|About a month ago, we ran a story on how Walgreens was selling the Maylong M-150 tablet for $99, $30 below the regular price. While the M-150 is an obvious iPad knock-off that would never pass muster in the US, we were curious to see what sort of product $99 could buy.
This is the M-150's default program layout. The display is decent for a $99 product but the touchscreen capabilities leave much to be desired.
Virtually the only thing we know about the processor is that its a VIA VM8505+ ARM9 core that runs at 533MHz. The ARM9 architecture is still used in a number of products, including the Nintendo Wii, DS and DSi. It's not nearly as powerful as ARM's current lineup of Cortex processors, however, we weren't certain it would be enough for typical tablet tasks.
Our initial impression of the tablet was quite positive. The screen resolution of 800x480 suits the 7" screen quite well; we had no trouble reading text or navigating around the tablet's various functions and menus. The touchscreen is resistive rather than capacitive; the only way to accurately control the device was by using the included stylus. Even finger-typing was troublesome; the M-150 had a tendency to interpret keystrokes as though the keyboard was slightly off-center. Tap "H" on the left side of the button, and the system typically printed "G," tap to the right and you'd likely get "J". We tried running the M-150's screen calibration utility in an effort to have our inputs more accurately captured, but to no avail.
Android 1.6 worked well enough, but it seems odd to use a year-old build when later, faster versions of the OS are already available. It's reportedly possible to upgrade the M-150 to FroYo, but that's not a project we tackled here.
|What Works (And What Doesn't)|
Let's start on a good note. The M-150 is light (13.5 oz according to Maylong) and feels reasonably sturdy. Neither flexion nor brittleness were a problem; the devices' few buttons functioned well without feeling like cheap trinkets. The screen was bright, colorful, and easy to read. WiFi setup was as simple as providing the necessary login/password (WPA/WPA2 are both supported). The tablet also had no trouble running off conventional wired Ethernet.
The M-150 is meant primarily for Landscape use--here you can see the "Home" button on the right and the camera lens on the left.
The Ethernet cable plugs into the end of the dongle shown here. The port's placement makes it difficult to hold the tablet in two hands; it's even worse if you have the tablet plugged in.
The M-150 can play both audio and video files, but format support is very limited. For audio, you've got your choice of WMA or WAV (MP3 files are not listed as officially supported but will still play). If you want to watch video on the M-150, it'll need to be encoded in FLV, WMV, or AVI.
Online videos loaded through YouTube took surprisingly little time, but the video quality wasn't very good, even by YouTube standards. Web surfing was also problematic; the M-150 never crashed on us, but it could only load the simplest of sites within a reasonable time frame. Attempting to view a site like NYT or CNN required much patience.
On the other hand, it's a surprisingly good eReader. While it'll never stand up to Amazon or Sony, text was sharp and readable with minimum eye fatigue. We also had no trouble downloading a library of titles from the included Aldiko eBook application. We wouldn't ever describe the M-150 as responsive but it wasn't as balky as we expected. The delay between tapping on an application icon and seeing that application start to launch was typically around 2-5 seconds. The system took longer when loading available downloads from the Android Application Market or when accessing Aldiko's library of books, but still completed these tasks in well under a minute.
It's All Downhill From Here
The screen arrived looking like this. Note the sizable scruff running from one edge to the middle of the screen.
Our tablet arrived sans manual, with a stylus scuff mark that tracked over almost the entire screen. The stylus is the only effective way to use the tablet, but the resistive screen means you'll have to push down—which then scuffs the screen more. Maylong claims the M-150 has 2-3 hours of standby battery life. In active mode, battery life is less than 90 minutes.
The same screen after a few days of use. This angle shows the initial scratch more prominently, but also highlights the number of back-and-forth scuff marks.
The M150's power connector and USB/Ethernet dongle are placed in a way that makes the system damnably awkward to hold in two hands. As if this wasn't enough, the bulky dongle fell out almost every time the tablet was moved, adjusted, or breathed on. Even repositioning the M-150 to hold it vertically instead of horizontally had a tendency to knock the dongle out.
The M-150's side ports. From the left, there's a speaker, power jack, headphone jack, the dongle's port, a microSD port, and a second speaker. There's actually a microSD card in the slot, though you may not be able to tell from here.
You might think the solution is to skip USB flash storage altogether and use a microSD card, instead. Unfortunately, that's not possible--at least not with our unit. The only way the microSD reader would recognize a card is if we inserted it until just the barest bit of edge was visible. Most SD readers have a spring-release that ejects the card when its toggled from the outside. The M-150 just eats the card, period—the only way to extract it was with the use of tiny jewelry screwdriver. Perhaps the mechanism was damaged on our unit. Our system refused to save eBook's unless we had a microSD card inserted, and we were never able to coax the M-150 into using an external USB device.
Maylong sells a carrying case w/included keyboard for the M-150, but either there was something wrong with our unit or the tablet has an unexplained preference for that particular keyboard because no other USB keyboard worked. This further limited the M-150's practical usefulness--the stylus is impractical for writing anything more than a quick note.
The most disquieting "feature" of the Maylong M-150 is the disparate array of problems various reviewers are reporting. Pick any given topic—system responsiveness, wireless support, screen quality, etc—and you'll find different people reporting different degrees of functionality. This implies that Maylong's quality control is rather slipshod.
We picked up an M-150 because we were curious to see what sort of performance or features a $99 tablet could offer, not because we expected anything special. Ironically, we're therefore unable to claim we were disappointed in the tablet; it delivered everything we thought it would, which wasn't much.
Don't buy an M-150 hoping for a quality tablet computing experience. It's a passable e-reader, but Amazon's Kindle is now selling for $139 and is an infinitely better buy. The Maylong tablet's performance isn't really a problem—the VIA ARM9 chip is adequate, if uninspiring. The various screen issues, build quality variance, and flaky peripheral support are most of what makes this thing untenable.
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