Allergic to Stupid
Review: Bought a Sero 8
I stopped by Wally World after work yesterday and bought a new Sero 8. I played with it for a few hours last night and here are my first impressions.
Background: I have a Galaxy Note 10.1 2012 tablet, which I've had for going on 2 years. I have a Galaxy S4 phone. I've had several other Android phones, Blackberry phones, iOS devices, and other Android tablets. I have been developing software professionally since 1984 (on numerous OSes, but mostly Windows). I have rooted Android devices, Jailbroken iOS, and installed ROMs on Android and Blackberry devices over the years. I have built PCs from scratch and disassembled/reassembled laptops, tablets, and smartphones to do things like replace motherboards, CPUs, cooling fans, etc.. I have my own soldering station and I know how to use it. I would classify myself as "technical".
The purchase: The sales dude at Wally World had to scratch his head and end up rummaging around in the back for a while to find the one and only Sero 8 they had in stock. I'm pretty confident he didn't even know it existed until I asked for it and he looked it up in his store inventory. I bought the 2 year accidental damage warranty. The placard he had said it was $28. It rang up as $39. He was able to price override it back to $28, but I suspect they are in the process of a price hike, so anyone's ability to get the $28 price might be shortlived. The tablet itself was $129 (.99?).
The unboxing: It was packaged pretty much like every other tablet I've purchased. Nothing to remark on here.
The hardware: It really surprised me how thin and light it feels compared to my Note 10.1. I knew it would be some lighter, but it's a LOT lighter (it seems). And thinner. The rim of the Sero feels "rubberized". It's nice and has a good, tacky, non-slip feel to it. The back is slightly textured and feels like plastic, but also with a little "tack" to it - not slippery, like the back of my Note 10.1 or S4. I handed it to one of my IT guys at work this morning and he IMMEDIATELY remarked on how nice it felt in his hand.
It's clearly intended to be used primarily in portrait mode. All the controls, the charging port, etc., are all on the top, except for the volume rocker, which is high on the right side. I was a little surprised that the microUSB charging port was on top, but it actually seems like a good idea, as I can have it laying on my desk or nightstand charging, without having the charging cable coming out the bottom and looping back up the side to reach the power source.
It had about 85% battery charge when I first turned it on. I used it for several hours then left it laying on my bedside table overnight. This morning, it had 35'ish % or so. I did load a decent number of apps last night and connected it to my two separate Exchange ActiveSync accounts - both using Push full-time.
The screen looks good to me. I believe the resolution is, essentially, the same as the resolution on my Note 10.1. Being smaller means it has a higher pixel density, so it's no surprise that it looks good to me. Comparing it to my S4, I opened the same photo on both and compared them side by side. The S4 has a Full HD (1080p) screen, where the Sero is HD (720p). Side by side, the S4 screen is clearly better. But, without the side by side, the Sero screen is likely to be just fine for me for pretty much anything I'll use it for. I think it's a bit like 1080p TVs versus 4K. Sure, when you see them in a store, you can clearly see that the 4K TV looks better. But, are you REALLY not perfectly happy with your 1080p TV at home? I certainly am.
Usage: One of the first things I noticed is that, apparently, the Sero does not have an Ambient Light Sensor. So, the Brightness does not have an Automatic option. You have to manually change it. Sadly, my Note 10.1 DOES have an Automatic setting, but the automatic setting choice for brightness is always too dim for me, so I am completely used to never using Automatic and always setting the brightness manually. It would be nice to have Automatic brightness, if it were usable, but, in real life, not having it has not been a notable hardship for me.
The next thing I noticed was that I went into Maps immediately and verified that it had a working GPS. It showed my location right away, but upon further inspection, it LOOKS like that was just done using WiFi and it looks like it doesn't have a built-in GPS at all. If that proves true, this unit will definitely be going back to Wally World in about 13 days.
The UI, in general, seems to be pretty vanilla Android, but I guess I'm not well-qualified to make that judgment, since I've never owned a Nexus device, nor have I run CyanogenMod since I had it on my old HP TouchPad. I definitely did not notice any particular bloatware. There were a few default widgets on the stock homescreen, most of which I deleted immediately. And the Walmart and Sam's Club apps were preinstalled, along with Kingsoft Office, the VUDU app, Twitter, Chrome, and a TV Remote app.
In Settings/Storage, it shows Total Space as 12.55GB, with Available (currently) as 10.88GB.
Speedwise, so far it seems perfectly fine. I haven't notice any non-trivial lagging - but, admittedly, I haven't done a lot of hard use yet. But, while it was downloading and/or updating installed apps, I was still able to do other stuff without a problem.
I installed my usual Nova launcher and it imported the desktop setup from the stock launcher and seems to work fine. As do Kindle, Zinio, TweetCaster, FaceBook, and eBay. And the Verizon Messages app surprised me by installing and working fine AND populating itself with all my text messages from the past. I actually have no idea how far back they go. And I don't know if Verizon Messages would do that for a first-time user, or if it did that by virtue of already using the app on my Note 10.1.
My only gripe with apps so far are:
Tapatalk: I use this is a lot for Internet forums on my Note 10.1. On the Sero, it works fine for 2 of my "daily" forums, but the one forum I am the most active on doesn't work on the Sero. I won't bore you with the details here. I am going to email the developer the details, though. The net net is all 3 work on my Note and only 2 work on the Sero. There was an update available for Tapatalk this morning. I took it and now my Tapatalk icon says "Tapatalk beta". But, the problem is still there. Tapatalk needs a fix.
Maps: The installed version is 7.5. When I look at Maps in the Play store, it says the current version is 6.14.5. But, the version on my S4 is 8.1. So, the version on the Sero doesn't give me the option to cache maps for offline use and I don't see how to update it so it will. You might say if there is no built-in GPS, the point is moot. But, I disagree. My Note 10.1 is WiFi-only and it has a built-in GPS. And I use it a lot. I turn on the hotspot on my phone when I'm driving and the Note works great for navigation using the built-in GPS and Internet access through my mobile hotspot. [Side note: I really don't know why anyone pays extra for a tablet with cellular AND pays for a second data plan, instead of just using their phone as a hotspot and paying for only one data plan - and only paying for one cellular device. But I digress...] And when I cache maps for offline use, I don't even need the hotspot. Without a built-in GPS, the Sero can't function quite as well, but there are apps that would let the tablet pull location from the phone's GPS. So, if I could cache maps, I could still be in an area with no cellular signal at all and use the phone to provide GPS data to the tablet and use the tablet for navigation. Bottom line: If Google is preventing me from updating to Maps 8.1 because the tablet is WiFi-only and/or does not have built-in GPS, they really should change that.
Wifi: It has worked flawlessly, so far. But, I have a 2.4GHz access point and a 5GHz access point. It did not detect my 5GHz AP, so I suspect the built-in WiFi only operates on 2.4GHz.
MicroSD: I have a 64GB microSD in my S4. I just took it out and put it in the Sero and tried to mount it and it would show "Preparing SD card" briefly in the notification bar, and then nothing. It may be that the card is not formatted however the Sero needs it to be. But, I think it SHOULD mount it and give me the option to format it, in that case. So, maybe the claim of microSD "up to 32GB" is really true. In which case, it will go back to Wally World, even if it does turn out to have a GPS.
Also, I took the microSD back out (without powering the tablet down, since the card wouldn't mount) and it put a notification in the notification bar that said "Storage removed. Please insert another card" or something like that. And I could not dismiss the message. I had to reboot the tablet to get rid of that message. Which reminds me...
Power button menu: I was surprised to find that when I hold down the power button, I get a popup box that has choices for "Power off", "Airplane mode", and "Silent mode". As far as I can tell, there is no way to simply reboot the tablet. You have to choose "Power off", wait for it to finish shutting down, then hold down the power button again to turn it back on.
Charging: I have a generic microUSB cord, plugged into an aftermarket adapter that has a 2A port. Plugging that into the tablet seems to allow it to charge just fine.
Summary: This thing ROCKS - for $129. The tablet I really want is the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. But, $399 versus $129 compelled me to try the Sero. $129 is almost into "disposable" territory. $400 for the Samsung would get me a screen that is clearly better and slightly bigger. And it would get me a GPS. And, it wouldn't be fair to leave out that that extra money will also get me access to a much wider array of accessories, 2 more GB of RAM, and (probably) more software updates from the manufacturer. But, is that really worth $270? I'm at the point where I need to wear reading glasses on occasion - though I never do when I'm using my tablet. So, I'm definitely not going to notice the better resolution in any of my normal usage. And I'm pretty unlikely to watch movies on an 8" screen. For the rare occasions where I want to do that (say, on a plane), I'll use my Note 10.1. I'd rather watch a 10" 720p screen than an 8.4" 1080p (or better) screen anyway.
I suspect most people won't care about having a built-in GPS. Most probably will be fine to live with a max of 32GB for the microSD. And FEW would return it just because Tapatalk doesn't work on some Internet forums. However, all 3 of those are dealbreakers for me. However, I plan to live with this tablet right up until the end of my return period. I want to see if living with a 7"-class tablet (and I lump this into that category simply because it's about the same size as the new Samsung Galaxy Tabs S 8.4, which is thinner than the Nexus 7 2013 and only 12mm taller and 12mm wider - but I do realize that all 8"-class tablets are trending in the direction of smaller overall size, so 7" will really be the new 8" shortly) is actually as nice as what I think it will be. I have the idea that a 7"-er will be more comfortable to hold when I'm laying in bed, and that it will often fit in a pocket of whatever pants I'm wearing, so I'll be able to carry it around with me all the time, where I often choose not to carry my 10"-er around because it won't fit in a pocket and I want my hands free. I'll be on a road trip all next week, so it will actually be a really good test for me.
So, unless you have somewhat unusual (I think) requirements, as I do, my first day's impression is that the Sero 8 is a GREAT choice for a tablet for just about anyone. It's running Kit Kat, out of the box. Even if it never gets another software update from HiSense, how big a deal is that when you only paid $129?! When they release a new $129 tablet in a year with Lemonhead Pie Taffysaver on it, you can laugh at all the people with their $400 tablets who are complaining that they still don't have it for their tablets as you walk past to plunk down another $129 and buy the latest and greatest for yourself. And with that said, maybe GPS and the microSD will turn out to not be dealbreakers for me after all. 2 weeks time will tell...
UPDATE: Earlier, I had stated that this (the Sero 8) was thinner than the Nexus 7 2013. I was incorrect. It is notably thicker. It's the Galaxy Tab S 8.4. I had also been looking at those specs and gotten myself confused. My apologies to anyone who took what I wrote and made a disappointing (to them) decision.