Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei — that’s wah-way to the uninitiated — has recently expanded into consumer electronics. On Wednesday, the company’s SA office unveiled its first foray into the tablet market, launching the 7-inch Ideos S7 Slim to local consumers.
The S7 is the first of a series of tablets from Huawei, and the company is clearly pitching it as a budget option. Bearing this in mind, it’s not surprising the 7-inch screen has a resolution of only 480×800 — a resolution now found on many high-end smartphones.
Despite having a noticeably lower pixel density than many of its rivals, the S7 nevertheless offers a capable display, and its 16:9 aspect ratio is great for media. Its capacitive-touch screen isn’t the most sensitive on the market, but it’s sufficient. If anything, the only serious letdown from the screen is its dull colour rendition.
Weighing in at less than 500g and a mere 12,5mm thick, the S7 is both compact and portable, and even though its rear casing consists almost entirely of plastic, it still feels like it could withstand a fair amount of abuse.
The S7 runs Android 2.2 Froyo and comes packed with a number of applications from the Android market out of the box. Compared to many of its competitors, the S7 is light on processing power with only a 768MHz Snapdragon processor and only 256MB of RAM, yet it’s responsive, applications load quickly, and it handles multitasking without a problem.
Huawei’s user interface is sufficiently intuitive, with five dedicated page categories, with two pages each, arranged along the bottom of the home screen (home, Web, entertainment, communications, favourites) and a dedicated applications button. The only problem is that the home screens can only be viewed in landscape orientation.
The top right of the screen is dedicated to single-touch controls for Wi-Fi, brightness, network settings, battery status and access to an information page that contains dedicated connectivity controls, notifications, and a list of the devices active tasks.
The front of the device has three capacitive buttons on the right-hand bezel: home, options and back. Its only other buttons are a volume rocker on the right-hand edge of the device and a power/lock button on the top-right. The left-hand bezel includes a 2-megapixel front-facing camera (which is identical to the flashless rear camera and supports geo-tagging) and a light sensor for setting brightness automatically.
A look around the edges of the S7 reveals a couple of pleasant surprises, and one staggeringly disappointing one. The S7 offers a microSD slot on its bottom edge, which means microSD cards can be changed without having to remove the rear cover. Also, considering the S7 only includes 4GB of internal storage, the ability to expand that via microSD is a sound decision.
Another pleasing find is the fact that the S7 offers stereo sound by means of speakers on both the left- and right-hand edges of the device. Like many of its contemporaries, the S7 also offers micro USB and mini HDMI ports and a 3,5mm headphone jack.
A terribly disappointing aspect is the fact that there’s a power port on the top-left edge of the S7. Despite having a micro USB port for data transfer, the S7 cannot be charged via micro USB, which means having to carry around the dedicated multi-function USB cable Huawei packages with the device.
Though other manufacturers (with the exception of Apple) have realised the stupidity of forcing consumers to use proprietary cables for charging or connectivity, this is evidently a lesson Huawei has yet to learn. It’s an incredibly bad design decision that mars an otherwise extremely capable device.
With support for Wi-Fi and 3G, the S7 covers all of the usual connectivity options, and adds another unique one. Not only does the S7 accept a Sim card for 3G purposes, but it offers full telephony services too. The S7 is really just a 7-inch Android phone.
Unfortunately, although the S7 is clearly aimed at media consumption, its support for video formats is limited to H.264 and Mpeg4 (720p). It scores marginally better on the music front with support for MP3, AAC, PCM and AMR audio files, but the lack of sizeable internal memory means media fiends will need to invest in a decent-sized microSD card.
Huawei were thoughtful enough to include a number of sample videos on the device, including the astoundingly Americanised and sickeningly saccharine music video for “Shy Guy”, the hit single from Korean girl-group Secret. The video is a good analogy for the S7 itself. They’re both clearly influenced by what others are doing, they’re both inoffensive and designed to have mass appeal, and they’re both somewhat forgettable.
The S7 is priced around US$300 in Asia, but is expected to cost between R3 200 and R3 600 in SA. Frankly, that seems a little too expensive. Sure, it’s half the price of a top of the range iPad, but it’s only R1 000 less than an entry-level one, and for many consumers that’s going to be a problem.
Of course, like its 7-inch brethren, the S7 shouldn’t be compared to an iPad; it should be compared to the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or HTC’s Flyer. Compared to them, the S7 is a surprisingly capable tablet, albeit it with a less impressive screen, less internal storage capacity, and the need for a dedicated power cable. However, even compared to other tablets of its size, the S7 is just too expensive for what it is.
Ideos S7 Slim official video (via YouTube):
Regardless of its shortcomings, the Huawei S7 is a good sign of things to come. Huawei hasn’t simply mimicked other manufacturers’ offerings, but it hasn’t found the right differentiators yet either.
The S7 demonstrates that Huawei is serious about making an impact on the consumer electronics market, and if future products (like the soon-to-be released MediaPad) address the failings of this one it should mean both increased choice for consumers and increased competition for manufacturers.
Would we recommend it? In a word, no. Are we excited about Huawei’s future tablet products? You betcha. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral