I haz a new toy – Part 3,786…

The perceptive among you might have spotted that I’m something of a gadget hound. Trapped in hospital recently, without my electronic armoury for the second time, I vowed it would never happen again.

Then, when I got home, I turned on my router to reconnect with the world – which promptly expired with a bang. The router, that is, not the world, though I have little doubt that’s coming.

Now, I have a bunch of tablet computers, but all rely on the router as none have 3G, for example. Only my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S3), has that and while it works well enough, typing on such a small virtual keyboard, and reading on such a small screen drives me bananas. I do have a wi-fi plus 3G Kindle, but the implementation of 3G is (deliberately?), clunky – Amazon’s Kindle store and little else** – I needed something better while I waited for my replacement router to arrive (for which, of course, Easter got in the way).

**Trying to access Twitter, for example), just gives me a “This website needs an Internet connection” message.

Mustering the patience for one last assault on the web via my phone, I headed to Amazon and looked at phablets first (tablets with phone functionality), but they were, without exception, made by companies of whom I’d never heard, at silly prices (all well under £100**).

**They might have been brilliant value, equally they could have been utter crap – not a risk I was prepared to take, especially since the government gutted the Distance Selling Regulations, tipping the balance in favour of the vendor.

So I then searched Amazon for 3G tablets – success. The first one I looked at, the Lenovo A8-50, was an 8” tab running both WLAN and 3G (this is the A5500-H version, data only, no phone function; it needed a microSIM which I liberated from a spare phone which has the requisite plan – well, good enough to tide me over until I can switch to a SIM-only data plan).

I was wary of Lenovo because as many people swear at them as swear by them, and they do have something of a rep for turning out rubbish. However, this one had good reviews,** and the price was right, so I took the plunge. I’m glad I did.

**I tend to trust good reviews on Amazon more than I trust the bad. There’s just no way of knowing if a bad review is down to user error (though if the same complaint repeatedly crops up it’s worth taking notice). I do wonder about the sort of person who bitches about the case for his 10” Lenovo tab being too small when what he actually bought was the 8” version.

The thing runs Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), has a very good screen (not that I’ll be watching movies on it – doing that on such a small screen is something I just can’t get my head around), decently-fast quad-core processor and – important, this – is pretty light. Claimed battery life of 11 hours seems accurate. It also got me back online via 3G and – oh dear god! – downloading and installing apps on 3G is soul-destroyingly slow. Over 6 hours for the 35MB Tesco app! It didn’t take that long to install Windows 98 from its huge stack of floppies!

Fortunately. the app, once loaded, is lightning-fast and I raced through my weekly shop this morning (Easter Sunday).

Oddly, there is no app offered for Sainsbury’s, though I know there is one as I have it on my Galaxy. OK – that’s not quite true – there’s no app for MY Sainsbury’s on Google Play, but I can have one for Sainsbury’s Malaysia or Hungary and various other points East. Not wildly helpful, Google!

I can get into their mobile app via Chrome easily enough (just searched for Sainsbury’s and it took me right to it), and it mostly works albeit rather slowly. Not a problem for me as online shopping at the mercy of 3G and mobile apps is only for emergencies, like now. In a few days my wi-fi should be restored.

Wish I could say the same for my legs.

One thing that surprised me about the Lenovo tab is the sound quality, which is really rather good – way better than my laptop, for example (and that’s using the speakers, not phones). It has a very slight echoey quality, which will probably go with a little tweaking, but I’m seriously impressed as the sound on my other tabs and laptop is execrable.

Lenovo have chosen to put the speakers on the front of the device, one left, one right in landscape mode, giving maximum separation (though on a device the size of a paperback book I seriously doubt that matters), and, if the speakers actually match the grills, they’ve pretty much maxed out the size too.

I think it’s fair to say that the Lenovo A8-50 is the tablet I’ve spent the past couple of years searching for and not found. The only fly in the ointment is the unreliability of 3G. When it works it’s excellent, but too often it doesn’t work at all. And I don’t use it enough to justify the cost of upgrading to 4G.

Oh, and Lenovo – do something about that bloody awful user manual. It doesn’t even contain basic info like the maximum size of microSD card it’ll accept. And off-white text on a grey ground does NOT make for legibility – get a grip, FFS!

I’m serious. If I was new to Android the manual would have been no help whatsoever, and the only item I needed (the microSD card info), was absent. I guessed at 32GB, which turned out to be right (it usually is but some go up to 64GB).

And while I’m on the subject of gripes, what the hell is the screen made of? It seems to generate its own greasy finger-marks!** It’s a bugger to clean, too. I have microfibre cloths for lenses and screens, and they work perfectly – except on this, where I have to resort to Windowlene (the clear blue version, not the cloudy pink, which is mildly abrasive – OK on glass, a potential disaster on plastic).

**It doesn’t work well with styli either, though it’s fine with fingers.

Finger-marks aren’t a problem unique to this tab – I think the entire touchscreen concept sucks. The only screens which don’t piss me off are my Kindles’, which are very lightly textured – the finger-marks are there, they just don’t show.

But, to end on a positive note, the A8-50 has a fully-functional OTG microUSB port. All too often these are charge-only, and the only tab which breaks with that is my Surface RT, which has a full-size type-A port. Only my Galaxy has a fully-functioning OTG microUSB port – until now. For that I could almost forgive the smeary screen. Of course it still needs an OTG micro male to Type A female adapter, but there’s no shortage of those and they’re cheap.

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