Argos MyTablet £99.99
8th Nov 2013 | 23:55
Another cheap Android tablet that will be a Christmas cast-off come January 2014
Introduction and design
It's all budget tablets in the UK market at the moment - with Tesco launching the Hudl tablet, Argos has undercut the supermarket giant and launched a sub-£100 device.
It's not without charm either: compact, running a new-ish build of Android and a dual-core processor, we're seeing this price bracket finally spewing tablets that aren't total junk.
Argos, with the help of Bush, has created its first home-brand tablet just in time for the Christmas rush. We mention Christmas because the press release was clear this is what its intention is, to attempt to crack the 75% of British households that don't have a tablet and need gift ideas.
For a first foray into the over-saturated tablet world, Argos has gone the way of most budget tablets and produced something that's lacking in execution but wins on external functions. What do we mean by this? Well, the MyTablet looks really nice for a £99.99 tablet.
It has a metal back and a white front that commands a more premium feel than the price would suggest. On top of that it has so many connections (HDMI, USB, DC, external memory slot) and a decent 8GB of on-board memory.
But with the good must come the bad. The MyTablet looks very dated when you boot it up, the screen quality is low (1024x600) and by today's standards colours look washed out.
The immediate high of taking a first glimpse is decimated when you actually use it, and you're instantly reminded that this is in fact a budget tablet.
Just based on looks, you'd be proud to call this 'My Tablet'. Modelled on the new Nexus 7, it's slim and more ebook shaped rather than the old thick Nexus 7. It has a metal casing that covers the back and is smooth to touch - making it feel more high-end than it actually is. It's almost like a massive iPhone 5S.
The speaker and camera on the back are unimposing and sit within a white strip. It's solidly built but the metal back casing does seem to scratch easily, which immediately makes it look worn even if it is brand new. It is however a solid slab and the thick white bezel on the front won't suffer from the same scratching problem.
It's quite heavy and feels cold and metallic to the touch, so holding it for an extended period of time might not be the best way to use the MyTablet. A lot of tablet designers now seem to be going for the rounded, rubbery, ergonomic design and it seems as if Argos missed the memo.
At a tall, oblong shaped, 7-inches the MyTablet looks like a slight alteration on the Nexus 7. It has a 1024x600 resolution, which is reasonable on paper but in execution it doesn't seem to have gone to plan.
Maybe we're too used to playing with the Nexus 7, or iPad mini, but the screen resolution simply isn't good enough for a 2013 tablet.
Colours look washed out and edges are pixelated; it's reminiscent of a 2011 tablet (so two years ago) rather than something that is coming out toward the tail-end of 2013.
More interestingly, this is clearly an effort by Argos to kick off a high-street chain rivalry with Tesco, which recently released the admirable Hudl. It's a shame because you want the screen to look as crisp as the exterior and there's definitely a steep drop in enthusiasm between fondling the tablet and actually using it.
Apps and games look bad, but movies suffer the most. With the dull colours and slightly blurred screen, a CGI heavy action film looks a bit flat and takes away some of the whimsy.
It isn't very bright either, which means it suffers in direct sunlight. This is definitely something to use at home rather than outdoors and on the move.
Unlike most modern tablets, MyTablet has a lot of physical connections. Impressively there are 5 different external ports including; mini HDMI, headphone, mini USB and microSD card. This amount of connectivity is common on cheaper tablets, most likely because they have to make up for other clear failings in performance.
The MyTablet tows the party line in this sense, but more on that later. On-board storage is a decent 8GB but this can be upgraded to 32GB with the microSD card slot, which is refreshing given that the current popular trend is to not include removable storage at all.
There are only two physical buttons, the 'on' and 'volume' buttons. The buttons stick out quite far and you might find yourself accidentally switching the screen off or changing the volume when you're watching a film, which gets annoying very quickly.
The MyTablet has a pretty basic 1.6GHz dual-core processor that struggles to keep up with modern, CPU consuming, media, which kind of leaves us confused as to what this device is actually for.
Probably something disposable for the kids this Christmas, but the exterior design suggests that it had - at some point in the design stage - a higher-end target market in mind.
The MyTablet runs Android so it comes with the highs and lows that are common across all Android devices. There's little customisation other than the fact that it comes pre-installed with 19 apps, something which the box seems to boast about.
We're not used to companies advertising their bloatware, but maybe Argos is trying to start a new trend.
The device runs a stock version of Android 4.2.2, which means Android users will be familiar with its capabilities.
Apps and Widgets are selectable from the menu system and can easily be transferred on to the home screen by simply dragging and dropping.
This very much feels like a standard Android tablet that offers little in terms of originality, which is a plus point to some. Also, as with other Android tablets, Flash is not supported.
The ability to customise to any degree is always popular with Android fans, which includes wallpapers, keyboards, home screens and widgets.
There is one cool feature that has been added in and that's the ability to take screen shots easily. Instead of holding down the volume and power buttons, there is an on-screen button dedicated entirely to screenshot taking. Time saving if you do this regularly, a little pointless if you don't.
So, mostly the latter option there given there's generally very little need to show people what you're doing on screen.
The actual speed and performance on the MyTablet is poor. There's clear lag when gliding between menus and the device takes around a minute to boot up, which is slow in comparison to the Nexus 7 or Hudl.
The reason for this is because of the paltry 1GB of built in RAM. When you consider that the Kobo Aura and Kindle Paperwhite - both e-ink screen ereaders - have the same amount of RAM but require half of the functionality, you realise how minuscule this is.
The tablet's inability to offer a smooth and effortless response is exacerbated when you attempt to multitask. Switching between a power hungry app like Netflix, and then the stock browser, grinds the tablet to a halt and occasionally forces a restart.
Even basic tasks, such as dragging an app onto the home screen, can cause the device to momentarily freeze up if it's engaged in something else.
Internet and media
The MyTablet comes with the old stock Android browser pre-loaded but not Chrome, which is odd since this isn't a particularly ancient version of Android. You can, however, download Chrome, which actually performs very well on this device.
The stock browser is reminiscent of Android days gone by when you had to settle for substandard browsing. It's unsightly, a bit slow and the bookmarking system doesn't link up with your Chrome account on other devices.
In our speed tests, loading the TechRadar website over Wi-Fi took the stock browser twice as long as Chrome.
Resizing text as you zoom in on words through the Chrome browser is straightforward and mostly automatic on the MyTablet; however, on the stock browser it's not so simple.
If you double click on text, it doesn't automatically resize to fit the screen and you'll find yourself zooming and pinching to get the text to fit properly.
Movies, music and books
All multimedia content can be purchased through the Google Play Store, which feels like Argos missed a trick here. The device does come with the Argos app pre-installed but it doesn't offer digital downloads.
Argos has a library of hundreds of thousands of DVDs, music, games and books in physical form but none of this is available digitally, although many people might enjoy this as competing media portals on one device can get confusing.
You can buy physical media via the Argos app, but that seems to defeat the purpose of owning a tablet - unless you're ordering a bookcase or something like that.
Naturally other dedicated services are available such as the Kindle Bookstore, Netflix, Spotify and others if you already have accounts/subscriptions to these - or if you want to sign up.
The Play Store offers access to books, magazines, games and music, which most Android users will know very well. Any video content that you download or rent from the Play Store can be viewed on your TV via HDMI, which is a useful and cool feature.
It's as easy as plugging in the HDMI cable and turning the TV on (although you'll have to buy the lead yourself). The TV will mimic the screen of the tablet and you can watch the content on a much improved screen.
You can also use streaming services such as Netflix. But, as we mentioned earlier, the device can struggle with power hungry apps and screen isn't sharp enough to enjoy the full effect of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Music playback through headphones disappointingly is tinny and has an echo to it - with bass heavy tracks suffering the most.
There's a reason this device is largely marketed to teenagers, this is the kind of pitfall that Argos hopes won't bother them too much. The situation is slightly improved with speaker playback, which sounds surprisingly clear and is well projected.
Apps, camera and battery
As we mentioned before Argos openly advertises on the box of the MyTablet that it comes with 19 pre-installed apps on top of the standard Android apps, none of which can be deleted unless you step things up a notch and root the tablet.
This mostly consists of games, shopping gateways like the Argos app, and functionality apps that have struck a deal with Argos, such as the Aldiko reading app.
This isn't a particularly powerful device, so some games struggle to run. There are some pre-installed titles that come with the device, presumably to give users an idea of what kind game that won't falter with this device's limitations.
We played Fantasy Breaker for a while, which is essentially like any other breaker game but with a touch of middle earth fantasy about it. The tablet didn't struggle to perform but the touchscreen isn't sensitive enough to respond to quick finger commands.
Under more pressure, with a game like Deer Hunter 2014, the device struggled with long load times and unresponsive touch. Graphically it didn't look awful, but at times the lag made it unplayable.
The MyTablet has a 2MP rear camera and a 0.3MP front camera. It's unlikely that you would ever use this as a genuine camera for anything other reason than desperation. In low-light, the camera is virtually useless and in decent light the pictures are pretty grainy.
Given the quality of the cameras on most mobile phones these days, this wouldn't be your number one option.
It's a standard Android camera interface, which means are able to have some creative control over how you take your pictures. You can change the white balance, shoot a panoramic and record video.
Be sure to carry around a torch with you if you do decide to use the camera, though: there's no flash.
Video is similarly poor, the footage is jerky, poor quality and looks like something you'd see on an early 2000s episode of You've Been Framed.
Battery life is advertised as 'up to 5 hours' but after about three hours of relatively vigorous TechRadar testing the battery had slumped to around 29%.
Just like other tablets and smartphones, battery can be salvaged by turning down the brightness and limiting the amount of apps running in the background.
Interestingly one of the main battery drainers was the use of Wi-Fi alongside the screen - so it's probably worth turning this on and off when you don't need an internet connection. However, this is one of the tablet's main users, so it seems highly counter-intuitive to have this as such a power-drain.
Hands on photos
Much of the MyTablet's charm comes from its appearance, but if you peel away the curtain you'll have a genuine Wizard of Oz moment.
It tows the party line of cheap Android tablets in the sense that it offers plenty of connectivity and it is, well, cheap, but it falls flat on many, many, other levels in execution.
It is wonderfully designed. It's pleasing to look at and feels comfortable in your hand, if not a bit heavy. Argos clearly spent the bucks on the design team, possibly because teenage focus groups told them aesthetics trumps substance.
The amount of connections available is impressive. You can also transfer anything you download onto an SD card and port it to other devices.
It's cheap. Quite frankly, this is a Christmas stocking gift that will become completely irrelevant come January 2014. Argos knows this and that's why it's £99.99.
Where to start? The screen is poor for today's standards. 1200 x 600 is not going to suffice if you want to enjoy any type of decent gaming or movie watching and the colours look very washed out. It's also not very responsive and this is never more obvious than when running a burdensome game.
It's slow and struggles with multitasking. The 1GB of RAM isn't enough for today's average tablet user. Running multiple apps will cause it to slow down and, at worst, restart entirely.
There's also a silly amount of bloatware pre-installed. It's baffling as to why Argos boasts about the 19 pre-installed apps that can't be deleted and it's hard to see why anyone would be in favour of this. The pre-installed apps are apps that can easily be downloaded manually, so it's clear that they are marketing deals that have been struck up between Argos and the various vendors.
This is bargain basement electronics. It's cheap, solid and probably a good gift for a kid - given that they'll either lose interest after a week or break it.
Argos makes no bones about releasing this for the Christmas market and there is something very throwaway about the tablet that seems to fit perfectly with the Christmas ethos. Visually, it's impressive and it's solidly built.
There's also a whole host of external ports and connections that is desperately missing from many better, higher-end, tablets like the iPad mini or Nexus 7.
But that's where the positives stop. The screen, lag, poor multi-tasking, unresponsive touch and washed out colours make using this a bit of a chore and probably not worth spending £99.99.
Argos also missed a trick by not introducing its own movies and games store, it seems like that could have been its saving grace if it had used the might of its buying power to offer cheap content to go along with the cheap tablet.
Especially since there's an Argos app, why aren't the films and games available to download? If you can, we urge you to fork out an extra £20 and buy Tesco's Hudl.