A terrible thing happened in the middle of our Telstra T-Touch Tab review: Samsung delivered the Galaxy Tab and we finally had something to compare Telstra's budget model tablet next to. Needless to say, the T-Touch didn't fare well.
Without wanting to sound too childish, the T-Touch Tab is U.G.L.Y. (it ain't got no alibi). Though perfectly functional, the placement of the fixtures and the choice of finishes shouldn't have Apple's prized designers losing any sleep. On the back of the T-Touch is a stainless steel slab covering the battery, a 2-megapixel camera and a handy kick-stand. Around the edges you'll find a range of ports, including a proprietary pin socket for the non-standard charger, a separate micro-USB port for data transfers, plus a thin docking port (which is apparently for peripherals that may not actually exist at this time).
At 500 grams, the T-Touch is between the heft of Samsung's 380-gram Galaxy Tab and the slightly cumbersome 780-gram Apple iPad. Its 7-inch screen provides good real estate, even though it isn't as wide as Samsung's similar-sized tablet display. But it's not the size we're concerned with, it's the lousy picture this screen displays; in fact, the poor quality of this screen is one of the major deal-breakers for us. On paper this screen appears well-specced: its the right size, it has a WVGA resolution, but in reality this is a dismal touchscreen. The colours in the image are dull and lacks charm, even on maximum brightness it still looks washed out.
Manufacturer Huawei has opted for resistive touch technology for this tablet. Mind you, it's not the "nearly as good as capacitive" kind, but rather the kind you have to press firmly to have the software respond — the kind that is likely to give you friction burns when you swipe from screen to screen. There is a stylus sheathed into the back of the phone, but honestly, who wants to use a stylus these days?
For AU$299, the T-Touch is a well featured device. It runs on Android 2.1, and though it's unlikely to receive a Froyo update, it does a decent job of keeping the user engaged with decent performance in the menus and apps. It sports a full suite of connectivity hardware, including the ubiquitous trio of HSDPA, Wi-Fi and A-GPS. It also has Bluetooth for connecting a wireless headset and allowing you to use the T-Touch as a phone.
The user interface is a custom-designed experience, featuring an obvious mixture of Huawei and Telstra. You have access to Telstra's range of BigPond content, and while this typically has phone-lovers rolling their eyes, we do have to say that the Foxtel experience is pretty great. The user interface is split into five pre-named home screens, plus the standard Android app drawer. There is a handful of custom widgets, but nothing to write home about.
The rest of this tablet is mostly standard Android, including the multimedia experience. Media lovers will make use of the MP3 player and video player supporting MP4 and H.264. Telstra includes a 2GB microSD card with the T-Touch, and while this will be sufficient for the majority of punters, serious music lovers will need to fork out extra for a larger memory card.
What's really surprising about the T-Touch Tab is that under the less-than-sexy exterior runs a pretty powerful computer. Driving this bus is a 768MHz Snapdragon processor with 256MB RAM, so if you do manage to master the resistive touchscreen the rest of the T-Touch should keep up with you just fine. We've tested some of the most popular Android apps on this tablet, including Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, and we've seen no serious issues with performance.
The browser is also as good as we've come to expect from the Android OS, and the T-Touch Tab supports dual-screen display in apps that have been developed with the larger screen real estate in mind. One example is the customised notifications panel on the T-Touch, which is halved between your standard systems messages and a very handy task manager for killing resource hungry tools that have bottle-necked your memory.
Battery life is yet another major drawback for the T-Touch Tab. Our standard smartphone tests incorporate between 90-120 minutes of web browsing, plus push email and the standard calls and messages, but in testing the T-Touch Tab we went without the calling aspect and opted to up our multimedia consumption, adding a 30-minute TV show episode. This combination was enough to drain the battery on each attempt, which needed to be charged twice a day with this sort of use. If the battery were to deteriorate over time, as Lithium-ion batteries tend to do, you could find yourself wired to the power supply to get decent use out of this tablet.
The great disclaimer we could apply before each of our criticisms is: "it's just $300". It's true that you can buy this tablet subsidised through Telstra for a third of the cost of an iPad or Galaxy Tab, but comparisons aside, is this AU$300 well spent?
To achieve a budget price tag for a 7-inch Android tablet, corners are going to be cut, but when these cut corners are in fact the cornerstones of the user experience — the touchscreen input and the battery life of the device — you have to ask yourself if this is a device you are going to get a lot of use out of.
It's one thing to save AU$600-AU$700 buying a cheap tablet, but it's still a waste of money if you grow tired of struggling with the clunky input and decide not to use it after a couple of weeks.