The Orange Tahiti is a small slate that will appeal to those who find bigger tablets such as the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 too large to wield comfortably. The 7-inch Tahiti looks like a gigantic smart phone. While it won't fit in a pocket, it will squeeze into all but the dinkiest of bags.
If you're mad keen to get an Android tablet but aren't so fond of the idea of taking a £400-odd hit on your bank balance, Orange has cooked up a plan to tempt you with its own-brand Tahiti tablet, which is made by Huawei. Although it costs £300, you can get your hands on one for no up-front cost. Of course, there's a long-term catch because you'll be tied into a two-year contract at £25 per month. So the full toll is £600 -- a sizeable whack of cash indeed.
Orange is also offering the Tahiti bundled for no upfront cost with a smart phone on two-year contracts costing £41 per month -- with a choice of either the Orange San Francisco 2, the HTC Wildfire S or the Nokia C3 Touch and Type.
The total tariff in this instance works out at £984 -- which isn't terrible, considering you get two devices, but it's still not cheap. Worse, both devices have to share a 2GB monthly data limit. Since you're not going to be making GSM calls on your tablet, it isn't exactly generous, so don't expect to be able to stream hours of iPlayer over 3G every day.
You can, of course, use Wi-Fi to get your connectivity fix -- and Orange throws in 10GB-worth of Wi-Fi from BT Openzone hotspots to your monthly toll -- but if you're resorting to Wi-Fi, why tie yourself into a 3G contract in the first place? Buying a Wi-Fi-only slate is cheaper in the long run and you can always tether it to your smart phone (assuming your handset supports wireless hotspot functionality), so consider the options before signing on the line.
The look and feel of the Tahiti is very similar to 2011's HTC Flyer. Both have quite chunky metal cases that doubtless add to their weight. The Tahiti tips the scales at 390g, considerably less than the Flyer. It's also lighter than the BlackBerry PlayBook and the Kindle Fire but still feels weighty in the hand -- you'll certainly be aware when it's in your bag, even though it's only about the size of a slender paperback.
There's not much about the Tahiti's design to excite the eye. It looks like a metallic digital photo frame. The metal is quite slippery to the touch but there are two rubberised plastic triangles on the back -- one at each end -- to give you something to grip.
The Tahiti feels sturdy, thanks to a relatively chunky form (10.5mm thick) and metal case. However, the screen has some flex to it when pressed -- if you push down hard enough, you get an oily-looking patch appearing on the surface of the screen, presumably as the glass comes into contact with the LCD. It's also possible to see a grid of dots across the display -- especially when viewing the tablet in sunlight -- which is a characteristic typical of cheaper screens.
The Tahiti's two physical buttons -- a power key and a volume rocker -- are made of the same metal as the case and are solid and responsive. The only flimsy-feeling part of the tablet is the plastic bumper that can be prised up with a fingernail to get to the SIM tray.
Ports wise, you get a micro-USB port, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a proprietary charger port. There's also a microSD card slot underneath the plastic bumper, next to the SIM slot, which lets you expand storage by up to 32GB (built-in storage is 8GB). There are two speakers on one of the sides, a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a front-facing camera for video calls.
The rear camera protrudes slightly from the curved back of the tablet so it looks slightly vulnerable to getting knocked about. However, the plastic bumper it sits on has been raised up slightly around its edges to provide a very shallow protective lip.
The tablet runs Android 3.2 -- aka Honeycomb -- a niche slice of Android, which Google tweaked specifically for tablets that previously had to make do with Gingerbread. You get five home screens to fill with your favourite apps and widgets, and if you long-press on the home screen, the tablet snaps into a split view that shows thumbnails of all five screens so you can easily navigate to the one you want.
While Honeycomb is a big improvement over Gingerbread running on a tablet, which really was an awful experience as it was never designed to run on slates, it's not as fully featured as Ice Cream Sandwich (the latest version of Android that runs across both phones and tablets and knits the OS back together again).
On the surface, Honeycomb looks much like ICS, with the same 3D flourishes on home screen transitions, and a Recent Apps menu that stacks up thumbnails of recently opened apps so you can close or switch between them. But there are differences -- such as tweaks to the settings menu, and the Face Unlock party trick you get with ICS that you don't on Honeycomb. You also won't be able to download Chrome for Android, which only works with ICS.
Apps are a weak point for Android tablets generally -- with relatively thin pickings when it comes to dedicated tablet apps that really make the most of larger screens. Apple likes to boast about the 200,000+ dedicated iPad apps that can be downloaded from its iTunes App Store. Android tablet users don't have anywhere near that number to choose from.
There are a fair few games that work well on this small slate format though -- including the ubiquitous Angry Birds, and the Pictionary-style social drawing game Draw Something. There's also a BBC iPlayer app for which you'll need to download Adobe Flash Player from Google's Play Store. You won't want to watch a full-length film on the Tahiti's 7-inch screen unless you don't have any other option, but it's fine for catching up on a TV show.
If you want to side-load media onto the tablet, you're better off using the microSD card route than getting to grips with Huawei's device management software -- which is fiddly and non-intuitive.
Under the Tahiti's metallic hood is a 1.2GHz dual-core chip. I found menus generally fast and responsive and lightweight apps loaded quickly. The Tahiti's camera software is notably sluggish though -- with a distinct lag between pressing the shutter and the tablet snapping the picture.
In benchmark tests, the Tahiti scored 5,346 on the AnTuTu benchmark, just pipping the Amazon Kindle Fire's performance but lagging behind the Samsung Galaxy Note. On Vellamo's benchmark, the Tahiti scored a respectable 966 -- putting it in the ballpark of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Acer Iconia Tab. However, Quadrant's benchmark score for the Tahiti was 1,854 -- considerably less than the Samsung Galaxy Tab's score of 2,250+.
Using GLBenchmark 2.1.2, and running its Egypt standard test, the Tahiti ran at a rate of 22 frames per second. On the Egypt high test, it achieved a mere 9fps, so while lots of games will run okay on the Tahiti, more graphically intense ones won't be butter-smooth. For some context, Apple's new iPad ran GLBenchmark's standard Egypt test at 59fps.
I did encounter issues with app stability. Apps that crashed and had to be force-closed during my tests included the browser, Facebook, Twitter and Google's Play Store.
Scrolling and zooming in and out of websites via pinch-to-zoom is stuttery. The Gmail app also has an unsightly glitch that ghosts text as you type if you're using the Huawei IME keyboard. Switching to the English Android keyboard solves this nausea-inducing bug.
Battery performance is average to poor. Orange says you'll get "6 hours' working time" but that doesn't mean 6 hours of very heavy use. Running graphically intense apps such as 3D games quickly drains your juice. In my experience, 3 hours of active use (with Wi-Fi switched on and screen at full brightness), doing a mix of web browsing, video playing and using a number of apps, drained two-thirds of the battery.
Watching 1 minute 30 seconds of video on iPlayer over Wi-Fi with the screen on full brightness drained the battery 1 per cent -- so that 50-minute TV episode you want to watch could well gobble half your battery unless you dial down the screen and are studious about closing apps. Ergo, heavy users who want to watch loads of video and play high-end games shouldn't expect to be playing all day.
The LCD screen is reasonably bright and colourful indoors. But introduce the slate to a spot of sunshine and you'll soon be squinting through reflections. The screen sits noticeably below the surface of the glass. While the touchscreen itself is fairly responsive, this gap between glass surface and screen surface has the effect of making what's on screen look a tad dull and lacklustre.
Resolution is 1,280x800 pixels, which equates to 216 pixels per inch -- so not a terribly low resolution but nothing to ring the awesome bell about either. For comparison, the Sony Xperia S smart phone's HD 4.3-inch screen has a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels -- giving it an eye-searingly sharp pixel density of 342ppi.
The Tahiti's screen is definitely one of the areas where Orange has shaved some cash off build costs -- as previously mentioned, there's an unsightly degree of flex, especially near the middle, that creates oily-looking patches on screen.
The Tahiti's camera is terrible -- not a great surprise, since even the iPad 2 has an awful camera. The only silver lining is that at least you won't need an app such as Instagram to make your photos appear as if they were snapped in the 1960s. The lens is so poor it adds all the fuzziness, grain and haloing you need without having to resort to trendy software filters.
Colours snapped by the Tahiti's lens are anything but tropical -- tending to be duller and more washed-out than real life, or surreal and distorted as if bathed in holy light.
There is a noticeable lag -- of more than a second -- when you push the shutter before the photo gets snapped. There's no dedicated camera button either.
The front-facing camera is a useful addition if you're mad keen on video calling or need a make-up mirror on the train. But with less than a megapixel to its name, it won't do your face any favours.
Shooting video on the Tahiti is inadvisable -- unless you're trying to achieve an apocalyptic look. Footage suffers from all the same defects as photos snapped with the rear camera, with exceptionally poor levels of detail. Colours bleed into one another and give off glowing halos as if everything you're shooting is radioactive. Variable light levels also cause no end of bother for the lens, which oscillates between over and under-exposing what you're showing it.
Sound quality is truly abysmal -- with all the audio sounding as if it's been recorded from the bottom of a particularly murky pond.
If you're not fussy about having the latest and greatest mobile devices -- and are more of a 'quantity over quality' type person, or perhaps have multiple family members needing devices -- Orange's Tahiti-plus-phone bundle deals might appeal. But the choice of free phones is very limited and the monthly data ration for both devices isn't generous.
The Tahiti itself has uninspiring battery life, a cheap screen and doesn't even run the latest version of Android -- further limiting the number of apps that are available for it. Decent Android tablet apps are few and far between at the best of times -- so if you want a really polished tablet experience then it's an iPad, not an Android slate you need.
When you factor in the cost of the mobile contract, the Tahiti isn't cheap. Ultimately, it has very limited appeal. If you want a tablet to use when out and about but already have a smart phone with wireless hotspot functionality, your money would be better spent buying a Wi-Fi-only slate. Sure, you may have to save up first, but the overall cost will be lower, and you can choose a better tablet while you're at it.