It's no secret that the market for Android tablets is crowded – and getting more so every day. Just ask Samsung, Acer, HTC, Huawei, Lenovo, Pandigital and, oh yes, Verticool. We could keep going, but you get the point: it's a big market out there, one with wildly varying prices and features. And just recently a little company called Amazon made its move in a big way with the Kindle Fire, an Android-powered $199 portal to its corner of the cloud. The world's largest online retailer clearly thinks competing on price is a way to stand out from the pack. Velocity Micro, maker of the 8-inch Cruz T408, wholeheartedly agrees. It's coming to market with a $199 slate, hoping to capture some attention of its own. Can it succeed? Read on to find out.

Velocity Micro Cruz T408 review

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Velocity Micro

Velocity Micro Cruz T408

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Speedy for everyday tasks
  • Solid build quality

Cons

  • Runs Gingerbread
  • No Android Market access
  • No rear-facing camera
Summary

Velocity Micro's 8-inch Cruz T408 tablet is inexpensive and solidly built, but for $199 you should expect some serious compromises -- namely, no Honeycomb or Android Market access.


Hardware


Inside the box you'll find a handy mini-USB cable (though if you're like us, you have dozens of these laying around), a power cord and a short user guide. And then there's the actual tablet, measuring 8.5 x 6.5 inches, with a depth of just under half an inch. The touchscreen runs at 800 x 600, and feels exactly like what it is: plastic. If you're used to gliding your fingers over glass, the extra friction takes a little getting used to, but it feels solid to the touch, and the display doesn't warp or blemish. The case feels equally rigid, thanks to an aluminum chassis inside. The front is a glossy black that predictably highlights fingerprints, while the back has a matte, quasi-rubberized finish. On the whole, the T408 has the solid feel of a more premium tablet, not a cheap plastic thing that could go flying from your hands at any moment. The microSD, mini-USB and headphone connectors run along the top, while the power button and volume rockers are on the upper-right corner, adjacent to the front-facing VGA camera.

The front-facing camera looks about as good as you'd expect for VGA. It's grainy and often underexposed, but adequate for Skype as long as you're in a well-lit room and don't need to convey complex emotions via facial expressions. That said, we'd be likely to turn off video during chats. As with many inexpensive Android tablets (such as the $299, 8-inch Archos G9), the T408 forgoes a rear-facing camera. If Velocity Micro's looking to further bring down the price, we'd suggest ditching the front one as well.

Performance and battery life


Under the hood lies a 1GHz Cortex A8 made by Samsung, alongside 512MB of RAM and 4GB of built-in storage. That's speedy enough to run the included copy of Angry Birds, and helped us surf the web fluidly. Flash-intensive sites posed no threat, partly thanks to a hardware-optimized, licensed version of Adobe's ubiquitous software. Even video streaming was generally smooth, though we did encounter occasional skips and slowdowns. Local videos played fine, including a 720 x 478 H264 file. MP3 playback was equally acceptable, though after three tracks of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two played through the small, predictably tinny speaker on the T408's back, we switched over to headphones.

Benchmark
Cruz T408
Acer Iconia Tab A100
Quadrant 1,281 Would not run
Linpack 17.35 MFLOPS (single thread) / 14.80 MFLOPS (multi-thread) 28.38 MFLOPS (single thread) / 55.36 MFLOPS (multi-thread)
Nenamark 1 35.7 fps 57 fps
Nenamark 2 Would not run 24.5 fps
Vellamo 509.5 1,057
Neocore 64.0 fps Not tested

Casual, on-and-off usage gave us about two days of battery life. With more rigorous testing (WiFi on, video looping, and screen brightness set to 50 percent) we got five hours and 10 minutes before shutdown. That's two hours less than we got with the $300 version of the Archos 80 G9, another 8-incher. Turning off wireless connectivity -- as you might if,say, trapped on a WiFi-unfriendly flight -- didn't greatly improve things: we still managed just over five hours.

Tablet
Battery Life
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Apple iPad 2 10:26
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Archos 80 G9 7:06
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54


Software


Given the stiff competition and similar hardware among lower-end Android tablets, software seems a likely place for differentiation. We've seen that with smartphones (for better and worse) running MotoBlur and the Sense UI, and that Kindle Fire sports a significantly revamped interface. The Cruz T408 sticks to the stock Gingerbread look, which might feel comfortably familiar. Unfortunately, it just doesn't have the polish of Honeycomb, and next to similarly inexpensive models such as the Acer Iconia Tab A100 ($330) the 8GB Archos 80 G9 ($300) featuring Google's tablet-optimized OS, this feels like a bit of a letdown. Worse, the T408 includes no Google apps. That means no Gmail, no Maps and no officially sanctioned Android Market. That's a big sacrifice if your address ends in gmail.com; returning to Gingerbread's default mail client makes for a jarring step backward in functionality. (Maps isn't as big a loss, given the tablet's lack of GPS.)

The missing Android Market is a bigger problem for which the T408 compensates with GetJar and the Amazon Appstore. For many users this may work, but it can be limiting. Netflix, for example, is available only through the Android Market -- installing it here required sideloading from another device. You're going to be disappointed the first time you have to scrounge up an APK in order to install an app. And the second, and the third...

Wrap-up


It's pretty obvious who the Cruz T408 is aimed at: people who just want a tablet -- any tablet -- and don't mind settling on Gingerbread so long as the device is dirt-cheap. Problem is, without Gmail or even Android Market, even these folks are likely to be disappointed. While GetJar and the Amazon Appstore offer viable alternatives, it takes only one or two missing-in-action apps to create a frustrating experience. And why should you subject yourself to that, when the Archos 80 G9, another 8-inch tablet, runs Android Honeycomb 3.2, Android Market and all, and costs just $100 more? And let's not even get started on the Kindle Fire, which will hit the same price point as the Cruz T408 when it ships later this fall. Sure, maybe you favor Gingerbread over the customized Amazonian UI, or absolutely need a Skype-acceptable camera or must have a microSD slot. But absent other reasons, simple bargain-hunting is becoming a weaker and weaker excuse to settle for something this forgettable.

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