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Fun with a cheap Android tablet (Part 2)

By: 8 October 2011 2 Comments

Snazzy, new launcher.

The other day, we took a look at how to find help in rooting a cheap Android tablet and how that inexpensive thing could be made useful.

The Android tablet at issue is dubbed the “Cerebro” and sells for $99 with free shipping at LightInTheBox.com. Yes, we’re talking about a dirt-cheap tablet that’s built about as well as one would expect, but these can be made quite useful thanks to the hard working crew over at HcH’z TechKnow forums.It turns out the Cerebro is a fairly generic tablet built on the very common VIA WM8650 chipset and that means the good folks at HcH have a very flexible ROM that will vastly improve a slew of those wheezing machines. The typical specs are decidedly low end — an 800MHz CPU, 256 kilobytes of RAM and 2 gigabytes of internal storage with an option to add a16 GB SD card to boost up the storage capacity nicely. The screens tend to be based on resistive touch, which is downright primitive compared to tablets sporting capacitive touch screens that are very precise and well suited to tapping with fingers.

As far as the technical specs go, these will never keep up with the latest and greatest tablets out there, but that may be fine for some people. One has to decide what, exactly, is necessary in a tablet. If using the thing like a highly portable computer, gaming machine and applications monster is what’s needed, the sluggish machines from the WM8650 will likely be very disappointing.

If, however, you want to read emails, keep up with Facebook, read books and play a few simple games, one of those WM8650 tablets may be fine provided that you’re not afraid of rooting it and stomping out the myriad problems that are covered in detail at the aforementioned forums. And, yes, there is some work involved in getting this thing to work about as well as it can — it took me three nights of experimenting with different ROMs and configurations to get a tablet that is useful.

So, what can be done with a rooted WM8650 and what can’t be done with it? Hopefully, this little guide will help those who like the idea of buying a cheap tablet and don’t mind putting in the hours to make it useful.

What’s good about it?

* The tablet is a solid ereader. Installing the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook readers on it was a breeze and the hardware is more than enough to keep up with the requirements of those applications.

* Android Market access. My tablet was billed as having access to the Android Market and that was somewhat true — it came with access to some cheap, Chinese version of the Android Market which features applications that are as anonymous and cheap as the tablet. After rooting it, however, I could access the Android Market with ease. That’s important — there are plenty of alternative markets out there, but the genuine Android Market run by Google is the mothership.

* Email and Google Calendar access. Setting up the email app is quite easy (almost automatic for Google Gmail account) and it does sync well with Google Calendar.

* Internet access. Thanks to the surprisingly strong WiFi antenna that came in my tablet, wireless Internet surfing is very easy. And, yes, you do get very limited Adobe Flash access (more on that in a bit).

* Facebook and Twitter access. Yes, the tablet does those, too, and can handle those applications quite well.

* Dropbox, Evernote and PayPal apps run just fine. For the uninitiated, Dropbox provides two gigabytes of free storage so that files can be shared across several different platforms. Evernote keeps notes synced across various platforms and, well, who doesn’t know what PayPal is at this point? I regard access to those sites as critical, and this tablet provides that.

What’s not so great about the tablet?

* Android 2.2. Yes, Android 2.2 is great and all, but the latest and greatest version of Android (3.1) is not supported. Perhaps the hardware just can’t handle it.

* Flash 10.1. Want the latest and greatest version of Flash. Forget about it. You’re stuck with Flash 10.1.

* Games. The low-end hardware means that anything more advanced than Angry Birds probably will run so slow you’ll get angry.

What’s awful about the tablet?

* No Netflix. ‘Nuff said.

* Resistive touch screen. Capacitive screens are ideal for fingers, whereas older resistive touch technology is more suited for a stylus. Typing on this machine is a bit of a chore.

* No 3G. It allegedly has 3G support, but God only knows what it would take to set up 3G on this tablet.

* It really does take a lot of work to make it a useful tablet. One problem with rooting a tablet is that you can ruin it. Even after a successful root, there are still problems to be sorted out on this tablet. For example, my g-sensor still isn’t configured correctly, meaning setting auto rotate on the tablet results in looking at the screen sideways. Rooting the tablet means you get a faster machine with a better interface, but the auto-rotate feature becomes useless. In short, you’ll tinker with it. And tinker with it some more. And then a bit more…

* Battery life. Three hours, tops. Ouch.

* The thing runs hot. Perhaps that underpowered CPU is being pushed to the max as it is.

All in all, this tablet can be made useful with a lot of work. However, buying one at this point in time seems almost pointless, what with the Amazon Kindle Fire hitting the shelves on Nov. 15 and touting an impressive set of specs and features for a mere $199. No, it won’t be as “open” as the Cerebro even though it’s an Android tablet as it’s clear Amazon will have that locked down tight, but it will do more, won’t require hours of tinkering and your friends probably won’t make fun of you when they see you with it.

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

2 Comments »

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