UPDATE: Due to a number of questions on playing Youtube videos, I decided to note the link on where to download the Youtube app. Click here. This is directly from Velocity Micro. As the review mentions below, we did not have success with the Youtube app that we downloaded. You must use the version from Velocity Micro if it does not work.
Back in July 2010, Velocity Micro announced that it was going to release an Android eReader and tablet in August. We were looking forward to the Cruz Tablet as it was competitively priced ($299), to have decent specs and would be the second tablet to be launched by a US-based company this year.
Things have certainly changed in the 4 months since then. First, the release date was pushed to November (the eReader launched in September). Second, a couple of the initial specs that the tablet was to have changed. Initially, the Cruz Tablet was to have 4GB of internal memory and Android 2.1. One area of concern we had was the Velocity Micro was very secretive about its processor. No mention of it was made on its website nor when we contacted the company. We are not sure if the processor that it finally ended up using (Ingenic JZ4760 MIPS) was a last minute change. Running Android 2.0 is a negative especially when other Android tablets hitting the market will have at least 2.1 but more likely 2.2 or higher.
Tablets will appear to fall into two main sizes: 7” and 9+” screens. After using the ZenPad 4/Zenithink ZT-180 for a while, the 7” Cruz Tablet (T104) looked tiny when we first opened the package. There is debate as to whether a 7” or 9+” screen is ideal on a tablet. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. We are neutral on this so its really a matter of personal preference. However, the smaller size makes it easier to type in portrait mode (like typing on a giant smartphone). The smaller size also makes it ideal for commuters where personal space is limited. The Cruz Tablet is similar in size to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The Cruz Tablet's dimensions are 7.5” (l) x 5.6” (w) x .7” (h) compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab which has dimensions of 7.5” x 4.7” x .5”. While the Galaxy Tab weighs .838 lbs, the Cruz Tablet weighs 1.15 lbs.
The Cruz Tablet has a strong feel and overall is high quality. One can tell that the casing is not made up of plastic. The back of the tablet has a rubber-like material to prevent scratches which is a nice touch. In addition, it provides better gripping. Last thing you want to do is drop one of these on a hard floor. The screen appears to be made of glass. The Cruz Tablet has a micro-USB (OTG) port, headphone jack, SD slot, and Dock Connection port in addition to DC In port. The external speakers are pretty decent. We played music and watched videos on a very high volume with minimal to little distortion. On another note, there is no camera on this tablet. Overall, the exterior quality is excellent although we wish for a LED light to show that it is charging and when it is done.
There are three touch sensitive buttons on the side of the screen: Home; Menu; and Back. Unfortunately, they are not back-lit unless you press them which makes them difficult to find in dim light. There is a power button on the side and a Volume Up & Down button on top (if viewing landscape mode) along with a reset button that one would need a paper clip for.
Included accessories are USB cable, DC power adapter/charger, soft protective case and two 8 GB SD cards (which is a nice touch).
Under the hood, the Cruz Tablet runs an Ingenic JZ4760 MIPS processor which is an interesting choice of processor. Most higher quality tablets use an ARM-based processor. Actually, most current Android phones are using a higher-end Cortex A8 ARM chip or similar processor. Only Cortex A8 & higher are Flash capable. The Cruz Tablet has 512MB of RAM which is what a tablet should have at a minimum. The Samsung Galaxy Tab also has 512MB of RAM. A SD is definitely required not only for storage but also many apps need it to operate correctly. The Cruz Tablet does have a built-in accelerometer (auto-rotates the screen) which works well. It does work well with games that require the accelerometer. Better than the ZenPad 4/Zenithink ZT-180.
Having a full USB port would have been nice as one would have been able to use a USB flash drive or USB keyboard.
The battery is user replaceable which is another plus.
The screen is the second, if not, the most important hardware of a tablet. It can make or break the experience. As mentioned before, the screen is 7” with a resolution of 800x480. The screen is capacitive but disappointingly not responsive as one would expect from a capacitive screen. In addition, it is multi-touch so you can pinch zoom assuming the app supports it (Skyfire browser does). When typing on the standard keyboard, it responds well. Scrolling is a disappointment. As you scroll, the tablet does not pick up the touches. The screen is also difficult to see in bright daylight due to the very glossy screen. However, this is very common with most tablets. Fingerprints also continues to be a common problem among all screens. Nonetheless, we were disappointed as we expected more from a capacitive screen. This could be specific to our unit as we have not heard complaints from others.
As our video demonstrates, the Cruz Tablet works well with all multimedia (pictures, music & videos) types. We tested these 3 types using the included apps. There are other better apps to use but our focus is only on the apps included. For the pictures, the quality of the images was good. The colors were not as bright or lively as the original file. For videos, we tested using MP4 format with 1250 & 1500 bit videos plus two 720p HD files (in MOV & MP4 format). Both non-HD files played very well with no stuttering. The Cruz Tablet had no trouble processing the 1500 bit video. We used an animated movie to show the “fullness” of the video (colors, brightness, contrast, etc.). We also tested using a live action film as shown in our video. For the HD videos, the tablet had trouble processing the MOV file although it had no problem with MP4 format. The tablet did have problems rendering YouTube videos which I get into details below. However, the multimedia experience was overall good.
The Cruz Tablet did not include certain apps that one would expect such as Android Market, Gmail, YouTube, FaceBook, etc. Of course, you can add these (including the Market with a hack) on your own. Non-standard Apps that were included are: Dr. Eye (Oxford Dictionary); Astro File Manager; Cruz Market (app store); Borders/Kobo; OfficeSuite Viewer; Twidroyd (Twitter app); CruzSync (similar to Dropbox); eBuddy Mobile Messenger plus the typical Alarm Clock, Calculator, etc. The Cruz Market has limited amounts of apps including links to websites (Best Buy, Newegg). Not what I would expect from an “app store”. Just a note: the Cruz Market works with the stock browser not Skyfire. If you use Skyfire, it will direct you to the Cruz Market website with no access to any apps. Navigating through the Internet on both the standard browser and SkyFire worked fine. Our preference is SkyFire although there are other good browsers available. It’s a matter of preference. We did install the YouTube app. Initially, we tested the YouTube app (version 1.3) which it could not play certain videos. We had to download the YouTube apk (same version)available from Velocity Micro in order to view videos. However, video quality is poor. As you can see from our video, the YouTube videos are pretty bad. We did not experience this on our ZenPad/ePad but then again that tablet had a 1GHz ARM11 v6 processor. Unfortunately, the video processor on the Cruz Tablet is not powerful enough to process the videos correctly. We did test reading a PDF file using Repligo (our preferred PDF reader). Using a complex PDF file (37 pages with multiple pictures, images and fonts), it took approximately 10 secs to fully load the first page of the document. This is about a second slower than the ZenPad/ePad.
We also tested the Cruz Tablet using a basic 3D game (Light Racer 3D Basic) and again the processor failed to render the graphics correctly. There does not appear to be any 3D acceleration here. The game was unplayable. We tried another game (Droidkoban) which also failed. We tried to install other 3D games but the tablet just refused to install them.
Boot up time averaged about 51 seconds about 14 seconds longer than the ZenPad 4/ePad which has a stock Android 2.1 rather than the Velocity Micro-tweaked Android 2.0.
At this time, we have not chosen a tablet to use as a benchmark for others to be compared against. In the future, we will pick a particular tablet whose performance is very good and use it as baseline. For the moment, we will be benchmarking tablets against three different and powerful Android smartphones (HTC Evo; Droid Incredible; and Droid X) plus our previously reviewed ZenPad4/ePad/Zenithink ZT-180. In addition, we has some benchmarking scores for the Galaxy Tab. Below are the benchmarking scores of the Cruz Tablet versus the Android phones, ePad and Galaxy Tab:
Unfortunately, we had trouble installing Neocore which we use to benchmark higher graphic performance. No matter how we tried to install it (via SD card or downloading directly from multiple app stores), the installation failed. We would guess that it would score less than the ZenPad/ePad.
One will see that the Cruz Tablet's GPU score is lower than the ZenPad/ePad but higher than the Android phones in Softweg's Benchmark app. Softweg measures graphic performance in 2D. As for the CPU, the scores are for informational purposes. Based on the Linpack and Softweg's CPU score, the Cruz Tablet disappoints with its MIPS processor. Regarding the BenchmarkPi, the Cruz Tablet's score was significantly higher. We have said this before but consider the BenchmarkPi score as a very rough indicator of performance.
(Different benchmarking apps may test different aspects of the CPU and GPU which would account for variance. One cannot look simply at one set of benchmark scores. One should view all in an aggregate.)
In order to standardize testing, we conducted two battery tests: 1) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned on); and 2) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned off). Both tests had the brightness at 50%. Surprisingly, the battery lasted an average of 9:20 hours whether the Wi-Fi was on or off. We are aware that most individuals will not have the Wi-Fi turned on while watching a movie. However, this testing method is designed to see how long the battery life is under the most intensive processes. You can rest assure that using the Internet will last significantly longer than the results posted here. This is the tablet's greatest strength plus its user replaceable.
Overall, we were disappointed with the Cruz Tablet. Our expectations were that the device would be better than the ZenPad/ePad which is $100 cheaper. The capacitive screen along with the processor are the two major weaknesses. The screen was not as responsive as we would expect from being capacitive. Maybe it was our specific unit. Nonetheless, tablet manufacturers need to understand that these two pieces of hardware are the most important factors in the performance of a tablet. If they want to cut corners, cut it elsewhere but choose the best screen and processor even if the cost will be higher. Most consumers are smart enough to know this. We also experience problems with video playback (mostly downstreaming videos online). The tablet also appears not to be equipped to play 3D games. Having Android 2.0 does not help either. On this website, Velocity Micro has confirmed there will be NO updates to 2.1 or 2.2. We have asked for confirmation but have not heard back. We will post an update if and when they do respond. As for the positives, the Wi-Fi worked fine, the quality of unit is excellent, external speakers were fine (although we wish they were louder) and Internet browsing was very good. Battery life exceeded our expectations. For $300, its half the price of the Galaxy Tab but we would not say that the better processor and screen on the Tab is worth an extra $300. The Cruz Tablet is acceptable but we would hold off until better tablets are introduced. Perhaps Velocity Micro will release a firmware update to correct some of these issues. We know that they have released firmware updates on the Cruz Reader so if you own a Cruz Tablet, check their website for updates. Overall, we give the Cruz Tablet a 2.82 stars out of 5.
*Note: Overall score is based on a weighted average of 9 different factors. Only four of these nine factors are shown here.