There has been much fanfare and buzz surrounding the launch of Aakash Tablet. Luckily author of Hungry N Foolish managed to get hands on with the device.
First glance: Impressive. The device is black in colour on all sides. Actually, black is the only colour the device is going to be maufactured in. There are absolutely no buttons anywhere on the front side except for a thin elongated one at the left end. This single button is used for multiple purposes such as sleep mode deactivation and navigating back to desktop. If you hold it up for a few seconds it’ll display options of switching to: previous folder, recent places you visited or the desktop.
The overall look is aesthetically clean and pleasing to the eye. The back side which as of now is covered with stickers of Aakash and Datawind maufacturers, has a speaker output and a tiny reset button hole. The screen is protected by a dual layer of plastic, possibly for reducing the gloss.
There are two Standard USB ports, a feature that we are yet to experience in an iPad. A microSD card slot is available on the top edge. A microphone and a 3.5mm stereo Earphone jack are provided on the two sides of the lower edge of the device and the power button and charger slot occupy the left side. Overall, build-wise the device feels solid and durable. As the trainers from IIT Rajasthan elaborated, it can withstand slight mishandlings and quite a few falls!
256 MB of RAM is provided, which might sound pretty less initially but since the Tablet is aimed for educational purposes only, it might just have enough on it to cope up with the functionalities. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a 512 MB RAM. A 2 GB internal flash storage and up to 32GB external storage is supported. Aakash runs on a Conexant 366 Mhz Processor with a Graphics accelerator and an HD Video processor.
Its 7 x 3.5 inch wide display while offering a resolution of 800×480, looks somewhat dull as compared to tablets currently available in the market which have a more glossy look and feel.
The Operating System is Android 2.2 Froyo OS. Not much to be said here. We all know what Android is and it’s usage. What would be interesting to see would be how upgradation to a newer version of the OS would be implemented by the makers with time.
The Basic functionalities and Apps:
WiFi connectivity is supported by the tablet. The Bluetooth application has been listed but is currently not working on the device. Perhaps we will see it functioning in the public release. There is no accelerometer, a camera app is provided but again it is useless since the tablet doesn’t come with an in-built camera.
The built in apps, which are shipped with the device, are quite basic. There is an Advanced Task Manager with Applications, Services and Systems tabs and options of killing or ending them. For an avid reader like me, an app like Aldiko Premium is a must. It has a cool interface with customizable wooden touch shelves, depicting your recently read books. This app will also come in handy for the students, as it will enable them to read quite comfortably on the tab.
The Android Office should be the primary app as far as educational services of the tablet are concerned. Its loaded with spread-sheets, text, presentations and Database features and a file explorer for browsing saved files. There is also an APG encryption app. Some basic apps like a web browser, calculator, calendar, clock, converter, quick search, contacts are there. There is a Facebook and an E-mail app for internet users. There are two apps for picture viewing namely gallery and Quickpic, the latter being Mr Tuli’s personal choice.
The FDroid app shows the installed Android apps, the list of available apps that can be downloaded and updates of newer versions for current apps. Three gaming apps namely Mini Golf, ZumZum and Open Sudoko complete the Tablet. The Speech Recorder has been included for use once the 3G sim services have been included for voice calling.
The OS supports multiple desktops. Videos can be played directly from the pen drive plugged into the USB slot. There is a touch and hold feature which shifts the app onto the desktop, or wherever intentioned. There are developmental tools and a packet Manager provided by Datawind itself. The internet browsing experience is quite satisfying indeed. The browser is quick and responsive and the onscreen keyboard seems pretty well integrated and easy to use.
Performance and Battery Life:
Since the device has limited RAM available, running multiple apps simultaneously will not prove to be a good idea. The device has not yet hung up while running 6 simultaneous apps that I had a test run with. But I would suggest that users keep minimal apps running, to improve the functioning of the device.
As far as battery life is considered, the battery backup is 180 minutes or 3 hours as listed on the pack. How much of it will it be able to retain with constant use is yet to be seen though.
We would come up with more analysis of the Aakash tablet as soon as we are able to test it more. Meanwhile, we’d like to say just one thing: A lot of pre-launch and post-launch talk has been about how the tablet is Chinese-made and how it is a no-use piece. Our take:
We feel that coming up with such an initiative is in itself something big. You shouldn’t expect an iPad killer from a $50 tablet. The tablet has the potential to provide a low-cost platform for accessing the internet, which if used in the right manner will go a long way in creating awareness amongst the youth of the country. It is poised to provide a useful source of information to students of India, where sometimes basic infrastructure like libraries are lacking.
It is being said that the the tablet is being built in Datawind’s unit in Secunderabad, India. The price of Rs 2200 for a tablet is still extemely less, and I hope that the tablet will be bought by many across the country. The government and the team behind Aakash should be lauded for such an initiative. After using it, all I can say is that the device can have a wide reach, and probably see more rural penetration than any other device due to its low cost.