I didn’t really wait for a week before updating the firmware and changing roms for the Ainol Novo Venus 7 / Cherry Mobile Bolt. I’ve been doing it a lot during the week: rebooting, installing, testing, and it’s left me quite tired and frustrated in a lot of ways. That’s one of the drawbacks of having too many customizations: you can’t immediately get the fastest build for your hardware by default.
It wasn’t as easy as the guide because I encountered a problem with Windows not recognizing the drive for the Venus 7. I ended up uninstalling the drive and then re-installing it but I’m not quite sure how it got fixed exactly. I had to do it a couple of times but after the first try, re-doing the firmware update again (which I did later on to modify the default internal storage) was easier. Didn’t encounter any more problems.Experience I didn’t stay on the official firmware upgrade because it still felt too slow for me. I also wanted the 7″ resolution since the default one is giving me an aspect ratio that seems better fitted for 10″ tablets. Since all the rom customizations I did afterward required the 4.2 firmware update, this was a necessary step so I didn’t feel like I wasted my time. :P
Custom Rom: Venom for Venus 7
Links and GuideExperience The loading screen was ugly, which was a turn-off for me. However, it had the more suitable aspect ration/screen size, which was what I was really looking for. Noticed it seemed to be a port of CyanogenMod, so I looked for the CM build. This was also very buggy and the device reboots too often so yeah, definitely not good.
Links and GuideExperience I started with CM 110.2 because it was on the latest Android (and someone posted on the forum that it was smoother/fastest). It was smoother than the official firmware upgrade (4.2) but it ended up slowing my tablet down eventually for some reason. The battery life was better than the Venom version though, and had less bugs. There’s also a rotation bug (reboots when rotating automatically) so I decided to try CM 10.1 instead.
Custom Rom: CM 10.1 (Android 4.2) for Venus 7
Links and GuideExperience This is currently what’s running on my Venus 7/Bolt for now and so far I haven’t really encountered any bugs. But I think I’ll be settling down with this because it’s the most stable one so far that’s faster than the official firmware upgrades. Whatever lag or problems I have is, I think, already due to the low specs of the device than anything.
It was a tablet that cost me less than 5k, so I wanted to learn the most out of it. In a way I did, I suppose, but it feels like it also cost me too much time. I get stressed so easily that it probably isn’t worth it in the long run (to always be customizing, upgrading, re-installing). I’ve decided to get a second generation Nexus 7 maybe by the end of the year for a full-time Android tablet and retire this one for testing apps that clients will be porting on cheap China brands for more realistic use cases.
It was pay-day last week (MONEY!!!!!) so I bought myself a mid-to-low range tablet (not that much money!!!): a Cherry Mobile Bolt (rebranded from Ainol Novo 7). I was thinking if I should get the 2nd generation Nexus 7, but I’m actually waiting for the new iPad Mini to be my main tablet so I decided to get a cheap one I can root and play with. I saw some reviews online, and the CM Bolt seemed to fit my budget for a test device (below 5k, specs not so bad, and the OS is barely skinned/themed). I already have the larger iPad, which was why I got the 7-inch one.
As a designer for various platforms (with Android projects coming in as well), it felt important to have more experience with other OS and not just iOS (though hey, I’m not complaining). I’ve recently switched back to the iPhone after a few months with the Windows Phone 8 (the novelty of ‘something different’ wore off, and with iOS 7, its good to be back), and now its time to try Android more regularly.
Charlie was with me when I bought it and he was really skeptical. I don’t blame him. We’re both on iOS devices (he had an HTC once, which slowed down a bit too soon) so we’re kind-of spoiled by speed, smoothness, design (hello iOS7!!!!) and general user experience goodness of the OS.
But I really needed to interact more with Android stuff for work.
Cherry Mobile isn’t exactly there when it comes to visual design and branding (at the very least they have a simpler logo than MyPhone!) so once you get past the default, ugly, pixelized wallpapers, it starts looking acceptable:
I used it all day on Sunday and at first it was quite buggy. I wasn’t so sure if it was broken, or if it was a prime example of low-end tech. The keyboard would double-press keys, and sometimes touch would do the same (touch huge areas on the screen even when I’m not actually pressing on the other areas). I did a factory reset twice, and somehow it stopped being weird on a normal basis (it still happens but only when I try to multitask between apps, or send a number of attachments over email). So I’m just going to assume its not because its broken, but maybe because the specs are quite low. I notice this happened more often when quite a few apps that need internet connection are all on (messaging, fb, tw, email, etc).
The way the resolution renders apps and sites is a bit annoying because even if the tablet is a smaller size, it shows a desktop view (or 10-inch tablet size) so most things are too small to be comfy. Had to go to Accessibility options and change the overall font size Large to make it readable.
It heats up a bit too fast and the wifi range is pretty weak (the wifi nearly ends at the edge of my bed at home, which is maybe 10 meters away from the router, hahaha), but IS only PhP 4.5k (from Cherry Mobile in Robinons Galleria even if other bloggers have gotten it for just 4k)!!!! I’m more surprised it works this well given the price point.
Since I have an iPad 3, I compared the experience of having a larger tablet, and for me pocket-size is easier to use. It feels easier and more natural to bring around for reading, browsing, reading emails, social networks, and the like. Landscape typing is harder on the smaller tablet though — it feels like I’m meant to type with my thumbs on it, the same way that thumb-typing feels awkward when holding up a big and heavy iPad. Being a cheaper tablet though, typing isn’t very smooth on the Bolt so autocorrect always saves the day :P
Android Tablet App Market
I downloaded and re-downloaded a bunch of apps and the first thing I noticed is the lack of tablet-optimized apps in the Play Store. Even Path seemed to be for the phone-only. It’s been a while since more Android tablets have come up though. Maybe Google needs to be a bit more aggressive with encouraging Android app teams. One of my main objectives in getting this Android tablet was to study the UI design, and very few stand out. I even ended up spoiling myself over Downton Abbey in my search for good tablet apps (because I haven’t watched the Christmas special and CLIFFHANGER spoiled it for me when I wondered if Season 4 was on).
My only complaint at this point: the Amazon Kindle app keeps crashing when I load it so I can’t load my Amazon e-books. Uploaded some books to Google Play (Books) instead (which weirdly enough you can only do online and not via the app) and it was pretty alright (page-turning smooth enough, given the specs. I’d want better reading fonts though, but it’s not so bad). I also started trying out Google+ again, but I need to figure out a way to cross-post the status messages to Facebook or else I’m talking to a mostly silent audience. The App market is definitely better than Windows though so, hahahaha. Given that Android’s tablet apps already felt lacking, I can imagine how populated the Windows tablet app market is.
I’ll share my list of apps in a future post.
I’ll be on Day 3 of testing the Bolt today (in which at the end of the week, if I don’t need to get the unit replaced, I’ll update the firmware). I left my iPad at work yesterday so I’ll be forced to rely on the Android tablet and aside from the annoying keyboard lag and touch inconsistencies, its pretty OK (I’m writing the draft for this post on the Android as we speak). I even managed to do some responsive web design work (!!!) via Adobe Edge Inspect. It was not as smooth as Safari/iOS (but that’s Android browsers for you).
Here’s a recap of the pro’s and con’s
cheap (PhP 4.5k is cheap enough)
not much skin/bloatware
I can update the firmware to speed it up
I can root it and play with it and if it gets broken, I’d only have lost PhP 4.5k
7″ is a good size
heats up quickly
battery lasts maybe 4-5 hours in full-use
wifi range is weak
no bluetooth (I didn’t really initially think I’d want it, LOL)
heavy for the size, but not for its price
Set expectations to a low/mid-range Android device and the lag/slowness will be ‘OK’.
I have a lot to say about the Android user experience compared to iOS, but nothing other people haven’t already noticed and proven. Will write more in the next few days!