Hannspree Hannspad £349
23rd Feb 2011 | 09:50
Is it too late for this Android 2.2 tablet to make its mark?
Hannspree Hannspad: Overview
The Hannspree Hannspad is about to become an anachronism. With Android 3.0 a strong contender at CES and MWC in tablets such as the hotly anticipated Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, we wonder if people will be interested in an Android 2.2 tablet
This tablet has more in common with Samsung's current tablet offering, the seven-inch Galaxy Tab, than the new boys when it comes to software. However, it's a match for them when it comes to hardware grunt.
There's a 10.1-inch touchscreen at a resolution of 1024 x 600 backed by Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 mobile processor. That's two ARM Cortex A9 CPU cores running at 1GHz, backed up by 512MB of RAM.
Not too bad for a tablet clocking in at about £350 – a good £80 cheaper than Apple's iPad, and potentially a lot cheaper than some of the more prominent Android tablets.
The screen resolution makes it widescreen compared to the 9.7-inch iPad, which has a resolution of 1024 x 768. It's also slightly heavier, coming in at just under 750g.
Though 1024 x 600 isn't a common resolution in the wider computing world, we've seen it on a few tablets, including the BlackBerry Playbook. However, because RIM's tablet is only seven inches compared to the 10.1 inches here, that same resolution produces a much sharper image on the PlayBook.
There's no 3G capability on the Hannspad, so it's strictly Wi-Fi only here. 802.11 b/g/n are all supported, while Bluetooth 2.1 is also included.
In a move that will please a lot of people frustrated with Apple's steadfast refusal to include expandable memory, the 16GB of built-in storage on the Hannspad can be supplemented by adding a microSD card.
There's a mini-USB connection to get the tablet hooked up to your computer, while a mini-HDMI out is capable of connecting to your TV and outputting 1080p video.
One item missing from the Hannspad's feature list is a camera, either front or back. This may bother some people, while others might not mind. If it's important to you, you'll have to look elsewhere.
A 3650mAh battery powers the tablet, which is rated for about eight hours of battery life. Though this is lower than the iPad's rated 10 hours, it would still be a strong showing for a budget device, especially with the battery life of the forthcoming tablets unknown.
Hannspree has used an overlay to hide Android 2.2 away, which is good news, since earlier versions of Google's mobile OS weren't designed to go beyond mobile phones, really.
The Tap user interface is the same as we saw on the Viewsonic Viewpad 10s, and it almost completely hides Google's OS, with it only really showing through in a few Settings options. Instead of Android's multiple Home screens and customisable widgets, you get something a bit more rigid, but that is clearly custom-designed for tablets.
At its price point, the Hannspad will find itself in the same Royal Rumble as the lowest-price iPad, as well as the Advent Vega, which is a very close competitor. Both tablets feature Nvidia's Tegra 2, a 1024 x 600 resolution and a 10.1-inch screen. However, the Vega retails for just £250, so is this £100 more awesome?
Hannspree Hannspad: Features
While we wouldn't want to peg the Hannspree Hannspad in with so many other tablets by saying it looks a bit like an iPad, it sort of does from the front.
It's an all black glossy fascia, save for the silver screen surround. The screen can be quite reflective, and it picks up smudges hugely, though no worse than the Advent Vega.
The back is flat plastic. While this doesn't give it the rocking problems the iPad has, it also doesn't have the high-quality feel of Apple's aluminium case.
That's not to say it feels cheap. There is a bit of creaking around the joins at the edge of the screen when you apply pressure, but there's little give in the plastic back casing of the Hannspad, and it feels pretty durable.
Going by the way the Hannspad has been laid out, it would appear that it's intended to be used in landscape mode primarily. The Hannspree logo sits along the bottom edge, with lights to indicate whether the unit is turned on, charging and accessing Wi-Fi in the bottom-left corner (although the Wi-Fi light never came on once on our unit).
The left edge of the device houses the mains power connection, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the mini-USB port, the mini-HDMI connector and the microSD card slot. The latter of these isn't covered at all, which we weren't too keen on, though it is recessed so you'd be unlikely to unseat it by accident.
The top of the device houses an on/off/sleep button and volume controls.
Along the right edge of the front Hannspad are touch-sensitive buttons for Home, Menu and Back. There's no search button, since it wouldn't be as useful without Google's services backing up the OS.
Yes, this is an Android tablet without Google's backing, so there's no Google Maps, no Gmail and, crucially, no Android Market.
Instead of all that, we've got the Tap UI. Rather than Android's usual plethora of Home screens and widgets, you're presented with some more reminiscent of Windows Phone 7, only not nearly as pretty.
There's a screen with all of your apps on, while swiping to the side brings up a page with a couple of panes on that can house widget-like live updates. In practice, only a few of the preloaded system apps can do anything with this, but you can still have your calendar on there at a glance, as well as the weather and a few others.
It's not totally bereft of usefulness, but it would need a fair bit of app support to become anything other than a novelty. It's also the buggiest part of the Tap UI, which we'll detail on the next page.
With the panes view not offering much, you'll mostly just spend your time going from app to app. Not that this needs to be a bad thing, of course; it's worked pretty well for the iPad so far.
Like Apple's tablet (and many others), you can move your most-used apps to a dock at the bottom, which is available on this apps screen or on the panes screen.
As we said, the Tap UI totally hides Android 2.2 and instead offers an interface that actually seems to have been incredibly carefully considered when it comes to tablet interaction.
It's all based on split screens, with new panels sliding into view as you select things, and split views where the two sides can be moved independently. Of course, it's the same additions that Apple added to iOS when it launched the iPad, and Android 3.0 is based on a similar premise.
But it's reproduced so well here that we wonder something like the Samsung Galaxy Tab didn't get there first. Android is clearly a strong base, and when coupled with such a thoughtful custom UI, Android 3.0 almost seems unnecessary (that's a big 'almost', though).
The Android underlayer is still here. That means Flash support when browsing and claimed multitasking. In practice, there's no fast app switching, so you don't really feel like there's much multitasking going on when you're traipsing back to the Home screen every time.
One of the things that is familiar to both Tap UI and Android 3.0 is the ability to navigate without needing the physical buttons. The bar at the top of the HANNSpad's screen tells you what app you're in, and displays buttons to tap you to the Home screen, or to bring up the menu options or go back.
It's something the Advent Vega really could have done with, considering its total lack of physical buttons. On the Hannspad, it's less necessary, but it does mean that you can't hold the device the 'wrong way up', since you'll always have these buttons at the top of the screen.
One of the Tap UI's touted features is separate user accounts, but this was half-baked. It enabled us to create email inboxes and calendar events under a certain name, but it doesn't have separate logins for the tablet as a whole, or even in the browser that we could find.
It's a nice idea, but half-hearted implementation gets it nowhere.
There are a few pre-loaded apps, but few are all that useful beyond the utilities such as the browser, mail client and media players.
There are two apps that are really worth mentioning. The first is that a pretty comprehensive filesystem browser comes on the Hannspad, which may entice those who long for a bit of desktop organisation on their tablet. It has a Christmas theme for reasons we won't pretend to understand.
The other is that Angry Birds was loaded on our review unit. If you wanted to make us forget about not having the Android Market, Hannspree, this is totally the way to do it.
In fact, even the absence of the Android Market isn't that much of a hurdle. There's an App Center that includes plenty of paid and free apps to be getting on with.
It even includes some pretty significant and slick apps, such as Pulse, the RSS reader.
However, social network support is light. TweetDeck is available, though we preferred Plume for Twitter use. Facebook apps are very thin on the ground. We hope the official apps could be brought on board.
The built-in media player is quite capable of playing back Full HD video clips, handling a variety of bitrates without a hiccup.
Music was also handled and sorted well. The interface really makes use of the screen space on offer, even if it isn't very pretty.
The little loudspeaker on the back doesn't exactly belt out the tunes, though it's not too bad for the occasional video.
Hannspree Hannspad: Performance
No matter how impressed we were with the concept of the Hannspad's interface, there's a major problem with it. For a start, it's not perfectly optimised yet. Though it's generally smooth in use, it has moments of slight freezes and one or two crashes.
As we said before, the widget-esque panes were particularly buggy, always sliding into view slowly, loading even slower, and when you try to change them the interface attempts a kind of 3D switch that is strongly not recommended. Sometimes it just fails to switch, and you're looking at two competing UI elements trying to share the same space.
However, all this is forgiveable. Performance wasn't bad overall, and UIs can be updated and improved (there's even an updater app included prominently, just to make sure).
But compounding the slight UI problems is a frequently unresponsive touchscreen. Typing is like some kind of Ancient Greek afterlife torment. Some letters just won't be tapped, even after several attempts. Sometimes you think you've switched to numbers but haven't, and you get confused which keyboard screen you're on.
The landscape keyboard is really odd, incidentally. It's split in the middle, like one of Microsoft's alien-like ergonomic keyboards. It seems a bizarre UI decision to use, since it's surely making the keys smaller. But since you can't type properly anyway, it makes little odds.
Swipes are another weak spot for the touchscreen. They're often missed, or only semi-interpreted, so the screen ends up anywhere it likes. Slower and more deliberate gestures, such as pinching to zoom, work better.
You get used to the lack of responsiveness when you're moving around apps such as the browser or something like Pulse. You just start compensating for it, and the experience goes back to being somewhat acceptable.
But you can't type on this tablet. You just can't. And they said the iPad was bad for productivity…
The built-in browser's performance wasn't too bad, but we found Dolphin HD in the App Center and grabbed that instead, which was a marked improvement.
The speed of the browser was competitive with some of the best browsers out there. Rendering is fast, and text reflows quickly and easily.
The tablet is pretty strong for web browsing, with the screen's size and shape being better than a fully widescreen ratio for looking at websites. The pixel density isn't very high, so we're not talking about the super-crisp text of the BlackBerry Playbook, but it's all readable enough – the size of the screen sees to that.
However, that same screen is another of the Hannspad's fatal flaws (after the lack of optimisation and the dodgy touchscreen, and there's more to come). The viewing angles on it are awful. Really just totally appalling. When viewed straight on, it's bright with clear, natural colours. Stray just a few millimetres and that stops.
It's just too much when taken into account with the other problems. A tablet is almost nothing but a screen – you can't skimp there! Apple knows this, which is why it gave the iPad a bright, vibrant IPS display that you can see from any angle right up until you get behind the damn thing.
And because the screen's quite reflective, you often have to turn it slightly to the side if light's bouncing in your eyes. But then you lose the image quality. You're damned either way.
And all this is made doubly disappointing because of the Hannspad's absolutely stunning media-handling capabilities. 1080p movie trailers? No problem! Playback's slicker than an otter coated in olive oil. A 720p film? Child's play.
Flash playback online was handled with equal quality. We've been waiting for Flash to really prove itself in the mobile space, and with this and LG Optimus 2X, it's clear that it's just needed the advent of dual-core processors to shine.
We had a few crashes when trying to access some online videos, but we're confident that was as much the Tap UI as Flash player. It worked fine 90 per cent of the time, with playback totally without stutter on a good internet connection.
Flash was also surprisingly power-light, considering its reputation. An hour of Flash video took the battery down by 11 per cent, which means that Hannspree's claim of eight hours battery could apply even to watching video the whole time – an impressive feat.
More casual tests bore this out, too. An evening of frequent browsing over Wi-Fi, and watching a few Flash videos here and there took the battery down to 84 per cent. That was around two hours of use spread over a four-hour period. Not too bad.
Ah, but there's a game-ruining fly in the ointment. (Are you sensing a theme?) The standby mode doesn't work properly, or it didn't on our review unit, at least. Pressing the sleep button (which is also the on/off button) turns off the screen, but it doesn't come back on.
The light in the bottom left stays on, so it's powered up, but you have to hold the off button to turn it off and then restart it when you want it back. Half the point of tablets is their instant-on nature.
And then there's one more problem; the final nail in the Hannspad's coffin.
When it's in the supposed sleep state, it actually uses a lot of power. We left it sleeping for 11 hours and discovered that it had used 34 per cent of the battery. Considering how power-light it was when in full use, there's a serious lack of optimisation here.
Hannspree HANNSpad: Verdict
Despite the score and the savaging we've given it on certain counts, we're actually quite fond of the Hannspree Hannspad.
It really puts a different spin on Android 2.2, with an interface that makes use of its power, but also of the extra screen space of tablets. We like to see technology that really focuses on its purpose, and the Hannspad does that. Except for where it totally fails to do that.
The Tap UI that's been overlaid on Android 2.2 is really very impressive, even if it lacks the polish of iOS on iPad or the forthcoming version of webOS for the HP TouchPad. It makes good use of the space that tablets offer, but still features the power of the OS underneath.
This comes through in the web browsing, which is snappy and features slick Flash performance. Considering we now know that early Android 3.0 tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom, won't feature Flash during the American launch, this is doubly impressive.
The battery life is strong, and the specifications are up there with the best, including the 16GB of internal storage and microSD expansion.
The media performance is superb, too. 1080p playback was as smooth as you could ask for, and we quite liked the music player.
Though the lack of the Android Market is disappointing, the App Center is pretty well stocked, with plenty of games and other apps on offer.
The dislikes boil down to a few simple problems, but they really are doozies. They take the tablet from being a potentially strong contender to an also-ran.
The unresponsive touchscreen is the first hurdle, and it's a problem that tablets just can't have if they're going to be good. Touch is the only interaction, and when it's dodgy, the whole experience suffers.
The Tap UI feels like it needs a little more optimisation, which we could forgive, but in conjunction with the laggy touchscreen it worsens the experience.
There's also the low quality of the display. The poor viewing angles ruin the idea of the tablet as a social computer and it's just not the right place to cut costs.
The fact that the sleep mode doesn't work properly is infuriating. Who wants to turn their tablet on from scratch every time they want to use it? And that it still churns through power when the screen's off is ridiculous – it means you'll have to charge it almost every day, even if you barely use it, totally ruining its good battery life elsewhere.
The Hannspad's score doesn't indicate that we didn't like it, because we were actually quite taken with it in many ways. Good battery life, stunning media power and strong web browsing are just the sort of things a tablet should excel at.
The score is a reflection of the fact that we just can't really recommend it for purchase. Not with an unresponsive touchscreen, a display with terrible viewing angles and irritating standby issues.
It feels like a wasted opportunity. There's the making of a great tablet here, but it's been squandered.