I was uncertain as to how I should approach a review of the VINCI Tab II M. It's marketed as a tablet for children, but it is still a standard Android tablet. In the end, I decided to let the non-techie people out there review the VINCI Tab's merits as a kids' tablet, while I review it solely as an Android device. Ultimately, whatever software is installed to make it kid-friendly comes back to its ability to function as an Android tablet.
I'm sorry to say that, as an Android tablet, the VINCI fails on almost every level.
SPEED: Despite the decent processor, it's slow. I swear I could hear a hard disk drive whirring inside of it, but that had to be my imagination, right? Well, I'm not going to tear it down, but it sure seems like this little device is hurting in the speed category. Tests with a few games were very disheartening. Angry Birds Star Wars crashed without running. Great Little War Game was choppy and slow. Monopoly was equally choppy. If you're thinking of getting this for yourself as a little gaming tablet, think again.
FEATURES: There is a camera, and the Menu, Back and Home buttons are actual, physical buttons. The camera is okay-- About comparable to most low-end cell phone cameras or cheap Vivitar cameras. However, there is no Bluetooth, and while I could live with that, I cannot live with the lack of an accelerometer or gyroscope. Why? Because the lack of this feature means the VINCI Tab II M is permanently stuck in landscape mode. No portrait mode. No tilting to get different views. No anything that would require a sensor to do it. There's not even an option to check to turn the feature on or off. It's just... Not there. Without portrait mode, typing on the Android keyboard is a pain, and arranging apps is unpleasant. If you don't get the app EXACTLY in the spot where it's supposed to go, it just disappears from your main screen and you have to go back to the app drawer (which you must access by hitting Menu, then All Apps, each time) to get the app again and drag it back out. Tedious.
OPERATING SYSTEM: I was surprised to see that this tablet did have the Google Play Store installed, along with Google Services. However, when I went to download my apps I found that the Play Store only listed a handful as being compatible, which really limited the usefulness of Android on this device. The stripped-down, customized version they use here is missing many items from Settings that would allow deeper customization, and requires several button-presses and sub-menus to get anywhere. There's no App Drawer button, which means you have to take the roundabout route I listed above. Also customized are some of the app icons. Most notably the Gallery Icon, which is made cute to be more appealing to children. All in all, this is Android, but in many ways, only barely.
BUILD QUALITY: As I stated before, the VINCI has physical buttons, which is a nice surprise. The rest of the device feels solid enough, which is probably the goal with a device that is meant to be handled by young children. The red rubber case is seemingly glued to the black plastic shell of the tablet, and it feels like with a little effort you could rip it right off. I wasn't willing to drop the device on hard floors to see if the rubber case did anything, though. It doesn't feel THAT solid. The screen feels fine, though swiping and touching isn't as responsive as it could be. The back is not covered by the red rubberized case- It's exposed black plastic, and it seems like it could be a bit vulnerable if mishandled. The plastic feels decidedly low-end, and I question the durability under stress.
SOFTWARE: The VINCI apps that grace the main screen are, for lack of a better word, childish. And I don't mean that in the way they mean it. They're clearly aimed at kids, and they do seem to have some developmental potential for young children, but they're so cheap-looking, simple, and trite. I played around with them and felt like they were aiming too low with some of the activities. For example, one of the higher-level activities was to watch a short (badly CG animated) video of a monkey as he walks to a tree, picks a banana, peels it, eats it, tosses the peel, and then slips on the peel. After this short video, your child is given a series of four pictures-- stills from the video-- and asked to put them in order. Once they do it, they're told they did it right and asked if they want to do another one like that. I can't imagine a kid finding this interesting for long... Not when alternatives like the MEEP! and Leapster offer much more compelling content at a comparable (or lower) price.
As for "adult mode", there's nothing amazing here. Basic Android apps, really. Google Play doesn't seem to like the VINCI very much, and in my tests I had problems getting my previously-purchased Android apps to download, or even show up as downloadable. This makes me think that "adult mode" is going to be nearly useless for an adult user who wants to use this as an Android tablet, and again, that lack of portrait mode is frustrating and annoying. The early Android tendency to refer to every device as a "phone" is also present, but that's not VINCI's fault.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
If I judge the VINCI Tab II M as an Android device, it falls into a category much lower than anything on the mainstream market due to its glaring omissions and corner-cutting. You would be better off getting a Kindle Fire-- even the first gen version-- or any other basic Android tablet. In fact, I'd recommend picking up a pre-paid cell phone, not activating it, and simply using it as WiFi only if you want something with more to offer than the VINCI Tab II M. You'll pay less and get more.
If I step out of my review parameters for a moment and judge this as a child's early development "Learning Tablet", what I'm left with is the impression that they took a REALLY cheap, limited Android tablet and put some very simple educational games on it. The stuff on LeapPad is better, if you ask me, and if you want to use Android for a kids' tablet, then you'd be better off dropping your hundred-and-fifty bucks on the MEEP! Tablet, which at least comes with fifty apps and has better hardware. The VINCI feels like something bought in a cheap Chinese shop, altered with a small suite of very limited apps, and released with a red rubber handle to make it stand out.
And I hate saying this, because I like what they're trying to do here. I think the market for tablets aimed at kids should be much bigger, and more people should be working on getting tablets into kids' hands for educational purposes... But this ain't it. It's been done better, faster, more efficiently, and with better content and hardware, and all for less than VINCI costs.
I rarely give bad reviews, but in this case I have little choice but to hit VINCI with two stars. If the device offered portrait mode, it would get three stars. If the version of Android included weren't neutered even in "parent mode", I'd consider a better rating, too. However, as it stands this is a rather expensive choice in a market that doesn't need to be this expensive anymore. VINCI seems to be charging a premium for their software, and I'm here to say that it's not worth the mark-up.
I consider this bad review to be a call to VINCI to step things up. Improve the hardware. Invest a little into the software (better animation would be a great start). Bring the price down. Anything would be a step in the right direction. As-is, this device isn't worth the asking price because there are better choices out there. The MEEP!, Galaxy Tab, Zeki and Kindle Fire can accomplish the same things, but with far greater efficiency and at around the same price. With that kind of competition out there, you can't get away with selling a severely-crippled, cheap Android device for this price.
Improvements are needed, both for the sake of kids, and for the parents who will be paying for the device. I wish I could rave about this device because I like what they're trying to do, but it just falls short of my expectations.