In the wake of Apple's breakthrough iPad tablet, dozens of obscure manufacturers have rushed to deliver low-budget alternatives running Google's Android operating system. In this race to the bottom, the Maylong M-150 (aka the Walgreens tablet) made headlines with a price tag that's less than $150 and a seemingly iPad-like design.
It's probably no surprise that the M-150 is a disappointing product; performance is sluggish, the user interface is screwy, and the screen is as ugly as it is infuriating. Still, as a case study in how to cripple a perfectly good operating system with clunky, substandard hardware, the Maylong M-150 deserves a formal CNET review.
The Maylong M-150 may look like the illegitimate offspring of an iPad and a Samsung Galaxy Tab, but this unfortunate device is a bait and switch in every possible way.
Just like the iPad, the front of the M-150 features just one button. Maybe we were naive to assume that Maylong's design homage to the iPad would trickle down to the practical function of each button, but that's not the case here. Forging its own path, the Maylong M-150 confounds users with button controls that use neither Android's nor Apple's prescribed logic. A button on the right edge works as a menu button, and the button on the front acts as the back key, leaving the home button to a small touch-screen icon in the upper-left corner of the screen.
Speaking of the screen, the clunky resistive display on the front of the M-150 is covered with a warped plastic that feels and behaves more like a gas station credit card terminal than a futuristic slate computer. If you want to get any typing done, you're best off using the included stylus. To us, though, having to use a stylus on an Android device is an automatic deal breaker.
All the icons and many of the apps for the M-150's Android 1.6 OS have been given a pointless makeover, making the whole graphical interface look like an oversize budget cell phone from the '90s. It's tragic, really, since the only thing the M-150 really has going for it is the graphic polish and interface familiarity Google brings to the table with Android.
Also on the bottom you'll find some speakers, a headphone jack, and a power adapter socket that works with the included wall wart. And don't lose it; you'll be recharging every few hours, even with just some light Web browsing.
For the asking price, we can't fault Maylong for not including many extras on the M-150. There's no Bluetooth, no support for cellular data, and Wi-Fi is limited to 802.11 b/g. Admittedly, we're a little confused by the extras it does provide, such as adapters for Ethernet connections and two USB host ports for external keyboards or USB thumbdrive content.
What kills us, though, are all the features that should work, but don't. For example, there's the dock connection that does everything except allow you to sync the M-150 to your computer. Not that it would matter much, since Maylong only blesses the tablet with 256MB of storage, assuming you'll provide the rest via microSD. When we tried loading a microSD card, it became lodged in the slot and required a razor blade to jimmy it back out (subsequent attempts eventually engaged the slot's spring mechanism).
The included software didn't fare much better. Android's browser and Web apps behaved as expected, but were virtually unusable because of the cheap screen's poor keyboard accuracy. The music, video, and YouTube apps were all custom, and ugly as sin. On a positive note, the Maylong M-150 includes an integrated app market. Unfortunately, it's not Google's official Android Market, and it's stocked with free apps no one would want.
We could write a book about all the little nitpicking details that make the Maylong M-150 a poor performer for real-world use, but most of the details are predictable. The screen is awful, the construction quality is shoddy, the battery life is tragically brief, and audio and video quality barely cut it.
But it's the unforgivable surprises that really push our rating of the Maylong M-150 to new lows. For example, booting up the tablet takes an excruciating 55 seconds, during which time an animated robot needlessly prances across the screen. By the time the M-150 is ready, you've likely forgotten the reason you booted it up.
Under most circumstances, we don't put much weight behind a tablet's cold boot time, because users typically put these devices in sleep mode, where they can run for days and still maintain a charge. The M-150, however, is no such device. Out of the box, the M-150's default settings peg the screen brightness at full blast, putting a big strain on the battery. Dialing the brightness setting back will help you get closer to the estimated 6 hours of battery life, but the screen's contrast and visibility are only average, even under the best conditions.
Regardless, the Maylong M-150 seemed to require a recharge every 4 hours or so--which meant a lot of animated dancing android boot-up screens. We'll update this review with our official CNET Labs test results once they're available.
Google's Android operating system is a fantastic piece of software that is generously provided to manufacturers as an open-source platform. In theory, an Android device is hard to screw up. Google has already done all the really hard, expensive, tedious work of software development and user interface design; all manufacturers need to do is show up with supporting hardware. Everybody wins: manufacturers cut out the cost of software development, Google gets to spread its influence, and consumers get the reliability and consistency of Android. It's a beautiful system, in theory.
The Maylong M-150 (and dozens of similar budget Android tablets) goes out of its way to spoil the Android party. All of Google's polished work can be undone by cheap components and sloppy software tinkering, leaving the end user with a poor perception of Android and the burn of buyer's remorse.
Ultimately, with Android tablets or any other mobile device, you really do get what you pay for.