The tablet market used to be dominated by the iPad. Nowadays, just as Android has taken over the smartphone market and has a huge market share, Android is making inroads into the tablet market. While the original Galaxy Tab missed a few marks and wasn’t all that popular, things have certainly changed now, where the Nexus 7 is a very popular tablet, and the price is pretty good too.
However, at $300-ish, this is not exactly a ‘go out and just buy one’ purchase. Some folks, for whatever reason, don’t have $300 (or more) to go and drop on a new Android tablet, and for those people, Ausdroid has not – historically – catered well. We like flashing lights, high end, powerful tablets and phones, and we’ve been known to neglect the cheaper end of the market.
So when Mini-Box.com.au, specialists in miniature-computing, approached us and asked us if we’d like to do a review of the Jetway 7″ Alfar Pad, of course we said yes. Why? It retails for $99, that’s why.
Note: For the modding community, I couldn’t find any readily available information about rooting. However, as the tablet is running ICS 4.0.4, it may be possible to obtain root using this method from XDA Developers. You probably won’t be able to load custom recoveries or ROMs on this device though, so unless you’re going to be happy with a mostly stock Android tablet, this isn’t the tablet for you.
What we like
My first impression of the Alfar Pad was that it reminded me of Telstra’s T-Hub style tablets. The tablet works best in a landscape orientation, and while it will rotate to a portrait orientation, it doesn’t do so smoothly or quickly. Indeed, my first reaction to the speed of the auto-rotation was that it simply didn’t work. However, a second or two later, the rotation occurred and it was okay. It certainly wasn’t smooth or fluid though.
On the front and rear of the tablet are cameras, though neither are fantastic – the front is a 0.3mp camera, and the rear 2.0mp. Both are more than adequate for use with say Skype, but I wouldn’t go taking photos with either and expecting them to look good. The location of the camera, on the top side of the screen when in landscape orientation, further accentuates the design of the tablet as being primarily a landscape device, unlike say the Nexus 7 that you can orient however you like without really affecting the usability.
Atop the device is the power button, however it’s rather small and circular, and difficult to depress without a good push. There’s also a recessed port area that contains a USB and micro-HDMI port, and this recessed area is covered by a small plastic flap. Unfortunately, this flap feels a little flimsy and in the review device, it didn’t quite fit the recess properly, meaning it stuck out a little.
The ports are rather close together, meaning that depending on the size of what you’re plugging in, they may clash.
On the right side of the tablet is a headset port and a two-button volume rocker. Further down is a micro-SD slot, however it has no cover and its location means that it’ll probably accumulate a bit of dust if you’re not careful.
The bottom and left sides of the tablet have nothing remarkable about them, except slightly sharp plastic edging that can make the tablet a little uncomfortable to hold for extended periods. That said, if you hold the tablet like you would a PS3 controller (i.e. a grip on both sides) it’s not too uncomfortable, and easy enough to watch a TV show or a short movie without cutting your fingers off.
I’m going to say though, despite these little issues, on the whole, I liked the way the Alfar Pad felt.
Software and performance
Unlike most cheap tablets, the Alfar Pad sports Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, and very little else. Much in the same vein as some of Huawei’s prepaid devices (remember the old IDEOS way back when?) the software is virtually stock Android with nothing remarkable added to it.
This is also a bit of a downside, as the Android running on the Alfar Pad clearly has setting panels available for cellular and 3G settings, though the tablet supports neither. The software clearly has not been customised for the hardware, but that’s not really surprising at this price point.
Performance wise, the tablet is a pleasant surprise. While sometimes the software can become jerky and lagged – I noticed this primarily when installing apps – it’s mostly pretty responsive, and I found it more than sufficient to play a few levels of Rovio’s Bad Biggies, and also to watch an episode of my favourite TV show via UPNP with software decoding on the tablet (incidentally, I watched this while typing the review and it didn’t miss a beat).
The web browser works entirely as you’d expect it to, and everything else just works. I didn’t notice any major software issues using the Alfar Pad, except for the occasional jitter as noted above.
What can be improved
Please, let me preface this by saying I’ve judged this tablet somewhat harshly. Not because I hated it, or thought it was poorly designed or made, but because I take the view that even if you’re buying a $99 tablet, there’s some things you just expect, and have a right to expect. You shouldn’t have to settle with rubbish just because you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Now, that said, there were a few things with the Alfar Pad that irritated me, but I have to say, not one was a deal breaker.
The first thing I noticed, as I alluded to above, was the case design. While its comfortable to hold in some positions, in others the case feels quite sharp. The front edge of the screen – primarily around the bezel – feels a little sharp, and holding it in the wrong way could lead to quite sore hands after awhile. However, it’s quite easy to adjust the way you hold the tablet to avoid this.
The speaker is also in a funny position, and it is a bit quiet. If you were holding the tablet for gaming or watching a video, it’s quite possible that you’d cover the speaker grill — it’s quite small — with your hand, muffling the sound. Again, if you’re careful to avoid covering it, then the sound is quite adequate and clear, and that episode of the Walking Dead I was watching was quite easy to watch, hear, and enjoy.
The auto-rotation being as slow as it was threw me for a moment, but the tablet will rotate to portrait if you like. The tablet is not, however, symmetrical, and you can notice the slight variances in the case when you hold it in a portrait orientation, though these are just cosmetic things and it didn’t affect the operation of the tablet.
The screen is nice and bright when viewed face on, and from either side, however if you tilt the tablet back away from you, as you might when using it on a desk for example, the brightness fades right out at around 45°, making viewing a little tricky. You just need to think more about keeping it at the right angle for viewing.
Beyond that, there’s nothing that I really disliked about the Alfar Pad. It’s affordable, it works well at the tasks you’d expect it to do well at, and it struggled slightly with those you’d expect it to (e.g. high speed gameplay or video decoding), but nothing killed it, and nothing made me think “geez, this is unusable!”
I actually took a bit of time working out how I’d conclude this mini review.
I think my initial response, that the tablet felt cheap and thus I didn’t like it very much, was too hastily formed.
The Alfar Pad is cheap. It’s $99. You really can just about go out and buy one without having to give it a great deal of thought. Contrast with, say, a more expensive tablet like one from Samsung, Asus, or Apple, where you really have to give a bit of thought to what you’re investing in and whether it’s worth your money.
I can see a few really good use cases for the Alfar Pad:
I think, in short, the Alfar Pad is a pretty good all-round unit, and for the price, you really can’t complain about that. I’d definitely be looking at a slightly higher-end tablet if you wanted to use it regularly and extensively. A Nexus 7 has better performance and double the battery size, plus it’s far more comfortable to hold and use for longer periods.
However, unless you are reaching that kind of usage, then the Alfar Pad is just fine and I think you’ll actually enjoy using one. If you’re after a super-cheap tablet that does 90% of what a more expensive tablet does, at 33% (or less) of the price, you should definitely consider the Alfar. Bear in mind though, you can buy some tablets in stores — e.g. Dick Smith, JB Hifi, etc — whereas for now, the Alfar Pad is only available on their website.
If you want one, you can find one here: http://www.mini-box.com.au/jetwaypad.html.