When it comes to budget-priced Android tablets, there's a lot of junk out there. The Cruz T301 from Velocity Micro is a rare exception. It's not a great product, but with a street price as low as $160, its core Android features and sturdy hardware make it a workable solution if you're strapped for cash.
The T301 wins no points for beauty. It's a solid slab that's thicker and heavier than 2010's Galaxy Tab. The whole thing measures 0.5 inch thick, 5.5 inches wide, and 7.5 inches tall, with a 7-inch capacitive panel on the front. A removable plastic panel covers the back, exposing a rechargeable battery pack.
Although the Cruz runs Android (version 2.2), the expected physical navigation buttons typically found below the screen are absent. Instead, taking a cue from Android 3.0, Velocity Micro placed a navigation bar within the software, running it across the top of the screen. The advantage of onscreen navigation is that the controls can rotate to match the tablet's orientation. The drawback is that the controls are sometimes hidden from sight when an application or video is shown full-screen.
A soft cloth pouch, a 4GB SD card, and a charging stand are included in the Cruz T301's box--which is a nice touch considering the low price. Also included is a wall-wart charging adapter, which isn't required for recharging (USB will also work), but is the best way to go for a fast charge.
Overall, the T301 is a solidly built tablet, but its hefty weight and thick design tend to fatigue the hand more than other 7-inch tablets in this same price range, such as the Archos 70 and Barnes & Noble Nook Color.
The Cruz T301 offers many of the amenities we expect from an entry-level tablet. On the top you have a power button that doubles as a screen lock, along with a Mini-USB port and SD card slot. The right side offers an oversize volume rocker switch. On the bottom you'll find a pair of decent-sounding built-in speakers, along with a headphone jack and a socket for the power adapter.
Under the hood you get 2GB of internal storage along with the 4GB SD card included in the box. You also have built-in Wi-Fi that's compatible with the latest 802.11n standard. There's no GPS, no digital compass, no gyroscope, and no ambient light sensor. You don't even get a camera. Still, the price is right, and we could say many of the same things about tablets in the $250 range (such as the Nook Color).
In terms of software features, the Android experience on the Cruz T301 is not the whizzing, futuristic "droid" seen in prime-time commercials. In the world of Android, these are the cheap seats, folks. The e-mail, calendar, gallery, and browser apps are stock Android, but Google's popular Mobile apps (Gmail, Maps, Talk, Navigation, Contacts, Places, YouTube) are all absent.
More importantly, Google's official Android Market isn't included. In its place is a Cruz Market stocked with a handful of free apps that probably aren't worth your time. As a workaround, we directly downloaded Amazon.com's Appstore for Android and downloaded a few favorites. Unfortunately, we had no luck getting celebrated games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja to install. We were able to install an old-school game of Paper Toss, but the stuttering graphics performance made it unplayable. If gaming is your thing, the Cruz 301 is going to disappoint.
A few other apps come preinstalled, including Amazon Kindle, Napster, OfficeSuite, and Twidroyd. As these are free apps, they don't add any unique value, but we're happy they're here, especially when the included app store is so lacking.
The worst strike against the Cruz T301 is its sluggish performance. Any time you touch the screen to do something there's a delayed reaction that feels as if the tablet is catching its breath. You feel it especially when scrolling Web pages or typing on the virtual keyboard.
Speaking of the keyboard, key accuracy is generally poor and features we take for granted, such as predictive text and dictionary support, are absent. If you're hoping to use the T301 for activities such as writing e-mail and status updates, expect more than a few typos to sneak through.
Our final complaint is about the Cruz T301's screen quality. The tablet's mediocre 800x600-pixel resolution is forgivable at this price, but the dim screen is going to be a deal breaker for many--especially those of you thinking about using the tablet for its Amazon Kindle e-reader compatibility. The tablet's maximum brightness level is more what you'd expect from a setting of 50 percent, and Velocity Micro has the brightness turned up all the way by default. The result is that text legibility is poor in anything but indoor lighting. For our money, inexpensive devices such as the Kindle and Nook Simple Touch Reader make more sense as Web-connected e-readers.
The Cruz T301 from Velocity Micro is a physically solid little Android tablet with a decent set of features considering its low price. We don't recommend it for gamers or book lovers, or for chatty e-mailing and messaging, but if your gadget appetite is bigger than your wallet, you can have some fun with the T301.