The Disgo Tablet 9104's trump card as a budget Android tablet is its screen. It's a 9.7in 1,024 x 768 pixel IPS display, which Disgo says uses the same core panel as the iPad 2.
By the latest standards, it's not particularly high-res, but is far, far better than the TN-based panels that have been the budget Android tablet staple. Viewing angles are great, colours are fairly vivid and accurate. Its glossy finish is even more reflective than that of the new iPad, but it's otherwise a joy to gaze upon.
Video Playback and Performance
To support the good screen, Disgo has included fairly wide codec support in the 9104 tablet, although performance was oddly patchy. 1080p MKV files encoded at high bit-rates played back near-flawlessly, but it chugged through our basic DivX and Xvid SD-quality samples, rendering them unwatchable.
It would be easy to point the finger at the limited power of the single core 1.2GHz Boxchip Cortex A8 1.2GHz processor, but it should have easily enough grunt to handle these videos. It's much more likely a problem of software optimisation - or lack thereof.
However, the core Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS runs fairly smoothly, with just some slight, occasional signs of slow-down that we didn't find too irritating. This decent performance is as much down to the 1GB of RAM as the processor - budget tablets often offer just half the amount, which tends to cause stuttery lag in Android.
Apps and Games
With a good screen and reasonable performance, day-to-day flicking around Android doesn't feel too compromised, but there's a big gap in its main apps menu. The Disgo tablet 9104 doesn't have the Google Play app store pre-installed, and lacks all of Google's official apps.
In its place, the Disgo 9104 offers a link the SlideME Market, a third-party solution. It lacks Google Play's (admittedly limited) gloss, and its app selection is relatively poor. Android game staples Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, World of Goo and Fieldrunners are all absent, forcing you into some hack-like fiddling to get anything but generic-feeling apps and games on the tablet.
We tried installing an APK file of the Google Play market on the Disgo Tablet 9104, but it crashed upon loading each time. Manual installs of individual APK install files are possible, but working this way also wipes out the casual carefree appeal that's of massive importance when using a tablet. And it rules-out being able to get hold of most paid-for games unless you're an incorrigible pirate - the biggies rarely appear on third-party stores. In Disgo's favour, it does include a web portal featuring a handful of useful essentials, accessible directly from the tablet, to get you started.
After checking these out, we spent what seemed like an age flicking through SlideME's wares, and found very little recognisable. That within the top 10 games is an Angry Birds rip-off called Angry Birds - Pigs out, which is incidentally nothing like the real thing - is a sad indictment of the store's wares.
Switching to the 1Mobile Market, another third-party store (installed manually), we were able to find and download many more popular games. It shamelessly apes the Google Play UI , but it's not well optimised for tablets at present and so looks a bit ropey. Just like the bodywork, a closer inspection of the tablet's software reveals the compromises you have to accept with the Disgo Tablet 9104.
After an hour or so's fiddling, we got a fair selection of apps and games installed including - naturally - every Angry Birds title. Here's how they fared -
World of Goo worked well with some slight slow-down. Gameloft's GT Racing proved incompatible, as did Real Racing 2 and Asphalt 5. Cut the Rope Experiments ran well, along with the earlier Angry Birds games, although there were occasional frame drops. Angry Birds Space showed some noticeable slow-down throughout, although not to the extent that the game became unplayable.
One of the few 3D games we got to work was Death Rally. It ran, but frame rate was an issue here too - a slight jerkiness taking some of the joy out of play. There's a reason why almost all top-tier tablets from last year used dual-core processors, and this is it.
The Disgo 9104 has a non-removable battery, its power source hidden away behind the seamless aluminium backplate. It's a 7000mAh unit, which is roughly the same size as the battery of the iPad 2. However, it only gets you around five hours of use. What we found more annoying, though, is that it's incredibly slow to charge, taking hour after hour to creep up to full capacity.
Keen to offer all the visible features it can, the Disgo Tablet 9104 has two cameras, a 2MP rear sensor and a VGA-quality user-facing one. For the rear one in particular, we wonder why they bothered. It uses a fixed-focus sensor, quality is poor and the slow-to-update preview display is reminiscent of the camera of a £30 phone.
The user-facing camera isn't any better, but its presence makes a lot more sense, allowing for video calling. We'd have gladly traded-in the rear camera for Bluetooth connectivity, which is not included here.
Selling for less than half the price of a 16GB new iPad, the Disgo 9104 has a pretty attractive calling card. Turn off the hyper-critical eye and its metal rear and high-quality IPS display will impress - although the latter in particular is beginning to age rapidly.
However, the longer you spend with the device, the more its other niggles start to grate. Without Google Play support, your access to top app and games is limited, and we found that its single-core 1.2GHz Boxchip processor didn't quite have the power to get apps running as smoothly as we'd like. Keep an eye out for previous-generation Honeycomb devices, or consider the recently-announced Google Nexus 7. It may have a smaller screen, but its resolution is higher, it has the full backing of Google and it's much, much more powerful.
The Disgo Tablet 9104 is a big improvement on most previous budget tablets. The staple awful screen has been replaced with a good one, and the aluminium rear plate feels great in-hand. However, other serious complaints remain. There's no Google Play access, build quality has its flaws and the CPU shows its limitations a little too often. When tablets are getting continually cheaper, it's not a great choice.