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March 27, 2012

Review: Orange Tahiti tablet

CBR reviews Orange Mobile's entrant into the tablet space - hit or miss?

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Stripping and rebranding products seems to be the new approach from a variety of companies looking to eke out an existence in the tablet market, which is well and truly dominated by the iPad. Its main competitor, the Amazon Kindle Fire, is really a stripped down Blackberry Playbook running a modified Android OS.

In the same way, Orange has produced its own tablet, the Orange Tahiti, using a rebranded Huawei’s Mediapad, which runs Google Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) OS. So how does it perform? Quite well actually. CBR has spent the last few weeks giving it the run down.

Orange Tahiti - a solid low price tablet?

The aim is, like Amazon’s Kindle Fire, to produce an extremely low priced multi-media tablet aimed at the general consumer, rather than the luxury market the iPad 3 and its predecessors are aimed at.

The problem here is, being a mobile network operator, Orange is looking to tie users into a long term subscription model – there are plusses and minuses to this, but ironically they seem to wipe out the supposed price advantage…

Design

The device isn’t much to look at, but feels great in the hand and well weighted and balanced. Brushed metal with minor rubber stylings on the back of the device mean the device feels solid, easy to handle and, most importantly, durable – a key flaw of the iPad.

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A key problem for the Tahiti is the screen surface itself – it is probably the worst fingerprint magnet there is – significantly worse than its Samsung, Apple or even RIM’s offerings. The screen is constantly greasy and smeared with prints, and I found myself cleaning it near constantly to watch movies or look at web pages.

The screen itself is a 7-incher, and while Steve Jobs famously railed against this form factor, I personally believe this ‘half-way house’ size between Apple’s 10-inch iPad’s and smartphones works very well, great in a satchel or even in a large jacket pocket. It does seem to fit better than the Playbook, which is a few millimetres wider and longer. Tahiti has a smaller bezel, but this is non interactive like the Playbooks.

The screen has a resolution of 1280×800, with nice sharp pixels, and watching movies in SD (480P) or fake HD (720P) look great. It can also output to HDMI, which is a great plus for TV based surfing or movie watching.

Tahiti Back with 5MP camera

Performance

The device is running on a dual-core 1.2GHz processor with 512MB of RAM, which, while dated compared to the Samsung and Apple powerhouses, still makes it faster than BlackBerry’s Playbook. Apps open instantly, including its Camera and Camcorder apps, and it runs Google Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) very well, without any shuddering or stuttering, no matter how many programs are running, which is very impressive. There are no plans to run Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) at this stage, but very few high end tablets are at this stage anyhow, so it’s fair to consider the Tahiti ‘up-to-date’.

Connection wise, it supports Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth. All work as they should – the Wi-Fi antenna also seems well placed, given that it picks up more Wi-Fi signals (and often stronger) than my iPhone. It is worth adding that while the Tahiti is a 3G compatible device from a mobile phone company, it is not mobile phone compatible.

It does however work very well with Skype. Its back camera is a 5MP (more than enough for a tablet) of average quality (poor dynamic range leaves muddy looking contrasts and dark pictures for a start). It has no flash or any other extras, and the front facing camera is a 0.3MP – fine for Skype, but rubbish for anything else. It has the same quality problems as the above – but still perfectly acceptable for a product in this price range.

While onboard memory is limited at 8GB (almost useless for anyone looking to media-centric consumer looking to carry around a lot of movies or music) it does thankfully have a Micro-SD slot which can add another much needed 32GB to your storage.

The battery life is somewhat average also, lasting around 5 hours and draining almost as quickly when in standby. It is best to switch this device fully off if you intend to use it throughout the day, which is inconvenient, but reasonable for a low-spec device. Unfortunately, it does take an age to turn on again.

Extras

The Orange Tahiti has all the modern bells and whistles, such as GPS positioning, and access to the Google Android App Store is a huge plus – making it endlessly customisable. Facebook, Skype, Drop Box, Twitter, Evernote and media players such as BBC’s iPlayer are all here. None of the Apps I tried on the device missed a beat, including the games, no matter how graphically demanding.

Pricing

This is where buyers will be a bit torn I suspect. To this point, I have to say I rate the Orange Tahiti as a budget tablet, similar to vibe to the Amazon Kindle Fire. Unfortunately, it has not been priced as such.

When Orange initially launched this tablet, they demanded a £69.99 upfront cost on a £25p/m 24 month contract. Orange has since dropped this upfront cost now, but it still means you will be paying £600 all up for a device that really belongs in the £99-£199 price bracket.

To buy it outside a contract Orange wants £299 for the Tahiti, which is quite simply too much.

Even the BlackBerry Playbook, which is a great (if dated) device – crippled by a poor app store – is now selling for £169. For hard drive media consumers and web surfers, this would be considered the better ‘budget’ option.

However, the iPad 3 (or ‘the new iPad’) is £399 retail for its cheapest Wi-Fi only model, and this has forced the iPad 2 down to £329. To be brutally honest, splashing an extra £30 on an iPad 2 is the logical decision here. The iPad 2 is a superior device.

Conclusion

Orange has done a very good job with the Orange Tahiti technically and software-wise, and it would be hard not to recommend if it came in £150 cheaper. The HDMI TV connectivity, expandable SD storage and great screen (despite the smudginess) make it great for surfing or watching films on the train. The Google Android App Store makes the device endlessly usable, with all the key apps working flawlessly. Boot up time is a bit slow however.

Unfortunately, Orange has chosen to protect their margins first, when a loss leader strategy is probably needed to impact the market. As such it really can’t be recommended when an iPad 2 costs just £30 more.

Spec Sheet

– Standby Time: 6 hours working time
– Screen size: 7 inches LCD
– Weight: 390g
– Thickness: 10.5mm
– Chipset: Qualcomm 8260 Dual Core 1.2 GHz
– Camera Features: 5 mega pixel
– Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, GPS/A-GPS, HSPA+
– Memory: RAM: 512MB; EMMC: 8GB
– Operating System: Android Honeycomb
– Sensor: Light sensor, gravity sensor and eCompass
– User interface: SDHC, Micro SD interface, Micro USB, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, stereo speaker, build-in MIC, HDMI type D, USIM card slot
– Battery: Li-Polymer, 3.7V, 4000mAh

 

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