An AMAZING price point, given what you get for the money
Able to load Amazon app store (using an easy work around)
Now Able to load GooglePlay, using ArcTools App-->this really improves app options and enhances the Android features
Responsive, multi-touch screen
Expandable memory through microSD memory card (up to 32 gB)
Plays HD video files and streaming very well
Can web surf at near-iPod touch speeds if you use Opera
Possible quality control issues, especially regarding the USB port (see Update 8/27/2012, below)
Disappointing/clunky customer support
Single core processor (not surprising, though, at this price point)
Only about 3 hours of battery life
Buggy with certain basic software (see below)
Appslib app store is adequate at best (but you can load the Amazon app store by side loading and GooglePlay using the ArcTools app which can be downloaded from Appslib)
No native, integrated contacts/address book function
WiFi not as sensitive as other pad-type devices
Few preloaded apps
Arnova did not tweak the Android OS much to customize it to the unit
The user's manual is not yet available on the Arnova site
USB CHARGING PROBLEMS:
I started to have problems with USB charging. At first the charging seemed to be positional--I had to wiggle the USB cable to get the device to charge. I contacted customer support via their email option. (They now apparently have an international support number(?) which is 0 900 20 20 211, but it charges 0.15 euros per minute!) After a few go-rounds with the customer support people (it took about 7 days all told), they did send me an RMA (return material authorization)number. I was about to send it out, when I realized that the brick and mortar store from which I purchased the Arnova might be able to help. The brick and mortar store agreed to swap out the broken device for a new one.
The exchange device did not charge, as the USB port was defective (the internal USB contact was bent). With the second exchange, I insisted on trying the unit at the store to make sure it worked. It too would not charge, but after a bit of detective work, it was determined that the problem was not the Arnova itself or even the USB cord. Rather the USB wall plug was defective. They sent me home with the new unit and one of the old USB wall plugs, so I now have a functional unit. (Many thanks to the brick and mortar store, which really stood by this product, more so than the manufacturer. I cannot mention the name of the store on Amazon without being censored but can state that it had both the initials P. and C. and the last name Richards in its title.)
Clearly, the Arnova 7 G3 is the low end of the Arnova line and defects happen. It is quite possible that this is an isolated event. Still, there was clearly a defect in the original unit's USB port that manifested itself over time and one of the replacement units (brand new and shrink wrapped) had another kind of USB defect. The final unit also had a minor defect in the wall charger, but all this makes me quite concerned about quality control.
In the end, I am certain that Arnova's customer support would have done the right thing and either replaced or repaired the unit, but the customer support option was once again clunky and took a long time. This could be chocked up to buying the bargain-basement tablet in Arnova's line up, but the experience makes me hesitate when thinking about buying from Arnova/ASUS in the future.
All this, of course, could just be very bad luck on my part. However, if you have had USB problems or Arnova customer support problems with this device, please leave a comment to help out future purchasers. If you have had positive experiences with Arnova's customer support, please post these as well so we can all get a balanced picture.
Loading Google Play using ArcTools app
truly enhances Android and software options
There is an app on the built in Applibs store called ArcTools. This app was updated and now works with this device. It allows you to add Google Play to the device and also installs some integral Google apps, such as People (an integrated address book!), Google Talk, Google Maps, and Google Mail (better than the native mail app). Additionally, you can download the YouTube app, which makes YouTube videos completely usable. Google Play has a very large variety of apps to choose from and lots of multimedia that you can download, which really widens the spectrum and makes the device far more useful. After downloading ArcTools, it took exactly 5 minutes to download and install the components. After a quick reboot, it was all there. The Google app store runs far more quickly and smoothly than either the Applibs (very slow) or the Amazon app store (slightly slow).
Note: In order to load Google Play and Google apps fully, you need to have a microSD card in the device
I am DEEPLY indebted to the programmers that worked diligently to get ArcTools to work on this device and cannot thank them enough. (It's donationware and I encourage everyone who uses ArcTools to show their appreciation.)
That said, not all apps that you can download will necessarily function perfectly--this is likely the disadvantage of trying to run software on devices with multiple hardware configurations running different versions of an OS.
I have absolutely no idea why Asus didn't include Google Play access to the device. It really adds incredible value to the device. I imagine that there had to have been some economic hurdles involved, but with the addition of Google Play this is really a full service tablet.
Caveat Emptor: There is a notation with the ArcTools app that it may make the camera buggy--so far I haven't noticed any problems. [Actually, with the addition of Google Talk, I can now video chat using the front facing camera!]
I have left the rest of the review as it stands and added some comments in brackets.
The Arnova G3 7 is a budget tablet that might just serve your purposes. It is fairly versatile, albeit a bit sluggish at times, and can do most of the tasks that you expect a tablet to do. Overall, I was impressed at what you get at this very low price point, from a known vendor. However, in order to get you the Arnova at this kind of low price, compromises were made in typical areas: 1) screen resolution; 2) battery life; 3) Software (the device is not Google `supported' for the Google Play app store and they did not preload a lot of apps customized for the device; 4) use of a single core processor; and, 5) Customer support (by email only). Still, there is a lot to love here, given the price point, but you may have to put in some time and energy to get the tablet working for you.
In a nutshell, given its price point, this is a 4 star item with 2 star out-of-the-box software integration/support. You get a lot for the money, but it will require some work on your part.
So please realize that this tablet may NOT have all the functionality that you want right out of the box. Some native Android software and common software takes some tweaking. This is not an iPad that will come out of the box fully functional, ready to go, and most of the apps that you need already loaded. And you will also not get phone-based customer support--they answered my email in less than 24 hours and were sympathetic to my cause, but were not all that helpful. All this takes a great deal of money and is part of the reason why the higher end tablets cost much more. On the whole, there is a whole lot of value for the money here, but the Arnova G3 7" is a diamond in the rough: you will have to put in some work to get it to work the way you want.
I am writing this review a little earlier than I normally would, because there is not much out there on this tablet. Realize that I have used Android telephones before, but this is my first Android tablet experience. I am certainly no Android expert. This is a review of someone who is reasonably computer savvy as a user (but who is not a programmer or IT professional). I'm the kind of guy who likes to troubleshoot problems and will go to some lengths to do so. [Note: as I acquire more experience with the device, I will update and revise the review. Feel free to leave comments.]
STATS (The initial stats posted on Amazon are incorrect. These are the ones from the box):
Operating system: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich
Processor: 1GHz, single core, ARM Cortex 8
RAM: 1 gB
Internal Memory: 4 gB
Ports/Slots: Micro USB, Micro SD, Mini HDMI output
Connectivity: WiFi 80211 b/g/n
Sound: built-in speaker/microphone
Video: built in, front webcam
Display: 800 x 480
Touch Screen: Capacitive, multi-touch
Weight: 10.6 ounces
Dimensions: 7.6" x 4.6" x 0.5"
WHAT IS IN THE BOX:
The Arnova tablet itself and a power cord. There is a short, quickstart manual pointing out very basic information. The power cord is composed of two parts: the wall plug and a USB cable. This is a nice set up that is more common these days, where the USB cord can be connected to the wall plug for powering up or used to connect to a PC for data transfer and/or power.
The unit itself would not win a beauty contest. It is a black, rectangular slab. The webcam is located on the right side of the rectangle, flanked by two, small vent-like speakers. At this price point, however, looks really don't matter. The 7 G3 is the runt of the bunch--the bargain basement model in the G3 line. If you go up the food chain by one model, you can get some curves and external speakers that are mounted for stereo sound.
The company's website states that you could "easily fit into your jeans or jacket pocket." It is light, but is still 7.6 x 4.6 inches. My pockets aren't big enough for this one. But it is compact enough and light (only 10.6 ounces), making it quite portable. The product does feel light weight and plasticky, but after using it, it is definitely robust enough. Once again, at this price point, you get a lot of tablet for your money.
USING THE G3 7:
Initial boot up took a few minutes, but that's typical. Once the device is up and running it is fairly quick to turn on and is quite responsive.
On a tablet, the touch screen is always a major concern. This touch screen is quite responsive and it definitely responds well to gestures. No problems with that. The resolution of the screen is only 800 x 480 pixels, but it was definitely bright enough and with a 7" screen perfectly adequate. Video plays well at this resolution and you can read eBooks without trouble. This is not an iPad with a `retina' display, but you can't expect that at $99. I am very satisfied with the screen.
Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, is really a tablet OS. Everything looks fine. Now that I have an iPhone, I have a few quibbles with the Android people, but these are mostly issues of my own preferences. Generally, my take on Android is that it is not as refined an OS as Apples iOS, but with each iteration Android comes closer. And Android 4.0 is quite good in this respect. I know there are die had Android fans out there and anti-Apple folks that will disagree, but for me Apple still gets the prize for the better user interface. Sadly, iOS is not open source, you have to deal with iTunes, and you also have to pay up the wazoo to get it. Not even a refurbished iPod touch can be had through usual channels for less than 100 bucks. So in my book, Android and a Android devices have a much larger niche of the market. And Android 4.0 has grown into a fine tablet OS that is only getting better. (Watch out, Apple!)
On the other hand, Archos did very little to enhance the OS and tailor it to the device. So this is generic Android with few added applications or specific tweaks to enhance Android's performance on this particular device.
As to the preloaded apps, the generic browser is simply adequate. The music player is pedestrian. The multimedia player works, but is really no great shakes. The email program is buggy. And the file manager program is strictly okay.
If you want anything else, you have to download it.
Poor Choice for App Store:
[As above, with the addition of the ArcTools app, which you can download from Appslib, you can add Google Play, which really improves the number of apps that you can download and improves the usefulness of this device incredibly.]
Which leads us to the app store... The Appslib marketplace is preloaded on this device. According to their site, Appslib boasts 38,771 applications on its roster. This may sound like a lot but this is not as many as the `over 500,000' apps on Google Play. That said, the sheer number of apps doesn't mean very much. You really need the apps you WANT and the apps that work the best for your particular needs. Appslib didn't cut it for me.
That said, you can't (easily) load Google Play on the device. Per Arnova's customer services this has something to do with the fact that the G3 7" is not a Google `supported' device. I imagine that this has something to do with the device's specifications, marketing, or money changing hands. (Probably, this is mostly a function of money and was another cost cutting measure for ASUS). There are some complicated work arounds that may allow for Google Play on the G3 7, but I haven't tried them yet...
I also tried to load the GetJar marketplace and the AppBrain marketplace, also with no success. I imagine with a little ingenuity and some time troubleshooting, I might be able to get these up and running.
Still, I was able to load the Amazon app store pretty easily, by downloading the .apk file from Amazon, transferring it to the device via cable, and then running it. For other kinds of software, I was able to obtain .apk files from another source to run them. Sadly, there are some proprietary Google apps that I'd love to have for the device, but are just not available from Amazon or Appslib.
When it comes to a tablet device, apps are key. The sheer number of apps in an app market matters less than the quality of those apps and whether the app market provides the actual apps that you want. Appslib did provide compatible apps with the device, but no `official' made-by-Google apps like Google Play, GetJar, and AppBrain have. A lot of the apps are still optimized for an Android phone-sized screen and look fuzzy or pixilated on the 7" display. You have to look for the ones that are marked `HD'.
That said, where the Appslib app store fell short, I was able to shore up most of the gaps with the Amazon app store. I actually haven't used the native mp3 player app: I downloaded Amazon's cloud player and now I have full access to all my music on Ammy. The player works well.
The native browser is just so-so. It definitely works, but it will slow you down. The best web browser for this machine that I have found was Opera (full or mini). It takes a little time to load, but it really ups the speed of browsing to the level of my iPhone or my son's iPod on WiFi. It won't scream through the web like your desktop or laptop, but it is perfectly fine. Opera will render Flash well for small animations, but won't play Flash video clips well (see below).
I tried a number of browsers: Opera definitely works best for casual browsing. If you want to look at YouTube videos, they play best with the native browser. Dolphin HD was a big disappointment--it makes my iPhone blast through the web like a rocket, but is fairly pedestrian on the Arnova. It doesn't do Flash, although it is second best for YouTube videos. Dolphin Mini works much better, but is still not quite as fast as Opera. Maxthon was strictly okay. It is about as fast as Opera, when it behaves, but there seem to be formatting issues on this device and sometimes it just acts up and crashes. Oddly, Chrome Beta was much faster than the native browser but did not support Flash and was still slower than Opera. Boat browser didn't float my boat--mediocre performance and no Flash on this device. My advice--it's over and the fat lady has sung: go with Opera.
No Address Book:
[Note: After downloading the ArcTools app and loading Google Play, I now have the Google People, integrated address book. Very, very useful. I have no idea why this was not included in the basic, Android package by Asus.]
One of the biggest disappointments for me was that there's no native, integrated address book. I've never seen this problem before, as Android phones all have this built in. According to Arnova support, the unit does not have an integrated contacts application. I get the idea that you won't be making phone calls from the device--it's not hooked up to a carrier. But man, this is a major mistake! An address book is important to keep track of business contacts, keep track of phone numbers and addresses, and keep track of email addresses--and you can actually email people using the device, so for this reason alone they should have made sure it had a contacts application! I had thought that contacts (or `People' in Google-speak) was integrated into the OS. Either it's an add-on that Arnova should have opted for or the folks at Arnova actually removed it from the OS. Whatever the answer is, this was a bad decision in my opinion. I still have to find a third party app to replace this functionality. (If you have any advice, Android experts, please tell me... just make sure that I can get it on Amazon or on the Appslib market...) ]
Wacky Integrated Email:
[Note: I subsequently got the native email program to work--I needed to check off the correct security option on the outgoing mail. The native mail app is strictly okay. After loading Google Play with ArcTools, I now have the Google's Gmail app which is more robust.]
The email program is a native, Android app. It's perfectly fine and well organized visually, but at least on this device it's a little problematic:
1) Adding Email Accounts: I will tip my hat to the iOS developers--it is easier to add a Google account to my iPhone than it is to add one to my Android .(!?!) Oh, my! Unless your Google account has an @gmail.com domain you have to put it in as an IMAP account. What gives? Gmail has been allowing the creation of unique domains for quite some time now. Why the issues? The only options are POP3, IMAP, and Exchange. Google really needs to fix this issue. Inputting email accounts should be a no brainer, and this makes it harder. It also means that you are missing the full functionality of the Gmail account if you load it as an IMAP--you don't have access to your address book or other functions.
2) Doesn't consistently send emails: When I set the account up, it seemed to work just fine. My daughter took the tablet overseas and now the mail program will receive mails but not send them. Go figure. (My son's iPod touch works just fine in the same location.)
Arnova support felt that this was an Android issue and not an Arnova issue. My solution to this problem in the short term is for my daughter to use the provided email app to view email quickly, but if my daughter wants to read/send email she will log onto the gmail website. The screen size is large enough that it's easy to navigate the web... but this should not be necessary...
Skype Without Video:
[Note: After loading the Google Play store with ArcTools, I now have Google Talk. Video chat works fine with this app and the front facing camera works well.]
Skype can be loaded from the Appslib store, but video chat just doesn't work. I looked up potential issues. One site suggested loading the old Skype .apk file and that this would work. I found it, I loaded it, and it also didn't work. The tablet can make Skype audio calls, but as of yet there is no video.
***UPDATE: I updated the Skype app and now there is 'sort of' video. I can now see the caller and I can see myself just fine in the tiny window, but the transmitted image is a Warholesque series of pink lines. This is some progress, in the sense that an image is now transmitted, but not quite what I was hoping for.
Poor Flash Performance/DO NOT update Flash until further notice:
Flash has been problematic. Simple animations will play, but video loading times are horrendously long. Once the video loads, however, it seems to play okay, but we are talking several minutes of loading for a two minute Flash video. Flash heavy video games are also problematic, but simple animations on websites work just fine.
Oddly, when I updated Flash, Flash crashed. It took a little experimentation, but rolling back to version 220.127.116.11 solved the problem. My guess is that there is some kind of fix for this, but I'm not sure if it is forth coming.
[Note: I bit the bullet and tried upgrading the flash from the Google Play store. Flash in its recent incarnation works for certain web browsers (e.g. Opera, Dolphin mini, and the native web browser), but doesn't work for others (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Maxthon, Boat). Even when it does work, it is very slow. If you wait long enough, you can get video from the CNN site (my litmus test for Flash video), but it takes a very long time to load. Once loaded, it plays well enough, however. Small Flash animations work fine in Opera, Dolphin, and the native browser, but Flash really does take a toll on performance. Given the processor speed and other components, this is likely do to the inability to implement hardware acceleration. For the record, Adobe will not be updating Flash for subsequent versions of Android. Sadly, in the end, I guess Google and Adobe are admitting that Steve Jobs was right--Flash is a resource hog and difficult to run on small, lower powered devices. Hopefully, Adobe will develop a work around for the future.]
[Note: After loading Google Play with the ArcTools app, I was able to download the YouTube player from Google's app store. Now YouTube works just fine. HD/high quality video takes a little time to load, but once loaded it works well. I am not sure why this app is not native to Android or preloaded on the device(as on iOS devices) as it works so well. This is another example of strange choices from the manufacturer and quite frankly strange choices from the Android developers. I would think that Google would really want to make sure that all Android devices have easy access to the Google universe.]
There is no native YouTube player, as there is on an iOS device. The best way to play YouTube is to use the VERY SLOW native browser. It may be slow for everything else, but it works for YouTube. Dolphin will play YouTube videos, but they often stutter. Ever idiosyncratic, Opera seems to download the videos in low res. This works out okay, but the picture is fuzzy with play back.
Arnova support felt that this was a `third party software' issue and not an Arnova issue. I still have to find some work arounds.
Where are you now?:
I bought the Arnova right here in the US. Even so, the tablet thinks it is in France and displays Central European Time (GMT+2). The least tech-savvy fix for this would be for me to move to France, in which case the tablet would always display the correct time. The easiest fix is to go into the settings, disable automatic/web time, and just set the clock manually. As to changing the time zone: not possible. It is grayed out and is unchangeable.
Arnova support stated that this is a known problem and that they are working on it.
USB to PC Connetion:
This was easy to connect, but the disconnection wasn't always so straight forward. Even after ejecting/unmounting the Arnova and SD card drives first on my PC (as suggested by Arnova's quick guide) and disconnecting, the Arnova occasionally froze and needed to be shut off and restarted. Not insurmountable, but a bit of a pain.
THE NEED FOR SPEED:
I believe Amazon listed this as a `dual core'--that is most certainly not the case. This tablet is a 1 gHz has a single core ARM Cortex 8 processor. If you look at the specs of the processor it actually varies in speed from 600 mHz to `greater than' 1 gHz depending on processing power needs. This is a fine mobile chip, but it's not dual core. It also has 1 gB of RAM, which is more than enough for the Android OS.
That said, the tablet works better doing what it does than most netbooks that I have used. Surfing the web is pretty natural and pages don't lag too much with loading, so long as you have a good WiFi connection. Even running video (streaming or from a file) works quite well. No stuttering or skipping frames to my eye. (Although, I didn't challenge it by running too many apps simultaneously.) The chip is no power house, but it's good enough for this tablet.
The major drag was installing software. Appslib is terribly slow in terms of loading the .apk (Amazon wasn't a problem in this light). Once loaded, it took a fair amount of time to run the .apk file to install a given program. Still, for everyday functionality, I can't complain.
[Note: Another advantage of loading Google Play with the ArcTools app--the Google Play store is quick and snappy. Google's site has far more apps than either Amazon or Appslib and was much faster in terms of browsing through apps and loading software.]
Some of the lower end Archos tablets have been accused of having poor WiFi reception. I didn't see this here. I used the tablet throughout my house without a problem and didn't have to have the device abutting the router to make it work. [Note: I do have wireless N in my house, so I can't speak for other hardware set ups.]
The battery life is somewhat disappointing. Three hours max is what you'll get here with normal use. That said, to get the price point below the hundred dollar mark (okay, just below) they had to skimp in some way and batteries are expensive.
Soft buttons. The only button on the device is a side button to turn it on and off. The android specific, navigation buttons are soft buttons at the bottom of the screen. They worked just fine. It's always nice, however, to have a set of hard buttons that can't be buried under the software, but this was probably a major cost cutting area for the Arnova.
The MicroSD card slot is right under the miniUSB port. Not terrible, but if you are plugged in, it makes it difficult to swap out the MicroSD card.
Mini HDMI out is a very nice thing. I haven't tried it yet, but as soon as I can get my hands on a cable, I will.
The speakers are small and tinny. On the other hand, I was just happy to have any kind of external speakers given the price of the device. The sound through the headphone jack is just fine and comparable to just about any mp3 player these days. However, the speakers are more than adequate for games.
There are a number of problems that cropped up with this tablet, but at this price point I have not seen any that are truly better and certainly none from a reputable vendor. My guess is that after I put some more work into it, it'll be able to do just about anything I want it to do. As above, this is a potentially 4 star device, hampered by 2 star software integration and 2 star support. (I was surprised by the low-end customer support from such an established company. Disowning any responsibility for common programs not working as a 'third party software problem' is really a cop out. You don't buy a tablet because you like to look at the device, you buy it for the apps and what they can do for you. If common apps don't work correctly on your device, it will hamper sales. And if you don't support the low-end model that gets a customer's foot in the door, you'll have a hard time selling your higher end model to the same client.)
As with any low-cost option, you are not getting the highest end components. However, ASUS Arnova has put together some very usable and reasonable components; given the low cost of the machine, this is definitely a bargain.
Still, if you want something that is more likely to work right out of the box and have better preloaded software, I'd go with tablets that are about 2 to 3 times the cost of this tablet. Companies like Samsung and HTC etc. have put together tablets that are much better in terms of components, have more tested/preloaded software, and work better straight out of the box. And now that Google has come out with the Nexus 7, for twice the price of this one, at least you get a quad core tegra for some real speed and a tablet that gets updated from the source. If you don't care about a camera and don't need too many apps, you might do a little well with a Kindle Fire or a Nook.
But all these options are at least twice the price of the modest Arnova G3 7". At the $99 mark, this tablet actually offers a whole lot of bang for the buck. I believe that most of the problems above are surmountable, it will just take time and tweaking. However, given the work you have to put into it, I can't give it 4 stars--so 3 stars it is.