Thread: General Witstech A81-E
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Old August 20th, 2010, 11:18 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Default Wits A81E Review

GOOD NEWS!! Yesterday morning I woke up at 7:30am to the unpleasant sound of the doorbell ringing only to find that my tablet has finally arrived!!! So for those keeping track; I bought through Merimobiles and had my order confirmed on 4 Aug. Three business days later I received my tracking number and spent the next 9 business days trying not to go insane.

So it took a little longer to arrive than I had hoped, but all in all, I'm not too upset about the shipping time. Fortunately I didn't have much cause to e-mail Merimobiles at all, so I have no idea how helpful they may be.

On to the immediate un-boxing! I was surprised to find the manufacturer's box nestled inside another box (which was liberally covered in tape) for shipping, so the original box is left completely free of labels, tape and the like! Certainly not a deal-breaker by any stretch, and it may be standard practice, but I definitely appreciate having an un-damaged box.

Everything I expected came with the device (claw-style car mount, car adapter, wall charger, protective carrying case, 3 inch long mini-USB -> USB plug, 3000mAh battery, warranty card (I'm guessing, it's in Chinese) and a stylus (left in the device)). And each component (except for the stylus and warranty card) was wrapped in its own plastic bag, and the device was actually shipped in the carrying case. A little excessive, maybe, but you can be fairly sure it's not going to get damaged!

Okay, first impressions. This feels like a very solid device. The case doesn't creak at all when you squeeze it and there isn't any "play" in any of the seams. The buttons (six of them, counting the volume rocker as two) all feel well-installed. They have a satisfying click feeling when you press them, but they are mercifully free of any actual clicking sound. Moreover, it doesn't feel like you're bending or flexing the board underneath when you push the buttons.

When you flip the device over you see that it's a very clean design. Though somewhat thick, the back of the device is curved in such a way that it's very comfortable to hold any way you want. The battery cover clicks in very solidly, and doesn't feel like it should unexpectedly pop off. The battery itself fits very snugly into the battery compartment, and I don't expect it'll have any room to wiggle free on it's own. Also the battery itself has a convenient tab on the side, so taking the battery out yourself isn't even a little difficult.

The built-in kick-stand is an ingenious idea, and after using it all day yesterday, I'm starting to think this should be a standard feature on all small tablet devices. Not only does it stand the device in a perfect orientation for, say, a desktop picture display (which I haven't played around with at all, yet), but it also offers a decent hand-hold for reading one-handed (more on that later). I don't imagine anyone had that in mind when they came up with the idea, but the point is, that kick-stand is a far more versatile and useful feature than you would ever have guessed. It, also, feels very solidly designed, and despite being very slim, it doesn't feel fragile at all, and doesn't feel like you might snap it off by accident. My only gripe with the kick-stand is that it can be very difficult to pull out of its housing. It doesn't have any sort of tab on it that you can get a fingernail into, and its so tight in its compartment that you've got to put some decent amount of force on it to get it out.

It seems there's a lot of controversy over resistive touch-screens now that capacitive screens are so commonplace. And I must admit, I was a little leary over buying a resistive touch panel. This one serves very nicely, though. It is very accurate, though it did infrequently press the wrong key while typing. Otherwise, though it's certainly accurate enough. You don't have to press too hard for it to read at all. If you've used a decent car GPS unit, this feels similar in terms of responsiveness. Scrolling on a resistive screen is more difficult than on a capacitive screen, though, there's no denying that. Often while trying to scroll through a menu, I'd end up accidently selecting something I didn't want to.

Now for the firmware. I should point out at the outset that this definitely feels like a very alpha firmware version. Be warned, there are bugs!! This is clearly little more than a direct port of a phone's OS onto a tablet device. Now, this isn't a huge problem, really, but little things like the phone shortcut on the app drawer, the signal strength icon in the status bar (which perpetually reads "no signal", of course), and all the phone-specific options in the settings menu all serve to keep reminding you that at its core, Android is still a phone OS.

Those little reminders aside, though, this is a very capable OS. I've found little difficulty doing much of anything I wanted to, though there were some hiccups here and there. The Marketplace is working, but there are a number of apps that don't seem to be showing (Seesmic which is a popular Twitter client, for instance). Many online sources, such as Android FreeWare can get you around those problems. And as I understand it, this can be gotten around through firmware updates as well.

Side loading apk's wasn't an issue in any way. The firmware comes pre-loaded with APK Manager which make it a breeze to load/uninstall any program you wish. I did find some apps that display funny due to the larger screen than the app expects. The app will run fine, but it will be constrained to this tiny chuck of area at the top of the screen. If you've seen iPhone apps running on the iPad, you know what I mean.

I did get Laputa (an e-reader app) loaded on with no problems, and it runs beautifully full screen. I spent a good 2.5-3 hours reading on it last night and once I turned the screen down to it's minimum brightness I had no problem reading on it at all. It was quite comfortable, really. While there's no in-built accelerometer, there are a number of apps that run naturally in portait mode, and mercifully, Laputa is one of them. Holding the device in portrait mode was quite comfortable, and once I discovered I could use the kick-stand to steady the device on my hand, I didn't have to grip the device too hard, and could have read all night, if I hadn't needed to get up early this morning!

I had no problem connecting my device to my WiFi network, which is secured with WEP 128 bit encryption. No experience at all with other forms of encryption, so YMMV. There were a couple of unexpected disconnects from the network, but they both happened when I had gone outside, so I can't be too terribly upset about it. In the house I haven't really had any problem with the WiFi connection, so there's not much room to complain, I guess.

I couldn't get the GPS to work at all really, though I'm told that's a firmware issue, and that it will work under WinCE. [As an aside, WinCE is a freakin' beast to use on this machine, I highly recommend sticking with Android, despite the firmware issues. It's just better designed for this type of implementation.]

For the rooters and ROM-fiends out there, this is a really easy device to root and flash new ROMs on. Mns over on SlateDroid already has a custom firmware out, and though I couldn't successfully get it flashed on my device, Mns is very active on SlateDroid and seems willing to help in any way (s)he can, despite this being his(her) first release. And if you end up with something you didn't want, links to the official firmware releases for both Android and WinCE can be found at the Merimobiles link at the start of the review.

Oh, and the one issue that's really becoming irritating is the battery indicator is totally out of whack. It doesn't seem to have any idea how much juice is left at all. In fact it's gotten to the point that it doesn't even bother to change at all anymore. I do seem to be getting the 5-6 hours with WiFi on out of it, as advertised, however. But it is annoying to look at a full battery indicator, and watch the device go black because the battery's dead.

Take note, though, that almost all of the issues I've had with this device can be rectified through firmware updates. And WitsTech does seem to be keen on updating the firmware frequently. Even better, this device is gaining popularity, and as such, is gaining a developer community, so even if WitsTech completely turns it's back on this device, there should still be firmware updates and people working to fix the software shortcomings that are there now.

As for the "Yea/Nay"... I would definitely say Yea! I can easily recommend this device. If you're looking for an e-reader that isn't just and e-reader, you're getting more out of this device for about the same price. If you're looking for a tablet just to get into owning a tablet, you're spending less than you might otherwise and still getting a decently reliable machine. And if you're a developer, then definitely Yes! This device has so much room to grow that you would have all kinds of fun exploiting this device.

...Sorry if I've made anyone's eyes bleed!
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