I needed an Android device for a current project for testing.
Currently surrounded by 5 screens, adding another wasn't something that particularly excited me. I'm not a huge fan of my iPhone, so another phone was an option, but I can't afford a new one, and I'm not knowledgeable enough about older models to choose one that would be a good fit.
A tablet could be useful, and the Nexus 10 is tempting, but it's not available just yet and if I am going to spend more than $400 on a tablet, it is probably going to be a new Windows tablet. I want something cheap.
I briefly considered a Blackberry Playbook, not because I really want one, but because they're practically giving them away at $150 â€“ great value if you can use it. Unfortunately, although the Playbook can execute Android apps, they must first go through some kind of conversion process. I'm not looking for more complications, and I almost certainly wouldn't be able to debug my app remotely in Visual Studio via USB with a Playbook.
I settled on the Hipstreet Equinox 2, a recently-released second-generation 10.1" tablet. Like most people I'm pretty hesistant about the Hipstreet name, a name associated with cheapest-of-the-cheap MP3 players available at Walmart. At $199 however, this model boasts many features that its competitors in the $150-250 don't, and reviews of the prevous Equinox generation indicate that it wasn't too bad. The truth is, I couldn't find a single review of this product, so I hope this article, and maybe a review to follow, is useful to someone.
I ordered the tablet from Dell.ca and it arrived at my door 40 hours later. It came in a shrink-wrapped solid "board game"-style box. Sorry about the quality of the photos, the only camera I have on me is my iPhone.
Included in the box:
- DC charger
- Male mini-USB to female USB (17cm)
- Male mni-USB to male USB (100cm)
The battery is fully discharged. The screen film instructs the user to charge the unit for a full 6 hours before use.
- Micro-SDHC (up to 32GB)
- Micro-B USB for connection to host (cable included)
- Micro-B USB for accessory (converter cable to full-side USB included)
- Mini HDMI (type C)
- Volume up
- Volume down
- Mass: 600g
- Screen diagonal: 256mm (10.1")
- Dimensions: 262 x 185 x 10mm
The construction is sturdier than I expected. It is very solid and doesn't budge in the twist test.
Once powered up, a swipe of the finger results in the home screen. A welcome video is placed on this screen. It explains (in English) how to turn on the unit (?), set up WiFi, configure your e-mail, and so on. At maximum volume, the video would definitely not be audible in a noisy environment.
The home screen icons are:
- Dolphin Browser
- GetJar (app store)
- Super HD Play (video player)
These are first experiences with the Android operating system, not necessarily this unit.
Although I will let it charge for 6 hours, I need to get some work done, so I go about setting it up.
As I configure my e-mail I realize I have no idea how to make the screen-keyboard go away. On the 7th guess, I enter the correct password.
Although the unit doesn't include a GPS, it does use WiFi geolocation when possible to guess your location +/- 100m.
There are many ways to unlock the device, including facial recognition.
A speech-to-text icon is prominent throughout the UI. It uses Google speech-to-text. I look forward to checking this out.
The settings imply that use of a USB mouse will work. So will USB Ethernet and GSM/3G modem.
Oooh, a developer settings screen. There are some very useful options here, like showing all touches, flashing screen areas that update, CPU usage stats, Activity purging. I've never had a device cater to my needs like this before!
The device seems to neither be charging nor losing charge while I'm using it when plugged in.
One of the main complaints people seem to bitch about in online reviews of cheap Android devices is that they don't include the Google Play store. Instead they have something called GetJar. Personally, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. Supposedly it offers more than 600,000 available downloads. As long as I can get Angry Birds and a few other necessities, I don't really need to find a new way to give people my money. For what it's worth, I've heard of people successfully installing Google Play and the Amazon App store on cheap tablets.
Update: I actually came across many apps that I want that were not easily available from sources other than Google Play. It took many hours, but eventually I devised a way to load up all of the most up-to-date Ice Cream Sandwich stock apps, including Google Play.
Note: The tablet is already rooted when shipped.
Installation of apps from GetJar is very fast. Download and installation of the Twitter app took less than seconds, something that would take about a minute on my iPhone.
Oh good, Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons are in the top 20 list. This is going to be easier than I thought. They're free too.
Hmm.. no Netflix app in Getjar.
When I fire it up it asks if I want to enable Flash support never, always or on demand. I like that. It also asks me if I want to emulate a desktop, iPhone, iPad, or Android phone. Then it crashes. Hmm.
All my fingerprints are getting pretty noticeable now.
The most important sites, Red Cell Innovation Inc., and CodeProject work fine, so that's all that matters.
Follow-up: 45 days later
- Dell put these on sale 30 days after I bought this one, so I called them up and got a price protection credit for $50.
- I'm glad I put the Play Store and the Google apps on it. The Play Store experience is much better than any other repositories, and it auto-updates downloaded apps without intervention. It makes the whole experience much closer to that of a Nexus device.
- Physically the device is holding up well. There are some fine scratches on the screen, which isn't surprising, as I've done nothing to prevent them.
- The screen could definitely be more sensitive. It's fine for a game of Angry Birds or tapping out a short e-mail, but it's not as sensitive as my old iPhone.
- The mini-HDMI connector seems a little flaky, but it could be my cable's fault.
- With regular use, the battery needs charging every other day. One could go a lot longer with occasional use.
- The speaker is way too quiet. To listen to a podcast in bed I need to listen at maximum, or close to it. It isn't suitable for anything except a quiet room without headphones. To make things worse, the speaker is on the back, so if you put it down on its back most of the sound is muffled.
- If you like other browsers, Opera Mini, FireFox, and Chrome all run well. I find Chrome a bit slow and my preference is probably Opera Mini.
- Video play from a file or Netflix is pretty smooth, even when connected to an external display.
- The hardware volume and back buttons only work when the unit is turned on and unlocked.
- I have never had to cold boot the device, though I have inadvertently done so by letting the battery drain completely a few times.
- Overall for its price I think this unit gives good value. I have not seen any other 10" tablets for $150.
- The built-in e-mail app is nice but its one shortcoming is that is has to poll IMAP servers every x minutes (minimum 5), instead of keeping a socket open.