There are plenty of Android tablet makers out there and the big names like Samsung, Asus, Google and Amazon often get all the attention, however there are some good but lesser known tablet makers. One of these is SmartQ which has just released a 7 inch tablet with a built-in DLP projector. I got hold of one and I wasn't disappointed.
The U7 isn't going to break any speed records, but it is no slouch either. It comes in two flavors, a 8GB model with a Texas Instrument OMAP 4430 1.0GHz processor or a 16GB model (the U7H) with the OMAP4460 1.5GHz processor. Both models have:
- 7 inch, 1024 X 600 pixels capacitive touch screen
- 35 lumens, 854×480 DLP projector
- 1GB RAM
- Micro SD slot supporting up to 32GB
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- HDMI output
- Wireless WiFi 802.11, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera Front: 2MP; Back: 2MP
- Battery 4800mAH, about 4 hours for projection
- Dimensions: 200.3×116.2×11.0~14.4mm, 360g
The U7 currently sells for $319.00 and the U7H costs $399. You will need to add courier delivery on top (around $30) and you will probably need to pay a sales tax (to customs) on delivery.
My U7 came with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean pre-installed. It is a slightly modified version as there are settings and controls for the DLP projector including brightness and a setting for show taps when in projector only mode. There are also some pre-installed Chinese apps which look harmless and are relatively easy to remove. There were some slight problems with the 4.1.1 build including the inability to install previously purchased apps from Google Play. I went to the SmartQ download site and found that there was a new firmware available based on Android 4.1.2. The upgrade process is fairly easy and it fixed the Google Play problem. The only downside is that it wipes the device meaning you need to have a good backup available. I have seen that other SmartQ models are starting to support incremental updates (which I assume don't wipe the internal storage) and I guess this will come to the U7 as well.
The only minor wrinkle is that Google Play says that some apps are “incompatible” with this device and won't allow them to be installed However I was able to download and install Amazon's apps store without any problems. This means that there are two reputable app stores available for the device and between them you should be able to find any apps you need without having to resort to manually downloading the .apk files and installing them. If you do need to do that the device comes pre-rooted so the side-loading of apps is very simple.
My test device is the 8GB model with the OMAP 4430 CPU. This is the same dual-core processor as found in the Samsung Galaxy S II, Amazon Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0 inch and 10.1 inch versions) and is very usable. The UI feels fast and responsive, especially with Jelly Bean's extra smoothness and fluidity.
According to the popular Quadrant benchmarking app the device offers the same performance as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 which is what I would expect. The 16GB model has a faster CPU and it should perform the same as the Kindle Fire HD.
Since the tablet has a DLP projector its design isn't standard. Most tablets have a flat back (with maybe some curves) but this one needs to have a little hump to hold the projector. Obviously the projector is a plus and it is the main reason you would get this tablet rather than the S7 or the K7 which have similar specs. It does however have two little side effects. First, when the tablet is laid on a table it isn't flat, it is raised slightly like if it was on a small stand. This is actual good as the tablet becomes more usable however it can rock a little if you are typing seriously on it. The second side effect is when you hold it in your right hand then your palm is over the projector housing. Of course you can hold it in your right hand the other way up (and Android will rotate everything) or you can use your left hand (which is what most right handed people do). But as I said, this is acceptable as what you really want is the projector.
The DLP projector
The real unique, differentiating feature which makes this tablet special is the built-in DLP projector. I must admit before I received the device I was skeptical about its ability to perform, but having played with it I am smitten. In fact I am having a hard time keeping the device out of the hands of my family as they are already formulating plans about which movies and cartoons they want to watch with the projector. The projector is activated by using a switch on the front next to the DLP lens. There is also a slider to focus the projection. When the projector is running pressing the standby button on the tablet switches off the touch screen but leaves the device running with the projector. This is especially useful for movies or presentations.
In daylight, I was able to use it indoors and project a 40 cm wide image from a distance of 60 cm from the wall. The image was OK and could be useful if having to give an impromptu presentation somewhere.
In a darkened room with the curtains drawn, I was able to project a 73 cm wide image from a distance of 1.2m. The image was easily clear enough to watch a film or give a presentation.
In the dark, the projector is amazing. From a distance of around 5m it is possible to project a image of just under 2m. The image is clear and if you connect up the device to some external speakers then it is very possible to watch a movie in your own mini movie theater!
Both the rear and front camera are 2MP, so you can't expect too much from them, however they work as well as can be expected. When used for video calling, with an app like Skype, the 2MP front camera easily copes. My HTC One S only has a VGA camera on the front and I smiled a wry smile as the image from the tablet looked better than the one from the phone!
Here are some pictures I took on a slightly cloudy day:
The idea of an Android tablet with a built-in DLP projector is brilliant. It isn't for everybody, but if you find yourself needing to give small presentations or demos; or you like the idea of watching a movie on a “bigger screen” then this device is fantastic. The specs are more than reasonable, the DLP performs well for its size and with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at its core you can't go wrong!