Rockchip Allwinner A31S IPS LCD Capacitive TouchScreen Game Console Unlock Rooted Android 4 Free Retrogaming 1GB DDR3 – 8GB
I purchased myJXD S7800B Tablet HD – the 16GB version and over the last couple of weeks of using it, I’ve developed something of a love/hate relationship with the device. I should probably break this review down into pros versus cons since my thoughts on it are so polarised:
JXD S7800B Tablet HD Review
Despite being a year or two old, the Rockchip 3188 and Mali GPU are still acceptably fast for most gaming, emulation and everyday tasks. The generous 2GB of RAM also helps lift this well above most other devices in this price range. There are very few Android games this tablet will not run to a reasonable standard. Even the few emulated Dreamcast games I have tried ran well. Menus, homescreen and browsers are all smooth and snappy.
The S7800B is well-constructed for the price. The chassis is plastic but feels pretty dense and solid; it doesn’t creak under finger pressure and the surface texture doesn’t betray a sense of cheapness like some budget tabs. The only flaw I could mention here, if I had to be critical, is that the white printing on the physical buttons looks a bit slapdash and I have a feeling it will probably start to wear off after a period of time. Generally, though, the device feels well put together.
The physical controls are – surprisingly – very good. The D-pad, especially, is fantastic, and the the twin analogue sticks are a damn sight better than those on the much more expensive PSVita. The back of the tablet curves out slightly at the left and right sides, forming a nice grip, and the buttons are positioned within comfortable reach on the front and top of the unit. Everything is easily accessible and playing for extended periods doesn’t lead to cramping hands or pins-and-needles like some less well thought out designs. It is incredibly easy to make a bad gamepad controller, so full marks to JXD for nailing it with the S7800B. Used in an upright orientation, for ebook reading or portrait-mode apps, things are a little more clumsy, as the size and weight of the device makes one-hand usage uncomfortable, and the thumbsticks and shoulder buttons get in the way somewhat, but it is primarily a gaming device after all.
However good the gamepad is, the best controller in the world would be of no use if most games didn’t support it, and gamepad support in Android is notoriously patchy. To address this, the S7800B comes with a pre-installed utility that maps the tablet’s physical buttons to the touchscreen controls of pretty much any game. Just press a small button on the bottom left of the tablet, and an on-screen overlay appears with graphics for each of the physical controls, which you can then drag over the game’s own virtual controls to allocate each function to a button or stick, binding the virtual d-pad to the physical d-pad and so forth. It’s a really creative and elegant solution and I can’t praise it enough.
The screen is nice and clear. The 1280×800 resolution is absolutely fine for gaming and acceptable for ebook reading and web browsing. Text looks sharp, unless the font is too small (I’ll come back to that). 1080p might look fractionally nicer on very close inspection but there are limits to what one can expect for £100. A higher res screen would have meant cutting corners elsewhere, such as the processor or RAM, which would have had a much greater effect on performance, so I can live with it. The glass does collect fingerprints, and I get the impression it would scratch very easily, but you’re never going to get the latest Gorilla Glass on a tablet this cheap and I doubt you’ll be carrying it around with your keys in the back of your jeans, anyway. Buy a screen protector. The viewing angle is excellent; more-or-less a full 90 degrees. HDMI output allows you to plug the tablet into a TV or projector and instantly play games from pretty much any console on a large screen without any other hardware. That’s worth £100 on its own.
The inclusion of a separate AC charging port (and thus the inability to charge it using your existing USB chargers) is something a few reviewers have complained about, but they all seem to be overlooking the major benefit this has for a gaming device: you can plug in external controllers or other devices and use them *while the tablet is charging*! If the device did charging and data through a single USB, it would only be possible to use such devices while on battery power. Given the battery-gobbling ability of modern 3D Android games and some emulators, I’ll buy that for a dollar (or 200). JXD even provide a free USB-OTG cable for plugging in console controllers, PC keyboards, mice, etc. Thumbs up for that. (Battery life, by the way, is okay, not amazing.)
Also of note is one of the few bundled apps, bizarrely titled “Happy Chick”. This is not a Flappy Bird or Angry Birds ripoff, but an online service that gives access to many thousands of game ROMs for various “retro” consoles and arcade systems, and emulates them in-app. The user interface is a seedy, half-baked mix of Chinglish and full-on Mandarin Chinese that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in it’s legit-ness, but it really does do what it claims! The selection on offer is staggering; you could just browse the games on offer here and never have to look elsewhere or buy another game again. What’s more, most of the games come pre-mapped to the 7800s controls. You really couldn’t ask for more. However…
The legality of Happy Chick and some of the other bundled apps is questionable. I’m not going to get into the ethics and legal issues of emulating retro systems, but most gamers would probably be of the opinion that if the game you’re downloading for free is no longer being commercially offered for sale by the copyright holders, then fair enough, no harm done. However, alongside old-school console and arcade games, under its Android section, Happy Chick offers completely free access to several hundred Android games, many of which are paid-for apps on the Google Play Store. Furthermore, an icon on the homescreen labelled “test app” installed several other games, one of which had a clear “CRACKED BY…” credit when first opened. Again, I’m not going to get sanctimonious about this stuff, but if a company is bundling possibly illegal content in their computing devices, you have to wonder about what other insalubrious stuff may be going on behind the scenes, and what security issues may arise from them. Me, I’m happy to play games, browse the web and read books on it, but let’s just say I won’t be doing my internet banking on my S7800B.
The internal storage on the 16GB model is split into a 1GB system partition and a 15GB storage partition. This is, by far, the biggest issue with the device. While music, photos, movies and other files can be saved to the larger partition, Android apps and games must be installed to the system area, leaving you very little space to work with. This was stupid on the 8GB version, but on the 16GB 7800 it’s utterly absurd, an error of mind-blowing proportions. Why only one gig!? Sure, SOME apps allow SOME of their data to be moved to the storage partition AFTER installation, but many don’t, and even those that do have to be downloaded to the system partition first, so you’re screwed if you don’t have enough space to start with. Heck, there are some games on the Play Store bigger than 1GB, and a chunk of the system space is already taken up by Android itself so good luck if you want to play any of those big games! The most infuriating thing about this is that it’s not even a cost-saving measure, it’s not that they’ve skimped on flash storage, there is plenty of storage space right there inside the tablet, sixteen gigs of it! The makers have just decided to divide it up in such a way that makes most of it inaccessible to apps, for no apparent reason. It would be pathetically easy for JXD, at the point of manufacture, to bump the system partition up to four or eight gigabytes without adding any further hardware. For a user to do the same, it’s a long, technically demanding procedure and huge pain in the backside, involving rooting the device and flashing a custom Android ROM. We shouldn’t have to root a gaming tablet just to get it to play large games!
The WiFi reception sucks. There’s no other way of putting it. It’s fine if I’m in the same room as the router, it’s… alright if I go out into the hall, but in my bedroom – which is two walls and a walk-in wardrobe away from the hub – the reception is very poor and painfully slow, often dropping the connection entirely. I’ve read that some custom ROMs improve things, although I haven’t tried them yet myself. On the other hand, I’ve also read that the device has been known to ship without its internal WiFi antenna properly attached. If that’s the case here, then the “Quality Control Pass” sticker that came on the back of the tablet is a joke. There’s also no GPS whatsoever, which is weird as I’ve never used another Android device that didn’t have that. I suppose I won’t be taking it out hiking or anything though.
Finally, the user interface. JXD has included a mostly stock version of Android Jelly Bean, which is nice, but the few changes they have made are pretty much all for the worse. Several menu and homescreen animations have been removed (such as the app drawer popping up) and app icons are backed by weird, multi-colors blobs that make the device look like a children’s tablet. On web pages, the default zoom sometimes makes text look small and hard to read, and you’ll find yourself zooming in just to hit menu items at the top of web pages without accidentally dragging down the Android status bar, because the link text is otherwise small and easy to miss with your finger. Speaking of the status bar, that looks pretty small too, and those with poor eyesight may find themselves squinting to make out the information displayed there. Tiny text doesn’t do the 800p screen much justice, either. It looks like a UI optimised for a nine or ten inch tablet, shrunk down to seven inches. There was no reason to change any of these things from default stock Android, they should have just left it alone.
Would I buy this tablet again, knowing what I know having used it for two weeks? Yes. I hate using touchscreen controls for games and there is very little out there on the market right now with physical controls that is as good for gaming and emulation as this. On the other hand, the ridiculous choices JXD have made regarding storage space, user interface and WiFi radio, are like the hangover to the S7800B’s cocktail of awesome. For me, the tablet’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks, however stupid, but only you can decide how the balance sits for you. In many ways, this is an amazing device, but bear in mind that if you buy it you will have either the hassle of correcting its issues yourself by rooting the device and flashing a custom ROM (possibly voiding whatever warranty comes with the tablet), or put up with the headache of living with them.
We gave the JXD S7800B Tablet HD