Tablets may be extremely useful (to some at least), and they certainly do make a lot of headlines. However, one thing they aren’t is cheap, and entry level tablets (with 3G) cost in the region of R6,000.
The Vodafone Smart Tab range aims to change this. The Smart Tab 7 comes in at an RRP of R3,699 which competes very favourably with other 3G tablets, and in fact, non-3G tablets. Does the low price mean the product is sub-par? Read on to find out!
Design and build quality
Compared to the 10-inch tablets we’ve become so used to, the Smart Tab 7 feels quite petite. It measures a mere 194mm x 120mm x 11.4mm, which is quite close to the original Samsung Galaxy Tab (190.1mm x 120.5mm x 12mm). However, the Smart Tab 7 weighs just 319g (the original Samsung Galaxy Tab was ~380g).
On top (in landscape orientation) you’ll find the power/wake button and the volume rocker. Both protrude enough to be found easily, but they are a little too close together in our opinion.
On the left side is the 3.5mm headphone jack, while the right side has slots for the SIM and microSD card. The slots are covered by a flap which feels like it’ll snap off at the slightest provocation.
The bottom holds two speakers, one on either side, and the proprietary charging/data transfer connector in the middle. A fun factoid about the connector is that it appears to be the same size and shape as that of the ASUS Transformer and Slider, and indeed the cable from the Smart Tab 7 fits the Transformer and vice versa, but the cables don’t actually work on the other devices.
The back is covered by a rubberised plastic which makes gripping the Smart Tab 7 in one hand or two easy. In the top right corner is a 5 megapixel camera without flash, and next to it is a stylish metal plate with a Vodafone logo.
On the front, beside the screen, is a 2 megapixel camera in the top left corner, with a notification LED hidden above it. This is probably the best placement for a front-facing camera as it works well in both landscape and portrait orientations.
The Smart Tab 7 is edged with a glossy plastic, which I’m sure is supposed to add some class to the device, but fails due to the fact that it picks up fingerprints and dust at an astounding rate.
With all said, it’s not a bad design. There are a few minor niggles, though they don’t amount to much when taken collectively.
Internals and performance
Internally, the Smart Tab is slightly different from other Android tablets.
The only place to mention RAM (that I could find) was pdadb which pegs it at 1GB. Hardware tests on the device itself reveal that 735MB RAM is available for use, which makes 1GB in total sound believable.
There’s also 16GB of storage with the option of expanding by up to an additional 32GB via microSD.
In benchmarks, the Smart Tab 7 managed 4657.6 in AnTuTu, placing it second to last in our ranking, just a fraction ahead of the Motorola Xoom running Android 3.1.
Switching between homescreens, there were some noticeable and dishearteningly frequent stutters, but the Smart Tab 7 was more than capable of handling a taxing game or two.
Screen and responsiveness
The 7-inch LCD was good in terms of brightness and readability, but it did suffer from significant light bleed along the edges. You might not notice it while reading, browsing, or even gaming – I’d go so far as to say that you probably won’t notice it most of the time – but when you do notice it, it’s painful.
While other sources report that the screen is capable of 10-point multitouch, in our tests the Smart Tab 7 only detected up to 5 touch points and ignored more fingers. Still, 5 points are enough considering the size.
Responsiveness on the screen was good. As mentioned before, there was stuttering, but this wasn’t due to missed or misinterpreted touches or swipes.
Sound quality from the built-in speakers was good, though it was a little soft. Watching or listening to something in a quiet room was fine, but get a conversation or two going and you’ll have trouble hearing the Smart Tab over the noise.
You’d think that at the point where ambient noise becomes too much, you’d reach for headphones, but the included pair weren’t much better than the speakers, and my usual headset couldn’t get any more volume either.
The 5 megapixel rear-facing camera is passable, and I think I’m using passable loosely here. In normal lighting conditions, you can sometimes take a semi-decent photo if you really have nothing else to take a photo with. In low-light, shots become extremely noisy.
The front-facing 2 megpixel camera is more than capable of handling your video chats, and we have little to complain about here.
Battery life on the Smart Tab 7 was good, but I wished it was be better.
In normal use at work and home, checking and sending mails, chats, tweets, browsing, and even playing ten minutes of Tetris, we managed to get a day out of it easily, and could stretch it to two days if we calmed down a bit.
In our usual video looping test (where we loop 720p video at ~65% brightness with WiFi on), the Smart Tab managed about five hours, placing it last, well below the 7+ hours of the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and Slider as well as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
The Smart Tab 7 comes with a small heap of pre-installed software and even a few games. However, we’re happy to say that, for once, you can remove almost all of it.
There’s the AccuWeather.com app to tell you when it’s raining, Amazon Kindle for your e-books, Dropbox to sync your files, Pulse to manage your RSS feeds, the official Twitter app, Zinio for your digital magazine needs, and finally there’s Quickoffice HD so that you can view and edit your documents on the move.
On the game-front, the Smart Tab 7 comes with NFS Shift, SimCity Deluxe, and Tetris. All of these are, unfortunately, only trial versions.
There are some slight customisations to Android here and there, but nothing to get too upset about.
The biggest problem with the software is its instability. We had numerous reboots during our time with the Smart Tab 7, and it seems to be related to how much you’re taxing the hardware. Checking e-mails and browsing? No problem. But you’d best start doing a magic dance or praying to the technology gods if you start playing an intensive game.
This brings us to the question: if you’re looking for an inexpensive tablet, is the Vodafone Smart Tab 7 worth considering?
The internal and external hardware is good, and its performance is impressive considering the price. However, the unstable software makes me hesitant in recommending the Smart Tab 7. Hopefully a future software update can remedy the problem, but until such time, owners should try to not overextend the capabilities of the Smart Tab 7.