Tablets with 3G connectivity continue to command what I think is an unreasonable premium over their Wi-Fi only siblings. Granted, the 3G & WiFi capable Alcatel Pop 7 is only a mere R200 more than the equivalent Wi-Fi model but you can’t have 3G at all with the cheaper, 16GB tablet.
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And in comes Vodacom’s Smart Tab 3; a 7-inch Android tablet cobbled together by Alcatel from its parts bin and offered to you by the network provider for just R999 or R99pm. Heaven knows, there are other brands with their inexpensive range of tablets, but can Vodacom really expect us to believe it can offer a 3G-enabled slate for an even lower price?
Physically, the Tab 3 is the same size (192 x 122 x 12mm) and weight (400g) as an Acer Iconia A110 and slightly smaller and lighter than Alcatel’s POP 7, but sports the rounded profile of the Nexus 7. It’s a comfortable device to hold, though the dimpled back that it shares with the Nexus 7 is actually firmer to the touch and so less tactile.
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The only Vodafone branding present on the device is a commendably restrained logo on the back. Round the the back too you will find a 2Mp camera and a panel that slides off to reveal slots for a Micro SD card and a micro-size SIM.
The top edge is home to 3.5mm analog audio and micro USB ports, along with the on/off button. There’s a volume rocker on the right side. Apart from the 0.3Mp webcam, the front of the device is entirely modest.
The screen is a 600 x 1024 vanilla LCD affair which has a pixel density of 170ppi. It performs much like the one built into the aforementioned A110. It looks fine until you put it alongside the Nexus 7’s 800 x 1280 IPS LCD display.
Running the show is a MediaTek MT6575, a smartphone-oriented system-on-a-chip comprising a 1GHz single-core chip which has 1GB of RAM to play with. It’s not a combination to worry Nvidia Tegra 3-based devices like the Acer or the Nexus, but it does a decent enough job and keeps the UI moving along smoothly.
In the real world, the Tab 3G will happily play games like Dead Trigger and 720p video, though you will need a good third-party video player such as VPlayer for the latter. Be warned though it struggled to cleanly stream video from Google’s own Play Movies store and YouTube’s 1080p’s.
Where things start to go more pear shaped is with the storage layout. The 4GB limit is not the problem, rather the way it’s divided. So, 1.86GB is available for files but only 503MB is free for apps. The balance is taken up by the operating system, in this case stock Android 4.4 KitKat from the box.
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Another issue is that the Tab III lacks the usual Google synchronisation facility with Picasa. Granted, you can access your Picasa account through the Google+ app, but the Tab II7 still lacks a cornerstone.
The Tab 3G’s strength is, of course, that cellular modem. Pop a micro SIM card in it and if all you want is an always-connected tablet to serve as an e-book reader, social network portal and communications device – it supports SMS though not voice calls – then the Tab II isn’t a bad old Hector.
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Unfortunately , the Tab 3G retails with a network lock so if you don’t like the cut of Vodacom’s data tariff gib, you cant swap to MTN (generally faster) or CellC (certainly cheaper).
I tested my review device with both and finding reception proved problematic in each case.
The Smart Tab 3G’s battery life is not at all bad. The built-in battery has a 3550mAh rating. When I looped a 720p HD video, the lights stayed on for five hours. That’s well shy of what the Alcatel pop 7 can manage but half an hour better than the Acer Aspire A110. Leaving the 3G radio on didn’t seem to do much damage either, a full charge regularly getting me through three days’ general use.
In many ways the Tab 3G is last year’s tech, but it is still perfectly capable of doing most of the things that most of us use our tablets for most of the time. And for under R1000, you can’t ask for much more. The key feature for me is that size and portability which makes the Tab 3G very attractive at the price. But a Nexus 7 is still your best bet if you’re happy to pay just a little extra and you don’t care about storage expansion or mobile connectivity.
Thank you to Twitter follower @Harkison for pointing out that the device is actually NOT network locked, nor is any SA carrier issued device. We attempted this using a Telkom Mobile and MTN sim that both worked perfectly.
Thank you to the guys at Midrand (Vodacom) for alerting us on the software update – which enables the device’s voice call abilities. (This was issued after the review date)