Can you be happy with a cheap Android tablet? It depends on what you want to do and how fast you want to do it!
Okay, so a little while ago my aunt gave me her cheap WM8650 tablet running Android 2.2 that we had bought for her for $65 a few months earlier. She recently spent $350 to upgrade to a much better tablet from Asus running Android 3.2 (upgradable to ICS).
As soon as I got it, I restored it back to factory defaults. As soon as this was done, I straightaway started playing with it. What I noticed right away was that it was beyond terrible; I tried to click on a menu or an app and it would land on something completely different. I even managed to calibrate the screen after about eight times failing and it still did the same thing. So I decided to go to the “real” Android Market — or so I was told (it wasn’t). First off, I didn’t have to sign up or log in to a Google account, and there were no known apps there at all — just to mention a few, there was no Skype, no Titanium Backup, no Angry Birds — nothing. It was terrible, but I have to give the would-be scam artists credit: It was in English and almost had the same design as the real Android Market that it claimed to be!
I then decided to browse the Web on the tablet, but first I had to get it connected to the Internet. I wish I hadn’t even tried! It failed to connect about 17 times. After powering down and restarting the tablet a few times, it finally managed to connect on the 18th try! Then I went to the browser. It was slow, unresponsive, and I couldn’t get anywhere because it kept force closing! Sounds like a fun time, right?
I then decided to at least see if the included Skype app worked. Nope. As expected, it didn’t! It force closed as soon as I tried to log in. By this point, I was beyond frustrated, so I decided to go back into the fake Android Market that was included and at least see if I could download a browser that would work — anything, at this point, just so I could at least browse the Web! In the process of searching for one, the tablet ran out of battery power; I was only using it for about a half hour, and it was fully charged when I got it.
Before my aunt gave this tablet to me, I already had plans of putting a custom ROM on it, but wanted to try it at its default settings first. I wish I hadn’t — It would have saved me a lot of time and anger. At this point, I wouldn’t have recommend this tablet for anything, but let’s see if I changed my mind after I put on the custom ROM.
I started by researching more into custom ROMs; I knew that there are many different variations of this WM8650 tablet: some are blue LED, some are green, some vibrate on boot, and some don’t.
Mine was a green LED and didn’t vibrate on boot, so I decided to try the Uberoid ROM V11. At this time, it supported over 176 different types of these tablets and the place where this tablet was bought even recommended this ROM.
It seemed that the best and most common option for my tablet was option 8 or 11; I tried 8 first. It got stuck on the boot screen, so I decided to try 11. It booted all the way up, but there was no sound and no touch. Then I tried 5 and 7 without any luck. So I decided to try 2, and it worked! First thing I noticed was that the display was much brighter and clearer. I went on to discover that touch was much more responsive and the sound was much louder and clearer. The first thing I did was calibrate the touch, which further increased its precision and — get this — it actually opened whatever I touched! The second thing was that, when I went to the Market, it actually asked me to create a Google account or sign in, so I did. Many of the apps were still not found, but I was happy that it was the real Market. I then did the Market fix that was posted and restarted my tablet; I went to the Market and it automatically updated to Google Play. Awesome!
After it updated, all of the expected apps were listed: Skype, Angry Birds, Titanium Backup, and more. This didn’t mean that they were compatible with this device, but they could at least be installed and tested. I already knew the new Skype wouldn’t work, so I had to go to another site and download Skype (BETA) v184.108.40.206. It worked great, but of course I could only interface with it through typing — no audio or video calls were possible. Then I installed Dolphin Browser HD; it had already come with Opera Mini and the default browser. I kept Opera and uninstalled the default one. The YouTube app v2.3.4 worked well again and I could now watch Chris Pirillo from anywhere I had Wi-Fi. I was very happy.
My Wi-Fi connected straightaway, my tablet hardly slowed down at all, and I was beginning to actually like this tablet! Next, I installed JuiceDefender and set it up. I was now getting three-and-a-half hours of battery life — not bad for a cheap $65 dollar device, right?
I then installed the Yahoo! Mail app, and it’s so far worked perfectly for me. I have two email accounts configured and I receive my email as soon as someone sends it to me without slowdown. I also have a weather app running in the background just about constantly; with it running I get about two hours and 45 minutes of battery life, which is not bad at all with all that it’s doing.
Angry Birds plays very well as long as the background is turned off, Amazon Market and the Kindle reader all work great, Pandora installed and works fine. Now, the question is: Do I recommend this low-cost tablet to anyone? Out of the box, no, not at all. With a custom ROM and some configuring, yes, I do.
While the Amazon Kindle Fire is only $140 more expensive for a new one and $120 more expensive for a refurbished one with much better performance, not everybody needs it. What if you just want a tablet to browse the Web, check email, watch a YouTube video, read an e-book, or write some notes down? For these kind of people, I do recommend it, but only if you or a friend can put a custom ROM on it!