Scroll Excel 7 first look

scrollexcel7boxThe market for tablet computers is looking rosy according to any number of research studies and reports in the mainstream media and tech press.

It’s continuing good news for Apple and its iPad and for the myriad Android tablet-makers; and for satisfying consumers’ desire to own the latest affordable tech that gives them the freedom to get at information whenever and wherever they want it.

According to one recent report I read by Research and Markets, the expected growth of the tablet market in the UK over the next few years will be driven by features such as ease of use, long battery life, mobility, ability to multi-task, instant on/off and the large number of applications available.

Such predicted expectation drivers – no doubt valid in most if not all markets, not just the UK – keep the pressure on vendors where those that build better mousetraps are likely to be the ones that dominate in the market, either overall (like the iPad) or in a niche.

Such predictions and opinion are probably welcome news to a UK niche player like Storage Options, maker of the Scroll Excel 7″ tablet they loaned me and that I’ve been taking a look at over the past few weeks.

Just over six months ago, in June 2011, I reviewed Storage Options’ predecessor tablet, the Scroll 7″ Tablet PC (Capacitive). As I mentioned in the review, that device while competent had some significant issues that made me reluctant to consider it a product to recommend to anyone.

But that was then, and this is now with a new device that offers a much better experience and makes it a worthy offering in an increasingly-crowded market. You can see what I make of the Scroll Excel in my first-look video report that runs at just under ten minutes.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

Overall, I think this is a very good device, certainly a far superior product compared to its predecessor. It’s well specified; the device I’ve got includes:

  • Android 2.3.4 operating system
  • Cortex A8 1Ghz single-core processor
  • 512Mb DDR3 RAM; 4GB internal storage memory (of which 2Gb is used by the operating system); slot to add a microSD card up to 32Gb
  • Capacitive 7-inch touch screen, 16:9 (screen resolution) 5:3 (pixel resolution), 800 x 480
  • 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
  • Mini HDMI socket for connecting to, eg, a TV to play HD video (you’ll need to buy a cable, one isn’t included)
  • Mini USB port for connecting to a computer for file transfers and to to connect peripheral devices: keyboard, flash drive, etc (and a cable is included)
  • Plays 1080p HD video, supports MPEG2, MPEG4, AVS, H.264, WMV, AVI, MP4, RMVB, FLV, MKV

I like the build quality, the speed of operation (on a par with most devices I’ve used and matching your expectations in how quickly something happens when you tap on the screen), the screen’s great resolution, and long battery life (with my moderate use so far – exploring the device, video watching, news reading, a bit of email – it’s days between charges).

Storage Options offers the Scroll Excel 7″ at a pretty keen price – currently, £129.99 is mentioned on their website although I see Amazon UK has it at £139.99, a discount of £10 off the original price. And they reported earlier this month that it was selling very well indeed.

There is a negative about the device, although how big it is depends on what’s important to you. The Scroll Excel 7 doesn’t come with the app you commonly find on many Android devices that lets you connect to the Android Market to download and install or update your apps.

Storage Options say this:

Due to licensing restrictions, the Scroll Excel cannot officially be used to access the Android Marketplace. It does however come with a number of pre-installed apps including Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Aldiko Book Reader, Amazon Kindle, BBC iPlayer, BBC News, es_file_explorer, Evernote, Facebook, MSN Talk, Quick System Info Pro, Slider Me Market Place, TuneIn Radio, Twitter, WildTangent Games and YouTube.The Scroll Excel also comes with access to the Slide Me Market Place where most major apps can be downloaded to the device without issue.

I mention this in my video review. If ease of use for you includes installing or updating your apps with just a tap or two on the screen, then this could be a big issue. There are workarounds, though, as Storage Options mentions (and includes reference to in the device manual). There are also some extreme ones.

I discovered a way to get to the Market, by accident I think, when I installed the Kindle app for Android from Amazon directly, which took me to the Market. I did that today, after I recorded the video review yesterday, and it opens up some interesting usage possibilities I hadn’t considered – the Scroll Excel 7 makes a pretty good Kindle device alternative with a better screen reading experience than the Kindle itself (and it’s in hi-res colour), and the price between the two devices isn’t far apart. The Excel is about the same size as a Kindle, too.

That’s an extra although one you may find as appealing as I do. But as a ‘mainstream’ Android tablet, this Scroll Excel is worth considering if you’re looking for a good-quality and good-value device and you don’t want to venture into iPad-like pricing territory.

This market is evolving very quickly, though. For instance, Dell may be getting into the consumer tablet market later this year (not to be confused with it’s abortive efforts in the business tablet market with the Dell Streak). There’s also Amazon’s Fire rumoured to be coming to the UK in a few months and at a price that will bring pressure to budget-device makers

Still, for a penny under £130, the Scroll Excel 7 is a very nice product at the budget end of the market.

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.

Related post: