In the same way a good mechanic can keep an old car running like new, an experienced, technical-minded person can usually extend the life of an older computer, or boost the performance of lesser components. They can also usually configure a no-name brand computer to work just as well if not better. A good operating system optimized properly will work for most general tasks (business work, surfing the Web, music, etc.), even if the hardware is a little dubious.
I made a similar assumption when I purchased a generic tablet running Android 2.1 on eBay, thinking I'd save some cash by taking matters into my own hands. Man, did that assumption come back to bite me, hard. Read on to find out how.
I had fairly simple, basic requirements. I wanted something that I could use to watch downloaded movies while on the airplane, maybe read some documents, and light web surfing.
The specs looked pretty good for what I wanted:
- 600Mhz processor: Not great, but I felt it'd still do the trick.
- 256MB of RAM with 2GB of storage: It's expandable with a MicroSD card up to 32GB and I had mine ready, so that seemed okay.
- A Word, Excel, PowerPoint viewer, which you need download yourself. (That little detail was left out, of course.)
- 7" Screen: Not huge, but okay for me. Better than my Blackberry Bold, after all.
- 2 USB and one Ethernet port via included adapter, which is more than the first generation iPad.
- Wi-Fi built-in, which is a must.
- 1.3 MP Camera: I didn't want it for pictures or video conferencing anyway, so I didn't mind the dinky cam
- Battery life expectancy of 6 hours (4 hours with Wi-Fi running): Good for domestic flights and daily use, as long as I remember to keep it charged.
The price for this, uh, bad boy? New for $113 with free shipping. From China, of course.
The device arrived, nicely boxed, and looked pretty good. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty smug about not shelling out $400-$800 for a name brand. It even looked like what you could expect from Apple:
Treating it with care, I unpacked it and plugged it in to charge the battery for several hours until it read full capacity.
Sitting in my family room, where my laptop gets a fair to good Wi-Fi signal, I turned it on and was rewarded with the Android startup screen. A good operating system, I thought, will make this generic hardware "sing."
Beginning of The End
I tried to set it up on my home network.
It didn't find it.
Well, I figured, the WI-Fi in this device just isn't as good as the one in my laptop. I can live with that, I thought. After all, the primary reason I got it was to watch some movies and maybe read some documents. Web browsing was last on my list. Still, it would be nice to try it out on the Web.
I brought it into my home office, which is where the wireless router resides. It wasn't until I put the device within three feet of my router (which works perfectly for my laptop, my wife's laptop and my Bold) that it finally picked up a signal. After a few minutes, I finally got Google to load on the browser. Very slowly.
I also noticed the battery life had gone from 100% to 50% in the brief time I had been searching for a signal and loaded a single web page. This was odd since I had let it charge for six hours before unplugging it, and the indicator had clearly read 100%. "Four hours" was what I was promised — with Wi-Fi turned on. This was more like six minutes.
I decided to try viewing some documents. I plugged in my MicroSD card — which read fine — and learned that I could not open a simple Word document without downloading the viewer.
Being technically minded and all, I was not going to let a simple download bother me. After all, this device was hundreds of dollars cheaper than the Motorola Xoom or an iPad. I boldly launched the icon for the Android Application store and waited as it opened slowly. I tried a search for "Word." The OS crashed. I restarted and tried it again. It crashed again.
It was at this time I looked at the battery indicator which had dropped to next to nothing. A second later a warning message popped up: "Please connect to Charger."
OK, this was bad. Maybe I just needed to charge it overnight the first time or something. It didn't seem likely to me that 12 hours charging would give me much longer than the six hours I already gave it, but making this purchase work was becoming a matter of technical pride.
I reconnected the device to the charger and sighed. I needed a win here. I figured I would try to watch a downloaded Dr. Who video. It was downloaded to a lesser resolution, and as such the hour long programme (notice the British spelling there) was only about 300mb. It started out jumpy then the video smoothed out, along with my anxiety. After a minute, I noticed that the dialogue was a full ten seconds ahead of the video.
Thinking there must be something with this clip, I tried an old comedy clip I had that was very tiny, only about 3MB — clips that worked fine for me elsewhere. The same thing happened.
So let's add this up:
- No document reader
- Unable to download the document reader
- No movies
- Very bad Wi-Fi
- Battery dies in about seven minutes while running the very bad Wi-FI
That was finally that. It couldn't do any of the things I bought it for, and it was very hard to find any real functional purpose for the bootleg tablet at all. I was fortunate in that I was able to easily return the item for a refund.
$20.53 for return shipping back to China.
A serious blow to my technical ego.
Lesson not to buy no-name technology: