, such as emailing or word processing, can prove frustrating over time.
Should you buy one?
Sadly the jury is still out on this one, as while the 2.2 upgrade certainly improves general operation and performance of the device, it can still be frustrating to use. The Arnova 10 is currently one of the cheapest tablets on the market, being available online for under £150, but with rivals dropping their prices and discounts growing elsewhere we’re still struggling to fully recommend it.
Those who are simply looking for basic functionality such as web browsing, reading eBooks, playing multimedia content and taking advantage of the flexibility of the Android market should generally be pleased with the device’s performance – but the fact that it’s still far too underpowered to provide anything past this basic functionality could well come back to haunt you.
- Improved performance with Android 2.2 means it’s now far better at handling basic tasks.
- Still frustrating in some areas, including gaming and more processor-intensive operations.
If you have an Arnova tablet then it’s well worth seeking out the upgrade to Android 2.2, and if you’re looking for a cheap alternative with limited operation it can now - just about - do the job.