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Pandigital SuperNova review: Pandigital SuperNova

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MSRP: $199.95

The Good The Pandigital SuperNova tablet is light, smooth, and comfortable to hold. It includes a Micro-HDMI slot and two cameras.

The Bad The tablet's screen is dim and low-resolution with narrow viewing angles. There's no native access to the Android Market and the build quality feels plasticky and toylike.

The Bottom Line Though priced to compete, the Pandigital SuperNova lacks the performance and features to seal the deal.

5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the SuperNova has been adjusted down from 5.3 to 5.

With the Kindle Fire's $200 debut upon us, it's a good time to take stock of the tablet market and ask some questions. Is $200 a low-enough price to turn what might be an unappealing tablet into a product that would sell enough to turn a profit?

My answer is no. What's more important than price is value. Specifically, what do you get for that $200? Which brings us to the Pandigital SuperNova, a $200 tablet with a low-resolution screen, running a non-Google certified version of Android 2.3 that...well, I think you can see where this is going, but keep reading to confirm your suspicions.

Design
If you're getting a $200 tablet you're hoping, at the very least, that it won't feel like one. The good news about the SuperNova is that it doesn't feel like it costs $200. The bad news is that it actually feels cheaper.

The SuperNova has a dark-gray chassis and a very plasticky feel, reminiscent of a cheap toy. The body is relatively thin, measuring 0.5 inch in depth, but overall its dimensions are in line with what you'd expect from an 8-inch tablet and it's only slightly smaller than the Archos 80 G9.

The SuperNova feels comfortable in our hands, with no pointy corners or jagged edges, and a thin, light, and smooth chassis. However, as light as it is, it feels hollow and, well, cheap. Other tablets, like the BlackBerry PlayBook, are lighter, and yet somehow feel more substantive.

Pandigital SuperNova Archos 80 G9 BlackBerry PlayBook
Weight in pounds 1.08 1.08 0.96
Width in inches (landscape) 8.4 8.9 7.6
Height in inches 6.2 6.1 5.1
Depth in inches 0.5 0.5 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.9 (left), 1.1 (right) 1.2 0.75

When you hold the SuperNova in landscape mode, its microSD card slot adorns the bottom edge. On the right edge is the headphone jack, and on the left edge are the power connection port and the Mini-USB and Micro-HDMI ports. On the top sit the power button and volume rocker.

On the front bezel, the top right corner holds a front-facing camera with two status lights to its right. At the bottom of the front bezel are four Android navigation buttons: home, settings, back, and search. Each button is about an inch wide and delivers a snappy feedback when you press it. To the right of the search button is a small microphone pinhole. On the back, in the top right corner, are a single speaker and the rear-facing camera.

Hardware features
The Pandigital SuperNova supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The speaker delivers fairly high volume, albeit with tinny sound that lacks bass. Also, because of its placement on the back, the sound gets muffled when the tablet is laid down flat. The SuperNova's processor is a 1.06GHz Samsung S5PV210 Cortex CPU.

Software features
The Pandigital SuperNova ships with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), but isn't a Google-certified tablet, so Android Market isn't included. We're left instead with the severely limited GetJar, a Web-based Android app store that doesn't offer nearly as many apps as the Android Market.

The SuperNova does include a few useful applications like the ES File Explorer, with which you can directly access your storage file system. Also included are the Barnes & Noble e-reader, a news aggregator, InTouch, and Office Suite.

Performance
Navigation was quick and snappy, but when opening apps like the gallery there was some noticeable lag as pics were loaded into memory.

The tablet has an 8-inch capacitive touch screen with narrow viewing angles, a dim luminance, and a low resolution of 800x600 pixels. As a result, games, Web sites, movies, and so on look dreary, and text, while not blurry, isn't as sharp as we're accustomed to seeing on most tablets.

Pandigital doesn't make clear the specs of the cameras, but each one records up to 720p resolution; however, we found the cameras took grainy still photos with obvious color dithering.

Performance in games was noticeably choppier when directly compared with games running on Honeycomb tablets. Animation in Angry Birds, while fine on its own, wasn't as smooth as what we've been spoiled with previously.

Tested spec Pandigital SuperNova Archos 80 G9 BlackBerry PlayBook
Maximum brightness 146 cd/m2 220 cd/m2 587 cd/m2
Default brightness 101 cd/m2 93 cd/m2 474 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.18 cd/m2 0.48 cd/m2 0.48 cd/m2
Default black level 0.12 cd/m2 0.16 cd/m2 0.39 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 811:1 581:1 1,215:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 841:1 458:1 1,222:1

Conclusion
There's no more important component of a tablet than its display, as the primary and sometimes only way to interface with the device. So it should go without saying that it helps if the screen is at least bright, with a resolution that keeps details sharp. With the SuperNova, Pandigital seems to have skimped on the quality of the screen to get its price down to $200. This would be bad enough, but unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. The SuperNova is missing full access to the Android Market, and although comfortable to hold, it feels like a toy in the hand instead of a useful gadget.

The fact is, $200 is still a lot of money to blow on something that doesn't do what you want it to. That said, the SuperNova works as a very basic tablet and if that's all you're looking for, rest assured, that's what you'll get. However, there are better ways to spend your tablet-craving dollars: devices that are much better values, even at higher prices.

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