Datawind Ubislate 7CX Review: How Low Can You Go?

There's a lot of interest in low-cost tablets. With the launch of every new Aakash tablet by the government, people are always asking me how it is and whether it's worth it, even at that low price. Datawind, the makers of the Aakash tablet, know the price sensitivity of the Indian consumer and have come up with another inexpensive tablet and this one also doubles up as a phone.

What is it?

The Datawind Ubislate 7CX costs only Rs. 3,999 and still packs a SIM slot to let you take phone calls and give you internet access via EDGE—unfortunately, there's no Wi-Fi here. It's got a 7-inch touchscreen (800x480 px resolution), powered by a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor and 512MB RAM. There's 2GB of internal memory with a microSD card slot to expand it. And finally, it runs on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich.


Who is it for?

Those who want to burn 4,000 rupees.


Design

There's really nothing great nor anything disastrous about the look and feel of the Ubislate 7CX. It's a tablet much like many others you may have already seen. The front has the 7-inch screen and no physical or capacitive buttons—only on-screen touch keys here. There's a speaker grill on the left of the screen (when held horizontally) for when you make phone calls.


The right side of the tablet houses the power button, volume buttons, microphone, microUSB port, 3.5mm headphone jack and a port for the power adapter. I have no idea why Datawind has made a separate power adapter for this instead of the standard microUSB—and just so we're clear, the microUSB can be used to charge the device. Weirdly, the Ubislate 7CX doesn't come packaged with a microUSB cable, so you are going to have to buy that separately. It's an additional cost in a device that is all about maintaining a low price; Datawind could have rather just thrown in a microUSB cable instead of that power adapter. It has, however, bundled a microUSB to USB dongle.


The back has a flap with ports for the SIM card and microSD card. At the top of the back, you will find a strip with raised grooves, presumably to provide better grip. This also houses the speaker grill. The strip didn't make any sense to me because the Ubislate 7CX is meant to be used only in landscape mode (i.e. horizontally). So to have a groove in a place where you aren't going to hold the tablet is baffling. And if it's only a design element, then Ubislate and I probably disagree vehemently on the definition of ugly.


The build quality of the whole device isn't too bad though. At this price, you can't expect sleek design and high-quality materials, but the Ubislate 7CX has a satisfying heft to it that makes you feel confident in its ability to take the knocks of daily usage. Even when it was dropped from the height of a bed, it had zero issues.


Using It

The weirdest part about the Ubislate 7cx is that it is used only in the landscape mode. Datawind says it has a G-sensor, the common term for accelerometer, but that doesn't translate into real-world usage because the tablet simply refuses to go into portrait mode. So at all times, you are using it horizontally, which is simply bizarre. It's an enforced limitation that doesn't seem to have much sense in it.


The biggest downside of this is that the screen's poor viewing angles are most glaring from this position. As with most low-cost tablets, the screen gets washed out or loses colour when you tilt it away from you on particular sides. With some tabs, you'll get this on the shorter sides, while others do it on the longer ones. Unfortunately, Ubislate 7cx is affected on the longer sides, so when you are holding it in landscape mode and tilt the tablet forward or backward even a little, the screen quickly becomes unusable. Meanwhile, it's fine on the short sides. Sigh.


The few times it does go into portrait mode is when you launch an app meant for that. So a game like Subway Surfers will play in portrait mode by default. But the phone dialler also goes into portrait mode, so you have to constantly switch how you are using the tablet. It's really quite a mess and an unpleasant experience, but perhaps something you might be okay living with at this price.


Datawind hasn't messed around with the Android software much, only preloading its suite of educational and other apps, which includes a free E-Book App for Class 1 to 12 NCERT in English, Hindi & Urdu Medium; Test Preparation Tool; Free Higher Education & Soft-Skill Courses powered by CEC London; English language learning tools; Interactive Multimedia-rich educational resources; Bollywood Music and Movies; Antivirus & Anti-theft Pack by E-Scan and MapMyIndia. Given that I'm not an educator, I'm not the person who should be assessing how good or bad these apps are—if you're in the market for a tablet with educational tools, you'd do well to check out the educational apps in this one and those available freely on the Play Store before you buy it.


The overall experience of using the Ubislate 7CX is quite substandard. You can't quite do anything right. Even though it has EDGE, you can't use Whatsapp. Most games don't work well. The touchscreen registers taps and swipes well for regular tasks, but not when you need to do something like drawing or browsing a map.



The Best Part

For the longest time, it kept bugging me that the tablet supports only EDGE and not Wi-Fi. But that's a function of keeping the cost low, so that people who aren't like me can afford this tablet. So I asked maids, drivers and kids and their parents at a local municipal school about what they would prefer, and the resounding response was EDGE. They don't get access to Wi-Fi anywhere, so it doesn't make sense for them. EDGE connectivity is easily accessible—it's even available more easily than Wi-Fi or 3G when you move out of Indian cities—and a lot of the kids already knew what it costs: 98 rupees for 700MB of data consumption in a month. And it gives them a phone too, something they would otherwise get "only after passing 10th standard", according to three of the parents I spoke to. Talking to those kids converted me from thinking that the EDGE-only was the worst part of the tablet to believing it's actually the most sensible thing Datawind has done in the Ubislate 7CX.


Tragic Flaw

The battery life of the Ubislate 7CX is atrocious. It never got me through more than 3 hours when using the touchscreen. If you only play videos on it continuously, it actually lasts for a little over 3.5 hours. But the moment you start tapping on the touchscreen, whether it's browsing the web, playing a game or any other usage, the battery life reduces dramatically. It's disastrous when you consider that all of the educational apps are interactive and require input from the user—typically a student in a school that isn't going to have a power plug at every desk.



Notes‚Äč

-The Ubislate 7CX doesn't have a camera, but that isn't a glaring omission at this price point, especially when you consider that these low-cost cameras can hardly capture a decent image.

-The call quality is quite bad. People on the other end of the line couldn't hear me well or would complain of my voice sounding tinny. Additionally, I was not getting network in areas where I usually do.

-Low-quality games like Angry Birds were fine, but even old games like Subway Surfers didn't run well.

-Browsing the internet isn't a pleasing experience because you are only getting to see the websites in landscape mode. On a 7-inch tablet with a resolution of 800x480 pixels, adding in the space required for the notifications bar and the browser's title bar, you get just 3-4 lines of text in one scroll.


Should you buy it?

With the bad viewing angles on the screen, the sub-par performance and the atrocious battery life, I can't recommend you purchase the Datawind Ubislate 7CX. At around the same price of Rs. 3,999, you can pick up the Karbonn Smart Tab 2 from Amazon, which has a better screen and battery life, not to mention it runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The trade-off is that you have to use Wi-Fi or 3G dongles and can't use EDGE or the phone function—but it's worth it.


Specs:

OS: Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich

SIM: Regular SIM

CPU: 1GHz Cortex A8

Screen: 7-inch touchscreen (800x480 pixels)

RAM: 512MB

Storage: 2GB internal, microSD up to 32GB

Camera: None

Connectivity: EDGE

Battery: 3 Hours

Price: Rs. 3,999


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