Telstra’s budget iPad beater: T-Touch Tab

When you really want a tablet but don’t have a lazy grand to spend, Telstra has you covered. We take an exclusive look at its $299 T-Touch Tab.

What’s it like?

The T-Touch Tab is manufactured by Chinese company Huawei (which calls it an S7) but will be marketed exclusively through Telstra stores from 2 November under the Telstra brand. A smidge under $300, the T-Touch comes with 3GB of prepaid data and $10 talk and text credit.
From first contact, it’s clear that this device is not the same quality as the Samsung Galaxy Tab or Apple iPad, but then again it isn’t going to sting you close on a thousand dollars. The T-Touch, however, does feel surprisingly solid, despite its budget price.
Grey plastic surrounds the rear of the unit, with a thin metal cover holding the battery and SIM card in place. The front features a 7 inch resistive touchscreen, around which are several soft buttons to take you back to the home screen, go back a step, view menus and even make a phone call.
Unlike Apple’s iPad, Telstra’s T-Touch Tab is both a tablet and a phone. There’s a green ‘call’ and red ‘hang-up’ button on the chassis, plus a microphone and speaker. Video calls are also catered for with a front-facing camera, allowing you to make face-to-face calls with friends and relatives.
Also worth noting is the two megapixel camera on the rear of the device allowing you to take photos like a traditional camera phone, saving them to your microSD card or internal memory. There’s no flash, but already the T-Touch is two cameras up on the iPad.
An inbuilt stand folds out from the metal cover at the rear of the unit, and equipped with stereo speakers that play reasonably loud, the T-Touch Tab performs quite nicely as a desktop speaker phone or internet appliance.
And for those who don’t quite ‘get’ touchscreens, there’s an optical trackpad similar to those found on the current crop of BlackBerry handsets, as well as a stylus buried in the back of the device. You’ll need that if you find  the resistive screen unresponsive to your fingertip operations.
Connectivity-wise, you’ll find a standard 3.5mm headphone port, power, microUSB, and a proprietary port that looks a little like an iPod dock connector but isn’t (the manual says “dock interface,” but we’re not entirely sure what it will be used for). Next to this proprietary port is a microSD slot, easily accessed because it’s located on the outside of the device and not next to the battery on the back, a space that normally receives the memory upgrades.
Our unit came with a 2GB microSD, but you can install up to 32GB. Inside the T-Touch Tab, you’ll have access to less than 200MB of memory, so you’ll want to keep a decent-sized microSD in the tablet at all times.
For the T-Touch Tab, Telstra and Huawei have customised the Android 2.1 operating system to be very multimedia-centric. The home screen is the most modified of any Android installation we’ve seen, with tabs labelled “Home”, “Web”, “Entertainment”, “Communications” and “Favourites” dividing your activities into easy-to-find widget screens. Each of these categories holds two widget screens, giving you a total of ten places to put your shortcuts, folders, and widgets.
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The main “home” screen of the Telstra T-Touch Tab.
The layout has a very Telstra feel to it, and reminds us of devices like the T-Hub. If you’re someone who uses Facebook or Google, listens to MP3 files, watches Foxtel, checks out YouTube and is generally a lover of the Internet, the layout will appeal to you.
Android Market is still there, and being a 2.1 device the T-Touch allows access to a lot of apps.
Huawei has also customised the system with easy shortcut buttons to let you view your notifications, cease running programs, change brightness, select data connectivity (WiFi ‘n’, 3G, Bluetooth) and check battery capacity.

What does it need?

In our short time with the T-Touch today, we found the resistive screen to be its biggest limitation. This screen technology is commonly found on inexpensive phones and doesn’t allow for the fluid finger movements and multi-touch gestures of capacitive screens such as those offered by Apple devices and many Android mobile handsets.
There’s none of the pinch-to-zoom functionality of the HTC Desire or Samsung Galaxy S, for example, which makes web browsing pretty clunky and frustrating. Ditto for typing.
The ‘plus-minus zoom’ feature is a poor substitute for multi-touch interaction and, strangely, the vibrating touch “haptic” feedback normally found in Android phones is absent too.
The T-Touch Tab isn’t exactly the fastest of devices, but for $299 we didn’t expect it to be as snappy as the lightning-quick 1GHz Galaxy Tab. In fact, you’ll probably want to prod the on-screen buttons slowly to give the resistive screen a little time to catch up.
Still, it’s far from a shabby a device. We loaded our T-Touch Tab with “RockPlayer,” an Android application that will let you play DivX and Xvid files, and found that the playback to be pleasingly fast enough, with the on-board stereo speakers providing decent sound. Certainly, with the stand at the back of the device, the T-Touch Tab is an even more portable media player than a portable DVD player.
It’s also a phone, and this is something to remember when looking at tablets. As of right now, Telstra’s T-Touch Tab is the only 7 inch tablet released that works as both a phone and a portable computer. Because of this, it could be the perfect device for someone who struggles with smaller inexpensive handsets and needs something larger to use.
We tested it in a speakerphone capacity and found the sound was loud and very clear. So loud, in fact, that it rates as one of the best handsfree experiences we’ve had.
Charging the device is a little bit cumbersome. Unlike pretty much every Android phone out there, this will not charge from microUSB. You are currently forced to use a plug pack, despite the charge port sitting next to the microUSB. It seems the port is present only for data transfers.
The Android 2.1 T-Touch Tab will benefit from an upgrade to Android 2.2, and Telstra assures us this is in the works, although it didn’t specify when. This newest Android operating system would add Adobe Flash support, improve speed and provide the ability to install more applications to the microSD card instead of just the miserly internal memory.

Conclusion

Telstra’s T-Touch Tab is a big touchscreen phone designed to be held in a landscape fashion with two hands, or at least that’s what it feels like.
But it’s also a $299 tablet computer, and that’s a price point to be proud of, as it will provide many households with a useful alternative to the premium offerings that occupy this space at the moment.
While it lacks Adobe Flash support and the vibrating feedback that’s normally found on an Android phone, these are all things that even the WiFi-only Apple iPad ($629) lack. From there, the only major downside is the screen, which – while supporting a decent 800 x 480 resolution – does not use multi-touch technology.
If that’s a deal breaker for you, the more expensive Apple iPad and Galaxy Tab S are probably better options. But if price has been an obstacle preventing you from buying a tablet, Telstra’s budget T-Touch Tab puts it right back on the shopping list.

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