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The people’s tablet — The Netsurfer Touch

Steven Norris: grumpy curmudgeon
Steven Norris is a born writer, living in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town and educated in the ways of graphic design but destined to follow in the footsteps of... More

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The Netsurfer Touch is a R2000, 7-inch tablet running Android 2.2 (commonly known as Froyo). It’s the first of its kind really; a proudly South African device aimed at the little people aching to get their tablet groove on. Can it compete with the Kindle Fire and the BlackBerry PlayBook, two other 7-inch tablets with similar specifications? Does it even want to compete? We take a closer look at the Netsurfer Touch, the first tablet from Future Mobile Technology and a 3G/Wi-Fi ready device which is definitely going to make an impact on the sunny shores of South Africa.

Overall design

I’m impressed by the chunky feel of the Netsurfer Touch. It’s a solid device, with a mere three physical buttons, namely volume up/down and the power switch. All are fairly responsive and fit well with the aesthetics of the device.

The touch buttons on the right of the device are cumbersome and finicky. Four soft keys line the right of the tablet: Home, Options, Search and Back. These keys are standard with any Android device but seem desperately out of place on the Netsurfer. Also, they don’t light up. This may seem like a minor issue but in bright light or darkness, fumbling around for the correct soft key is a pain the ass. With a tiny hardware upgrade, the keys would have been functional instead of impractical (like it is now). Once you’re playing around with the tablet, the soft keys become an afterthought and the user interface thankfully takes over.

Other inputs include a microSD card slot (supports up to 32GB), an audio jack, a micro-USB port and HD output (maxed out at 720p).

I love the heft of the Netsurfer. It feels like an expensive tablet, despite its budget roots. At 669g, it’s the right weight and feels natural to hold in either landscape or portrait format. It’s not svelte like the iPad, or luxurious like the Kindle Fire, but it holds its own against the competition.

Operating System

Let’s get this out of the way. I initially hated the Netsurfer’s choice of operating system. Froyo, in 2012? Come now. But after a few days of playing around with the OS, I begun to love it for what it is. A no-nonsense OS which when side-loaded with the right apps, manages to break free of its archaic past.

I put down my initial irritation to the frustrating SlideMe market. If you’ve used anything past Android 2.3, then you have been lucky enough to use a decent OS. SlideMe is simply not sufficient for my needs. But let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Would I need a market filled with the latest and greatest apps if I was a humble consumer new to the tablet game? Probably not and in this instance, SlideMe becomes the ideal app market.

Thankfully, Android is an open OS and plugging the tablet into a computer opens the device up as easily as browsing an external hard drive. When compared to the backwards and closed environment of Apple’s iOS, I was frankly blown away by how easy it was to edit my content on my device. The Netsurfer truly felt like it was mine, opposed to my iPhone which still feels like a foreign device which I am merely “renting” until the inevitable upgrade.

Side-loading is the art of copying an Android APK from the computer to your device. This is what I had to do to turn the Netsurfer from starter tablet into a turbo-charged device which pissed lightening and shat thunder. I loaded Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Foursquare, and an endless number of emulators until the device creaked with software. No native support for any of these apps comes with the Netsurfer, so side-loading is your only option. Trying to find these apps on SlideMe is an exercise in futility. But for those who are determined to give SlideMe a go, it’s easier to search for your desired software via the “search” soft key button when inside the SlideMe market. For anything else, there is the Opera apps store. Still, side-loading is the only method I’d advocate for the tech-hungry geeks of the world. Note that you don’t have to install any apps to use the tablet. The apps I installed can be accessed in web form on the Android browser.

With the OS finely tuned and the bloatware removed, the tablet became mine. I used it everywhere. In the car as a music player, on the plane as a Gameboy/Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis, in meetings as a notebook replacement and in place of my iPhone as an on-the-go web browser. I knew deep down in my heart that it would never replace my phone or laptop, but I found that I would use it more as my in-between device which actually brought me a mote of pleasure.

I could play games again. The iPhone’s screen was too small for decent gaming and my laptop was woefully underpowered. This alone places the Netsurfer in a high regard. Console emulation is one of the device’s hidden secrets.

Performance

Here’s where I had to learn to make a few adjustments. I was used to the nippy speed of my iPad, so when webpages decided to crawl as I scrolled through them, I had to put my foot down. It drove me mad; why would this seemingly powerful tablet with an ARM Cortex A9 dual core CPU have a heart attack every time I visited 9Gag.com? It was down to the native browser. I sideloaded Opera and my troubles were over. Web pages flew, scrolled smoothly and presented no issues. Android standard browser, shame on you.

Everything else the tablet is meant to do, it excels at. Full HD films play without a hitch and look magnificent on the 480×800 screen. Music plays well, but only sounds decent with a quality pair of free headphones plugged in (which are thankfully included). Android games are smooth and enjoyable, but nothing beats Marvel VS Capcom care of the MAME emulator. With 512MB RAM and 8GB of internal memory, the standard user will rarely run into a software roadblock.

Display and sound quality

A 7-inch, 480×800 capacitive display is the ideal solution for a device of this calibre and price. It’s not going to beat the glossy screen of the iPad, or the 10.1-inch monster display of the Xoom 2, but it is going to put a smile on your face when content displays in Full-HD.

The screen is responsive, but surprisingly dull and washed out when navigating the UI, as if the resolution is lower than it should be. Regardless, when 1080p content is displayed, the colours are sharp and crisp once more. I’m putting this down to Froyo’s underpowered design more than the Netsurfer.

Sound is loud, but distorts at high volumes. Nothing much to say here, other than the speakers are located on the left of the Netsurfer and work adequately.

Other internals

Did I mention it’s a phone as well? Slip in a SIM card (which is a bitch to do) and you get one of the largest phones in existence. My suggestion? Grab a Bluetooth headset if you want to avoid stares on the street and office. Talking into a tablet will make even the largest Viking look like a mental case. There is also the option of using the free included headphones .With the SIM card inserted, the tablet also turns into a free-roaming  3G wireless device. Pretty fantastic for a R2000 tablet.

And yes, there’s a camera, but only a front-facing one. Future Mobile Technology, the company behind the Netsurfer has promised that a rear camera will arrive in the later models. Personally, it isn’t the biggest worry, but for those who are looking to replace their mobile phone with the Netsurfer, this may be a deal breaker for them.

Wrap-up

It’s a great tablet. Inexpensive, packed with features and aimed at the emerging markets. If you’re considering a second tablet, this is the device for you. If you are new to the tablet game, this is the first device you should consider picking up. Future Mobile Technology has hit on a winner here and later versions, which will run Android 4.0, should be ever more daring in design and technology. This is a dynamite tablet.

Gear it or burn it?

Gear!

The Netsurfer Tablet retails for R2000 and is available in select PEP stores across South Africa.


  • robo kop

    Has any one bought this tablet yet? is it worth buying

  • Grové Erasmus

    512Mb Ram and Android 2.2 ? Can one upgrade the OS yourself ? Does the 512Mb Ram limit the amount of apps one nca have installed ? I ask simply because I own a Viewsonic Viewpad 7, Android 2.2, 3G, w/512Mb Ram only and memory expansion slot. Because of only 512Mb I frequently get ‘out of memory’ error which waant to let me blow a fuse in frustration. Is memory a common  issue with all Android 2.2 devices, or only with my Viewpad 7 ? Does a device with Android 2.2, 512Mb Ram and (example) 4Gb internal also have memory errors ?

  • http://twitter.com/d0dja Roger Hislop

    It has 8GB built in storage for apps and data. The 512M internal memory limits how many you can have running at one time, not how many you can install — 512MB RAM is pretty standard for tablets.

    But it takes microSD slots, so you can add up to an extra 32GB (why the hell don’t Samsung and Apple provide SD card expansion? Bastards).

  • Joshua

    definitely worth buying !!! I got myself one, as as soon as i side-loaded Snapzz Alternative market things really started falling into place and it starred feeling like an REAL TABLET 

  • Sambulo

    does it has wireless internet?

  • Grové Erasmus

    I understand that due to the amount of base RAM (512Mb) one can only have a limited amount of apps running. How many apps can one have installed in the device? I have a Viewsonic Viewpad 7, Android 2.2, w/512Mb Ram only (and SD card slot). Even with apps2SD + 8Gb SD card I can only install a limited amount of apps (never mind running them) on the device. I am a techie, my question regarding memory and running apps are to try to find out if my frustrations with are only a Viewpad 7 related, or a general Android 2.2 issue ?
    Does the Netsurfer suffer from the same issue as the Viewpad 7 ?

    Viewpad 7, Android 2.2 (with 8Gb SD expansion) issues:
    * I use Apps2SD and cache flusher.
    * Regularly get ‘out of memory’or ‘process terminated’messages.
    * Can only install a limited amount of apps, even with 8Gb SD memory amount of installed apps limited.
    * All apps installed to SD also take up valueable RAM meaning that I can only install limited amount of apps.
    * Almost impossible to install apps larger than 2Mb and then I usually get ‘out of memory’ or process terminated’ messages.

    Question:
    Is my problem above unique to the Viewpad 7, or is this a common problem with all devices running Android 2.2 and 512mb RAM ?
    I would appreciate it if anyone with the Netsurfer can answer if they have the same problems. The above problems with Viewpad 7 have kept me from buying another Andoid 2.2/2.3 w/512Mb Ram tablet.

  • http://twitter.com/dunnyone Steven

    Hi.

    I can’t comment on your Viewpad, having never tested one. But I can tell you that I have never (or very rarely) had an “out of memory” or process terminated message. I have 100’s of apps on mine as well.

  • Naeem

    Nice tablet. I bought it a week ago. At first it took some getting used to. Joshua is correct.. I had to side load most apps.. but once you get the hang of it.. You’ll love it. It has wifi and 3G built in

  • Norman C

    How does the viewing of photographs compare to other tablets?

  • Innocentmuyambo

    recently bought it and its my first tab, which best app or software shld l use to browse the net because lam finding it expensive?????

  • http://twitter.com/dunnyone Steven

    Use Opera Mini. Fastest, best and less “expensive” on your bandwidth.

  • http://twitter.com/dunnyone Steven

    Looks good, like any other Froyo 2.2 interface.

  • Reenen Laurie

    I bought one a while back, is there any way to jailbreak it, and get rid of the slideme market?

  • Reenen Laurie

    I am trying to remove the SlideME market… Is there a way to jailbreak the device?  Anyone had any success?  I am trying the SnappzMarket now.

    BTW. I highly recommend “any soft keyboard” with the Afrikaans language pack if you want to type Afrikaans.

  • Reenen Laurie

    It has WIFI… if you have access to wireless internet, it has.

  • Reenen Laurie

    I haven’t been able to get Snappz working… Snappz just says Pleas Wait Loading… forever….

  • Reenen Laurie

    I have it on *very* good authority that in the 3rd quarter of the year, the netsurfer will be upgrading to Ice Cream Sandwich.

  • Grové Erasmus

    I have a MTN Uncapped Lite 3G dongle. Can one use the SIM card from the 3G dongle in the tablet ? 
    Android allows tethering, turning your Android device into a wireless router.

  • Reenen Laurie

    Yes you can use the SIM.  2.2 FroYo doesn’t have the hotspot functionality, so you can’t do it yet.  You’ll have to wait for the ICS upgrade in the 3rd quarter of the year.

  • Johann

    I bought one to see how it works… Let me say that it is not like my Galaxy!! But that was stated in the review.. I have had some trouble side-loading but that seems to be a thing of the past. The 3G is a wonderful tool. The screen does look a bit old fashioned and the graphics not as sharp. I am however not going to fault them if the machine costs 2k!!!!!

  • Clevaan

     Will this tablet definitely be getting ICS upgrade

  • Naeem

    I also emailed them asking for an update. In July i’ll be able to boast that I got a tablet running ICS for R 2000

  • Netsurfer owner-Rae

    Am failing to connect to my pc . What could be the problem?

  • Naeem

    When you plug it in to your pc, look at the tablet and tap the button that says “turn on USB storage”.

  • Charl Coetzer

    I actually have one of these Netsurfer Touch Tablets.
    Got it to open ebooks during lectures and it’s been really good for that.
    Considering that my textbooks cost me about R2000 a year and I can now download most for free, it’s kinda paid for itself.

    I do however have one problem with it though, Google Play Market isn’t on it and it crashes when I side load it.. Hoping ICS upgrade will sort it out though.
    Thanks for the review, I read it before I bought the Tablet.
    http://charlway.blogspot.com/p/android-tablet.html

  • Charl Coetzer

    I would like to revise my previous comment.. Google Play market doesn’t work on the Netsurfer Touch because apparently new Tablets first need to be approved, Google has not done this yet, but in the mean time there is a very nice alternative to the Google Play market,
    http://www.1mobile.com/app/market/?cid=31, it works really well.
    http://charlway.blogspot.com/p/android-tablet.html

  • felix

    i do not think there will ever be an update to ICS,
    maybe new device will have it, for if you ask them, they say they do not know.

  • http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008ABMZA4/ref=s9_simh_gw_p147_d0_g147_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0Z77SJZZGD3YH2K4PA1Y&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=467128533&pf_r android tablet

    It seems just an amazing and affordable android tablet which has some significant features and display screen that could make you exciting about it. Just one negative mark I could find that it should have been coming with latest ICS version of android OS.

  • Pingback: 30 Brilliant African Tech Startups

  • Naeem

    according to
    http://www.engren.se/2012/03/03/cortex-a9-dual-core-android-2-3-5-renesas-rena3/ you can use that guy’s version of gingerbread… note, doing this will void your warranty, and you may not be able to go back to the old firmware if you have a problem.

  • Koos van der Vyver

    It does not work on the netsurfer touch 7
    1: Connections (3g and wifi) drops continuously
    2: Light sensor does not work and so for the others too (except for g sensor)
    3: USSD codes for vodacom is messy
    4: No voice in calls in either direction
    I’ve contacted the manufacturer and they refuse to give you the link to download the original rom for this machine and for them to re-flash the rom they want to charge you a arm and a leg and the waiting time is ridiculous.
    I’ve searched the net and the closes I can find to the original rom does not work either.
    People should be very careful in flashing new cooked rom’s on any tablet as none of the developers test these rom’s properly.
    If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.

  • Koos van der Vyver

    It’s a great machine with awesome battery life and it does exactly what it’s suppose to do. I read my e-books on it and use handrite for making notes. Plays games at a great speed but won’t suggest using it to play games as the battery drains very quickly with that. Over all with normal use I get about 6 hours of battery life out of it. But please DO NOT FLASH ANY KIND OF SO-CALLED ROM ON THESE MACHINES, your warranty drops and future mobile is very reluctant to help in a proper way when you did make a mistake.

  • Naeem

    The damn crooks! I was reluctant to try any of these roms for that reason. I planned to root my tablet, then backup my rom, then try and flash.. and if i had any issue, I’d use the backup I made. Roms can be backup up after rooting the tablet only :(

  • Naeem
  • SC Pran

    Awesome device for basic requirements. We use it for our business and the service response from FutureMobile is the best i have ever recived to date. The MD and tech support are always willing to assist and repair costs (due to these devices being out in the field) is very low. Ten stars for the Netsurfer…

  • Jerry

    Just aquired a Tablet, trying to configure to start up, all writing on the tablet is in chinese, how do I fix this problem.

  • vile

    i bought my netsurfer in november 2012 but now the screen turned half grey and now at PEP they are telling me that I must courier it to Cape Town @my own expense like really i dont understand………..

  • tkmuparadzi

    How can I get a replacement screen for my netsurfertouch7 pliz help I can’t live without this gadget I’m stuck

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