A $99 tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich? Sounds like a deal that's too good to be true. In the case of the Ainovo Novo7 Basic, it is. The first tablet to launch with Android 4.0 operating system out the box, the Novo7 Basic offers 1080p video playback via HDMI, good battery life and a suite of games, but makes too many compromises elsewhere.
Editor's note: The Ainovo Novo7 tablet is currently available for sale in China, but the company expects to start selling it in the U.S. within the next several months.
At first glance, the Ainovo Novo7 Basic might be mistaken for a boxier version of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab. Even a few minutes with the device, though, reveals a much cheaper build quality. A glossy, easily smudged 7-inch display surrounded by a black bezel occupies the front of the tablet; the rest is wrapped in matte white plastic. Even lightly squeezing the Novo7 around its edges caused the device to flex, and we heard squeaking, creaking noises.
On the front, a 0.3 megapixel camera sits on the right of the display directly above touch capacitive buttons for volume, menu, home and back. A volume rocker and small power button lie on the top edge of the tablet while a microUSB, mini-HDMI, microSD slot, headphone and power jack rest on the right. On the back, a 2-MP camera sits at the top while the Ainovo logo and three small speaker slits are on the bottom.
Display and Audio
At 110 lux--less than a third the tablet average--the Novo7 Basic's 7-inch display was dull and lacked sharpness, making it difficult to read text on CNN.com and GameInformer.com. At 800 x 480 pixels, the resolution is lower than the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet (1024 x 600). In other words, the Novo7 feels like you're using an oversized Android phone.
Watching Nicki Minaj's "Superbass" video on Vevo made for a disappointing experience. Although the rapper's neon pink hair popped, the rest of the normally bright Technicolor scene faded into the background. Outputting the video via HDMI to a 55-inch Samsung HDTV yielded a brighter picture, but the graininess was even more pronounced. On the other hand, colors in a Spider-Man HD game popped.
We noticed a slight lag when double tapping on the screen to zoom in and out. However, other multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom and scroll were fairly quick and responsive.
The Novo7 Basic's speakers were equally unimpressive. Nicki Minaj's vocals were fairly clear at full volume, but the track lacked bass and couldn't fill a small room. Games and MP3s were louder.
The stock Android keyboard on the Novo7 offers nice big buttons, especially in landscape mode, and we liked the gentle haptic feedback. However, there was a slight lag between entering text and it showing up on the display.
Software and Interface
The Ainovo Novo7 Basic's claim to fame is that it's the first tablet to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. The Basic runs stock Android, which will be music to the ears of Android purists. Although ICS shares many aesthetic similarities with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, there are some key differences.
Like Honeycomb, ICS eschews bezel buttons, using three tabs (Back, Home, and Recent Apps) located in the system bar. A clock and mini-notifications for Wi-Fi and Battery status also occupy the system bar. What's new is the ability to swipe apps off the screen to close them when you're in the Recent App menu.
Pressing and holding the lock on the Novo7's lock screen cues up a wheel of recently used apps. From there, we could drag the lock over an icon to open the app. Unfortunately, there's no way to leave an app there permanently.
There are five customizable homescreens, the first of which features an analog clock and a number of apps. The Google Search icon rests in the top left corner of the screen while the apps button resides in the top right corner. One screen contained bookmarks of our recently visited Web pages while another features a settings bar for Wi-Fi, Auto Update and Display. On the Apps page, icons are arranged on a 3 x 6 grid. Swiping to the left pulls up the next screen of apps and widgets.
Overall, app icons are reasonably big and distinctive. However, like Web pages, text was a little fuzzy.
Our favorite feature was the Quick Controls in the Web browser. Instead of losing website real estate to the url and navigation bar, we summoned a control wheel by swiping from either side of the Web page. The blue control wheel is broken out into nine panels including new tab, bookmarks and recently visited pages.
Despite running Android 4.0, the Novo7 Basic has no Google-based apps to speak of. That means there's no Gmail, Google Maps or GTalk. The Android Marketplace is also absent. We also encountered difficulty trying to install apps by other means. While we were able to install the Amazon AppStore app, we couldn't install apps through the store--often, we received a message saying the package was corrupt.
We attempted to install apps from GetJar and Handango with little success. When we were able to get an app to download, it took between 1 and 2 minutes. Our attempts to sideload via USB were also met with failure. We had better luck using a microSD card and emailing apps to ourselves as an attachment and opening the email on the tablet. That's just not practical.
As a company representative told us, some applications may not run on this tablet because they were originally compiled using a (non MIPS architecture) Android Native Development Kit (NDK). MIPS, Ingenic and its OEMs are working with partner companies to ensure that all Android applications run on MIPS-Based devices.
The Novo 7 Basic does have a number of preloaded apps. The People app aggregated all of our contacts from our email and Facebook accounts. We could also categorize our contacts by creating groups and adding them individually. Windows Live Messenger is also included.
In terms of entertainment, Ainovo bundled the Novo7 Basic with "Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem," "The Last Defense," "TurboFly 3D," "Angry Birds," and "WowFish." The Spider-Man game offered relatively smooth gameplay (see below), but "Angry Birds" crashed on us a few times.
Third-party apps include Amazon Kindle, Documents To Go, ES File Explorer, YouTube, Facebook and Pandora. Unfortunately, the latter isn't the popular music-streaming program, but rather, a multimedia manager.
The Ainovo Novo7 Basic tablet runs a MIPS-based 1-GHz Ingenic JZ4770 X-Burst CPU with 512MB of RAM, and comes with 8GB of storage space, which can be expanded using the 16GB microSD slot. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Novo7 Basic scored 251, far below the 2,725 Android tablet category average. The Cruz T408 and its 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU notched 1,411 while the Kindle Fire and its 1GHz TI OMAP 4 CPU delivered an impressive 3,069.
During the graphics portion of the Benchmark test, the Novo7 Basic and its Vivante GC860 GPU scored a dismal 130. That's 231 points beneath the 361 category average. Still, that was much better than the Velocity Micro Cruz T408 (47). The Amazon Kindle Fire continued to shine, notching 307.
Despite the lack of power, navigating between menus and apps was fairly quick on the Novo7 Basic. Most apps only took between 1 and 2 seconds to launch. However, switching between portrait and landscape modes took a slothful 3 seconds in some cases. Games such as "Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem" took between 4 and 5 seconds to open. Our playthrough of "Ultimate Spider-Man" ran pretty smoothly until there were more than three enemies on the screen. From there, we experienced a noticeable lag when inputting commands.
Surfing the Web was a little sluggish on the Novo7 Basic. It took 16.2 seconds to load the desktop version of the New York Times, compared to 12.4 seconds on the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Novo7 Basic fared slightly better with the mobile version of ESPN.com, clocking in at 10.8 seconds. The Cruz T408 loaded the site in 13.4 seconds while the Kindle Fire blazed ahead with 7 seconds. However, it took 22.4 seconds to load the desktop version of Laptopmag.com on the Novo7 Basic while the Cruz T408 launched the site in 17.5 seconds.
While the Ainovo Novo7 Basic is Wi-Fi only, it can support 3G and 4G via an external network dongle.
Camera and video
Stills and video captured by the Novo7 Basic's 2MP rear-facing camera had bright, bold color but lacked sharpness. We saw vibrant pinks, blues, yellows and oranges from the carnations in front of the deli, but there was a persistent graininess that took away from the photos. When we viewed the images on our desktop, the graininess was immediately apparent if we zoomed in above 50 percent. Video was also grainy, and there was a constant shakiness to the footage.
Despite changing the camera settings, the 0.3 megapixel front camera produced images with a noticeable yellow pall. The tablet doesn't come with a preloaded video chat tool, and we were unable to load one.
Ainovo claims that the Novo7 Basic offers 8 hours of battery life with video playback. During the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the Ainovo Novo7 Basic lasted 7 hours and 5 minutes, which beats the average Android tablet by 30 minutes, but still falls well below the Amazon Kindle Fire (7:34) and the Velocity Micro Cruz T408 (8:45).
On paper, the Ainovo Novo7 Basic would seem to be a pretty good deal. You get Android 4.0, dual cameras, HDMI output and decent battery life for just $99. However, we can't overlook the dim, low-res display, sluggish performance and shoddy build quality. Consumers searching for a budget tablet will want to spend the additional $100 for the Amazon Kindle Fire, which offers a more solid design, brighter screen and access to an app store.