- Powerful processor, 512MB RAM
- Decent built-in video codec support
- Android Market access
- Unreliable video playback
- Mediocre display
- No Honeycomb
- Review Price: £179.99
- Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 processor
- 512MB RAM
- 7in capacitive touchscreen
- 480x800 pixel display
- Android 2.2 FroYo OS
Buying a cheap Android tablet is fraught with pitfalls, because most cheap tablets running Google’s OS are terrible. With poor-quality screens, clumsy resistive panels and processors that can barely run Angry Birds, they suck all fun out of using a tablet. The Time2Touch side-steps these key issues, but in doing so prices itself above a lot of the competition. At £179, this isn’t quite the ultra-budget option. But if using it is a joy, it’s worth paying the extra for. Let’s found out if it is.
Every time we see a new Android tablet selling for under £200 from a no-name manufacturer, our hearts sink a little. We so want them to succeed, but they invariably fall flat on their faces. The Time2Touch HC701A gives us hope though. It packs some seriously impressive specs, while still staying below the £200 price barrier.
It offers a dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 processor, 512MB of RAM and a capacitive screen, putting it in a similar league to devices that cost two or three times the price – devices like the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2. Miracles rarely happen in the tech world though, and there are several compromises at work within in the Time2Touch tablet.
The whole of the tablet’s body is decked-out in plastic. It’s glossy black plastic that attracts fingerprints from the first flick across the touchscreen, and the touch layer is covered with hard plastic – rather than the tough Gorilla Glass you’ll find on some top-end models. We’ll hand it to Time2Touch, though, it’s a sturdy little number that doesn’t creak or flex much at all under pressure, and feels reasonably compact.
Using a 7in display rather than a 10-incher like the majority of big-name tabs, it’s fairly well-suited to one-handed operation. It only weighs 358g too, much lighter than the often-praised 601g iPad 2. At 18mm thick, it’s chunkier almost all of the famous tablets, but aesthetically it trumps most budget models.
The left edge of the Time2Touch HC701A is curved for added comfort, which comes in especially handy when reading an ebook or webpage, resting this edge against your palm. The other sides have harder edges, with a slight lip that affords the tablet an almost book-like vibe.
All the exposed sockets and connectors are kept on one edge – the bottom when the tab’s held upright. These are the power socket (sadly it doesn’t charge over microUSB), miniHDMI video output, miniUSB data transfer socket and 3.5mm headphone jack.
The tablet comes with 4GB of memory on-board, including just over 500MB of internal memory that any apps can be installed to (others require the “install to SD” feature, not present in all apps), but there’s also a microSD slot. This sits on the left edge, the curvy one, and is covered by a rubber seal. Next to this there’s also a space for a SIM slot, but in our review model this was a gaping empty hole.
You’re best off plugging a nice big microSD card into the slot, then leaving the rubber bung in place. It’s only held on with a little 1mm rubbery tentacle, and that smooth side won’t look or feel nearly as neat if you accidentally rip it off. Time2Touch is kind enough to include a tough little neoprene case with the tablet – a rarity in this sector.
There are just three physical buttons on the Time2Touch HC701A’s body – two to turn volume up and down, and a third to turn the tablet on and off. The rest of its functions are accessed using the 7in capacitive touchscreen and the row of touch sensitive buttons below the display (or to the right, if held landscape.)
These touch panels are Android standards – Home, Menu, Search and Back. In Android Honeycomb, these are build into the software user interface, but the Time2Touch tablet uses the older FroYo edition. This software was not designed specifically for tablets, but smartphones instead.
In many FroYo tablets, this causes all sorts of problems – the worst of all being ruling-out access to the Android Market. However, you do have access to the official app store here. This is because the Time2Touch tablet behaves as if it has mobile internet functionality, even though its SIM card slot is empty. You only have Wi-Fi to rely on here. Time2Touch tells us that 3G connectivity can be added using a USB dongle – with the help of the bundled miniUSB-to- female USB cable.
Fudging mobile internet connectivity like this may sound like a recipe for all sorts of compatibility problems, but we’d rather deal with them and have access to the Market than otherwise. Access isn’t without its own share of issues though. We found that on some networks our downloads were forever stuck on the “Starting Download” stage, and lists of app searches and categories refused to load beyond the first page.
Software niggles like these are fairly common in the Time2Touch tablet. We’re used to the odd freeze bug when testing Android devices, but we had to resort to the hard reset button a half-dozen times during our review. More on these issues later.
When you first dig the slab out of its box and switch it on, the outlook is depressingly barren. It uses a completely vanilla install of Android FroYo and only the lightest smattering of apps come pre-installed. Even Gmail doesn’t feature.
It doesn’t make a great first impression. But give it some time and its charms slowly begin to win you over. Aside from the occasional glitchy pause (and no Android tablet is completely free of these) the super-fast dual-core A9 processor makes light work of navigation, and can handle even the most challenging apps available from the Android Market, bar those specifically made for Tegra 2 devices. The dual-core processor is an ARMv7 rev 2 model, rated at 1061MHz according to the AnTuTu Benchmarking tool. Running this software’s algorithms, the Time2Touch emerged with a thoroughly respectable 2870 points.
Benchmarking reveals sub Tegra 2 power – but great results for the price
This is roughly on-par with the HTC Flyer, a device that although not dual-core (it has a 1.5GHz single-core processor) costs more than double the price of this tab. The video processor is a PowerVR SGX 530, an Open GL 2.0-compatible chipset. It’s not exactly new, first produced in 2005, but features in plenty of fairly recent mobile devices including the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Defy.
The tablet handles 3D games like Reckless Racing with ease
The capacitive screen is also very responsive – light years more comfortable to use than the resistive screens seen in tablets like the Archos Arnova. What the Time2Touch tablet lacks in official support – many websites won’t even recognise it as an Android device – is makes up for with sheer spec power.
If it had Android 3.0 Honeycomb, it’d be an incredible deal, but instead it has to make do with the simpler smartphone alternative. On a 7in screen, the OS doesn’t seem stretched beyond all reason, but is does not pack information in as tightly or effectively as it could. Bear in mind that the 480×800 pixel panel is the same resolution seen in many phones, including the 3.5in Orange San Francisco and 3.7in HTC Desire.
Aside from the FroYo interface, which is conspicuously less-than-perfect for the device, the main price compromise of the Time2Touch tablet is its screen. The 480×800 pixel display gives a pixel density of 133dpi, which is actually slightly higher than Apple’s iPad 2 (at 131dpi), but the panel used is a basic Twisted Nematic model.
Pixel density is fine, but the arrangement gives a slightly less-than-seamless image
Brightness is perfectly good (you’ll need to set it to max brightness for outside use) , but colours are less vivid than you’ll find on the IPS and PLS screens of more expensive panels, and tilting the tablet backwards in landscape orientation causes contrast shift. This is where angled viewing diminishes contrast and brightness, robbing images of all shadow detail and altogether making them look ugly. It comes into play the most when watching videos, where the natural response is to angle the device backwards. It’s less damaging than in some tablets though, such as the Storage Options miScroll.
There’s significant contrast shift, but we’ve seen worse
The tablet’s buggy nature comes into play once more when fiddling with the screen settings. Although there appears to be a light sensor on the front, automatic brightness doesn’t work – it just sticks on whatever brightness level was applied beforehand.
Native video support is surprisingly good. Where well-known tablets like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Motorola Xoom fail to play even the most basic Divx files, the Time2Touch can play a wide array of formats including MKV, Divx, XviD and even RMVB. The on-box claim of 1080p video decoding is somewhat rich, as it struggled in most of our HD video tests and high bit-rate 1080p MKVs caused the media app to crash.
This is as close as you get to a built-in media player
Given the well above-average video support, it’s disappointing to see that no proper media player app is installed as standard. There is the ES File Explorer suite pre-installed, which will play videos from within the file manager interface, but for Android newbies this is not very inviting. That said, a quick browse of through the Android Market will uncover a bundle of free options.
Using any media player that uses the tablet’s native video decoder though, the bugs return en-force. Pause video and, more often than not, you’ll lose sync between audio and video once restarting playback – if you don’t lose the image altogether. Testing video caused more fatal crash bugs than any other task. This is a huge disappointment when its power and codec support should make it a winner for SD-quality playback (we found all our 720p and 1080p files played back at less-than-perfect speed – although most did play.)
To test Time2Touch’s claim that the 3400mAh battery will last for 7 hours when playing video, we set it to playing a 720p file repeatedly at maximum brightness (unlike IPS-screen rivals, max brightness is far from a ridiculous supernova level). It lasted for 3 hours 15 minutes – bear in mind that using an SD-quality file and lesser brightness this figure will increase significantly.
The Time2Touch HC701A doesn’t feature a camera on the back, but it’s not a feature we miss. A 7in form factor may be more portable than a 10-incher, but it’s still not small enough to make using the tablet as a camera practical or desirable. There is, however, a user-facing camera, for use in apps and for video calling.
And yes, if you’re desperate it can be used to capture still photos and video. There’s no flash and no focus control though, so any results will be of limited quality. The 1.3-megapixel sensor is fairly high-res for a camera of this type – the iPad 2’s user-facing jobbie only captures images in VGA (640×480).
No apps are included to make use of this snapper, beyond the barebones camera app. The browser is the basic Android affair too – less advanced than the software seen in Gingerbread tablets. However, the browsing experience is very good at the price.
Flash 10.1 is supported, rendering of text and webpages is quick (as long as your connection is up to it) and the capacitive screen lets you use the pinch-to-zoom touch gesture. Browsing shows up the limitations of the screen though – the plastic screen screen covering has a mottling effect on areas of block colour such as websites’ backgrounds.
This limitation aside, it’s great. Typing two-thumbed in portrait mode is comfortable – accurate too thanks to the responsive capacitive touchscreen – and if the bookmarks and multi-window functionality of the built-in browser isn’t enough, there are alternatives on the Android Market. As a cheap sofa-bound web browser, it’s a near-complete success.
Bland packaging – but there’s more to like inside
We’ve covered most of the Time2Touch’s basics – its decent app support, its unoptimised core software, good-but-flawed video skills and browsing. But it’s also worth noting the behind-the-scenes features it offers that some rivals don’t. It has GPS, enabling the use of Google’s Navigation GPS app. Its mini USB socket has a host function, allowing you to use a standard USB keyboard or mouse with the help of the bundled mini-USB-to-female USB cable. It can even gain 3G mobile internet support with the help of a USB dongle.
The Time2Touch HC710A is pretty feature-packed. It’s a pity that its buggy software and less-than-stellar display seek to spoil the experience. At present, this tablet is easily the best-specced Android tablet you can get for the price, but with prices continually falling and Archos’s G9 80 on the horizon – which runs the tablet-optimised Honeycomb OS – our giant foam “recommendation” thumbs have to stay at half-mast for now. However, Time2Touch has told us that a bug-fix update is on the way, and that an Android 2.3 update is in the works. We won’t hold our breath, but that makes this tablet worth keeping an eye on.
Given its no-name origins, the Time2Touch 7in tablet impresses. Its core specs are excellent for a sub-£200 tablet, the capacitive screen is responsive and connectivity is perfectly decent. However, it’s not without a serious budgetary compromise or two. The Android software hasn’t been optimised for the device, resulting in many more bugs and glitches than you’d see in a big-name Android device, and the display quality is average. We’d recommend waiting to see what Archos delivers with the G9 80, but this tablet far outclasses most of its small-manufacturer rivals.
Score in detail
Battery Life 7
|Processor||1GHz dual-core A9|
|Memory (RAM) (Gigabyte)||512GB|
|Mobile Broadband/3G||Via USB only|
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