Reviews of cheap Android tablets are often skewed by tedious comparisons with the iPad or Galaxy Tab – about as useful as comparing a basic Ford with a Ferrari. Yes, they are both beautifully designed tablets that overflow with quality features but they cost 3 to 5 times the price of the M009S.
They also have a 10 inch screen which makes them less portable, almost twice as heavy, less easy to hold and less suitable as an ebook reader – so they’re not always the best option for everyone… If you’re more interested in whether a cheap 7 inch Android tablet can be an excellent buy and, most importantly, provide the usability and features expected of a worthwhile tablet, read on.
NATPC M009S Review – A quick summary is at the bottom of this article.
Price: The Ultimate 8GB version costs £90 in the UK. This is about the lowest price point for an Android tablet with a capacitive screen and with good storage/system RAM.
Operating System: UK versions of this tablet now come with the up to date Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) which is better designed for tablets than the previous Gingerbread (Android 2.3) mobile operating system.
CPU and Graphics Processor: CPU – Allwinner A10 Cortex-A8 1.2 GHz and Graphics – Mali 400 MHz. The CPU is considerably faster than bargain basement tablets which often run at 800 MHz.
The graphics processor has been super smooth at everything I have tried to date – video quality and playback is spot on. Full HD video, Angry Birds, YouTube, Skype video etc are all very responsive with no lag. Apps start very quickly and I really have been hard pushed to tell any difference from more expensive tablets.
Screen: Touch screen, 7 inch, 5 point multi touch capacitive, resolution 800 x 480. The capacitive screen is very responsive and the multi touch works well. Viewing angles and picture quality are good (not up to iPad standard but fine). It doesn’t have an anti-fingerprint coating on the screen (or casing) so be prepared to clean it every now and again.
On any 7 inch tablet the onscreen keyboard is small and a bit fiddly to use in portrait mode but much easier in landscape mode – an external case/USB keyboard combo can be added cheaply for protection and easy typing if required.
The screen resolution is on the low side (e.g. the 7 inch Nexus 7 is 1280 x 800) – this limits the detail that fits on screen and can result in a lot of finger-scrolling around when browsing websites. On the other hand it arguably makes it easier to read with less need to zoom in when reading a webpage. Personally I find it reasonable but if you are used to a higher resolution on a phone you may be slightly disappointed by the lower resolution on a larger screen.
However, the 7 inch screen size (and light weight) does make it excel as an ebook reader – the Kindle app works well, text is clear and page turning is ultra smooth. Like any tablet, use outside can be problematic compared to an actual Kindle but it is possible if you avoid direct sunlight – even the shadow from your own body is enough to make reading a more pleasant experience.
Overall Build Quality: Excellent – for the price. I was expecting a tablet this cheap to be poorly finished but the quality of the plastics and overall build quality on the M009S are actually very good – the casing feels nice and solid with no flimsiness or unfinished bits. It looks and feels like a polished product twice the price – not iPad quality but not cheap rubbish either.
Memory: RTB UK versions of this tablet come with 1GB DDR II RAM system memory – the cheapest LITE version has 512MB.
RTB Ultimate UK versions of this tablet come with 16GB NAND Flash internal storage – the other versions have 8GB. Storage is further upgradeable by adding a Micro SD memory card (max 32GB). This compares well to the 16GB+ internal storage available in very expensive tablets e.g. the cheapest new wifi iPad (£399) has 16GB of storage.
WiFi: Yes – 802.11 b/g/n. Easy to connect via wireless – I had no issues connecting to 2 wireless routers (wireless G and N) and gained a good wireless signal over distance/through walls, just as good as the integrated wireless in my laptop.
Connectivity: 1 x Micro SD slot, 1 x AC Jack, 1 x 3.5mm Earphone Jack, 1 x Mini USB, 1 x mini HDMI out.
The mini HDMI socket lets you quickly connect to an HDTV allowing pictures and HD video to be displayed on a large screen – this works very well and could even make the tablet a cheap media center computer.
Skype calls resulted in huge echoing feedback at the other end – presumably because the speaker and microphone are so close together (or poorly shielded) so earphones are a must for making calls – sound is then very good quality and the microphone works well.
The integrated speakers are not up to much – volume is low so if you want to listen to music the earphone jack is recommended. Sound quality and volume through earphones is then very good. The mini USB socket is used for connecting to a computer (or for charging – see below) and can also be used to plug in external devices e.g. a keyboard or flash drive etc. – a USB hub can be added if you need more than 1 USB device at a time.
Battery: 4000 mAh. This is good enough to last about 3 to 5 hours depending on your usage – not too shabby for a cheap tablet. The tablet is best charged by the power supply but it can also be charged via USB from a computer, albeit very slowly.
One major drawback is that the screen is remarkably unresponsive during charging – so much so that it makes the tablet almost impossible to use. This could be annoying if you wanted to use it whilst charging but the battery life is good enough that it shouldn’t be a major problem if you are organized and charge in advance if required.
Newer chargers and Android 4.0 ICS software appear to have sorted out these charging problems – they affected early Gingerbread models.
Camera: 0.3 Megapixel Front facing. Necessary skimping in a cheap tablet like the M009S – no rear facing camera so the front one is mainly for Skype video or taking pictures/videos of yourself. The quality is ok for those purposes but not great – similar to a cheap and old webcam i.e. a bit grainy and needs good lighting but better than nothing.
Official Google Play (Android Market): Yes. Full official Google Play (Android Market) – a failing of many cheaper tablets is that they don’t offer the official Market and use a poor imitation with few apps and lots of problems. Happily, the M009S provides the official market so it is easy to download all the common apps like Kindle, Angry Birds, YouTube etc.
Flash Player: Yes. Came with the latest Adobe Flash Player 11.1 installed – needed for viewing many video streaming websites and other multimedia content. iPads of course can’t have Flash because Apple say we don’t need it – well in my opinion we do (certainly for the moment).
G Sensor: Yes. This is the sensor that changes orientation from portrait to landscape automatically as you turn the tablet round – has worked remarkably well for me, very smooth and rarely needs ‘jiggling’ to prompt the change. I have had more trouble on an iPad although it does have a larger screen to rotate…
3G Internet: Can’t really expect 3G internet connection on a cheap tablet – it can be optional on expensive ones. According to the specs it should be possible to use a HUAWEI E1750 (UK) or similar US external 3G USB dongle but I haven’t been able to test this.
A new 3G model has now been released – includes 3G and wi-fi plus audio over bluetooth. Use your own SIM card to surf the net, email, use Twitter etc or make phone calls.
365g. Excellent weight – lighter than more expensive 7 inch tablets like the Kindle Fire (413g) and Playbook (425g). Just for comparison, the 10 inch iPad2 (601g) and Galaxy Tab (565g) are obviously a lot heavier again.
Tip: I use the free app No Lock as a simple way to disable the ‘slide to unlock’ screen on resuming from standby which makes it resume instantly.
Very responsive capacitive touchscreen
5 point multi touch, good quality screen
Quick processor and graphics chip, HD video, very smooth
0.5 to 1GB system RAM – same as many expensive tablets
8 – 16GB storage compares well to many expensive tablets – cheap to add up to 16GB more via a micro SD card
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) well suited to the tablet
Full official Google Play (Android Market)
Flash Player 11.1
Solid build quality
Good for reading ebooks
Reasonable battery life (for the price)
Not a great camera (and front facing only) – ok for Skype video
Speakers poor – but sound via earphones is very good quality
No integrated 3G – but may be able to add a 3G dongle
Low screen resolution
Updated Feb 2015 – the standard version reviewed above is obsolete now but has been replaced by a 9″ screen version with far superior features.
The NATPC M009S is a cheap but incredibly cheerful 7 inch tablet. Whilst it lacks some quality and features that expensive rivals offer, it is a very usable Android tablet with official Market, Android 4.0 (ICS), a responsive touchscreen and quick/smooth operation.
It does have bad points but these are more a reflection of price than quality – many can be easily/cheaply resolved but to solve them all would result in a much more expensive tablet e.g. new iPad nearly four times the price…
I have tried even cheaper tablets before and they suffered more serious flaws which made them unusable for me e.g. stylus needed for resistive screens, no official Android Market, sluggish performance, stuttering video playback, poor battery life, poor build quality.
It’s obviously not an iPad or Nexus 7 killer but it does a great job in its own right as a very usable little Android tablet – with a lot of cash left over.
Feb 2015: note that this review is of my original tablet which had 0.5GB RAM and only 4GB storage. The original also used Android 2.3 rather than the newer 4.2 Jelly Bean.