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Nextbook Ares 11 review: Unremarkable in every category but price

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The Good The Nextbook Ares 11 comes with a detachable keyboard, and pricing starts under $200. It runs Android Lollipop 5.0 and has 64GB of internal storage with a microSD card expansion slot.

The Bad Build quality feels cheap, and performance is slow. Touchscreen accuracy and response are erratic. The display is very reflective, and maximum brightness is low.

The Bottom Line Although affordable, the Nextbook Ares 11 isn't fit to be your next workstation or tablet. You'd be better off investing in an inexpensive Chromebook.

5.7 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 5

The Nextbook Ares 11 is an unremarkable Android tablet in every category but price. It starts at $197, exclusively on sale at Wal-Mart, and it comes with its own keyboard.

Running the latest Google operating system, Lollipop 5.0, packing 64GB of internal storage, and offering a multitude of ports doesn't save the Ares 11 from its lackluster performance and rinky-dink construction.

It works fine for basic tasks like checking email, surfing the Web, and simple mobile games, as long as they're conducted one at a time. Any activity more than that and performance becomes sluggish, providing a stodgy Android experience. Easily overwhelmed, it slows down if multiple apps are open in the background and lags when switching from one app to another.

Without the keyboard, the Nextbook Ares 11 is outdated and subpar to most $200 tablets. With the keyboard, it's a better deal that provides extra functionality features for budget-conscious students and families alike. However, despite its few productivity perks and low starting price, its paltry performance and measly construction fall short for anyone looking for an adequate workstation.

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The tablet easily and solidly snaps into the keyboard's dock. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Design

The Nextbook Ares 11 dons a traditional tablet-hybrid design. Easy and straightforward, the tablet simply docks into the keyboard using the sustaining ports and the pogo connectors. When connected, the power LED light on the keyboard turns on.

The plastic-laden keyboard definitely feels cheap, but it's not uncomfortable to use. It doesn't recline very far, up to about 120 degrees, but it's enough to provide effective viewing angles. When the tablet is attached, laptop-style, the keyboard is slightly elevated, providing a more comfortable angle for typing. The touchpad is also a nice addition, giving you an alternative option to navigating using the temperamental touchscreen -- more on that later.

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A tablet-hybrid under $200 is hard to find. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Another convenient feature of the keyboard is the backlit keys. The keys themselves don't light up; however, the surrounding blue plastic that wraps around them does, illuminating them for easy typing in dark environments. The blue adds a fashionable touch to an otherwise drab design, and it provides good contrast on the keyboard.

All of the ports on the tablet are located on its left edge. From top to bottom you'll find the microSD card slot, Micro-HDMI port, MicroUSB port, AC adapter port, microphone, and headphone jack. The keyboard has two USB 2.0 ports, one on each side.

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Plenty of ports. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Similarly, all of the buttons are located on top-left corner of the tablet. On the back, you'll find the power button, volume rocker and home button. To tell them apart by feel, the power and home button are slightly concave and the volume rocker sports a pair of dimples.

Unlike many tablets, the Nextbook Ares 11 does not charge via Micro-USB; it comes with its own power cord. The good news is it charges it relatively fast -- if you're not using it at the same time.

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The buttons are located on the back. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Features

Aside from the included keyboard, the Ares 11 is a pretty simple, no-frills tablet. It runs on the latest version of Google's operating system, Android Lollipop 5.0, and it's a mostly pure version, with the exception of some unfortunate bloatware. It also ships with the full suite of Google apps to get you started.

Packing a relatively unadulterated version of Android, the Ares 11 is hampered by bloatware. The apps include Vudu, Flixster, Barnes and Noble Nook for Android, MusicMaker Jam, and, of course, Wal-Mart.

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The Ares 11 runs the latest version of Android. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

If you're new to technology, you'll benefit from the Nextbook user guide and FAQ. The user guide shows you how to set-up Wi-Fi and Google Play settings, as well as demonstrates how to conduct a factory reset. Unfortunately, you cannot uninstall these two "apps" -- they're more like shortcuts to the Nextbook website.

Hardware

The Nextbook Ares 11 houses a 1.8GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F CPU, 1GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot that's expandable up to another 64GB.

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The keyboard provides a lift for a better typing angle, as well as two extra USB ports. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

One impressive characteristic of the Ares 11 tablet-hybrid is its selection of ports. As mentioned earlier, in addition to the usual Micro-USB and microSD options, the tablet houses a Micro-HDMI port, while the keyboard packs two full-size USB 2.0 ports.

Other features include Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n.

Performance

Considering its low price point and bare-bones specs, the underwhelming performance of the Ares 11 is no surprise. However, it does have a few good things going for it.

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It's a bit on the thick and heavy side. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The extra connectivity makes the tablet more versatile than other budget tablets. Both Micro-HDMI and full-size USB ports are a rare accommodation on most tablets, let alone those priced to sell, like the Ares 11. This means you can connect your tablet to your HDTV to enjoy streaming content, or plug in your flash drive to load your latest homework assignment or vacation pictures.

I often found myself using the touchscreen, admittedly out of habit, not because it worked better than the touchpad. The touchpad responded quicker and more consistently to gestures than did the touchscreen. Taps often go unrecognized, especially if the tablet's busy running a program or two. For effective results, it's better to press the touchscreen with some pressure, rather than merely tapping it.

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The matte finish on the back almost feels like suede. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The functionality of the keyboard wasn't affected when simply writing an email or in a Google Doc, but the top row of shortcut keys often lagged in response. I particularly found the volume and brightness buttons slow to work if two or more apps are running.

Rocking a 11.6-inch IPS screen with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, the Ares 11 features a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio. I was actually impressed with the sharpness of its screen. The resolution isn't impressively high, yet HD content looked clear and crisp, and viewing angles were decently wide. Streaming video took its time loading and tended to be pixelated at first, but with a strong Internet connection it quickly smoothed out to a crisp HD experience.

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The blue plastic around the keys lights up. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

However, the muted range of colors and low brightness hold it back from being one of its better features. In very bright environments, the screen suffers from a lot of glare -- common for most -- however the brightness couldn't be cranked up enough to offset this effect.

Larger games take a very long time to load, and they tend to be plagued by choppy graphics once loaded. Simple mobile games, surfing the Web, reading, and checking emails are smooth, but if you want to do anything more than any of those activities, you'll find severe lag. In 3DMark testing, it -- unsurprisingly -- didn't come close to the best gaming tablet out there, but it also trailed behind comparable models (in size and price).

3DMark Benchmarks

3DMark Ice Storm (Unlimited)
Nvidia Shield Tablet 28104
Acer Iconia Tab 8 16831
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (10-inch) 14958
Nextbook Ares 11 13003

The Nextbook Ares 11 works well if you're working on one task at a time, with minimal apps open. It can become easily overwhelmed and may start to slow down if a few apps are open in the background. Navigation lags, and widgets can be buggy, especially when required to keep a consistent Internet connection. Switching between apps takes a few seconds.

The front and rear cameras are both 2-megapixels and they have a low-res charm to their washed-out colors and fuzzy focus, but otherwise they're pretty good at adjusting exposure in bright environments.

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Not the best, but definitely not the worst tablet camera. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Anecdotally, the tablet lasted about a day and a half with moderate-to-casual use. After testing it in the CNET Labs, the Ares 11 averaged 9 hours of playback -- a pretty standard and solid amount of time for a large tablet.

Conclusion

The performance of the Nextbook Ares 11 isn't even close to a laptop alternative, and it definitely won't replace your desktop PC. If you're interested in a laptop-like experience for a bargain-basement price, it's also worth checking out cheap Chromebooks. The Hisense Chromebook costs below $200 and offers a basic workstation experience, except the keyboard isn't detachable, and it has less internal storage.

Like a cheap flip-phone, the Nextbook Ares 11 may suit the needs of a frugal shopper in search of something to use casually and infrequently. Since it comes with a keyboard and floats below the $200 price range, there's no other comparable tablet to the Nextbook Ares 11. Paired with the keyboard, it's one of the cheapest deals you can get for a hybrid, but as a standalone tablet, it's disappointing.

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