Scroll 7" tablet first impressions

scroll7homescreen2If you’re in the market for a tablet computer, you have a number of options. The obvious one, that everyone talks about, is the iPad. It was the brand that rebooted an entire market and quickly established the benchmark for what a desirable consumer product could be when it launched in early 2010. Enthusiasts said it was the only game in town: some people would say that is still the case today with the iPad2, launched a few months ago.

That brand-love and feature set come at a premium price, though. If your budget is more modest – less than £175 (€197 / $280) for instance – a Scroll tablet from Storage Options is worth considering among the many Android devices to choose from. I’ve been playing with a Scroll 7″ tablet with capacitive multi-touch screen for the past few days (thanks to Chris Norton who arranged it), enough time to share a few first impressions and make some conclusions.

First, let’s look at the major features you get for your money:

  • A stylish-looking tablet with a brushed aluminium case that measures about eight inches high by 5.2 inches wide by half an inch thick, weighing just under 15 ounces or nearly a pound. (In metric: 203mm x 132mm x 12mm, weight 420 grams.)
  • A capacitive screen measuring seven inches on the diagonal, at 800×400 pixels resolution. ‘Capacitive’ means you can do the kinds of things you might do now on a smartphone or, indeed, an iPad: ‘pinch’ a photo, web page, etc, to zoom in and out; single- and double-tap on the screen to perform actions;  ‘stroke’ screen objects to navigate; and more.
  • A dual-core 1GHz ARM 11 processor, 256Mb DDR RAM, 2Gb internal memory expandable to 32Gb via a micro SD card.
  • Android 2.3.1 operating system (the OS for Android smartphones not specifically for tablets).
  • Rechargeable internal battery, projected usage up to four hours between charges.
  • Lots of connectivity options: wifi (802.11b/g), mini USB port (connect to a computer but also plug in an external hard drive, keyboard, etc), mini HDMI socket (for connecting to a high-definition TV or monitor), micro SD card slot. (Note the Scroll is wifi only: there is no option for cellular connectivity via a SIM card.)
  • A low-resolution (0.3 megapixels) front-facing camera that can do video and take photos.
  • Power charger, USB cables, ear buds, slim manual.

Read the detailed specs if you want to know more.

Out of the box, the device is straightforward to get going. Mine came with the battery partly charged so I just turned it on. It takes about a minute to boot up from pressing the on/off switch and arriving at the screen where you slide the lock to get into use mode.

If you’re used to an Android smartphone, the Scroll will be instantly recognizable. Everything looks familiar, just bigger on the larger seven-inch screen. It comes with a set of Scroll Apps (11 in total including Adobe Reader, Amazon Kindle, Facebook, MSN Talk) with an easy installer. One thing you’ll notice is that the Android Market app you find on lots of devices is absent on the Scroll, primarily for licensing reasons.

That means that if you want to find and install apps from the Android Market, you’ll need to go to the store on the web via the web browser. Not a huge deal but it’s an extra effort.

Speaking of the web browser, I found the one included pretty flaky: it would often crash and sometimes just not respond. One of the first apps I installed is the excellent Dolphin Browser which I run on all my Android devices, and doesn’t have any of those problems. (Subsequently, I discovered that there’s an update for the Scroll that is a fix for the included browser. Installing it is quite a performance though.)

Looking more generally at overall use, the Scroll is a competent device, running apps that I’ve installed on it such as Twidroyd, the BBC News app and Feedly. Indeed, apps like those which are very much focused on reading and writing text content give you terrific usability benefits from the large screen compared to a typical three-t0-four-inch smartphone.

If I have any negative comments, they’re mostly to do with usability. For instance, I find the device sluggish in how it responds to interaction via the touch screen. Often, tapping an app icon to launch it takes five to ten seconds: unacceptably slow when other Android devices I use – notably, my HTC Desire smartphone and Dell Streak 5″ mini tablet – respond instantly to such interactions.

Maybe it’s the processor. The Scroll spec says it’s 1 GHz yet the system info on the device itself reports processor speed at 720 MHz.

There are some other oddities, too. Sometimes, an app will cause the device to freeze momentarily. The auto-switching from portrait to landscape view when you rotate it doesn’t kick in quickly: you often have to wait some seconds. And most weird: apps like the BBC News app runs upside down (which it doesn’t do on any of my other Android devices). Figure that one out!

Still, as I mentioned, it’s a competent device. It’s affordable and, on my experience so far, will run all of the apps I like to use on Android devices. But anomalies like freezing up, taking a long time to respond to taps, weird stuff like upside-down apps present major obstacles to my being able to unreservedly recommend the Scroll. The price point is attractive – price on the website is £169.99 and Amazon UK has it at a price close to that – and the overall spec is generous. But is that enough to justify the purchase?

The reality is that there is a huge range of choices if you’re looking to buy a tablet computer, whether for personal use or for business (or for that increasingly-common blurring-of-both situation), quite a few in the price area the Scroll is at. Name-recognition manufacturers who already have tablets on the market include Dell, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Asus, RIM (Blackberry), Motorola and Archos. Others bringing tablets to market during 2011 include Huawei, Lenovo, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba.

Then there’s some views that the market for 7″ tablets is a finite one and the real market that matters is for 10″ screens.

However you see it, it’s a crowded market that presents challenges to manufacturers to stand out from the crowd with a device to wow the consumer with great features at a terrific price. Even with the oddities I’ve experienced, I think the Scroll is good but does it wow?

Unfortunately, in a word, no.

In any case, I’m pressing on with my Scroll discovery. For instance, I want to see what it’s like with showing video on a TV via the HDMI interface. I want to use the camera, take some photos, shoot some video. I’m tweeting various thoughts as I go along at the #scroll7 hashtag. Do join in if you have anything to add.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.