It's a world's first coming from a company you've never heard of -- if you live outside of China, anyway. Taking Google's newly minted OS and slipping it into an affordable chassis, Ainovo's Novo 7 Basic could very well be a sleeper hit among the tech-obsessed masses. Sure, it may lack the brand equity and tidy content ecosystems that are part and parcel of Amazon and Apple's offerings, but thanks to that $99 price, users may find themselves seduced by the temptation of Ice Cream Sandwich alone. Apart from a small fraternity of devices including the Galaxy Nexus and ASUS Transformer Prime, few devices have officially played host to Android 4.0, lending this 7-inch tab a distinct advantage over the more expensive, Gingerbread-packing Kindle Fire. With a 1GHz Ingenic JZ4770 mobile applications processor based on a MIPS XBurst CPU, an 800 x 480 LED display and VGA front-facing / 2-megapixel rear cameras, this no-frills slate could blaze a bargain trail past Bezos and Co. So, does it manage to hold its own against its well-known competitors? Or will all that corner-cutting reveal this low cost tablet to be just another below-the-bar offering? Follow on past the break as we deliver the answers to these and other burning questions.
Gallery | 58 Photos

Ainovo Novo 7 Basic review


Hardware


There's no beating around this bush: you're getting what you pay for and in this case, the Novo 7 Basic's body underwhelms. That's not to say its build won't hold up to the duress of everyday use, but the constant stream of squeaks and creaks associated with light handling of the device doesn't do much to inspire confidence. Sheathed in a two-tone plastic casing, Ainovo's more premium tab somehow confusingly manages to be less aesthetically pleasing than its uniformly-designed $79 stablemate, the Paladin. Consumers looking for a palm-pleasing, ergonomically sound construction won't find much to cling to here, as the tab's smooth back gives way to hard edges and attracts more than its fair share of fingerprint filth. At 7.4 x 4.4 x 0.5 inches (187.5 x 112 x 12mm), it's nearly indistinguishable from the Fire, coming in at 0.1 inches shorter and 0.3 inches narrower. These two tabs are comparably thick, but the real tell-tale sign of separation is the slate's extra six ounces of weight. Make no mistake: this is a heavy handheld, one that obviously doesn't benefit from the use of luxe, ultralight materials.


Ainovo's kept most of the I/O busy work relegated to just one side of the Novo 7 Basic, with every available input, slot and capacitive button taking up residence on the right side. This neatly bunched array includes ports for headphone, HDMI, mini-USB and power sockets, in addition to a recessed reset button and space for a microSD card. Move along slightly to the front side panel and you'll see the usual assortment of Android soft keys (sans search), as well as volume controls that complement the physical rocker located next to the power button. Branding on the unit is refreshingly sparse and made to be as unobtrusive as possible, with a diminutive logo displayed on the upper left front face, as well as one opposite the speaker on the device's posterior. And if you were wondering about those woefully underpowered cameras, the Basic's plunked them both right where you'd expect, situating that VGA front-facer above the menu controls and the 2-megapixel rear shooter on its upper back.

A multimedia repository this tablet is most decidedly not. Armed with an ample 8GB that's further augmented by a removable 2GB microSD card, the Basic is the company's halfway point between planned 4GB and 16GB iterations. Despite occupying this middle ground, it has just enough dedicated space to harbor a sizable library of music, apps, videos and photos, though it's your perogative to store some of this stuff in the cloud. Most of what this ICS tab can do hinges upon what you, the user, bring to it -- namely, third-party apps and content. Prospective owners looking for always-on connectivity should probably up their budgets and gaze adoringly upon other high-end, network-connected slates. The only 3G option this creaky clunker'll cough up is the ability to connect to an external modem. Mercifully, it does come with support for WiFi a/b/g/n, so as long as you're close by to that home network or even a hotspot, access to the wilds of the world wide web shouldn't be an issue.


We'd love to spin some marvelous tale telling you how pristine and retina-like this display is, but, again, this is a $99 tablet we're talking about. And really, at this wallet-friendly price, you can't complain too much about the subpar 7-inch 800 x 480 LED-backlit display which, when contrasted with the Fire's excellent 1024 x 600 offering, seems like an expected trade-off. It's not like you're going to be consuming much native media on the Basic anyway, considering it's egregious lack of Android market access (which we sideloaded to no avail). So, unless you have a vast arsenal of .apks to install (ones that'll stick, anyway), prepare to dive deep into whatever dregs of quickie clips YouTube you can dredge up and be content with that. Stark loss of contrast, poor viewing angles and a glare-prone screen? Yes, these three dings conspire to make the slate's visual accessibility a less-than-palatable experience. Even indoors, under fluorescent lighting, we had a difficult time angling it just so we could discern the screen unhindered.

Performance and battery life


Alright, so we know it's not the prettiest, and certainly not the most top-shelf tablet PC you could shell out for, but the true measure of the budget Basic's worth is how its 1GHz MIPS-based Ingenic CPU and 512MB of RAM hold up day to day. Spec-wise, this ICS tab in beggar's clothing won't be turning any heads: it's mediocre, at best, with a distinct lack of dual cores. Still, in our time testing the tablet, we were surprised to encounter relatively few performance hiccups, but nothing so bothersome as to disrupt the entire user experience. Occasional stuttering transitions aside, the overall UI mostly flows uninterrupted, demonstrating a satisfying level of responsiveness. It's worth noting that the force of the device's haptic feedback does take some getting used to, seeing as it's strong (and loud) enough to register as a physical jolt in the hand.

Bound by this temperamental tab's fickle acceptance of side-loaded apps, we weren't able to draft a true benchmark tête-à-tête with other devices using the usual suspects. That said, we did have success cramming Quadrant onto it, which generated a puny score of 913 -- and this despite the fact that the test favors lower-resolution gadgets. Stack that up against the Galaxy Tab 7.0's 2,700 and you'll get a clearer picture of just how great the tech divide is here. Ainovo's tab didn't fare much better in SunSpider testing with its score of 5,691.1ms withering at the feet of the Kindle Fire's Silk-rendered browser. Again, this shoddy performance is understandable given the Basic's lowly origins.

Tablet
Battery Life
Ainovo Novo 7 Basic 8:00
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
Sony Tablet P 6:50
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 5:25
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54
Toshiba Thrive 7" 4:42

Tablets are not smartphones and, as such, they don't suffer the draining double whammy of incessant consumer use and network connectivity. True, they can be just as susceptible to a stream of push notifications, but we expect these WiFi-only, mini-computing devices to sip on their charges for two days, at the very least. Despite lacking the extra 400mAh oomph packed into the Kindle Fire, the Novo 7 Basic's 4,000mAh battery holds up with moderate to light usage well over the expanse of three days. Bear in mind, that's with WiFi enabled and one email account set to sync at 15-minute intervals. We weren't able to truly stress the longevity of the charge with data-hungry apps like Twitter due to the lack of market access, but based on our formal rundown test (video looping, brightness fixed at 65 percent), the tab should last you a full eight hours -- right in line with the company's own claims.

Software

In the event you didn't register this tidbit the first few times we mentioned it, we'll remind you once more that Ainovo's tab has been stripped of all essential Googleness -- most distressingly, Gmail account integration. How does that work out for the end user? Rather poorly, to be honest. The most enticing part of Google's mobile software is its seamless integration of GApps across all Android-based devices. But without that built-in suite of software, we're left with two productivity options: web browsing and gaming. It's this second point that the Basic really attempts to drive home, loaded up as it is with a handful of games. As you might expect, that world-famous pack of surly, slingshot birds makes an appearance here, in addition to Spider-Man HD, The Last Defender, TurboFly 3D and Wow Fish. It's a questionably dedicated purpose for this tablet to be assigned when you take into account its pitiful display, dearth of accessible content (PlayStation certification would go a long way here) and the reliance on touchscreen controls.

We don't expect anyone eyeing this tab to devote more than a few misdirected minutes slogging through its spartan offerings. It could double as your go-to eReader, what with Amazon's Kindle app pre-installed, but if that's your bag, why not just spend that extra $100 and pick up the Fire? Or better yet, just grab a cheaper Kindle Touch. As for its web surfing abilities, well, don't expect to be wowed. Full desktop pages took up to 46 seconds to load on a high-speed wireless connection, though once completed, navigation was rather brisk. Pinch-to-zoom also managed to keep pace with the rapid movements of our fingers without resorting to the dreaded white spaces and checker-boarding.

Camera

Let's be honest here, Ainovo's no Samsung, so this slate's combo of cams' tendency to underwhelm is neither disappointing nor shocking. In truth, you should overlook its optical abilities altogether. The Basic claims to capture video at 720p, but as you'll see in our sample above, that's far from the reality. What ends up playing back on screen is a jittery, muddled clip with audio that's clearly overwhelmed by environmental noise.


Photos taken with the device appear much the same, delivering cloudy images with poor contrast and a diminished level of detail. If you've gotten comfortable with the notion of available scene modes to toggle through, then look elsewhere. The only optimization you'll encounter in the settings is the option to adjust white balance. We'd like to call this 2 megapixel rear module workable, but even that is far too much of a compliment. Your phone is likely far better suited to photography than this thing.
Gallery | 23 Photos

Ainovo Novo 7 Basic sample shots




Wrap-up

Tablets. Everyone wants one, no one's quite sure what to best use them for and their typically premium pricing has kept the category from truly permeating every echelon of the consumer space. So, it would stand to reason that a sub $100 tablet running the latest code out of Mountain View would not only appeal to the most frugal-minded, but also overtake the market entirely. Unfortunately, but understandably, without the backing of billion dollar coffers and the desire to sell units at a loss, Ainovo's Novo 7 Basic just cannot compete in specs, build quality or app selection. The company may have aimed to create the one tablet to serve the lowest common tech denominator, but in the end, that promise is more appealing than the product. Yes, $99 is an irresistible prospect on paper, but for an extra Benjamin you can have dual cores, a solid (if unoriginal) chassis, dependable performance and a direct line to Amazon's retail and content hub. Really, it's a no-brainer. Unless you're keen to add the Basic to your collection of misfit gadgets, we'd strongly advise you bite the bullet and take Bezos up on his cloud-connected lure.
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Ainovo

Ainovo Novo 7 Basic

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Stock Android 4.0.1 OS
  • Handful of pre-loaded gaming content

Cons

  • Washed-out, low-res display
  • Lack of Android Market access
  • Terrible cameras, even for a tablet
Summary

Ainovo's Ice Cream Sandwich tablet lacks the true everyman appeal of Amazon's Kindle Fire. At $99, this slate is a must-have only for those with the strictest of budgets.