The wealth of Android tablets coming our way these days is admittedly somewhat annoying, especially most of them arriving fresh from the production line of a completely unknown manufacturer vying for just a tiny portion of the market with a device not in the least bit innovative and as a result, even less exciting. But, when a sub-£200 tablet arrives from a reputable, and usually quite competitive, manufacturer such as Creative Labs, it’s worth taking a look at. So I did.
The ZiiO features the brand new ARM Cortex A8 processor, in this instance called the ZiiLABS ZMS-08. It’s clocked at the typical 1GHz, which means pretty good performance when it comes to playing back movies. In fact, the press releases claim it can handle blu-ray quality video playback. I haven’t quite put that to the test, but it handled all the HD stuff I threw at it. It even has HDMI output which can place 720p movies on your TV if you like.
There is 8GB of internal storage on the model I received, but if you buy direct from Creative.com, there is an option to upgrade that to 16GB. With this media intensive tablet, you might want to consider that as well. On the other hand, there is a MicroSD slot, so you may want to go down that route instead. Or both.
On top of the device there’s a front facing camera, which operates as both a still snapper and a video camera, both of which are disappointingly low quality, but to be honest, with no video calling software, it doesn’t actually offer much more than a mirror might.
In terms of weight, it is about 60% of the weight of the Apple iPad, weighing in at just over 400g. It’s not exactly heavy, but still too heavy to use as an e-reader, in my opinion. It’s crafted from a white plastic which in truth makes it feel a little cheap, but that’s probably because in my mind I’m comparing it to the iPad which is three times the price.
With it being an Android tablet as well, it needs the four buttons aligned along the bottom. Unlike any other Android device i’ve used, they’ve decided to line them up as follows: Search, Home, Menu, Back. Interesting, and to be honest it’s not exactly as comfortable as other setups, but you get used to it. More annoyingly, is the lack of backlight on said buttons. They are touch resistant, and when using the device in the dark or even a dimly lit room, its more a case of guessing where they are than anything else.
Overall, a nice set up of hardware, on paper it should perform, and media playback is as smooth as possible, which is a big selling point of this tablet, so I guess all things considered it’s built for purpose and does the job.
Obviously the first important note is the screen size, which is a topic of much debate at the moment. Should you go for a large screen size, or a greater pixel density? Well, Creative opted for neither. The bulk of tablets arriving are either 7″ or 10″, this one is of course the 7″, but there is an older sibling boasting a 10″ display. The problem here comes with the resolution, which in the same way as most other budget tablets, sports a resolution of just 480×800. To put that into a little context, that is the same resolution as the majority of smartphones such as the HTC Desire, which are almost half the size, thus twice the pixel density. Not good.
The display, annoyingly, is also resistive rather than capacitive. Of course, this is a vital part of keeping the price so low, but for me it’s immediately off-putting. It just makes the whole experience a whole lot less enjoyable. And, of course, there is no multi-touch, which means no pinch to zoom, which means a difficult browsing experience at the very least.
I would just like to point out though, that when it comes to resistive touchscreens, this is one of the best. In fact, it’s so good it took the good old finger-nail test to be sure it wasn’t capacitive. That and the bundled stylus, of course.
This is where, unfortunately, the device falls apart. For starters it is running a long since outdated version of Android, Eclair, but it could be worse I suppose. Buying this tablet now would be short sighted in that respect, given the recent announcement of the awesome Android 3.0 Honeycomb, designed for tablets.
I have several issues with the software, the first of which I have mentioned already today. The lack of video calling software. What is the point of implementing a microphone alongside a front facing video camera without said facility, and with the device most irritatingly not having access to the Android Market, its an appalling lack of software that lets it down.
There is access to the Zii Store, which features a good number of apps for a third party app store, but nothing of note is actually there and you’ll be reluctant to buy any of the amateurish apps available.
The software implementation is also quite buggy, i’ve noticed. One major issue is the frequent crashing of the on-screen keyboard which forces you to require a cold restart of the device. Similarly, the weather widgets seems to not work at all and occasionally the Google search widget lodges itself into the top notification bar again requiring a restart. These aren’t especially rare occurrences either.
The power button at the top is the familiar unlock function as well, but thanks again to some appalling software, the lock screen takes at least several seconds to awake from sleep, and the unlock method of dragging a spot into a hole, is sketchy at best.
On top of all that, as if it weren’t enough already, swiping across on the home screen is stuttery, as is the flipping of pages in the reading application, and the animations opening the app drawer, for example.
Anyway, enough negatives (there are more, but I don’t want to be writing this all week), there are actually some good notes. Without hugely altering the UI, Creative have thankfully pre loaded a load of actually decent software. A media suite is included, which looks nice and obviously plays nice too in conjunction with the satisfactory processing power. ZiiMusic, ZiiVideo and ZiiPhoto are by default attached to the launcher, and you can’t budge them, but they are the best features of the tablet, so they’re worth showing off.
What is great about what Creative has done here, is the audio connectivity. Creative is seriously pushing the Wireless Entertainment scene, and with a built-in widget the tablet allows you to control the wireless headphones and the lossless quality of the music with various settings and apparent enhancements to the sound quality. It all works pretty well, and provides all the claimed functionality in a simple way, so you’ll want to be keeping that on your home screen if nothing else.
You know what, I think we should leave it there. On a positive or I’m only going to be dragged back into slaughtering this device. There are so many flaws in the software it’s an easy conclusion to come to. If you want something that will leave something in your wallet, then you might want to consider this as I imagine it’s combination of quality hardware and decent media software will trump it’s competitors.
However, a meagre battery life, poor implementation of Android, bugs, bugs and more bugs (hopefully fixed in the imminent update to 2.2) and terrible screen resolution, just completely lets this down and in truth, I would rather save up a bit longer or take out a terrible rate loan with no means to pay it back and buy an Apple iPad or at least a Galaxy Tab, than feel the disappointment one would feel after buying a tablet like this. Or maybe I just expect too much for £199.99.