Novatech nTablet £439
25th Nov 2010 | 16:01
A Windows 7 tablet that's well constructed but ultimately flawed
Novatech nTablet review: Overview
Apple's iPad was the only tablet on store shelves for the bulk of the year, but now it faces genuine competition from the likes of Samsung's Galaxy Tab. However, most of the contenders we've seen have proved to be cheap imitations, such as the Elonex eTouch 1000ET and the Disgo Tablet 6000.
British manufacturer Novatech is the latest company to release its own touch-based device, and first impressions of the Novatech nTablet are favourable. The body feels suitably sturdy, with none of the troublesome flex we saw in the Disgo. An aluminium back resists scratching when the tablet is laid flat and the screen is firm, proving resistive when vigorously prodded.
We did notice a little flex along the left edge of the device when it's gripped, which unfortunately cheapens the build, but it's nothing major.
Almost all of the tablets we've seen bear more than a passing resemblance to the iPad, and the Novatech nTablet is no exception. The same black border is in place, although the nTablet features a grey appendage on the right edge with three buttons. Bizarrely, this is the exact same design already used by the Viewsonic View Pad.
At 890g, the Novatech nTablet is heavier than the iPad, Galaxy Tab and many of the other tablets we've seen lately. The difference is instantly noticeable when holding the nTablet one-handed, and our (admittedly weak) wrists caved in after just a few minutes.
Holding the Novatech nTablet two-handed is more comfortable, thanks to that thick black border. The tablet never overheated, even after constant prolonged use, thanks to the vents on the top and bottom of the device.
The Novatech nTablet is also quite chunky, with a thickness of 15mm. However, at least the back is flat unlike the curved rear of the iPad, which means the device won't rock when it's laid on a desk and prodded.
The £350 asking price (£439 with Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed) is less than an iPad will set you back, and cheaper than the likes of the Galaxy Tab. The question is, does the nTablet provide as satisfying a user experience, or is it worth throwing down extra cash for Apple or Samsung's tablets?
Novatech nTablet review: Specifications
The Novatech nTablet's 10.1-inch capacitive screen is a definite highlight. With a 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution, it's perfectly crisp, which quickly becomes apparent when watching video or working on highly detailed spreadsheets.
Contrast levels are excellent, with perfectly deep blacks, and it's a bright display too. Of course, it's also highly reflective, so using the Novatech nTablet outdoors or in a brightly lit room results in the swift onset of a migraine.
When browsing our photo collection or relaxing with a movie, we were impressed by what we saw. Images are colourful with realistic tones, and there was no hint of motion blur or other warning signs. The Novatech nTablet's screen is certainly large enough to comfortably watch full-length films, and beats squinting at a tiny phone screen when you need entertaining on those dreary commutes.
However, the screen picks up fingerprints and scuff marks ridiculously easily, and requires regular cleaning. This is a bit of a problem considering it's a touchscreen, so there's no avoiding swiping your grimy fingers all over it.
Although there are two tiny speakers built into the back of the Novatech nTablet, they're understandably weak. We'd recommend using some good-quality headphones.
The Novatech nTablet has a built-in accelerometer that automatically re-aligns the desktop when you rotate the device. Sensitivity levels are perfect, shifting the display around only when needed as opposed to every time you accidentally tilt the nTablet. However, rotation takes a couple of seconds instead of the smooth, instant action we'd have liked.
Three face buttons are lined up along the right edge. The power button is self-explanatory and also puts the Novatech nTablet into hibernation. However, the Back and Home buttons do nothing except switch the Wi-Fi on and off when using Windows 7. Apparently they will function as expected with Google Android installed on the nTablet, or so claims a leaflet that came with the device.
The only other feature on the face of the device is a 1.3-mgeapixel webcam, which functions as expected during web chats. Quality is fine for a mobile device, certainly strong enough to wave to friends and family over Skype.
On the edges you'll find a generous number of ports, including two USB 2.0 connections for attaching peripherals such as a keyboard, and a mini-VGA port that can be used to hook the Novatech nTablet up to a compatible monitor.
A microSD slot can be used to expand the 32GB of storage provided by the solid state drive. You can therefore have a maximum of 64GB of space, although a chunk of this is taken up by Windows, leaving you less room for your media.
Networking is strong, with 802.11n Wi-Fi available for connecting to wireless networks and Bluetooth built in. There's a SIM-card slot on one edge but you'll need to provide your own card to make use of 3G networks.
Novatech nTablet review: Performance
Although the Novatech nTablet also comes in an Android version, the model we tested only had Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed. Windows 7 may be more touch-friendly than previous versions of Microsoft's operating system, but it certainly doesn't do the job half as well as Android or the Apple's iOS.
Many of Windows' menu options are far too small to hit accurately, while simple actions such as minimising a document or browser window can take a couple of prods. We were never enraged by this usability issue, but it detracts from the user experience and makes you long for the slick interface of the iPad.
However, at least we can't fault the Novatech nTablet's touchscreen for these issues, because it proved highly responsive at all times, whether we were playing games or browsing the web. Scrolling through eBooks or web pages is a smooth experience, and multi-touch is supported so you can zoom to your heart's content.
The only issue we had was when we attempted to scroll left and right on some web pages, because the usual finger-flick simply selects a body of text instead. We had to use the scroll bar at the bottom of the window, which proved fiddly.
Entering text is a fairly painless experience, since the Novatech nTablet's on-screen keyboard can be brought up at any time by flicking it from the edge of the desktop. If you encounter a text box in a web page simply tap on it and a keyboard icon will appear, and a swift prod of that will also bring up the keyboard.
We found our every keystroke was recorded accurately, even when typing at speed, and the keys flash as you poke them to show you what you've hit. The only exception is when you type in passwords, which confused us for a moment – we thought the whole lot had frozen on us.
However, you don't get any of the autocorrect options that the likes of the Google Android keyboard provides, and we still much prefer typing on a physical board.
Novatech hasn't given Flash the two-fingered salute like Apple has, so the nTablet lets you stream video from the likes of BBC News, YouTube and 4OD. We had mixed results, unfortunately, with occasional pauses and glitches during playback of high-definition video that interrupted our viewing. It's bearable, but once again detracts from the overall experience.
This stuttering is also a problem when running too many applications at once. The Intel Atom N455 processor does an admirable job of handling Windows 7, but crumples into a sweaty heap when you try anything resembling multi-tasking. Browsing the web while other programs chug away in the background is a stilted affair and not recommended.
Thankfully we had no trouble running simple games such as Plants Vs Zombies, which worked well thanks to the Novatech nTablet's responsive touchscreen. However, the integrated graphics are limiting and you won't be able to run anything more complex.
A battery life of 165 minutes is just about enough for the daily commute but we really expect a lot more from a portable device such as the nTablet. You'll have to pack the charger on trips and pray your chosen mode of transport has a mains socket, or you'll soon be carting around a very expensive paperweight.
Novatech nTablet review: Verdict
In the run-up to Christmas we're seeing an increasing number of tablet devices burst on to the market, and in most cases they're let down by poor build quality and a lack of overall slickness. For this reason we approached Novatech's nTablet with caution, hoping we would see another Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab instead of an Elonex eTouch 1000ET.
The Novatech nTablet is solidly built for the most part, which is reassuring when you slip it into a bag or case. The screen is firm and responsive, and also sharp and vibrant which makes it perfect for watching movies or simply browsing your holiday snaps.
Surfing the web on the Novatech nTablet is a relatively smooth experience with full multi-touch controls for zooming in and out. Flash is supported so you can stream video from the likes of YouTube.
You also get a decent range of ports and features, including some good networking options and up to 64GB of storage.
The Novatech nTablet unfortunately doesn't offer the same slick experience of the iPad, mostly thanks to the Windows 7 OS which is much clunkier on a touch screen device. Selecting menu options and even minimising windows can be a real trial.
The Novatech nTablet is also chunkier and heavier than many of its brethren, making it uncomfortable to hold one-handed. The screen picks up smudges very quickly and is highly reflective, so outdoors use is limited.
Performance is also limited, and any attempt at multitasking really grinds things to a halt. We had some issues streaming from sites such as BBC iPlayer, with the video occasionally stuttering.
Finally, the very poor battery life means you'll have to charge the nTablet nightly and pack the charger on trips.
Although the Novatech nTablet has a strong, responsive touch screen and a solid build, we can't recommend it over the likes of the Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab. The overall experience just isn't as satisfying and the many little quirks quickly add up.
If the asking price was less we'd say it's a good budget option but if you're splashing out this much on a tablet, you might as well add a little extra and treat yourself to something better.
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