The tablet craze, which began when Apple launched its insanely popular iPad, shows no signs of slowing, but there are still plenty of people out there who can’t afford to pay £500 for the latest touchscreen gadget. Storage Options thinks it has the solution: an ultra-cheap 7-inch tablet that tries not to skimp on specifications.
It isn’t an easy job, though. Low-end Android tablets have had something of a bad press. In order to hit that all-important sub-£170 price, manufacturers often use outdated processors, ageing versions of the operating system, and terrible resistive screens that lack responsiveness.
On the surface, the Scroll tablet dodges these particular bullets. Its glass-fronted display is a fully multitouch-enabled capacitive screen, while the processor is a Telechips 8900 ARMv6 1GHz chip. The 2GB of internal storage might seem a bit stingy, but there is a Transflash slot for upgrading if you’re looking for something extra.
The version of Android included is also fairly up to date. While earlier versions of the tablet were released running Android 2.1 (and featuring a slower 800MHz processor) were released, the latest model includes Android 2.3.1, code-named ‘Gingerbread.’ While it’s not the tablet-centric Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb’ release, it’s still a pleasant surprise compared to many budget tablets that still ship with Android 1.5 or 1.6.
Sadly, digging a little deeper under the surface reveals that one or two corners have been cut: the relatively powerful processor is hobbled by a mere 256MB of RAM, crippling overall system performance. This isn’t helped by the specifications of the processor itself: the headline-grabbing 1GHz clockspeed hides a few inadequacies, as it provides no support for the ARMv7 instruction set – meaning there’s no support for Adobe Flash content – and the weedy Mali-200 GPU making 3D gaming a near-impossibility.
The display, too, is something of a disappointment. Despite its decent enough 7-inch size, the screen has a mere 800×480 resolution, which makes the user interface seem blurred and blocky. Compared to something like the similarly-sized Galaxy Tab, with its 1024×600 resolution, it’s a disappointment.
Storage Options has tried to make up for these failings with a host of extras. A mini-USB socket on the base includes On-The-Go support for connecting external devices to the tablet, while a mini-HDMI connector outputs video at up to 1080p Full HD resolution to an external display.
Sadly, there are a few failings here, too. The HDMI output works well, but the tablet lacks the grunt to run any 3D apps on the display. That means that gaming is a no-go, although videos work well so long as they’re in a format supported by your choice of video playback software.
The USB port also feels a trifle wasted, as you can’t use it to charge the tablet. Instead, you’ll need to use the included mains adapter, which ends in a tiny DC plug reminiscent of those used on older Nokia handsets, and which feels about as robust as those too. We didn’t manage to break the connector on our review unit – by some miracle – but it certainly felt far from secure, sitting slightly proud of the device’s base.
For the money that Storage Options is asking for the tablet, you’d be forgiven for expecting a cheaply-built plastic toy. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. The casing is constructed from curved matt-finished aluminium, and feels solid without being bulky. It also looks remarkably like the original iPad, a design cue which is followed through on the front of the tablet.
While the 7-inch display has a rather large border around it, the entire front is covered by a single piece of glass through which three physical buttons are poking: Menu, Home, and Back. The missing fourth button, Search, is available with a long press on Menu. The front, again, looks like an iPad, and that’s not necessarily a positive: instead of creating its own device, Storage Options risks its Scroll tablet appearing to be yet another faceless knock-off.
The sides and top of the tablet are unadorned, except for the volume and power buttons on the lower-right. Constructed from rubber, they’re easy to locate but stand proud of the body by a considerable distance. It wasn’t a problem in use, but we found them catching whenever we slid the tablet into a bag.
Android 2.3.1 is pretty up to date, but Storage Option’s implementation of Google’s mobile platform has a few quirks. By default, none of the standard Google applications are installed: there’s no Gmail support, no access to Google Calendar, and even the Google Market – where official Android apps can be downloaded – is missing.
Instead, Storage Options includes a third-party source for apps called SlideME Marketplace. While there’s plenty of choice, it’s not a patch on the official Android Market. Finding the software you want is also a chore, as the SlideME Marketplace doesn’t appear to include the ability to search by title.
Thankfully, there are other options. Interestingly, the Scroll tablet appears to include the Android Market in its internal software – but with no shortcut appearing in the apps drawer. When launched in another way – by clicking on a Market link in the browser, for example – the Android Market can be accessed, from which all the official Google apps can be installed.
The strange default software load-out wasn’t the only problem we had with the device. During testing, we had a couple of crashes, and found that the tablet had a tendency to switch itself off for no readily apparent reason. With a pretty slow boot time – taking about a minute to become ready for use after power on – that’s a pretty major concern.
Other issues also raised their heads during testing. The front-facing webcam – included for video chatting with Google Talk, which is another app not installed by default – was misaligned, requiring the tablet to be tilted away from the user in order to centre it on your face, making video calls awkward and uncomfortable.
The battery life, too, left something to be desired. Despite a fairly capacious 3400mAh battery, the Scroll tablet only lays claim to a four-hour runtime – and in testing we found that around three hours of moderate use was enough to drain the battery completely. For those who don’t want to drag the aforementioned mains adapter around, that could be a real deal-breaker.
We encountered another problem when the time came time to return the gadget: the Factory Reset option didn’t work. While we received a warning that all of our precious private data would be erased, a reboot of the tablet restored all our apps and account settings right back where they started.
The price is right
With all that said, we can’t help feeling a little unfair to the Scroll tablet. Sure, it’s not exactly a Galaxy Tab or an iPad 2 – but at this price, it’s not trying to be. The screen, while low resolution, is bright and clear, and the processor has plenty enough poke for basic tasks like web browsing and reading e-books.
The inclusion of multitouch functionality and HDMI-out is also pretty impressive, and there’s no denying that – if you don’t ask too much of it – the Scroll tablet is a pretty capable device.
Company: Storage Options
- The inclusion of a multi-touch display and HDMI output is a welcome surprise at this price level.
- The processor is too weedy to cope with Flash, cutting you off from a lot of what the web can offer.
For those looking for the best the tablet world has to offer, the Scroll should barely even register on their radar. If you're shopping on a tight budget, however, and have modest expectations, it's cheap enough to take a gamble. Those with a little more cash to spare might be better advised to pick up the older, but Flash-capable first-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab, which can currently be picked up for a street price of not much more than £200.