As soon as tablets based on Android started to appear, we knew weíd eventually see some really cheap deals. At £100, this is as cheap as you can get – but thereís a price to pay…
While there are plenty of high-end tablets battling it out today, with more to come, thereís also a big market for cheap tablets that can offer the basics without breaking the bank.
Binatoneís HomeSurf Tablet 7 is one such example, costing a cool £100, and yet still coming with the same 7-inch sized screen as Samsungís Galaxy Tab.
However, thatís where the similarities end. The Binatone doesnít have a camera, but given how silly you look using a 7-inch camera, thatís not a problem.
The Binatone doesnít have Android 2.2, or even Android 2.1 (instead it has 1.6) but you can probably suffice with that too. No 3G? Well, Wi-Fi is probably all youíll really need if this is to be kept in the home.
The other difference is that it doesnít have Android Market. Android 1.6 still allows the majority of apps to run, but with no Android Market you canít actually get any apps for this anyway. Thatís a fundamental difference that isnít so easy to forgive.
The big feature of running an OS that is rapidly taking over the smartphone world (and will probably take over in the tablet arena in no time at all) is the offering of a huge selection of apps. Although Android hasnít yet caught up in numbers with Appleís iOS, it will and probably faster than anyone could have predicted.
Looking for alternatives
But, you wonít be able to get any of them via Googleís app store. Instead, youíll have to find ways to search for apps on other websites and download the .apk (application) files manually to install via the HomeSurfís own file manager app.
For the computer expert, it wonít seem that much of a problem (besides the immense amount of time wasted). For the casual user, you might as well consider the HomeSurf to be stuck with the few apps it already has. Thatís a web browser, email client, media player, calculator, YouTube player and the Aldiko bookstore.
While thatís pretty much got everything youíll need covered, things like Googleís own Gmail app, or indeed Maps, are missing (as is support for GPS) and you begin to think that the HomeSurf could just as easily been built on a totally proprietary operating system. The fact that it runs Android is almost coincidental, and of no real use except for the familiarity you will get if you own any other Android powered devices.
The HomeSurf 7 is really far too limited, and has screen issues too. Itís dull and washed out, and is resistive, not capacitive. It needs a firm push on the screen, which is possibly why Binatone thought it was necessary to include a stylus that slots behind the screen. A stylus with an Android tablet? Whatever next?
Connectivity is via Wi-Fi only, so thereís no SIM card slot and no Bluetooth either. With the limited range of apps, you may just use this as little more than a media player with the occasional bit of web browsing and email. Thereís 2GB of internal memory, but thankfully thereís also a microSD card slot to let you expand it and store music, video and pictures (which can be dragged and dropped via your computer.
In a crazy kind of way, the stylus actually isnít a bad way to use the HomeSurf Ė but itís never going to come close to a decent capacitive screen. Itís also something to lose down the back of the sofa.
So far, itís not a glowing recommendation for this tablet. The build quality is questionable too, with no touch-sensitive keys for the usual Android functions (menu, back, home and search). Instead, there are four very clunky, and extremely noisy, buttons for those functions along the top.
On the left side is the power button, while on the right is an exposed microSD card slot, mini-USB port for hooking up to a computer, and a tiny DC charging socket. If Iíve not already given this device a hard enough time, I must add that Binatone should have used a micro-USB socket (as is the standard in the industry now) and allowed charging via USB too.
But, despite all of the negatives (and there plenty), this tablet does retail for £100. Thatís a huge difference to its more powerful rivals. Given that many tablets are used for little more than a bit of surfing in front of the TV or to check some emails, or watching a movie on a long journey, the Binatone actually manages to retain some appeal if you set your sights low.
Even without support for Adobe Flash, the web browser renders pages sufficiently well and the 600MHz processor isnít bad at keeping everything chugging along. Although there are no official battery figures, we could keep the screen on playing films for a good few hours without it dying. Sadly, the many compromises youíll have to make are possibly a little too much for most people, and if you are going to buy a tablet, you will need to accept that you do get what you pay for.
When Binatone announced this, we knew not to expect too much. However, thereís only so much you can compromise on before you pretty destroy the whole package. Thatís what has happened here, from its cheap plastic design with awkward buttons, to a poor screen and no Android Market. But it is arguably a pretty cheap 7-inch media player.
Ratings (out of 5)
Binatone’s HomeSurf 8: An alternative to consider?
Given a big omission from the HomeSurf 7 is the ridiculous positioning of the incredibly hard buttons, the £180 HomeSurf 8 reverts to a more logical below the screen collection of touch-sensitive icons instead.
You still only get a resistive screen and a silly stylus, but the improved LCD display should enhance the viewing experience over the 7 (although it is the same 800×480 pixel resolution).
The HomeSurf 8 will also come with a docking station and an integrated speaker, making it even better for looking at photos and movies – as well keeping the device charged up.