Back in June local brand Starmobile held an event in SM North EDSA to launch most of their lineup of phones and tablets for this year 2013. Some of the products include of course the Starmobile Knight – a quad-core phone with premium build and specs. At the same time, they’ve also introduced a few new affordable devices – which include this tablet we’re unboxing and reviewing right now: the Starmobile Engage 7 TV. It’s a 7” tablet with entry-level specs for PHP 5,290, but its main feature definitely has to be the All TV functionality. (Basically has Analog TV, Digital TV, and Streaming Internet TV.) While not everybody might be looking for those features per se, the tablet with its loud dual-front speakers might just be the right device to pickup for commuters, dormers, drivers, and even just as a nice TV set with tablet capabilities while on the go. So without further ado, check out our video unboxing, specs, and a guest-written review after the break!
Starmobile Engage 7 TV – PHP 5,290
Hi Everyone! This is leche1982, a viewer, commentor, and occasional punchline-dropper of the Big Time Show, and I’d like to thank Alex from The Technoclast for giving me the chance to tinker with and review one of Starmobile’s latest tablet releases this year – the Starmobile Engage 7 TV.
So let’s get to it then!
Physical Design and Ergonomics
The Starmobile Engage 7 TV is clearly designed to be used mainly in landscape mode. The placement of the logo, speakers, TV antenna, ports, and hardware buttons all point towards the tablet being meant to be positioned horizontally in its primary use – TV viewing and channel surfing.
As can be seen from the view of the tablet’s front and screen below, the speakers are positioned on the left and right of the screen in landscape mode, which is a departure from common design. Most tablets have a single speaker positioned at the rear, and the Engage 7 TV’s dual speakers positioned in the front of the device drive home the point that this is a gadget meant for media consumption.
In addition to the speakers, the front of the tablet also contains the Starmobile logo centered underneath the screen, with the front camera and LED indicator in the lower right-hand corner.
The back of the Engage 7 TV is pretty plain and straightforward – the camera is positioned in the upper right-hand corner, while the device name is at the top and another Starmobile logo can be found in the center. Another interesting design quirk of the tablet is that the Starmobile logo in the rear lights up whenever the device is in use, which is a feature shared among the company’s other tablets. Perhaps this could have been designed to serve as another LED-type indicator should the tablet receive any notifications.
The top of the Engage 7 TV contains only the extendable TV antenna, which can be found in the right side of the tablet when viewing it from the top, and on the upper left order of the tablet when viewing it from the front. The sides of the device are completely unadorned.
The bottom of the Engage 7 TV is where its design gets really interesting. From left to right, the buttons and ports at the bottom of the tablet are as follows:
The two things that stand out here are the inclusion of an actual USB port and the complete lack of any hardware volume buttons. This may be the first branded tablet to have either design choice in the Philippines.
The Home and Power buttons are somewhat recessed against the bottom of the device, and pressing either button can get annoying really quick.
The Engage 7 TV’s housing is made of gunmetal gray plastic, which is smooth on the front and sides and has a rougher, brushed metal feel at the back, which does help in gripping the device. As is common in nearly all tablets, the back cover cannot be removed. The housing itself looks relatively premium and feels solid, although I did notice a (barely there) creak or two when lightly flexing the housing.
In yet another interesting design choice that reverses common tablet design, the front and sides of the Engage 7 TV curve back towards the flat back. Most devices would have a curved rear and flat front/screen.
While the tablet is designed to be used in landscape mode, one issue I noticed is that when the device is held horizontally from the sides, the positioning of the speaker grilles makes it very easy for these to be muffled. Holding the Engage 7 TV vertically avoids covering the speaker grilles, but also make watching TV on the tablet much more awkward since the TV apps only work in landscape mode.
Without a doubt, this is the most uniquely-designed tablet I’ve ever handled to date.
Screen and Display
The Starmobile Engage 7 TV, as indicated in the name, is a tablet with a 7” screen, and according to the specs, has a screen resolution of 800×480 (133ppi) with 262K colors. While this type of resolution is quite acceptable on a smartphone with a 4”-4.3” screen, it falls far below expectations on a 7” screen. As seen below, the lines in the background wallpaper are noticeably jagged, and pixels are easily visible on the app icons.
800×480 screens on 7” Android tablets date back to 2009(!), with the Camangi Webstation, and seeing a 2013 device with 2009-level screen resolution makes for a jarring first impression upon turning the device on for the first time. I believe the minimum screen resolution on a 7” tablet should be 1024×600, and anything lower than this can make for a frustrating viewing experience. Since the vast majority of a user’s interaction with a smartphone or tablet is in viewing the screen, having a subpar screen can have a drastic negative impact on the user’s impression of the device overall.
To the Engage 7 TV’s credit, its screen does display good brightness, and the screen colors do not feel washed out. Viewing angles are also pretty good despite the screen specs not including IPS. I did notice while doing a battery rundown comparison with the Nexus 7 (at 50% brightness for both devices) that the Engage 7 TV’s screen brightness configuration seemed to be set comparatively lower than that of its Google counterpart.
The tablet’s screen is a capacitive touchscreen, and 5-point multitouch is supported.
OS, Internals, and Performance
The Starmobile Engage 7 TV runs a mostly vanilla version of Android 4.0.4, Ice Cream Sandwich, with some tweaks specific to the tablet. As seen in the homescreen screenshot above, in the system bar at the bottom of the device, aside from the usual Back, Home, and Recent Apps softkeys, there are additional softkeys that (from left to right) allow the user to take screenshots, increase volume, decrease volume, and access the Menu. The lack of a physical volume rocker is addressed in the volume softkeys.
While ICS runs fine on the device (I noticed no obvious lags while navigating around or when opening apps), I would have wanted to see this running Jelly Bean, for the Project Butter improvements and updated tablet UI. ICS on a device released in mid-2013 feels somewhat outdated and gives the impression this device really should have been made available to Filipinos sometime in mid-late 2012.
The Engage 7 TV’s specs bear out this feeling – a 1.2GHz single-core Allwinner A10 processor, ARM Mali-400 GPU and 1 GB RAM. While the amount of RAM is quite satisfactory, the first tablets released using this processor came out in November 2011, while the GPU itself was first released in 2008, so don’t expect anywhere near top-of-the-line performance here. This is borne out by the tablet’s benchmark scores, which place its performance among other single-core smartphones released in 2010. This contributes to the impression that this device really should have been released last year.
While benchmarks can give tech enthusiasts and power users a lot of information on a gadget’s capabilities, ultimately, they mean little to the majority of consumers without some actual hands-on experience. To this end, I installed and tried some games that hopefully give a better indication of what this device can and can’t do.
In fairness, Temple Run 2 works without a hitch on the Engage 7 TV, as well as Fast Racing 3D. Riptide GP, the game I normally use to test an Android device’s 3D capability, also ran without graphic lags, although the game itself crashed once in the 30 minutes I was messing around with it. It appears that the low screen resolution did not have much of a negative impact on the tablet’s ability to render 3D (the relatively generous RAM provided for this device probably helped as well).
While the device purports to have 4 GB internal storage, only 1 GB is available for apps and 1.5 GB is partitioned for other files. I wanted to try installing some other graphics-intensive games to determine the tablet’s limitations, but with only 1GB of internal memory for apps (which is only partially addressed by the ability to move some apps to internal storage), it simply isn’t possible to download the higher-res games that would be able to stretch the device’s capabilities. Hardcore gamers will be disappointed by the paltry internal memory. Thankfully though, the tablet’s file storage capacity is expandable via microSD.
I performed a simple battery test on the Engage 7 TV using the Nexus 7 as a point of comparison. At 50% brightness and full battery charge for both devices, I set a 720P video to loop continuously via MX Player using software decoding with muted volume. After 3 hours, the Nexus 7’s battery level had fallen to 49%, while the Engage 7 TV’s had gone down to 51%. Given that I normally get between 6-8 hours of screen on time doing various tasks on the Nexus 7 before needing a recharge, this should indicate that the Engage 7 TV is capable of similar battery performance.
One last performance-related item of note on the tablet: the back of the device warms up significantly after sustained use, so users may wish to monitor the device’s temperature to prevent long-term impact to its internals and/or battery life.
The Engage 7 TV sports a 3-megapixel rear camera without flash and a VGA front camera. For a budget tablet, these camera specs are to be expected, and high-quality cameras belong more on smartphones than on tablets because of the former’s greater portability.
In general, the rear camera generates stills and videos good enough for social media in bright daylight and performs poorly with indoor lighting or at night. The front VGA camera works for video calls, but is not recommended for use outside of that.
Media and Connectivity
While performing the battery test on the Engage 7 TV, I discovered that the .m4v video used for the test could not be played by the device using MX Player’s hardware decoder. This indicates that the tablet’s hardware is unable to handle the .m4v codec and raises the question whether there are other codecs the device’s chipset cannot handle as well. Software decoding worked just fine, however, and the 720p video could be played with a quite satisfactory level of visual detail. I did notice that after about an hour of playing the same video side-by-side, the video playback on the Engage 7 TV was a full two seconds behind that of the Nexus 7, which indicates a small lag in software rendering. Without an explicit comparison test like this, however, this lag would have been very difficult to notice.
As I discovered to my embarrassment when I inadvertently uncovered this feature on the Engage 7 TV in public – this thing is damn loud. Its volume settings even at the lowest level (without muting the tablet) produce a rather high level of sound on notifications and alerts, and this extends to playing music, as well as watching videos and TV. This is at least partially due to the device’s speakers being positioned on the front, but I also suspect that the tablet’s volume configuration is naturally just that high. This also means that at higher volume levels, the speakers do get overwhelmed and noticeable crackling can be heard.
The Engage 7 TV comes with WiFi access capability, although there is no Bluetooth, nor dedicated GPS on the device, which is disappointing. Users may want to install a different browser on the tablet as I found the default browser to be rather slow in rendering websites. A-GPS is possible via either a 3G or WiFi data connection, and I was able to get a reasonably pinpointed location on Google Maps using WiFi access.
The full USB port allows for USB keyboards, mice, and flash drives to be connected to the tablet, and I was able to successfully test all three. While the tablet is stated to be able to support 3G USB dongles (albeit through the OTG cable and not the full USB port), I have sadly been unable to test this feature, as well as the HDMI capability. All the other ports listed above have been tested and are working as expected.
We’ve gotten this far in the review without talking about the Starmobile Engage 7 TV’s main feature and selling point, because I wanted to spend a whole section focusing on this feature.
As can be seen from the tablet’s homescreen screenshot above, it has 3 dedicated TV apps: Analog TV, Digital TV, and Streaming TV. Analog TV works the same way as any TV phone or tablet does here in the Philippines: You extend the TV antenna, open the app and watch channels whose broadcasted analog signals are captured by the antenna. Tapping on the screen while the Analog TV app is running brings up the options to increase/decrease channels and volume on the left and right of the screen, respectively, while options made available via the Menu softkey allow for performing channel scanning.
As it is for any and all devices with analog TV capability, the viewing experience on the Engage 7 TV is wholly dependent on the quality of the channels’ analog signal. As it stands, only a few channels have consistently strong analog signals regardless of location in Metro Manila, so good analog TV viewing experiences are mostly limited to these channels.
The Digital TV app is unique to the Engage 7 TV, and I believe this tablet is the first branded device to have this feature in the Philippines (outside of the usual unknown-brand Chinese imports). The app itself operates similarly to the Analog TV app – extend the antenna, open the app, and start viewing. Menu options are uncovered by tapping the screen, as the Menu softkey is disabled while using this app.
One difference between the Digital TV and Analog TV apps is that unlike the Analog TV app, after opening the Digital TV app or switching between channels, the screen is blank for a short period of time (between 10-15 seconds) before the digital TV channel is displayed. Another difference is that picture quality on the channels is much better compared to analog TV channels because, unlike with an analog signal, digital TV signals can deliver clear pictures without having a strong signal. Digital channels with really weak signals simply do not get picked up by the app, so users are faced with either good picture quality for a channel or no channel at all. A third difference is that there are a lot fewer digital TV channels available to people in Metro Manila; as of right now, only two channels can be picked up by the app. Hopefully, the mandate to switch all local TV channels to digital by 2015 addresses this issue.
Opening the Streaming TV app brings you to a list of ‘channels’ that, when selected, simply bring up the browser accessing the URL of the streaming website link. The app is basically a glorified list of streaming video bookmarks, which is a bit of a disappointment.
I‘ll confess – I had some trouble forming an overall opinion on the Starmobile Engage 7 TV at first, as its characteristics gave me two widely different impressions of the device.
If you look at the Engage 7 TV strictly as a tablet and take its TV capabilities out of consideration for now, for P5,290, you get a 7” tablet running only ICS, a screen resolution better suited to screens 3 inches smaller, and with internals that seem suited more to 2-3 year old devices, it doesn’t seem worth the purchase when there are quad-core tablets out there that run Jelly Bean, have better screen resolution and cost almost P1,300 less.
However, take its TV capabilities into consideration, and the Engage 7 TV suddenly seems like a big fish in a very, very small pond. The only other widely-available tablet that has TV capability is the Cherry Mobile Titan TV, and it has a smaller screen, smaller battery, has no digital TV capability, and costs P1700 more (albeit with a better processor and phone capability).
If you really need TV access and a decently-working tablet to go along with it, the Starmobile Engage 7 TV is pretty much the best value-for-money option available to you. Students in dorms who may want TV access and could use the tablet for light gaming, school research, and for e-textbooks would be the perfect market for this device. But that’s a pretty niche market for a device that’s priced aggressively enough to target most budget tablet customers. Is this tablet something that will appeal to a wider range of consumers, or will it be perceived (and sell) as strictly a niche device? I have a sneaking suspicion the latter will be the one to hold true.
Alex likes doges and wowes. Much bio.
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