Someone asked me this question just the other day. “I need a simple tablet mainly for web browsing and email. Would one of those cheap China tablets that sells for less than $100 be good enough?” After doing some research, I’ve decided to review the Ainol Novo7 Crystal II 7″ Android tablet and find out if it is indeed good enough for someone who only has basic needs and requirements out of a tablet.
- Under $100
- Quad-core processor
- 2 GB RAM
- Dual cameras
- IPS screen
- Good battery life
- Good WiFi
The Ainol Novo7 Crystal II did not meet all of my requirements above but it comes close enough and perhaps I was a little over optimistic considering the price point I was aiming at.
First of all, the Ainol Novo7 Crystal II does meet my price point requirement. It is available for just under $100 from several online retailers including Amazon.
The Crystal II does have a quad-core based processor. It runs on the Actions ATM7029 ARM Cortex-A5 CPU with a Vivante GC1000 GPU. The ATM7029 is a budget quad-core SoC that performed poorly when compared to other quad-core SoC like the Rockchip RK3188 and Allwinner A31. So I got my quad-core device but just barely.
I did not manage to get 2GB RAM to go with the quad-core CPU. Although most quad-core devices come with 2GB, the Ainol Novo 7 Crystal II only came with 1GB. It also came with only 8GB of storage ROM instead of the more common 16GB among quad-core devices but this was not such a big deal as I can easily add more storage using the microSD slot.
The Crystal II comes with only 1 camera, a 2 megapixel front facing one for video conferencing. The camera quality is not great but it is acceptable for video conferencing purposes. I am slightly disappointed at now managing to get a rear facing camera as well but I have to admit that the quality of the cameras on cheap tablets often leave much to be desired so it is probably not a big loss after all.
The Ainol Novo7 Crystal II has a 7″ 1024 x 600 resolution IPS screen with 5-points capacitive multitouch. Not all IPS screens are created equal and the one on the Crystal II cannot compare to those on higher end devices. The brightness is slightly on the low side and it has poor visibilities when used outdoors. Another indication of the poorer quality on a budget device like the Crystal II is that when I apply pressure on the back of the housing, it causes a distortion on the screen in the front. This is not a major problem and it is not visible when gripping the device normally. The other concerns about the IPS display is that it is glossy and the viewing angle is fairly poor. The glossy screen is a matter of preference though.
The battery life and WiFi performance will be covered in the next section below. Last but not least, I did not get Bluetooth with the Ainol Novo7 Crystal II.
Ainol Novo7 Crystal II Impressions and Performance
The design of the Ainol Novo7 Crystal II is nothing to shout about but that is exactly what I would expect out of such a budget device. The entire housing is made from plastic and it does flex quite a bit when pressure is applied. The device measures 11.2 x 189.3 x 120 mm and weighs 335 g.
On the left side of the tablet (in landscape mode) are where all the ports are located. There is a 3.5 mm audio jack, a microSD slot, a mini USB OTG port that can also be used for powering the device, a HDMI port and a power port. I would like to highlight that my unit did not come with a power adapter that plugs in the power port. All it has is a mini USB cable but I had no problems charging using the mini USB port.
The power, volume and home buttons are located on the upper left corner of the Crystal II.
It comes pre-loaded with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean and except for a few Chinese apps that comes with installed, this is pretty much stock Android.
While the IPS screen quality is not top-notch, the touch screen is quite responsive which makes navigation and typing on the screen a pleasant experience. The stock firmware has support for the Google Play Store although there are apps that are listed as not compatible with the device. Video playback on both online video streaming sites and local playback is smooth and problem free even for HD content. The single speaker mounted on the back is also surprisingly loud although it does suffer quite a bit of distortion at maximum levels. It works best when set at about 3/4 way up.
Browsing on the Crystal II using either the default Android browser and Chrome browser is a pleasant experience. It would have been smoother and more responsive if the device came with 2GB RAM instead of just 1GB. However, if you are used to browsing on a mobile device, you wouldn’t consider this as a big minus point.
It is possible to play some popular 3D games like Temple Run 2 for example. There is some slight jerkiness when running more 3D intensive games like Shadowgun for instance but the game itself is still perfectly playable. For a budget device, I am actually very impressed with the gaming capabilities of the Crystal II.
The Ainol Novo7 Crystal II comes with a 3700 mAh battery. This is a fairly small capacity battery but fortunately, the ATM7029 on the Crystal II is designed to be a low powered chip. The battery is rated at 6 hours and I could get quite close to that with WiFi switched on all the time. Again, I am pleasantly surprised at what this budget device is capable of.
WiFi connectivity is about average. I could get a good connection except from the farthest reaches of my house. I have quite a small house although I do have a floor and a couple of concrete walls in between when my connection gets dropped. If I do not move around, the connection is stable most of the time and it rarely gets dropped.
Back to the original question of whether a sub $100 Android tablet will be able to fulfill the needs of a simple user, the answer is a resounding yes. The Ainol Novo7 Crystal II did not manage to meet all my initial requirements in terms of features but it still managed to more than adequately meet my prime objective.
Not only would I recommend it to someone who is looking for a simple device for web browsing and email, it would probably work well for a wide range of other users as well. It is a fairly competent gaming device and for video playback as well.
Of course, if you can afford it, you can obviously do much better than the Ainol Novo7 Crystal II. It does come with several handicaps that are not deal breakers but they are a constant reminders that you are getting what you paid for. The IPS screen quality is not comparable to better quality devices. The screen distortion caused by pressure on the back cover is an obvious consequence of poor design and cheap material. It also has poor outdoor visibility and viewing angle. The overall built quality could have been better as well.