- It costs under £100
- Great video codec support
- Abysmal display
- Resistive touchscreen
- Underpowered CPU
- No GPS
- No video output
- No Android Market
- Outdated OS
- Review Price: £99.99
- Android 2.1 OS
- 2GB internal memory
- 7in 800x480 screen
- Resistive touchscreen
- Gigastore app store
The Binatone Homesurf 705 is among the smaller tablets on the market. Where the iPad 2 has a 9.7in screen, this tablet makes do with a smaller 7in display, like the BlackBerry PlayBook and HTC Flyer. That’s not small enough to make it pocketable, but the Homesurf is highly portable.
It weighs just 304g too, which means it’s not a great deal heavier than the 250g Amazon Kindle – a commuter favourite – and half that of the iPad 2. It’s also cheaper than the majority of 7in tablets, and is light enough to use comfortably one-handed – a rarity among tablets, in our opinion.
Aside from the slightly tacky logos that adorn its front and back, the Homesurf 705 is an entirely inoffensive-looking device. The back is textured matt black plastic, which resists greasy smudges and fingerprints almost completely, and the front is tablet-standard glossy black, also plastic. In-between, forming the sides, is a strip of metallic silver – it’s all very iPhone 4-like, but here this strip is plastic not stainless steel.
Below the screen sit three navigation buttons. They look just like touch-sensitive panels, but are actually traditional clicky buttons, acting as Menu, Home and Back commands within the Android OS.
The icons of these three buttons are a little too large to let the Homesurf 705 look classy or stylish, but design-wise it’s a modest success in its own unambitious way. It’s not too slippery, gaudy or unwieldy.
Connectivity is fairly basic, though. Aside from the power button on the right edge, all the sockets are kept down on the bottom. There’s a microSD slot, miniUSB (not the standard microUSB) port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. You miss out on a video output, SIM card slot and a full-size USB (admittedly uncommon in tablets), but otherwise the Homesurf 705 has the essentials accounted for.
The matt black back is entirely blank apart from a logo, a discrete reset button and four little rubber feet, one at each corner. Quite what the latter are there for, when the contours of the tablet mean they don’t actually stick out beyond the backplate, is a mystery. You may also notice the lack of a camera on the back, a situation that isn’t alleviated by the presence of a front camera, because there isn’t one. We imagine, however, that many of you won’t care a jot.
Overall, in terms of hardware we can see, the Binatone does alright. It’s not particularly desirable, not perilously slim like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and it does little to stand out, but it doesn’t creak like a cellar door when flexed and doesn’t offend the eye with its poor design choices. So far, so good.
Although it’s a new update to an existing Homesurf 7in tablet, the 705 uses Android 2.1 – a version of the OS that feels so old it could get a mention in the Bible. What does it lack that FroYo 2.2 and Gingerbread 2.3 have? It won’t let you install apps to SD, is a lot slower, doesn’t offer full Flash support (not that the CPU here could handle it anyway) and a slew of other features that wouldn’t apply to this tablet anyway – because it’s just too basic.
The version of Android 2.1 used here hasn’t been tinkered with by Binatone a great deal. There’s a nav bar at the top of each home screen, which also tells you the remaining battery life, the time and any recent notifications. Aside from this, it’s a barebones Android install.
Very few apps are pre-installed too. There are video and music players, an ebook reader and browser, but the Google-branded apps that come with most Android smartphones are missing here. There’s no Gmail, no Google Navigation, and Maps is AWOL. As is – most crucial of all – the Android Market.
To try to make up for it, the Binatone Homesurf 705 has an APK installer app (Android apps come as APKs) and the Gigastore app store. This is a poor replacement for the official Android app store, offering hundreds of apps rather than hundreds of thousands. Navigation is often frustrating and the interface is not attractive. The Android Market is just starting to get over its long-running problems, but Gigastore is worse than the Market ever was.
(centre)The APK installer – not pretty, is it?(/centre)
After having rejected Gigastore, we decided to take the manual route with the Homesurf – downloading APK files ourselves. Using this method we got a handful of popular Android apps installed, including gaming favourite Angry Birds Rio. Unfortunately, it runs as fast as a one-legged grandpa in an egg-and-spoon race. You couldn’t count the frames per second the tablet achieved on your fingers, because you’d have to slice a digit in half. It’s that slow.
Perplexed by this poor performance, when other budget tablets like the Time2Touch tab have power to spare, we benchmarked the Homesurf 705 using the AnTuTu tool. It achieved just 580 points and its CPU clocked at 311MHz – the budget Time2Touch HC701A scored 2870 points. This tablet may cost less than its rivals, but it’s also a lot less powerful. To put this processor speed into context, the very first Android phone to hit shelves, the T-Mobile G1, had a 528MHz chip. And wasn’t very fast.
General navigation through the OS is mercifully faster than Angry Birds. There are brief pauses, but navigation is more often slowed-down by the touchscreen rather than the processor. More on that later.
Still, usability is maimed by the lack of app power. You have just 200MB of storage to install apps, doing so is tricky thanks to the lack of a proper app store and using anything more taxing than a tax calculator will be a dead loss anyway. There’s no GPS either, so you can’t use the Homesurf 705 as a cheap in-car navigation tool. Good god, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing? Not quite…
One heavenly glimmer of light pokes out from the purgatory that is using the Binatone Homesurf 705 – video playback. This tablet will play just about anything, including DivX, Xvid, MKV and FLV. Several no-name tablets offer similar capabilities, but such abilities are far from the norm. Most £300 Android tablets will play far fewer video types, including top models like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Quite why such a disparity exists remains a mystery.
Playback performance is pretty good too, given the lowly power of the processor. Our 720p test files play with just a slight stutter, and SD content posed no problem. 1080p MKV files refused to play entirely, but using such high-quality files on such a low-res screen is pointless anyway.
The Binatone Homesurf 705’s 7in display has an 800×480 pixel resolution. That’s less pixel-rich than the 1024×600 panels that are used in Honeycomb 7in tablets like the Acer A100, but matches the original big-name Android tab, the 2010 Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Whether it’s sharp enough or not is the least of this screens worries, though. The quality of the panel is quite terrible. It’s dim, viewing angles are very poor and the resistive touchscreen leaves the Homesurf with a speckled finish. This mottling effect is common to just about all resistive-screen tablets to some extent, but it doesn’t help the 705’s case. Blocks of solid colour suffer from this problem quite badly.
The resistive screen also significantly hampers navigation – and browsing in particular. It relies on direct pressure rather than conduction, so doesn’t respond to very light touches. Without a stylus to hand, navigation soon starts to feel laboured and slow – especially if you’re used to the lightning-fast response of a decent capacitive-screened smartphone or tablet.
Using resistive tech also rules-out multi-touch. In the browser, you’re reliant on a zoom button rather than the pinch zoom gesture we know and love. The slick, organic feel of the best web-browsing devices is missing here. Factor-in the lack of mobile internet and Flash support, and things are once again looking less-than-rosy for the Binatone tablet.
However, battery life is better than average at this budget price point. We tested the tablet by playing a DivX video on loop until it drained dry and found the Homesurf 705 lasted for just over five hours. It doesn’t have the juice to keep you entertained for the duration of a long-haul flight, but it exceeds Binatone’s own figure of four hours for video. It’s just a pity this is the only factor that Binatone undersells. The battery is not user-replaceable, the back cover firmly rooted in place.
Binatone’s strategy with the Homesurf 705 is obvious – to make a sub £100 tablet that looks the part. Aside from the Binatone logo, which we’re not big fans of, it hasn’t done too badly in this respect. Pick the thing up and switch it on, though, and everything starts to fall apart, along with the notion of value.
If you need a budget tablet, we implore you to spend a little more on something like the Archos 70 or Time2Touch HC701A, and that’s only if your budget won’t stretch to something that won our recommended stamp, like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Like the ultra-budget Archos Arnova 10 before it, going cheap will cost you dearly.
It’s dead cheap and doesn’t feel too bad in-hand, but almost everything else about the Binatone Homesurf 705 makes it a chore to use. The processor is slow, the screen quality terrible and the software is ancient – and that doesn’t even factor-in the flat-out missing features like cameras and GPS. Do not get hooked-in by the sound of the £99 price tag. It is a Siren’s song.
Score in detail
Battery Life 7
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