Tablet computers are big news this year – and none is bigger than the Apple iPad. So it’s no surprise that Apple’s touch-sensitive must-buy has spawned a legion of imitators, each with its own pros and cons. The most obvious difference between the Linx Commtiva N700 and the Apple iPad is its screen size. The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1024×768 pixels, while the N700 has a more meagre seven-inch screen, with a resolution of 800×480 pixels.
The reason for this apparent shortcoming, it turns out, is the other big difference between the two tablets, which is that the N700 runs Google’s Android operating system, which was originally created for small mobile devices such as smartphones.
On the plus side, the Linx Commtiva N700 shares the same capacitive screen technology as the iPad, and offers the same multi-touch features such as ‘pinch to zoom’.
The good news is that the N700 runs the latest version 2.2 of Android, code-named ‘Froyo’, and is certified to have full access to tens of thousands of apps in the Google App store – something that not all Android devices offer. And although its screen is smaller than that of the iPad, the N700′s 179x110x11.5mm dimensions offer the benefit of making the N700 easier to slip in a bag or large pocket. In effect, it’s around the size of a bulky mobile phone.
That comparison with a mobile phone isn’t quite as absurd as it may sound, either. Next to its MicroSD memory card slot, the N700 has a slot for a SIM card. This means that you can use a 3G mobile connection to access the internet when you’re not in range of an 802.11b/g wireless network.
You can also use the N700 as a quad-band mobile phone to make phone calls, as it includes a dialler and the usual speaker and microphone. We predict you’ll feel rather foolish if you clamp the N700 to the side of your head, but you can instead hold the phone at a distance either for a voice call or to use its dual built-in cameras for video conferencing.
The final option for wireless connectivity is Bluetooth 2.1, so that’s a full house for Linx.
Wired connections include a mini-USB port, which handles both power and data. A cable is included in the package, along with a soft case and pair of earphones.
The design of the N700 appears to owe something to the slab-like iPhone 4. It feels good and solid in the hand. We found that the on-screen virtual keyboard worked well when we held the tablet in both hands and typed with our thumbs. The screen is bright and clear, offers decent viewing angles, and is pleasantly responsive to touch control. No problems in that department at all.
At the right-hand side of the screen bezel, four shortcut buttons – return, search, home and menu – do a decent job of speeding you through Android’s menu options.
The N700 has 512MB of built-in flash memory and comes with a 4GB memory card in its MicroSD slot, which sounds fairly generous – however, 1.5GB of this space is taken up with a one-month trial version of Copilot Navigator software. If you’re prepared to spend the cash, you can upgrade the memory card to a maximum of 32GB, and transfer the contents of one card to the other.
Although the Commtiva’s 600MHz Qualcomm processor delivers enough oomph to speed the N700 through its paces, it does have a downside. Android does not allow hardware Flash support unless the device’s CPU runs at 800MHz or faster – so in this rather unfortunate lack of Flash support, the N700 resembles Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
You can overcome the tablet’s lack of support, as supplied, for video formats like AVI, WMV and MKV by downloading a media player such as RockPlayer from the Android App store. That said, the device’s slower processor meant we found HD movies played with a rather treacly frame rate. There’s only so much you can do with software when you don’t have the hardware to back it up.
No doubt these hardware compromises have been made to enable the N700′s 3240mAh battery to deliver a claimed life of 30 hours of music playback or five hours of video.
The list price of the Commtiva N700 is £329.99, but we found it on sale from outlets such as Tesco for just £299 - considerably cheaper then the £450 Samsung Galaxy Tab, or a basic 16GB iPad with 3G, which costs a frankly epic £529.
While we like the N700's price, build quality and support for Android 2.2, we can't help thinking it requires a little more work to make it the full package.