Display and Multimedia
This is the first 7", 1280 x 800 pixel Android tablet to hit the market, and it's nice to have a high quality display at this price. The added resolution doesn't mean you'll see lots more on screen when viewing a web page compared to the 1024 x 600 HTC Flyer though. We put them side by side and loaded the same web pages to compare, and we saw the same view on both. That means the operating system is doing some scaling to keep things legible, and that's not a bad thing. Few of us have the eyes to read micro fonts, and competing operating systems like iOS do scaling to keep things readable. What you do get is sharper fonts in eBook apps like Kindle and Nook, as well as sharper video and photos.
Viewing angles are quite good. You can hold the tablet tilted away on a table and see it clearly without much color shift, unlike the Acer Iconia A100 7" tablet. We had no trouble with horizontal or vertical viewing angles up to 130 degrees. Two people can watch a video without much loss of blacks or contrast. Well done. Brightness is good enough to keep Google Maps viewable outdoors, albeit with some loss of clarity and contrast. Colors seem natural and Huawei has a color enhancement feature that's turned on by default, though we couldn't see much difference with it on or off.
The tablet handles video playback well, and it managed 1080p high profile MPEG4 video playback without a hitch, something we can't say of all Android tablets. There's no point to play videos that are higher resolution than the display of course, unless you're going to use the micro HDMI out port to play videos to a monitor or HD TV. Like most Android devices, it works in mirror mode when a display is connected, and this worked fine in our tests.
Music playback comes courtesy of the standard Android Music app, unless you load a third party player or music streaming service like Slacker or Pandora. Though the speakers are weak on this small tablet, audio out through headphones and HDMI is good.
The Springboard runs on a capable dual core Qualcomm MSM8260 CPU with Adreno 220 graphics. It runs at 1.2GHz, and did quite well not just in our HD video playback tests, but on benchmarks. The tablet's scored as follows:
Linpack multi-thread 69.4
Inside we've got the usual (for Honeycomb tablets) 1 gig of RAM and 16 gigs of internal storage. You can use SDHC microSD cards up to 32 gigs in capacity to extend storage further.
The Springboard has HSPA+ 14.4 4G on T-Mobile's bands, and it uses a standard size SIM card that's accessible under the back cover. As with other US tablets, this is used only for data and the tablet doesn't make calls over the cell network nor does it do text messaging. You can use VoIP for calling over data networks with apps like Gtalk and Skype.
Reception is good and is on par with the HTC Amaze 4G and Samsung Galaxy S II phones. We thought the tablet might pull in an even stronger signal since it has room for a larger antenna, but it doesn't outperform phones. Data speeds were uneven in our tests, though we have very good T-Mobile coverage here and generally stable data speeds. The tablet sometimes managed 3.5 Mbps down and 1Mbps up one moment, and 1Mbps down and 0.5Mpbs up a moment later in the same test location. On average we got a mediocre 1.5Mbps down and 0.75Mbps up according to the Speedtest.net Android app.
The tablet has the mobile hotspot app, and this turns the Springboard into a roving WiFi hotspot that can provide a high speed data connection to your laptop or other tablet.
T-Mobile and Huawei showed praise-worthy restraint, and didn't bombard this 7" tablet with lots of bloatware. In fact, most of the apps included are reasonably useful or entertaining: Netflix, T-Mobile TV, Quickoffice (MS Office viewer, not editor), a file manager, Blockbuster, Lets Golf 2 (is there any Android device that escapes this game demo?), Lookout Security, Slacker, TeleNav GPS Navigator, Qik Video Chat and Zinio are included.
The basic Android staples are here including Gmail, email, the Webkit web browser with Adobe Flash, Gtalk with video chat, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, Places and the Android Market.
You can copy files, music and videos to the tablet using the included micro USB cable. The tablet works in both mass storage mode and via MTP protocol.
Like most tablets, the Springboard's Lithium Ion battery is sealed inside. We're still awaiting info on its capacity, but I can tell you in the week we've had it, it manages to get through two days on a charge with light use. More challenging endeavors like long video chat sessions, streaming video playback and playback of locally stored HD video will reduce battery life, as with any tablet. In our battery life test (a mix of web browsing, Google push services running, email, playing music for an hour with the display off and watching streaming video for 45 minutes ), the tablet lasted us 5.2 hours. That's with a 4G HSPA+ connection, WiFi off and display brightness set to 65%.
The tablet comes with a 0.6 volt wall charger with a barrel plug that connects to the Springboard's charging port. In our tests, it did not support charging over USB.
We like Huawei's first higher end tablet offering in the US, and they're off to a good start. The tablet is well put together with quality materials and it has a very high resolution display that's sharp and bright. It's quite fast and is a champ at video playback. But the sometime truculent touch screen is a minor annoyance (we found ourselves pressing twice until we got in the habit of pressing harder). We would have liked to see faster HSPA+ speeds, and more stable speeds, but that's something a firmware update could probably fix. And lastly, T-Mobile's pricing methodology seems either cagey or designed to confuse customers. Just buy it outright if you can afford it for approximately $430; tablets evolve too quickly to be locked to a model for 2 years anyhow.
Price: $379 total with contract (including the 20 monthly payments and $50 rebate), $229 out the door and $179 after rebate.