Review: Telstra 4G Tablet

Telstra’s new 4G tablet … the “Telstra 4G Tablet”.

Telstra’s newest 4G tablet is called, rather unimaginatively, the Telstra 4G Tablet. For the most part, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill Android tablet with a 10.1-inch screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of internal storage (with microSD expansion) and Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) out of the box.

The main reason you’d want to consider it over the dozens of other tablets on the market is that it has built-in LTE 4G. It’s also relatively cheap. Compared to the equivalent fourth-generation 4G-equipped Apple iPad, the Telstra 4G tablet will leave you with an extra two hundred bucks in your pocket.

Just don’t expect to spend all that money on accessories. Telstra says a black cover and a screen protector will be available from December 26, but there’ll be nothing in the way of docks, speakers, camera kits, TV cables or keyboards like you can get for the more popular Apple and Samsung tablets. It will, however, work with Bluetooth keyboards and speakers, as well as any portable speakers that plug into the headphone jack.

The “Telstra 4G Tablet”.

At first glance, the Telstra 4G Tablet looks a lot like the now-defunct HP TouchPad, with the same all-black casing, symmetrical bezel and rounded corners. The main difference is that Telstra’s tablet has a 16:9 aspect ratio, making it taller when you hold it in portrait orientation. It’s a generic look, but not unattractive.

Build quality is surprisingly good for a budget tablet, especially compared to Telstra’s first effort, the T-Touch Tab. The rubberised frame around the screen makes it pleasant to hold in any orientation, and the textured back allows you to get a good grip on it (unlike the iPad).

There are two slots at the top for the full-sized SIM card and microSD card slot, and the bottom houses the proprietary connector for syncing and charging. Sadly, there’s no micro-HDMI port for connecting the tablet to a TV.

The screen, speakers and cameras are where you’ll feel the sting of the cheaper pricetag. The former two aren’t exceptionally bad – it’s just that tablets at the premium end of the market have gotten so much better.

The 1280 x 800 resolution is dwarfed by tablets that offer Full HD and higher resolutions, and its older LCD screen technology means colours aren’t as vibrant. To its credit, the screen doesn’t wash out completely at extreme viewing angles, which is the usual hallmark of a cheap tablet.

The top-mounted stereo speakers pump out a decent amount of noise – you’ll be able to hear music in a noisy café when it’s cranked to full volume – but there isn’t much depth to it. Streaming Gangnam Style on YouTube resulted in next to no bass response, and it sounded like it was being played from a passing car for all the presence it had.

The weakest point, however, is the tablet’s camera. Front-facing cameras aren’t usually very good as a general rule, but the rear five-megapixel camera took us aback with how bad it was. In anything but ideal lighting conditions, it produces lots of noise, and it manages to smear any light sources even when it’s sitting completely still.

Performance is reasonably good thanks to the dual-core 1.5GHz processor and new-ish Android 4.0 operating system. It’s still a little slow in places – on complex websites like SMH, zooming in and out was jerky – but the experience was smooth enough that we didn’t feel the urge to throw it out the window, which is more than we can say for most cheap Android tablets.

Battery life is also impressive. The capacious 6900mAh tablet was able to play videos (with screen brightness at 50 per cent and mobile data enabled) for a continuous nine hours. If nothing else, the Telstra 4G Tablet can double as a portable wi-fi hotspot using Android’s built-in wireless tethering feature. It also tethers over USB if you connect it to a Windows or Mac computer with the bundled cable.

To buy or not to buy? If 4G is a must-have, this tablet is a surprisingly strong offering for the asking price. Judged on hardware alone, the Telstra 4G Tablet is a winner. But it’s the lack of tablet-optimised Android apps and games that lets it down. The Google Play Store itself is an embarrassment of riches, with a 675,000 apps now on offer for Android devices, but only a small percentage of those actually look good on a tablet.

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