ZaTab: ZaReason's Open Tablet
If you have used any Android device in the past, the initial setup on first boot will be familiar. Input your Google credentials, connect to a network, and you're rolling. You have the option to download and install previous Android apps you have used on any other synced devices you may have, and your bookmarks as well if you are a Google Chrome user. The device ships with a minimal set of Android apps: Apollo Media Player, Android Web Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Email, Camera, Gallery, Clock, DSPManager, Movie Studio, People (Address Book), ROM Manager, Superuser, Terminal Emulator and the Android Settings app. You won't find any preloaded crapware, no nearly useless game demos and no irremovable commercial apps. The Google Play store installs upon syncing your Google account, so you have access to the the largest selection of Android apps from the start.
Most of the apps I installed work flawlessly. I've had a blast streaming TED Talks on the ZaTab with TED's official Android app. The video is high-quality and plays flawlessly on the ZaTab. Google's Gmail app is perfect for the tablet with split views for folders and messages. The generic e-mail app works in much the same way with support for Exchange, IMAP and POP. The Plume Twitter client is a pleasure to use on the big screen. Amazon's Kindle app looks great as well with easily configurable font sizes and text colors from which to choose. Linux Journal's own app looks good on the ZaTab, with text-mode rendering sharp text. I was able to connect to my employer's Cisco VPN using Cisco's Anyconnect for rooted Android devices. Earl, from ZaReason, was kind enough to provide a tun.ko tun module for the ZaTab when asked in the #zareason IRC chat room on Freenode. This was necessary for the Anyconnect client as it uses a tun kernel module to facilitate the VPN connection. Earl tells me that this module will be preloaded on the ZaTab upon official release, and it may be shipping on ZaTabs as you read this.
There were a few apps that just would not play nice with the ZaTab. Netflix, for example: the app's interface worked fine but the app would stall when trying to stream video. Twitter's home-grown client was not available in the store. It must look for certain "approved" device profiles and the ZaTab may not be one of them.
The Hardware in Use
The 9.7" 1024x768 in-plane-switching capacitive touchscreen is bright with brilliant color and has an insane viewing angle. You can tilt this thing nearly 90 degrees in any direction and maintain view-ability. I find the screen size ideal for a personal touchscreen device. Text is sharp, of reasonable size, and movies are a joy to watch.
Both cameras are unimpressive. Photos taken with the main, rear-facing camera are grainy and quite dark indoors because there is no flash. The front-facing camera is adequate for low-resolution video chats, but it is also quite grainy.
Battery life on the other hand is fantastic. You can use the ZaTab heavily all day long without worrying about power. For example, the day after the ZaTab arrived, after a full charge, I spent lots of time downloading and installing apps, watching TED videos, listening to streaming music via Google Music, reading via the Kindle app and exploring the unit via the terminal emulator. After 15 hours of mostly continuous use, I had 40% charge remaining.
The ZaTab comfortably runs Android ICS. The animated UI transitions and elements are smooth, and there is plenty of processing power for most apps despite the tablet being a single-core unit. Switching apps using the Recent Applications menu makes multitasking simple. Notifications are unobtrusive, and apps that are notifying can be opened directly from the notification widget. Plenty of informative widgets are available if you like your home screen more dashboard than application launcher.
The ZaTab is the most open tablet out there, and it should be on your shopping list if you're looking for a tablet designed with end-user freedom in mind. This is the ideal device for Android developers or Linux developers looking to shoehorn a traditional Linux distribution onto a tablet. There is a good chance you will see a full Linux distro running on the ZaTab in the future. ZaTabs are in the hands of KDE and Edubuntu developers, and surely on the wish lists of many other free software developers out there. It runs most Android apps flawlessly—oh, and did I say it was rooted out of the box? You don't have to be a hacker to enjoy this tablet either, with plenty of storage and access to Google's Play Store and Amazon's Kindle books, it makes a great media device. As I'm wrapping up this review in early July, the ZaTab has yet to see official release. Earl at ZaReason tells me there is still one minor software bug to squash before the ZaTab is officially launched—debugging the HDMI output driver to be specific. For the most up-to-date information on when the ZaTab will be shipping, to pre-order one, or to order a developer unit sans OS, visit the ZaReason Shop: http://zareason.com/shop/zatab.html.
Pros and Cons
Rooted out of the box!
Ice Cream Sandwich.
Great battery life.
Solid build quality.
Ample and expandable storage.
A few apps don't play nice.
Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too much time tinkering with gadgetry.
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