By September 21, 2010

Eken M001 Android Tablet review

Eken M001 Android Tablet review The rise of cheap Android tablet computing was arguably due to start a while ago but so far, we haven’t seen many (if any) of such tablets that are compelling enough to be considered a serious contender. The recently announced Samsung Galaxy Tab could be the one to change all that but as of right now, Apple’s iPad still sits at the top of the pile as far as consumer tablets go. What we have here is one of the first Android tablets on the scene, the Eken m001. There are many rebrands and variants of it such as the ‘apad’ but they are all essentially the same device. It was designed as a low cost entry into tablet computing, but does the low price give us an indication of its quality?

You’ll have to read on to find out!

What’s in the box:

  • Android tablet
  • USB to 30-pin sync cable
  • 9V AC DC charge adapter. (US style pins)
  • User manual (English and Traditional Chinese)

 

The 10-second review:

  • Device: Eken M001/apad
  • Price: Around £100
  • Summary: Perhaps one of the best examples of “you get what you pay for”!
  • Best of: Pre-rooted
  • Worst of: Build quality, very slow
  • Also consider: Other Eken M00x tablets, Augen 78, Galaxy Tab, iPad

 

Eken M001 specification (as per manufacturer):

  • CPU: VIA MW8505 600MHz (2 x 300MHz)
  • RAM:128 DDR
  • Hard Disk: 2GB NAND Flash
  • WIFI: 802.11B/G
  • 7″ TFT LCD SCREEN/Resolution: 800×480
  • Multimedia codes: Support MP3/Audio Format;Support 3GP,AVI(320*240)/Video Format;Support Word ,Excel,Mail & PDF Reader;Support Video online.
  • Web video with the ICON: Youtube
  • SD x 1( support up to 32G SDHC)
  • 30 pin interface
  • Stereo Audio out x 1
  • Audio: High-Fidelity stereo speaker output
  • Software: Google Android 1.6

 

Eken M001 Android Tablet review

 

General

The top, left and right hand side curve round to meet the back, and so not a single button or port are to be found here.

The bottom of the device becomes much busier – here we have the 3.5mm headphone jack, a mic, DC in power port, 30 pin sync port, and a full-size SD card slot.

IMG_1277

Moving over to the back, there’s some dodgy-looking certification information, a speaker grill, and a small hole for (soft) reset.

The 7 inch screen obviously sits on the front of the device, above a cluster of buttons. Some variants of the device have different button arrangements, but on ours we have a ring of the menu, home, and volume keys with a back button in the centre. To the right there’s the power button, and 3 indicator LEDs – for wifi, battery, and power.

IMG_1276

 

Review

To begin, I think there’s one important thing to be said: If you’re after a nice, smooth, iPad-like tablet experience, you most definitely won’t find it here. Guaranteed. Now that’s out of the way, we can get on with the m001 itself.

The Eken itself is pretty much what you would (and should) expect from a device that sells for around £100. In other words, it’s pretty bad. The shiny white plastic on the front is actually quite a good start – it seems like what you’d get from a mid-range device; something that the m001 isn’t. The buttons are also quite nice too. They don’t rock around in their sockets and, although quite firm, they have a nice clicky sound. Sadly, the hardware mostly goes downhill from here. The matt plastic on the rear looks and feels cheap, and knocking on the back gives you a nice hollow feedback. The little LED indicators on the front look functional enough at first glance, but in actual fact that’s not the case. They suffer from a ridiculous amount of light leakage – for example, the red power LED on the right hand side lights up the whole row as well as a fair amount of the plastic bezel around the light. In lighting conditions any darker than bright daylight it is nearly impossible to tell which lights are on which essentially defeats the purpose. Another thing to note is that when the slate is in sleep mode, the LED’s are always on. At least the three lights are different colours – the charging light is blue, so you know that when the lights are a nice purpleish mix of the red and blue, it’s charging.

Many would be looking at the m001 over, say, a budget Android smartphone, because of the price and the screen size. The m001 is pretty much the cheapest Android device with an 800×480 display but yet again, the rock bottom price has a pretty big impact on the display. As you can see in Matt’s unboxing and demo video, it’s very reflective, rendering it next to useless when outdoors. It’s also one of the spongiest resistive screens I’ve used; I can quite clearly see it depress as well as feel it. Thankfully, as long as you use it in relatively dim conditions, the screen is not bad. The vertical viewing angles are very limited but you can look from a pretty extreme horizontal angle without too much distortion in the colours. When you are looking at it from a good angle it is not bad at all, and the brightness is reasonable too. Even though it’s very spongy the touch sensitivity is much better than I expected it to be; I never found myself wishing for a stylus.

Bundled accessories were never known to be of decent quality, and the Eken m001 clearly has no intent to change that. The USB sync cable is actually identical to Apple’s not-so-proprietary-any-more 30-pin dock connector. This actually turned out to be a good thing for me as the included USB cable didn’t actually work – I picked up an Apple iPod cable instead. The charger, with US style pins, does work at least, providing 9 Watts of juice. Bear in mind that you have to charge through that DC in jack – it doesn’t allow charging via USB. There are a couple more hardware issues that you should know about as well, the first being the WiFi. These cheap devices are notorious for having poor range and the Eken is the same. When within the same room as the router, it picks up 90-100% signal, but if you put a wall in between the tablet and router, you’ll see that drop pretty rapidly. I found that where my laptop can pick up about 45%, that’s where the same connection on the Eken drops out. The second concern is the battery life – the m001 isn’t very well optimised in terms of power management and so you’ll be lucky to squeeze 3 hours use from it. Turning the screen brightness down and the WiFi off would allow you to get a bit more than 3 hours, but on average you’d be looking at around 2 and half hours.

I may seem like I’ve been pretty harsh on the Eken, especially when one can be had for just £100, but even so I wasn’t too impressed (not that I was expecting a lot) It felt like just another half baked effort which I feel isn’t worthy of even the £100 it currently asks for. Maybe when the price falls more it could be worth it, but for now, the hardware gets a no.

On the software side of things, the Eken runs Android 1.6. Yes it’s three major revisions off the latest (and soon to be four) but don’t write it off just yet – Sony Ericsson’s X10 Mini and Mini Pro also run 1.6, but they impressed me. After a 70 second boot up time, We’re presented with the familiar lockscreen, where you press Menu to unlock. There are three homescreens, as opposed to five on newer Android versions, but each able to hold a maximum of 24 app shortcuts. The first thing you’ll notice when playing with the device is the sluggishness; even the first Android device, the T-Mobile G1, was much smoother than this. The reason behind it is probably the 2x300MHz processors, and that’s not quite the same as the 600MHz processor on the speedy SE X10’s. The app drawer opens and closes like a slideshow and the same with scrolling through lists. Animations are turned off by default, as having them on just brings things down to almost a standstill. In general it feels like Android was forcibly bagged and thrown onto the m001 and it shows. Throughout the whole OS, there are bits of this and that such as Chinese settings options and many bundled apps that don’t function properly. Tablets don’t actually have Google’s blessing for Google’s own apps such as the Market and Google Mail but they’ve been added here anyway. Google Mail works like it should actually, but most apps from the Market freeze upon install or don’t open correctly.

IMG_1275

Even though it runs at a snail’s pace, once applications get going it’s passable. Google Maps (after a pause) has pretty responsive panning and zooming, and the large display made viewing maps much more enjoyable than I was expecting. Internet browsing was also faster than I was expecting, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s slower than all Android smartphones.

Media playback has never been one of Android’s strong points but the ancient hardware in the m001 really holds it back. A low-bitrate mp4 video at only 240×320 resolution was a no-go: the video freezes on one of the first few frames, and yet the audio still plays on. Using the scrubber bar to skip does your patience no favours either as you’ll be counting minutes rather than seconds before it will respond again. For audio playback, the Eken is certainly not something you’ll be ditching your iPod for – the sound (at least on our unit) crackles and cuts out if you move the headphone jack around in the socket. It was so unreliable I switched to the speaker instead. Laying the tablet on a flat surface obstructs the speaker grille and so the volume levels of the tinny little speaker drops down to almost nil. Viewing pictures is surprisingly quite good on the m001. Reading around will tell you that no-one can really confirm the specification, but I’ve heard that it features a separate image processor which may explain why transitions in image slideshows don’t lag. The Eken would make for a half-decent digital picture frame if it wasn’t for the mirror-like screen and the battery life.

 

Conclusion

The M001 is Eken’s first attempt at a tablet device, and it really shows. Both the hardware and software feel unfinished but when you look at the device and what it does, it doesn’t seem quite as bad. Obviously this has nothing on the Galaxy Tab or iPad, so if you actually want a decent tablet go for them; then again it’s not really fair to compare them. So if you’re looking for a media centre slate, don’t buy this. If you’re looking for an internet browsing slate, don’t buy this. In fact, I would probably say that for most cases, don’t buy this. Even the G1 (with huge community support) is better than the m001 in nearly every way, and it can be had now for about the same price on eBay. The only people that I see buying this are Android enthusiasts looking for a cheap device to tinker with, or app developers on a tight budget. In fact, thanks to the pre-rooted state, there is quite a vibrant ROM-cooking and modding community so if you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of Android development (and you’re on a tight budget) then the m001 could be on your list, but if you’re not, you will be sorely disappointed by the m001.

 

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