The debate over which is the best form factor is set to continue without any end in sight. From small screen smartphones to phablets, from 7 inches to 10.1 inches there are models to cover every whim. I have owned several seven inch and ten inch tablets, but I have never used an eight inch tablet for any long period of time. When Apple released the iPad mini with its 7.9 inch screen I thought it was time to take another look at the eight inch form factor. I got hold of an 8 inch dual-core Android 4.1 tablet called “Vader” from Chinavasion and this is what I discovered.
The eight inch Vader Android tablet is a low end device with a remarkable price. It can be picked up for just $140 which is quite something considering the screen size. However at that price there are some compromises. The screen resolution is low at 1024 x 768 but reasonable considering the price and more than sufficient when remembering that the iPad mini has the same resolution. Also the screen isn't IPS (In-Plane Switching) which means that the viewing angles won't be a spectacular as tablets with IPS or similar technology. But at this price I don't think more can be expected.
The Vader is a dual-core Android Jelly Bean tablet with an eight inch display, 8GB of flash memory and 1GB of RAM. The tablet is powered by a RK3066 dual core Cortex-A9 CPU. It is clocked at 1.5GHz and uses a quad core Mali 400 as the GPU. The chip is built using a 40nm process and the ARMv7 architecture also supports NEON SIMD.
The full specification is:
The device is just exactly the same height as the iPad mini at 200mm (7.87 inches) but slightly wider at 150mm (5.9 inches). The back is made of a plastic which has been coated with a metal like finish. Although plastic, at first glance it looks like aluminium and even tapping your fingers on it makes a vague metal sound. If this was done badly it could look and feel awful, but the back cover of the Vader looks more expensive than it really is, quite a trick!
Having used it for several days I must say that I like the 8 inch form factor. My other 7 inch tablets now seem small and, although it might be psychological, I wonder how I was ever able to read anything on such screens! The only problem is the viewing angles. Since it doesn't have an IPS screen there can be times when the picture becomes unclear until you adjust your hands to decrease the angle. Oddly the viewing angles are much better in one direction than in the other. After a couple of days of usage I found that holding the device upside down actually gave the best results, since the screen auto-rotates this doesn't affect anything and I just needed to get used to how I picked it up.
The device comes with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean as standard and includes Google Play. During my tests there were a few times when Google Play said that an app was “incompatible” with this device and wouldn't allow it to be installed. However I was able to download and install Amazon’s apps store without any problems. This means that you have two reputable sources for apps and between them you should be able to find any apps you need. For those who like rooted devices, this tablet does not come rooted by default.
The tablet doesn't come with many pre-installed apps (other than the standard Android apps like the Play Store, Clock, Calculator etc) and in fact several key Google apps are missing (like Gmail and YouTube) but these can be very quickly installed via the Play Store. Thankfully the device doesn't also come full of Chinese apps, which although they could have been easily removed, it is one less thing to worry about!
This is the first device I have tested with the RK3066 dual core CPU and I am impressed. Running at 1.5GHz the CPU is no donkey. It can't compete with a quad-core CPU, so don't expect Tegra 3 type performance, however the device scored 4067 on the popular Quadrant benchmarking app. That makes its performance similar to that of the Asus Transformer Prime TF201 and quite a bit faster than devices with the OMAP 4430 CPU like the SmartQ U7 , the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Samsung Galaxy S II and the original Amazon Kindle Fire.
Its AnTuTu score was 9691 which is comparable with the Samsung Galaxy S II and almost double that of the original Amazon Kindle Fire. I also installed the Unreal Engine 3 demo app Epic Citadel. Running in benchmark mode the Vader managed a healthy 41.3 frames per second average at 1024 x 752. In comparison the Asus Transformer TF301 manages 46.5 FPS but running the higher resolution of 1280 x 752.
The two weakest points for Chinese white label tablets in general is the battery performance and the Wi-Fi performance. The battery in the Vader is a 4000mAh unit which is quoted as giving the device 4 hours of usage. My tests show that you will likely get more than 4 hours, but of course it depends on how you use the tablet.
Starting from 100% (after several charge-recharge cycles), I set an MP4 video file playing with Wi-Fi on, sync on and the screen at half brightness. After three hours the device had used 31% of its battery! Then I ran Epic Citadel (which runs the device at 100% CPU non-stop) for an hour and another 36% of the battery was used. So 3 hours of movies and 1 hour of intensive 3D gaming used 67% of the battery. Not bad! Towards the low end of the battery charge it does seem to drop off non-linearly with the last third of the battery charge being used quite quickly, however for a $140 device this is more than acceptable.
Unfortunately this tablet does have an Achilles' heel – the Wi-Fi. Near a Wi-Fi hotspot (and I mean in the same room) then the device behaves well and connects, downloads, uploads etc without any problem. However, once the device is moved into another room the Wi-Fi performance drops off dramatically. Moving only 10 meters away into a different room can reduce the Wi-Fi performance to one tenth of what it is closer to the Wi-Fi access point. This is a pity as anyone wanting to access the Internet on the tablet will need to be quite physically near the Wi-Fi.
Considering the cost the Vader is remarkable. The eight inch form factor is nice, the performance is very reasonable and with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean the tablet benefits from the optimizations that Google made since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. However the Wi-Fi does limit the device's attractiveness. If you want the device for movies, music, games or even for e-book reading then it is ideal, but if you want to use the Internet away from your home-office then you will be disappointed, unless you have a Wi-Fi extender somewhere near by.