Telstra 4G tablet
11th Dec 2012 | 04:00
Wiping away memories of the T-Touch Tab
Apple's massive success with the original iPad back in 2010 had rival companies scrambling to create their own touchscreen devices.
Some of these rushed products were mediocre. Others were offensively bad. And Telstra's T-Touch Tab fell firmly into the latter category.
With its resistive touch screen, underpowered processor and the mobile version of Android, there was very little outside the price to like about Telstra's first tablet device. Even the name was awkward.
Fortunately, it seems like the mobile network learnt a lot of lessons from its previous attempt, and done its best to bring a decent compromise between specs and price to market in the form of the 4G tablet.
With a large, 10.1-inch 16:9 widescreen display, the 4G tablet feels solid and well made. A textured back, and grips on either side make the tablet easy to hold, at least in the horizontal perspective.
The front of the Telstra tablet is dominated by the screen, with a two megapixel camera situated above the display. The camera is slightly off centre, which annoyingly draws your eye once you notice it's not in the middle of the screen.
Standard power and volume buttons adorn the top sides, while a proprietary dock connector sits on the bottom of the tablet.
This port - which looks like the familiar 30-pin Apple dock connector - unfortunately means there's no simple USB charging method, so if you forget your charging cable you're all out of luck.
A MicroSD card slot and SIM card slot sit underneath flimsy plastic coverings. Chances are you'll never open either slot once you pop the relevant card in the right place, so we do wonder why a more elegant solution wasn't conceived.
The back of the device is noticeably stark, with the five-megapixel snapper kept company by a few logos and basic product information.
Weighing in at 670 grams, the 4G tablet is far from the lightest on the market, but given Telstra needed to shove a big 6900mAh battery inside to help counter the 4G juice sucking, it's actually quite reasonable.
Overall, there's nothing overly remarkable about the 4G tablet's design. It is kind of reminiscent of the original Motorola Xoom, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but don't expect this to win any international design awards.
Display and Interface
10.1 inches has become the de facto size for many larger tablets, and the Telstra 4G tablet is no exception. The 1280 x 800 resolution is pretty standard for a tablet this size, and in spite of the lower price tag the screen actually performs pretty well.
Colours are vibrant and the viewing angle is pretty good too. Ultimately it doesn't hold a candle to the Retina display on the latest iPad or the screen on the Nexus 10 by Samsung, but it certainly outshines the screen on the last Telstra tablet.
The screen's biggest drawback is its reflectiveness, making it nigh on impossible to use in direct sunlight.
The Telstra 4G tablet comes loaded with Ice Cream Sandwich, so it's a practical experience for tablet users. While it's disappointing that the device isn't running the latest Jelly Bean version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich is still a solid operating system.
At this stage, there's no word on whether users can expect an upgrade to Jelly Bean in the future. Telstra generally does tend to roll out Android updates, so it's certainly possible, but at this stage there's no confirmation or timing information.
The best part of the tablet's inclusion of Ice Cream Sandwich is that Telstra has made very few tweaks to the vanilla version of the OS.
That means that the user experience is similar to that of Google's own Nexus devices, except with added Telstra services.
Links to BigPond, TelstraOne and your user account have all been added to the home page, but given the device is only available through the network, the "Telstrafication" of the device is actually quite minimal.
Telstra has also added a useful tool for accessing your favourite apps from the lock screen called EasyAccess. Instead of long-pressing the unlock button, you drag the icon with two fingers like zooming in on a photo, and you are presented with six different apps.
It's a nice addition, that is actually quite useful for anyone who uses the same apps regularly.
The tablet's dual-core 1.5GHz processor is far from groundbreaking, although it does let Telstra's device get the job done without too many issues.
There can be some slight lag when rapidly flicking between pages, or scrolling through long lists. Whether this is due to the tablet's hardware or the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android is debatable though.
Hopefully a Jelly Bean upgrade will happen sooner than later to give us answers on those questions, but until then, some minor lagging is part and parcel with the tablet's purchase.
Connectivity and Battery
Telstra created this tablet for one reason - as a device to showcase its growing 4G network. So it's no surprise that the integrated 4G is the key selling point for the device.
In Telstra's 4G network, the tablet easily pulled down 20 Mbps, as stated by the Speedtest.net app on Google Play.
Upload speeds sat around the 23 Mbps mark, with impressive ping times of around 35ms.
Outside of Telstra's 4G coverage areas, the tablet drops back to the still strong NextG HSPA+ network. While this means a slight drop in speeds compared to 4G, it's still more that respectable.
The tablet also offers standard 802.11 b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth.
The 6900mAh integrated battery isn't accessible to the user, which isn't much of a surprise given the complexity of getting the largest possible battery into the device.
The good news is that even with the battery-hungry LTE connection, the Telstra 4G tablet still managed to keep on keeping on for just under seven hours with the brightness cranked up to full and an HD video playing on loop.
While that may not play in iPad territory, it's still noteworthy for a budget tablet from a telco like Telstra.
The 4G tablet only comes in one, 16GB version, with just under 13GB of that usable. The MicroSD card slot offers significantly more versatility in that regard though.
Camera and Gallery
The truth of the matter is that unless you desperately need to make a Skype call, you will likely never use either camera on the 4G tablet.
Which is just as well, given that neither the front-facing 2MP or the rear 5MP cameras are any good.
Colours are washed out, detail lost and noise found everywhere. No flash means dreadful results in lower light scenarios, but given the fact that taking a photo on the tablet is an awkward process anyway, it's far from being a dealbreaker.
Being a fairly stock version of Android, there are some manual controls for white balance, exposure compensation and seven different scene modes.
There's also digital zoom, although given that makes already questionable photos look even worse, it can't be recommended.
The market has changed substantially since Telstra's ill-fated initial Android tablet.
For a start, Android has developed tablet-friendly versions of Android, Apple has entered the 7-inch market with the iPad mini, and Google has finally brought its Nexus program to tablets, with the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.
This makes the Telstra 4G Tablet a much harder sell. The 10.1-inch device may have moved past its questionable heritage, but so has the rest of the market.
Still, Telstra's new tablet does a pretty good job at balancing specs and affordability.
Its most endearing feature - LTE support for Telstra's 4G network - offers an interesting feature for high-speed junkies, without needing to spend a large amount on the device itself.
For a cheaper tablet, Telstra's 4G device is remarkably solid. It's slightly on the heavy side, but feels comfortable in the hands, and when you factor in that a good chunk of that weight is for extra battery life, it's all worth it.
There was a surprising lack of Telstra bloatware for a Telstra badged device, which was a very welcome surprise.
Also welcome was the device's screen, which was vibrant and colourful. Admittedly it's not good enough to compete with the super high-resolution Retina displays in Apple's latest iPads, but for a cheaper tablet it looked good.
But easily the best feature of the Telstra 4G tablet is its 4G connectivity. With speeds matching - and occasionally exceeding - ADSL2+, this device can get you online fast.
As we close in on 2013, the question has to be asked - why on earth do gadget manufacturers insist on providing proprietary connection ports?
At least with Apple, you know there is both an ecosystem, and a constant connector across Apple devices. The proprietary port on the Telstra tablet could never be used again, and will be a constant pain for users who forget the necessary cord.
The device gets a little laggy when scrolling and switching between home pages, which can get a little frustrating over time. It's not a dealbreaker, and honestly who's complaining at the price? But it is noticeable, and takes away from the experience.
You'll never use the cameras on this tablet, at least after the first time you end up disappointed with the results. The 5MP camera on the back honestly may as well not even be there, as its absence might have made the device even cheaper.
Anyone fearing the T-Touch Tab Mark II need not concern themselves. Telstra has created a reasonable product that combines better than average hardware with the telco's fast LTE network.
At $480, it's slightly more expensive that the 16GB Nexus 10. And this is where the tough decisions need to be made - do you opt for the Nexus 10's superior hardware, or the Telstra 4G tablet's superior network?
As good as 4G is, we'd probably opt for the Nexus, despite its lack of wireless connectivity.
But if mobile access is an essential component of your purchase, this device won't let you down. It may not blow you away with happiness, but it shouldn't disappoint too much either.