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Ainovo Novo7 Hands-On: $99 Tablet Runs Ice Cream Sandwich

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been slowly cropping up on phones and now it's the tablet's turn. Ainovo, a China-based company, has released the first 7-inch tablet with Android 4.0. The 7-inch Novo7 Basic tablet features a 1-GHz Ingenic JZ4770 chip which uses a MIPS-based X-Burst CPU. It has 512MB of RAM, 8GB of storage space and an 8-hour battery life.

Scheduled for a U.S. release sometime in 2012 but already selling in China, the tablet will retail for $99. Get our hands-on impressions, full specs, and gallery below. 

Weighing about 1.2 pounds, the 7.4 x 4.4 x .47-inch tablet resembles the original Galaxy Tab 7 at first glance. The tablet's front is dominated by a glossy 800 x 480-inch LED-backlit display wrapped in a glossy black bezel. Although Android Ice Cream Sandwich doesn't require physical capacitive buttons, there are buttons for Volume, Menu, Home, and Back running along the right side of the display. We appreciate these dedicated buttons, because they make it easy to go home or back without peering at the screen. However, they weren't as responsive as we would have liked.

A 0.3 megapixel camera sits directly above the buttons across a Novo7 logo. An additional physical volume rocker sits at the top of the tablet alongside the power button. A mini-USB port, microSD slot, HDMI out, headphone jack, and what appears to be a power jack line the tablet. A 2.0 megapixel rear camera and three small speaker slits are found on the white matte plastic rear of the Novo7.

Despite running Ice Cream Sandwich, it's easy to mistake the Novo7's UI for Honeycomb thanks to it's highly similar user interface. The main difference can be found on the lock screen. Holding down the lock reveals a small wheel of icons. Dragging the circle over one of the icons (including Search, Settings, and People) will open to the specified app instead of the Home screen.

One immediate difference from other Android tablets is the lack of Google-based apps (Gmail, Maps, and Marketplace). Instead the Novo7 comes pre-loaded with YouTube, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook, Amazon Kindle, Documents to Go, ES File Explorer, and Pandora, a multimedia file manager. 

The Novo7 also comes packaged with a number of games including Angry Birds, TurboFly 3D, The Last Defender. Playing games on the Novo7 was very fluid. Even with two applications running and four open browser tabs, we were able to play TurboFly 3D without incident. The 7-inch capacitive touchscreen with its 800 x 480 display is fairly bright and vivid. However we noticed a lack of sharpness and muddy images throughout the HD YouTube trailer for The Hobbit.

We also noticed that we had to apply a fair amount of force on the touchscreen display to get it function, just as we did on the buttons. This capacitive panel felt a little too much like a resistive one.

Audio was also fairly weak. At maximum volume, the Novo7 failed to fill a small room and lacked bass, but Nicki Minaj's vocal on "Super Bass" was clear and crisp as were the instrumentals. Music and sound effects during games had a satisfying volume although some explosions sounded hollow.

The $99 Ainovo Novo7 Basic tablet's low price may make it appealing for bargain hunters. For that price, you get long battery life, a bright display, and enough performance to play action games.