Before I start, I'll just say that I do not work for Amazon, Google, Asus, or Chuwi. I may give some of them far too much money from time to time, but I do not receive any financial or "in kind" inducements from them. More's the pity (hint, hint).
So this review is not paid for by any of the manfacturers of the tablets, nor did I get the items gratis, or even at a "special price" as an inducement to write this. Trust me. I'm not a doctor.
Nexus 7: The Beginning
Back in 2012, I decided to join the modern era and get myself a tablet. Hadn't really missed the absence up to then, but Herself was trying to think of something for my Christmas present and it seemed like a good opportunity. So I looked round, and came up with the Nexus 7.
It was small: it fitted in my coat pocket - which was good because it quickly became the only gadget I never left home without. My phone could stay on the table, my watch on the bathroom windowsill. But my tablet? That came with me.
By modern standards, it isn't a "good" tablet anymore: it's underpowered, needs more RAM, and has a really small display. But ... It's battery lasted all day. It's screen was just big enough to read a book, or watch a movie, or play a game. It handled email, and browsed the web. And having Google at your fingertips - provided you have WiFi access where you are for it has no phone components - was a massive help. It felt good in your hand (thanks to a non-slip back coating) and it fitted in my coat pocket. As time went on, I came up with a core set of apps I used pretty much every day: Chrome, GMail, WPS Office, Google Calendar, LocalCast, FBReader, MyShoppi. And most of these shared perfectly with their desktop equivalents: Chrome, Live Mail, Libre Office, Google Calendar - so I could be sure that if I created an appointmenton the tablet, it carried over to the PC, and vice versa.
It wasn't without it's problems: upgrading the Android OS past V4.4.2 was a painful process that really mucked up the tablet - and that Google never bothered to fix.
Nexus 7: The End.
And then it refused to turn on. It was fine in the morning: fully charged, working away as I browsed CP over my Granola and first coffee of the day. Then an hour later nothing. Dead as a dodo. Windows knew it was there when I plugged it in, but just couldn't identify it. It was an ex tablet.
My birthday was a month or so off, so I looked around, and found the WookieTab: A Chuwi Hi12. And I bought one, from China - knowing full well it would arrive in around a month. And that was a problem - what was I going to do in the mean time? Going tablet-free was not going to be an option.
Enter the Amazon Fire Tablet.
It was cheap. It was available for next day delivery via Prime. It was Android!
Then it arrived, and it all started to go downhill. I'm not going to be too negative - I hope - but it's a frustrating device to own.
This is a cheap tablet. And boy, can you tell. It looks cheap. It feels cheap - with a smooth plastic back that slides out of your hand and a pretty poor display (compared with the Nexus) And then you turn it on.
Why does Amazon think Google are the Antichrist? I don't know - but it's the only reason I can think of for the lobotomy they have given Android to create "Fire OS". Nothing Google will work on the tablet without work: not even Chrome. Instead you get Silk - a poor browser - and Amazons version of Calendar - gawd awful - and Contacts - not good - and no access to the Play Store. Yes, you can install Google services on the tablet - by sideloading - but even then Chrome gets horribly unstable and has to be removed.
And it refuses point blank to acknowledge the existence of a Chromecast device, even with software that works fine on a Nexus.
Instead of the Play Store, your get the Amazon equivalent. Except ... it's got a load less software on it - 500,000 apps instead of 2,000,000 for Google. Even the Windows Store has more! And the apps you get tend to be old versions.
Plus the adverts! Yes, I know that's why it's so cheap - but they are everywhere. Even the lock screen - which can't be disabled - is an advertising hoarding.
The only nice thing I can say about the Amazon Fire is: It's cheap. But still not worth the money.
Nexus 7: The Rebirth
A friend heard my Nexus had died, and gave me his old one: hardly used and surplus to requirements. It just works, and the Amazon Fire hasn't been turned on since ... it'll probably go up on eBay when I get round to it.
Enter the WookieTab
Buying from China was a nightmare. They sent me an email closing the order two weeks after I paid them, and when they were supposed to ship. Then they sent me another confirming they were going to ship it an hour later. Then closed down for Chinese New Year and re-opened 8 days later. And took another three days to talk to me at all, before saying "No, we aren't sending it - do you want your money back?" So I order one from a different Chinese company. Who closed the order the same day, and told me I couldn't buy anything from them unless I sent them my ID, passport, bank statements, ... I declined their kind offer.
So I looked on eBay, and found a UK company with them in stock, latest version, for £288 (including shipping). Compare that with the Chinese price: £206 plus 20% VAT when it enters the country for a total of £247 - and it's not too bad. UK seller gets a small profit (once he's had Paypal, eBay, and the couriers take their bit). And it arrived the next day. I also ordered the optional pogo-pin-and-magnet keyboard, and a stylus for it from different suppliers. The keyboard arrived half an hour after the tablet, and the stylus took a couple of weeks - it wasn't really worth waiting for.
Packing and unpacking
It's not packaged well. The screen is directly below a thin piece of card with a very thin layer of foam glued to it - so I'd guess you're going to get a lot of damaged ones if they aren't well wrapped in tension sheet before they get to the courier. Mine was, and is fine.
The keyboard was even less protected:
But it too survived the experience unscathed.
You get nothing with the keyboard but the box it came in, and just a short (80cm) USB - micro USB charging lead, a US plug charger (3.0A @ 5V), and a manual of which only 5 pages are in English, and mostly pictures. It's worth reading, but only for the laughter factor - the Chinese translator appears to have gone via Norwegian and possibly Khuzdul or Black Speech. Because I ordered from a UK supplier, I also got a UK adapter plug. You can see it in the top set of pictures, to the left of the box.
The plug adapter I mentioned give a clue to the first impression: the body of the adapter is 4 x 4 x 3 cm - which gives you an idea of the size of this thing.
Take a sheet of A4 paper and turn it to landscape. That's about the same size as the WookieTab.
It's big. And heavy - 827g, rising to 1661g when the keyboard is connected. There is a good solid metal back to the tablet which contributes to that, but is relieving to see: it feels solid and well made. The keyboard is understandably heavy to "balance" the tablet when it's attached.
And attaching is simple: pogo pins and magnets take care of it, and it is pretty solidly attached - you can pick it up by the tablet and it doesn't separate unless you lift by a corner.
The keyboard bit
The keys are nice and large, with a good feel for such small travel: I was concerned that it would feel like a Sinclair Spectrum, but it doesn't - it's quite nice to type on (if a little cramped and only available in a US layout). No separate number pad is a nuisance, but does mean that the other keys can be a good size, and still fit in a touch pad.
The tablet bit
It would help here if it was more obvious that you need to hold the power key for up to eight seconds to get it to turn on, but once you've sussed that it's easy enough. A little LED under the button lights up when it's "noticed" you want it to work, so you get used to looking for it. (The same LED doubles as a "charging" light.) When it starts, it gives you a menu, and 10 seconds to select which OS you want with the volume buttons - Up for Android and down for Windows. At this point the touch screen doesn't work - so it's not obvious how to select the OS, but you do get used to it.
It's dominated by the display, obviously - and what a display! 25.5cm x 17cm with a black bezel 2cm wide and 1.5cm high around it (so a 3:2 aspect ration rather than a "normal monitor" of 16:9) with an excellent 2160 x 1440 resolution. I read on the internet that it's the same display panel used in the Surface Pro 3 - but that's a different size according to the specs, so I doubt it. It's certainly a lovely piece of LCD, though the digitizer needs a slightly harder pressure than I'm used to from the Nexus (the Fire needed harder pressure still).
A lot of the reviewers didn't like the bezel, but I'm happy it's there - this is physically a big tablet, and the bezel gives you somewhere to put a thumb to hold it when you use it. Without it, your thumb would be on the screen, or the WookieTab would be flapping about in the breeze as you use it.
On the subject of reviews
I probably should read more of them before I ordered this, but ... all the reviews I found said the same things about the keyboard: it was a bit flexy, and the touchpad was rubbish.
My keypad isn't flexy - it's a plastic base, with a metal top and feels pretty solid. The keys are a nice size - not having a numeric pad at all probably helps here - and do feel pretty good, despite the understandably short travel.
But the touchpad? By heck, it was bad! Vastly oversensitive, it would randomly decide you had a couple of fingers on it and change the size of icons instead of moving the mouse pointer, it was pretty much unusable. Worse, it got in the way when you typed as well, and sent the mouse careering over the screen highlighting text at random if you weren't very, very careful. I hated it.
Using the WookieTab
I bought this because I liked the specs, and I wanted a bigger Android tablet - I figured that Win10 would be pretty much ignored.
(That's a windowsill, not my desk by the way)
But that was not what has happened.
The first day I got it, it updated itself automatically to Windows AE - took about an hour - and bang! The touchpad started behaving. It works properly now, and is a good substitute for a "real" mouse or trackball - all it needed was better drivers! Suddenly, this is a 4Gb RAM / 64GB eMMC "disk", 12 inch laptop that can be a Win10 tablet (though the Win10 On Screen Keyboard takes too much space - about half the screen).
And as a Windows tablet it works well, really well. OK, it's not as fast as a Surface (the processor is an Atom Z8350 so an up-to-1.92 GHz Quad core, compared with potentially an i7 in the Surface) but ... you can buy 2.5 WookieTabs for the price of the base model MS device. I wrote some of this on it, without any problems.
And the battery life is incredible. I haven't used it continually yet, but I only have to charge it every three days or so (thanks to an 11Ah battery) - charging takes about 3 or 4 hours is all thanks to that 3A charger. When you think how much power that display alone must be using, it's a pretty efficient device. It's currrently at 99%, and estimating 11 hours, 41 minutes o battery left.
It runs GIMP, LibreOffice, Chrome, and all very well. It should run Visual Studio as well...
Visual Studio 2017
This was a surprise ... it works!
OK, a couple of caveats first:
- I installed the Community Edition.
- I didn't install the full package: 39GB is a bit much for the internal storage, it wouldn't leave a lot for anything else. So I kept the installation to a minimum: just C#, no C++, or Xamarin.
- That didn't work, and I had to install some of C++ later, but it'll tell you that when you try to use it...
I could have put the full enchillada on the SD card, but Windows won't let you pin an application to the taskbar if it's installed to a removable media.
Installation went fine: well under an hour, including downloads.
I was surprised: it worked, and quite well. OK, it's not as fast as my desktop (with the same RAM at 4GB, but only a dual core @ 3.2GHz compared to the WookieTab quad core @ 1.4 / 1.9 GHz) but that only notices in loading and compilation times - and since most of my time is spent in the editor and debugger, that's a tradeoff I can live with.
All in all, it's OK, it's usable. You might find yourself going for a coffee while it compiles, but that's fine with me.
Connections and built in hardware
The connectivity is pretty good: apart from the pogo pins for the keyboard, you get a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a mini-HDMI socket for an external monitor / TV, a full sized USB2 socket, a micro USB (which doubles as the charger port), and a full sized USB3 socket. All connectors are on the left hand side. The keyboard connector adds another two USB2 ports, one on each side.
It has two grills for the (pretty poor) speakers, and a separate "Windows" touch key, which doubles as a "Home" button in Android, and a Micro SD card slot (from which the card projects a little) which accepts up to 128GB SD, though it is apparently choosy as to which cards it likes. I went with a good name - a Toshiba Exceria M302 128GB - and it's given no trouble, but I have seen people complain online that unbranded ones can be a bit hit or miss.
It has two built in cameras - a front 2 megapixel and a rear 5 megapixel - except the rear camera takes pictures at 2560 x 1440, which is 3.5 megapixel, and the front at 1280 x 720, which is 1 megapixel by default. Switching from the default 16:9 aspect ratio to 4:3 gives you 2560 x 1920 and 1600 x 1200 which is more what I expected.
For these photos, I used the default 16:9 aspect as I have no idea how to change my phone's camera setting (and less interest in finding out!)
These pictures were of two random objects (a stapler and a pasta machine brush) dumped on the freezer and taken at the same distance and in the same (artificial) lighting conditions. They have been shrunk (using Corel Paintshop Pro X8 BiCubic interpolation) to the same size - 320 x 180 to fit CodeProject image guidelines, but the originals are in the download ZIP file at the top of the page.
Wookie Tab rear:
Wookie Tab front:
From this it's clear that the front camera is not particularly good: the resolution is low, it's not very clear, and the colour balance is way off. It's also a PITA to use for pictures as you have to be behind it and hope you are stabbing the button. It's good enough for Skype, but only just.
Colour wise the rear camera matches the object pretty well - possibly better than the phone did - and it does better in lower light than the phone did. It's also clear that the phone lens has a wider angle than the WookieTab has.
It's a good tablet, that isn't particularly usable in Android - because it's so big, Android apps using the whole display and assuming it's a phone make you feel like you are in the Remedial Class. But in Win10 it's a very usable device, provided you work with it: Close apps when you are finished with them to preserve the limited 4GB of RAM and it works very well. Because the storage is all eMMC, it runs like a desktop with an SSD, so apps are generally very quick to load.
I find myself stabbing the screen on my desktop instead of using teh mouse because I've got used to it working on the tablet... :O
Price, Display, Size. All very good.
Only really bad thing I've noticed is that if you use the inbuilt "switch to Windows" from Android without turning the tablet off and back on, then sometimes you get very loud bursts of white noise every time you move the mouse. Seems to have stopped happening at the moment - it may have had a driver update while I wasn't looking.
The speakers are quite poor as well - you will want headphones or earbuds to listen to pretty much anything other than the windows standard beep.
The built in storage is a pain - it's only 64GB, and Windows plus Android takes 20GB of that (mostly Windows) so there isn't a lot of space for music / videos / apps / data. But, you can add an up-to 128GB Micro SD. Two things to note though: The SD card will arrive formatted exFAT, which the Android OS can't read. I reformatted mine to FAT32 (using this free tool) and both OSes can read and write to it to share data. Do note that Windows won't let you pin an application to the toolbar if it is installed on a removable disk.
And the built in storage is eMMC - which means that AOMEI Backupper can't do anything with it. Apparently Macronis can, but I'm hoping AOMEI will come out with an upgrade in the near future: I don't want to run incompatible backup systems on my desktop and tablet.
The view from down the line.
Today is Friday, August the 9th, 2019 and it is my sad duty to announce the passign of the Wookietab. It passed away after a very brief illness (about 3.2 picoseconds, I think - accurate to plus of minus an hour or three) in teh company of it's keyboard and charger.
It will be missed by it's friends and family, and has been dissassembled and it's eMMC disk cremated with a blow torch.
It seems that the Hi12 is prone to "random death syndrome": they work fine, then suddenly refuse to power up ever again. It can apparently happen in days arfter arrival, up to (in my case 2 1/2 years). And it's very annoying. So since I couldn't do a factiory reset on it to clear the disk content, I took it apart, and destroyed the disk to prevent it fallign into the wrong hands. That's pretty easy to do, much, much easier than for the Nexus7 (which needed a new USB connector a year or so ago). And the inside is pretty good, with a couple of exceptions.
Let's open it up, shall we?
Note: Normally, I woudl do this on antistatic sheet, with straps on - but since it's dead and I'm plannign on destroying the electronics, I used a takmat instead to cushion the screen and prevetn it slipping if I got too ... enthusiastic (it's the pale blue stuff)
There are 4 T4 screws (little dinky Torx heads) if you buy a cheap phone dismantly kit your get at least one which will suffice to remove four screws. With luck, it'll survive doign them back up again too! I have an expensive Cenix 666 kit which includes much higher quality ones so I used them (you can see four of 'em here, showing where the screws are:
Put 'em somewhere safe, they are really tiny and easy to lose. They are in the glass pinch pot below the Wookietab, so you can (not) see how tiny they really are.
Now you need to pry the thing apart. It helps if you know there are seventeen clips as well, which you can't see at all. I started with the keyboard connector side, since that was distorted already and gave me an opening to force a plastic lever into:
The blue thing is the lever. IMPORTANT: Bend the metal, not the glass!
There are a variable number of clips on each side you need to free:
(Sorry about the fingernail there, I hit it with a hammer a week or two ago)
Sorry about the plastic lever as well - it's the one I used to open the Nexus 7 and it got a bit chewed.
It's now open. Note that there is just the single PCB, so if anything, anything at all, goes wrong, you basically need a whole new unit.
Also notice that there are 7 leads directly soldered to the PCB - which means I can't sell the screen on eBay as I'd be relying on the soldering skills of the purchaser to get it working. Since eBay always sides with the buyer I'd end up out of pocket when they attached them with chewing gum, or a blowtorch, or superglue and duct tape.
The eMMC disk is a single BGA chip - SanDisk, so not a cheap Chinese knockoff! - under the metal cover. Easy to prise off, and died nicely in a blowtorch party. Safe and Secure! :laugh:
RIP* Wookietab. We had fun.
* Rest In Pieces.
The end of a (far too short) era.
So there you have it: the Wookietab is dead; the Nexus 7 is still working; the Fire is sitting there glaring at me reproachfully since I have't touched it in years but who cares anyway?
Would I buy another? Two and a half years is not long for expensive electronics in my view: so no. It was good while it lasted, but I've noticed that every single piece of Chinese electroics I've bought (Wookietab, the head unit in the car, ... ) has failed after a relatively short period. In comparison, my phone - Moto G 1st Generation* - is 6 years old, cost very little, is assembled in China from Korean and Japanese parts, and is still going strong. Similary my Korean TV, NAS(es), ... makes you think if it is as cheap as it appears, in the long run to buy Chinese goods at all.
So ... incoming is a Surface 3 (ex demo) with very similar specs. I'll let you know how that gets on as well.
* I'm not a fashion victim when it comes to phones: I want it to provide phone, text, occasional internet / email, and GPS. And fit in my pocket.That's it: I don't need it to play Candy Crush Saga, or edit images (I have a desktop for that.)
2017-03-01 First version.
2017-03-17 Added Visual Studio.
2019-08-07 Added "Rest in pieces" to the WookieTab.