Wednesday, 03 November 2010 15:20

T-Touch Tab: the anti-iPad works nicely for the price

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Telstra has launched its 'entry-level' tablet computer, the T-Touch Tab, aiming to conquer the mass market through a basic but workable tablet experience and cheap pricing that is so similar yet so different to the iPad it's clear why they're at opposite ends of what is fast becoming a very profitable scale.

Telstra's T-Touch Tab has finally tipped up in stores to tempt the masses wanting something like an iPad but at nowhere near the iPad's price, complete with all the compromises that entails while still providing access to the Android Market, Angry Birds, social networking and Telstra's add-on services like Mobile Foxtel or even GPS navigation.

It's true that the T-Touch, a rebranded Huawei Android tablet, is the opposite of the iPad when used with your fingertip. Gone is the iPad's, the iPhone's or any Android phone's capacitive multitouch screen.

Battery life for constant use is quoted at 150 hours talk time (2.5 hours), 2.5 hours of video playing and 140 hours of standby time, which for constant use is between a third and a fourth of the iPad's battery life.

What it means is two to three hours of battery life for heavy use and more if use is lighter, but once it's flat, it's flat.

You will need to be plugged in to continue working, at which time the device will continue charging. Sadly this is accomplished by a Nokia-esque slim connector, rather than Micro USB, but it's the way it is at the price.

Gone is also the iPad's minimalism, instead we have several buttons, two types of touch input and even a touch pad button as seen on the Bold 9700 - a mini optical mouse that scrolls up and down options on screen and lets you select choices, but these buttons are more a reflection of the way Android works and add to the anti-iPad dimension.

As such, it does many things the iPad can and can't do, and doing it quite similarly while also completely differently at the same time, ranging from the 'performs very well' to 'performs only so-so but works', to 'it works but doesn't (as with Skype and Fring)' and everywhere in between. 

It has a removable back portion which reveals a removable battery and a standard SIM slot, while the T-Touch Tab also comes with a 2GB Micro SIM that's end-user expandable to a max of 16GB.

There's a 768MHz Qualcomm processor, not as fast the 1GHz Snapdragon processors found in the HTC Desire, but still fast enough. 512MB of RAM is inside as well as Wi-Fi B/G/N

A 2 megapixel camera on the back produces very average photos, your smartphone has a better camera and you'll likely be using that. A front camera is said to be for 'code scanning' in the specs, presumably for those QR codes, but can it be used for video conferencing? It's not known yet and as I explain elsewhere in the article, Fring didn't recognise it.

So, the Telstra T-Touch Tab has a 800 x 480 pixel WVGA resistive touch screen, instead of the capacitive we all know well.

Resistive screens still work with your finger, but you need to press harder again, like resistive screens of old, and swiping motions with your fingertip doesn't always guarantee smooth movement.

So, while the T-Touch's screen does work with the tip of your finger when you press harder, you'll find that using your fingernail instead, or the included stylus slotted into the back of the case, or any stylus, and responsiveness to your input comes flooding back, whether it's tapping something on screen or making an on screen swipe or motion.

Adventures with Skype, Fring, browsing and more continue on page two, please read on!


Using your fingernail seems counterintuitive given what has now been years of iPhone exposure and all of Apple's competitors eventually going capacitive multitouch as well, and now people seem to have forgotten that resistive screens mean needing to use a stylus or fingernail for best effect.

Take this into account when using the T-Touch Tab and you'll have a much more enjoyable experience.

After initial happiness at being able to download VoIP apps like Skype and Fring, disappointment set in when Skype proved very quiet to hear even with the volume on max, while Fring had its volume levels sorted for audio, but its microphone seemed very soft, even if it did successfully transmit one way video from the T-Touch Tab's rear camera to a PC running Fring, but the PC's camera feed did not appear on the Tab.

Now that the Huawei tablet is out, with Telstra releasing its own branded version of it in great quantity in Australia, companies like Skype, Fring and other app developers will update their apps to support this burgeoning new low-end Android tablet device - the demand will surely be there from these device owners who know it's not an iPad but still want the software choices the tablet is certainly more than powerful enough to deliver!

The T-Touch's browser is like any other Android 2.1 browser, rendering pages nicely as expected, although naturally there's no multitouch to zoom in and out.

You can double tap with your fingertip, but as using your fingertip doesn't always work, double tapping with your fingernail or the stylus zooms in and out, and there are also the - and + buttons at the bottom right hand corner of the screen which appear to let you tap your way into or out of a bigger picture.

You can also move around the page smoothly using your fingernail or a stylus, or roughly using your fingertip, giving a surprisingly good browsing experience to a low-end device.

What's not included in the browser is Flash support of any kind, so if you want to watch YouTube videos you'll need to use the included YouTube video player, basically the same way it works on the iPhone.

This is a shame because Android OS 2.2 does include Flash support, and the T-Touch Tab only uses Android 2.1. There's no timeframe or firm guarantee of any update as yet or if Flash support will ensue.

Still, anyone familiar with the Android OS would be instantly familiar with this tablet smartphone and would likely have apps they know and would want to install and try on the device to see if they work.

In theory, the Tab will run many of the apps in the Android Market, but given the experiences with Skype and Fring, your mileage will clearly vary. Android 2.1 also has no ability to scale apps up to the larger screen size, so some apps will have a large black border around them, similar to the black border around a non-enlarged iPhone app on the iPad.

The tabletisation continues on page three, please read on!


More apps will be scaled up to 7-inch screen sizes as more 7-inch devices emerge, although whether it happens at the same speed as happened with the iPad is yet to be seen - some app developers are already there, others seem certain to follow.

Gmail works as expected from use on other Android devices such as the HTC Desire, and aside from the lack of multitouch, everything pretty much everything else on board works as expected, with the known 2-3 hour battery life limitations.

It's a phone too - it's standard mode works as a speaker phone, you can't put it up to your head to speak like a normal mobile, to save money on that kind of speaker and a proximity sensor, and also because it would look ridiculous.

However you can use it with a Bluetooth headset or the included 3.5mm microphone headset which looks suspiciously similar to the iPhone's microphone headset.

Telstra has naturally included access to its many and varied services, but a standout is the ability to subscribe to Mobile Foxtel. It comes at an extra cost to your subscription, with the top package costing $18 for 30+ channels, which includes the live rebroadcast of SBS and the ABC.

Suddenly your tablet is also a mobile TV with the streaming video not counted towards your download limit.

Many existing Telstra Next G smartphone users also have this capability but as the Touch Tab is a much larger screen device - and one that is separate to your phone which could ring or which you could be using for other tasks, and this could well be a very popular T-Tab feature, even if it costs extra.

Aiming squarely at the mass market with low pricing to either buy outright or acquire on a 24-month contract, Telstra's T-Touch is a good and basic tablet computer.

If you never intend unlocking the T-Touch Tab, a 24 month contract of $6 monthly hardware payments means the tablet costs you, before any data costs, $144.

At this price it's practically a piece of disposable technology. At $299 it's not so disposable, that being half the entry price of the cheapest iPad, but still a cheaper alternative, especially for younger kids all clamouring for a tablet of their own, although the T-Touch Tab then competes with the iPod Touch, and I know kids would prefer the iPod Touch for its games and more.

The T-Touch Tab would work as a primary device, without the greater portability of a 3.5-inch smartphone or the panache of the larger iPad, but it would work.

It's really a companion device to what you've already got, an entry level tablet, a cheap tablet stocking filler that Telstra knows is no iPad but hopes it will sell well anyway.

If you want some better, something multitouch, that's bigger than a smartphone, then go for something else - Dell's Streak, Samsung's Galaxy Tab or Apple's iPad, or wait for one of next year's tablets, be it a better but still cheap Android tablet, or tablets from RIM, HP, Toshiba and others including the impending iPad 2.0 itself, although these will naturally be more expensive.

Definitely play with one in store before you buy, but as long as you're aware of its limitations, the anti-iPad works nicely for the price.

 


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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