In Australasian slang the term "rooted" has unfortunate connotations, but that's just what ZaReason's ZaTab tablet is. In fact it's rooted by default.
I am of course using the term in its computing connotation. Where Apple fanboys "jailbreak" their iPhones and iPads to take full control of them, a "rooted" Android device is one that allows for root (or "superuser") access, meaning that you can do anything you like with it and install whatever you like. But root/jailbreak your flash new phone or tablet and you'll probably invalidate your warranty. Not with ZaReason. In fact they seem to positively encourage it, describing the ZaTab as "the first open & hackable tablet".
The specs aren't mind-blowing, but they're pretty good for a $400 device:
- OS: Custom Android-based software based on CyanogenMod 9
- CPU: Allwinner A10 SoC
- Screen: 9.7" IPS 1024x768 display
- 5 point capacitive touchscreen
- 16 GB internal storage + microSD for additional storage
- 1 GB RAM
- WiFi (802.11 b/g/n)
- Front and Back cameras
- High-capacity 8000 mAh battery
- - 9 hours battery life playing 3D games
- - 14 hours battery life watching videos
- Weight: 630 grams
One of the first things you'll notice about the ZaTab is its impressive array of ports arranged along one side.
Along with the power switch, power connector and an headphone jack there's a;
- microSD card slot
- 2 microUSB ports
- and a microHDMI video out
That microHDMI port looks intriguing and I'd have loved to have tried the ZaTab through my wide-screen telly but a note on the website warns it's not yet working:
Note that the HDMI is not working currently. Few people need the HDMI port and it has been harder to get dev time on it. Once the camera is fixed, the HDMI will be fixed. We would love your help on it as we finish the camera & HDMI output.
In useThe ZaTab had a smooth, solid feel with none of the "plasticiness" of some similarly priced tablets. It's touchscreen was responsive and bright, even in full daylight, had great contrast and could be viewed from almost any angle.
In day-to-day use it ran well and felt responsive. In spite of its single core CPU, most apps kicked off smoothly and high-def video playback looked great. Games are often a good test of hardware and though I'm no games player the handful I tried felt fine. It did struggle a bit starting the 450MB behemoth Death Dome, but once loaded it ran okay -- by which I mean the baddies mashed me every time. (Did I mention I'm no games player?)
Not so great however was the sound. It's okay for a bash at Angry Birds and incidental effects, but human voices -- whether in music or movies -- sounded tinny. In fact I'm half-convinced the speaker on my demo unit was faulty as it had a kind of scratchiness reminiscent of "blown" speakers. Plugging the device into even a mediocre set of headphones improved things considerably.
The front- and back-facing cameras aren't anything to write home about either. There's no flash, and even in good light results were rather grainy. But they're fine for video chatting and the occasional snap, and frankly anyone regularly taking photos on a device approaching the size of a sheet of A4 paper is going to look a bit of tool.
The other gripe I had was with the manual, a tiny generic 16-pager full of howlers such as "After charging then can't to open, pls contacy with the supplier". I hasten to add that this isn't a problem peculiar to the ZaTab. My Galaxy S-III came with a manual too small to even use for toilet paper. (Why do manufacturers assume that people purchasing complex technical products have an innate understanding of their operation?) And at least ZaReason are addressing this issue. A proper manual, written by O'Reilly Books author Carla Schroder, is on the way.
On the other hand, battery life was brilliant. I couldn't verify the 9 hours gaming claim, but in regular use -- email, browsing, reading ebooks and watching the occasional movie -- it just went on for days and days.
With the exception of that scratchy sound, I reckon the ZaTab's a winner. On price and features alone it's a very competitive tablet. Add in that glorious connectivity and the fact that it's truly open source and it becomes a must-have.
There's one other thing about ZaReason. They're based in the States and New Zealand, so prices are local, shipping is local and the good old Consumer Guarantees Act applies too.
The ZaReason ZaTab is available here at NZ$399 + GST.