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Home » Android, Technology

Fun with a cheap Android tablet

By: 5 October 2011 10 Comments

My, but people across the nation have gone all wacky for tablets, haven’t they?

The Amazon Kindle Fire sold an estimated 250,000 units in the first few days after it was announced late last month and made available through pre-orders (the reader will hit the shelves in November). Meanwhile, a reported 2.5 million Apple iPad 2 units were sold in the first month of that product’s existence. It seems that new Android pads (and, yes, the Kindle does fall in that category) are being announced on an almost daily basis.

While there are plenty of higher-end tablets out there, companies churning out lower-end Android tablets aren’t exactly hurting for attention. A number of those companies are operating in China and virtually all of them tout their tablets with enough hyperbole to make one think they were talking about the most advanced devices on the planet.

One of those enthusiastic Chinese competitors is LightInTheBox.com which, evidently, has sold all kinds of things for years. While I prefer a good old fashioned lap top computer with a full-travel keyboard and a big hard drive, it’s hard to avoid the appeal of a tablet. If nothing else, they make for great readers and it’s handy to be able to play Angry Birds or a quick “match 3″ game without having to squint at a dinky iPhone 4 screen. So, I went ahead and picked up a couple of Cerebro 8″ Android 2.2 tablets for $100 apiece.

How is the tablet? Not bad after a lot of work (more about that in a bit).

The Cerebro’s specs are none too impressive. You get an 800 MHz CPU, 256 megabytes of RAM and two gigabytes of internal storage. Luckily, the unit can take up to a 16 gigabyte micro SD card and applications and data can be stored on that. That 8″ screen is a touchscreen rather than a capacitive one, meaning it reacts to pressure rather than sensing touch. Those who hate typing on a virtual keyboard on, say, an iPad 2 with its responsive capacitive touch screen will absolutely hate banging on the Cerebro’s pressure-reliant display. Yes, you’ll get used to it after awhile (maybe), but the lack of a capacitive screen seems out of place in this day and age.

Fortunately, the Cerebro almost works out of the box. Yes, it runs, but it doesn’t live up to the hype shamelessly bestowed upon it by our friends at LightInTheBox. For one thing, it’s painfully slow. Playing games on that thing when it arrives is miserable as is doing most everything else. Furthermore, the LightInTheBox crew doesn’t give a hang about truth in advertising as one of the selling points of this device is that it has the “Android Market.”

That’s sort of true. There is an “Android Market” application that comes on the machine, but it’s not the one put up by Google. No, it’s some Chinese thing with a bunch of trash applications and bad games that render that service almost useless. The proper Google Android Market will not install on this thing without some serious modification to the system and that is a major problem for anyone wanting to download applications. Yes, there are alternative app stores out there (such as the Amazon App Store for Android), but they generally fall short of what Google has to offer.

Another great thing the people at LightInTheBox did was to slap a browser on the device that tells the world it’s running on an iPad. Yes, I made that discovery when going to one of those alternative Android App stores that wanted to install something specific to my operating system. The browser leads one to believe that no one really tested this device much and their are some other clues that this was slapped together and rushed out the door. You get an Android dialer on a device that can’t act as a phone. You’ve got a camera app that can do nothing but take screen shots because there is no camera.

The battery life isn’t great, either — expect a couple of hours and possibly three if you turn of WiFi and do nothing but read a book on it.

The old maxim that suggests you get what you pay for does apply to the Cerebro for the most part.

Is the device all bad? No. It’s solid enough and the WiFi connection works very well. Also, it shipped quickly and came in very good shape. Furthermore, it is running Android and we all know that Google encourages us to dig in the guts of that open source operating system and modify it at will.

And, yes, you will have to modify this tablet to get it to work well. Specifically, you’ll need to “root” the device to get it to run apps at a decent speed and install the honest-to-goodness Android Market. Bear in mind that you could destroy your tablet and lose your $100 by rooting it, so go spend about $300 or $400 for a really good Android tablet if you’d like to avoid fooling around and potentially ruining your cheap purchase.

Fortunately, the chip set used in the Cerebro is fairly common and a lot of bright people have developed an effective way to root it. You can find out how to perform that procedure by clicking here and visiting HcH’z TechKnow forums. You’ll have to register, but that’s free and you’ll find the tools you’ll need over there to root your cheap tablet and make it usable. All you’ll need is sage advice from those forums, a Windows machine and the micro SD card you should have bought for your Cerebro, anyway.

Here’s a word of caution — a lot of generic tablet’s use the chip set specific to the Cerebro, so finding out what exactly you have is a hit and miss affair. Fortunately, I was able to discover through my systems settings that my tablet was something called a WonderMedia WM8650 and the model number stamped on the back of the case is “BLY-806.” Those two bits of information were enough to point me to the aforementioned TechKnow forums for the Universal Uberoid tool so I could root my tablet. Even knowing what exactly I had didn’t guarantee success — I had to try three different configurations while rooting the tablet until the process was successful. Again, avoid going down that road if you don’t feel comfortable with doing something that may well ruin your machine.

Ah, but rooting the Cerebro is worth it. Prior to doing that, I had no Android Market, games were so slow they were unplayable and even the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook applications were painfully slow. All of those problems were fixed after I rooted the machine and that’s a good thing as I wanted the Kindle and Nook apps to work so I could turn this into a cheap ereader. The root kept me at Android 2.2 (Froyo) instead of moving to Android 3, but at least the thing behaves a lot better than it did.

It’ll never be as great as an iPad 2 or a higher end Android tablet, but this cheap tablet can be made useful with some work. Not bad.

There are still a few kinks to work out, so stay tuned.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

10 Comments »

  • chris said:

    the kindle fire hasn’t been released yet. It is available for preorder only.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Chris, you’re right — those are leaked pre-orders. I’ll make that clear…

  • Android Dave said:

    This is great for kids. Whos wants to give a $500+ tablet to a 5yr old and watch them drop it… At least if they drop this thing it wont break the bank!

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Android Dave — Exactly right. And great for kids? Heck, this thing is great for me. It’s an almost ideal eReader with a few extra bells and whistles that cost me $100 and the time it took to set it up. Very happy with my rooted tablet and, what’s more, I’ve gotten very familiar with the great Android OS.

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