I have in my hands the Advent Vega, a 10.1″ 16:9 Android powered tablet computer.This is not a thing of beauty, but I’m going to recommend that you buy one. Why? Price and it’s hackable.
Even though I’m an iPad fanboy, I’ve come to realise that for many people shelling out £399 on a “gadget” can seem a bit much, even when that gadget is the magnificent iPad. So, what are the alternatives?
There are many Android and Windows tablets on the market right now, but they all have one major disadvantage when compared to the iPad, price. Why spend over £300 when for a few extra pounds you can get the iPad? Check out the Asus EeePad Transformer or the Motorolo Xoom both of which are top of the range Android tablets running honeycomb, but will set you back £350. If you managed to stretch your budget by £50 you would have an iPad 2 with its App store and range of accessories. Now I know these tablets are not quite like for like, but my point is that for most people the entry level iPad 2 will more than meet their needs. I know it works for me.
So, why did I buy an Advent Vega? The Vega has interested me for a while and it seemed to tick all the right boxes, however there is one glaringly obvious flaw with the Vega. The Screen.
Facts: 10.1 inch, 16:9 aspect ration capacitive touchscreen, a resolution of 1024 x 600 and also supports auto rotate and multi-touch gestures. It is very sensitive and will take some to time to get used to, but it’s safe to say that from an input perspective the screen is good.
The screen is let down when viewed from an off-set angle. It’s ok if you are using it on your lap or right in front of your eye line, but move off to the side and the screen becomes unwatchable or unreadable.
But let’s not get caught up with that, because the Vega really is actually pretty good and certainly great value for money.
I paid £129.97 which gets you a lot for your money. In a tablet measuring 275 x 178 x 13.6 mm (W x D x H) and weighing 750g you get: stereo speakers, MicroSD Card slot, HDMI output, front facing camera, microphone, USB port and a headphone port.
It’s encased in black plastic, but it feels comfortable to hold and solid enough that I’m sure it can survive the odd knock.
The unique selling point of the Vega is the active developer community, and before you all click away, it’s really actually quite easy to install a custom ROM on the vega.
Out of the box, the Vega runs Android 2.2 froyo which is ok, but I’m used to gingerbread, and frankly shipping froyo with a tablet is a silly business decision because it highlights how bad the operating system is and thus dosen’t allow the Vega to look and perform like it could.
If you buy a Vega you must install a different operating system on it. Developers call this installing a custom ROM, but don’t worry, this is not dangerous and it is impossible to brick your Vega. Just follow the instructions very closely and read various forums to learn what it is you’ll actually be doing. It is quite straight forward providing you have some patience and can follow instructions.
At present the best ROM to install is VegaComb which is a community built version of Google’s honeycomb (which was never open sourced) and transforms the Vega into an iPad competitor. Well ok, it doesn’t really, but what it does is highlight how quickly Android tablets are going to dominate the market once IceCreamSandwich gets released, because cheap tablets will flood the market that will actually be pretty good.
I had not used an Android tablet before (aside from a quick play in stores) and although I use an Android phone, the UI is different (thanks google!). However, it really isn’t hard to pick up and thanks to the Android Market all your previously purchased apps are available for you to download to your new device.
There really isn’t a lot of apps available for android tablets, but what I’ve found is that phone apps actually scale quite well on the Vega. On the iPad you get the choice of original 1x view or a 2x zoomed view which dosen’t always do the iPad justice. Apps on the Vega just stretch or zoom to fit the screen which can lead some odd views, but overall they seem to look ok.
I’m happy with the apps I have, I’ve basically just duplicated what I have on my phone and they all work fine.
One of the main reasons I bought the Vega was so I could plug it into my TV and watch movies that I would store on the Vega, thus the Vega would become my main media hub. Unfortunately this isn’t quite perfect on vegacomb as it leaves a 2″ black bar down the right side and along the bottom. I can live with this for now and I’m sure it will be fixed soon enough. Apart from this, the HDMI out works well mirroring the Vega in every way. When you see the Vega outputting over HDMI to a 32″ LCD it looks great but this just demonstrates how poor the screen on the Vega actually is.
The Vega is perfectly happy to stream flash videos such as iPlayer but it will also play .avi and .wmv files through the QQ Player which is free to download in the Market. Video play back is smooth.
The Vega has a 0.3MP front facing camera which is compatible with Skype and Google Talk. It’s actually ok and you will use it to make video calls if that’s your thing. I can’t imagine ever using the camera to take a still image but it works, and so would do in an emergency.
There are many keyboard apps in the Market, but the stock honeycomb keyboard works well so I don’t see the need to recommend anything else. For instance I use Swype on my phone, but I would have no need for that on the Vega. I can type comfortably onscreen and there doesn’t appear to be any lag.
Battery life on the Vega is fine for a working day but I’ve found that it doesn’t hold it’s charge more than a couple of days on standby which is disappointing. I think the perfect example of battery life is to compare it to your smartphone. The more you use it the faster the battery dies! I haven’t run any tests but I reckon you can expect to get 5 or 6 hours of screen time which is acceptable.
When holding the Vega in your hands it feels light and comfortable but also a little strange due to its 16:9 aspect ratio. However, I like this view and it sits well when rested on my lap. You can of course view it in portrait mode which is great for reading books and webpages. When compared to the iPad 2 the Vega feels better in the hand.
Real world use
I will mainly use the Vega in the house as a consumption device. I can see me surfing the web, reading email, updating twitter, or watching movies via the HDMI out, but other than those I’m not sure what else I would want to do on it. So if you’re in the market for a cheap Android tablet you could do much worse than the Advent Vega.
If you want to find out more about the Vega check out these resources: