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Old 04-30-2014, 04:56 PM   #1
DMcCunney
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The $20 Android tablet

Well, they got my attention.

There's a Midwest computer retail chain called Micro Center which is expanding. Micro Center occupies the same niche as the late Computerland, a full service brick and mortar computer retailer chain.

In particular, they just opened locations in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. The Brooklyn location is the ground floor of one of the Bush Terminal buildings, industrial buildings that have been gradually repurposed as industry went elsewhere. The Brooklyn site is a hop, skip, and jump by subway from where I am.

A direct mail announcement of the NYC locations popped up in my mailbox a few days ago, including a coupon to get a 7" Android tablet for $20. A little Googling revealed that it's an Azpen Innovation A727 Tablet

Azpen is one of the many Chinese device makers that have jumped into the market for budget devices. They are a partner with places like Walmart, QVC, and Micro Center that cater to the budget conscious.

The device features:
Capacitive Multi-Point Touchscreen LCD 7" 800x480 Display
Allwinner A23 1.5GHz Dual-Core CPU
512MB RAM & 4GB SSD Storage
Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
Expandable up to 32GB via microSD Card

List price is $80. The specs are mediocre, and I would not buy one at list price, but for $20, it's an impulse purchase.

It followed me home, and I kept it. I added a 16GB microSD card my SO had bought for her Nook tablet but doesn't use.

I now get to dive into the deep end of the Android software pool.

I've uninstalled a few things I didn't want, like the Games app (which turns out to be a WildTangent offering), and the trial version of Mobisystems Office Pro, an Android office suite that lets you work with MS Office files.

I make extensive use of Google offerings, so I installed their various client apps for things like Gmail, GCalendar, and Google Drive, and installed Quick Office, another office suite for Android.

I was familiar with Quick Office from Palm OS, where they had a similar product for Palm devices. I used a competitor, Dataviz's Documents to Go, which is also available for Android. It turns out Google bought Quick Office, and offers it as a free app for Android. The neat bit is that it integrates with Google Drive, and you can edit Google docs and spreadsheets stored on your Google Drive and save them locally or store them back to the drive.

I also added a task manager (since the built-in Android task manager doesn't seem to be present), Chrome and Firefox Beta as browsers, a couple of open source text editors, the RealVNC VNC client, and a 7-zip compatible archiver. SSH and FTP clients are on the list.

The primary use case for the tablet is eBook reader. I looked at a number of eBook viewer apps for Android, and what I have installed is FBReader. FBReader is free, open source, and cross platform, and I have it installed under Windows and Linux. It views an assortment of formats, including FB2, ePub and Mobi. Since I have volumes in both ePub and Mobi I want to read on the tablet, and I don't want to do a lot of Calibre conversions, a product that handles both was the primary requirement.

The Android version is actually a port from C to Java of the original desktop app, so some things that are in the desktop version aren't yet in the Android app. The major missing piece for me is support for Plucker documents. Plucker is an offline HTML viewer for Palm devices. I used (and still do) a Palm PDA for years, and converted thousands of HTML documents to the format Plucker uses for consumption on my PDA. Discovering the desktop version of FBReader was a boon, because it could view Plucker docs, and I could read them on something besides my PDA.

FBReader allows you to specify where it will look for books, so I added the external card, and it handily searched and found all of the volumes. Many had been exported from Calibre, where I had series data entered, and FBReader picked up the series data and displays them by series if desired. (There doesn't seem to be a way to add series data on the device - it must already exist in the metadata of books copied to the device.)

The next major step is rooting it. Several "one click rooting" solutions exist for Windows, but all are for better known and more widely distributed devices. I found rooting instructions, which require getting the Google Android SDK and installing the Android driver from it. Unfortunately, Windows won't install it. It claims it can't find the software in the directory the driver files are installed in. This appears to be a Windows issue, and next step is to try again with the 64 bit version from the SO's Win7 laptop,

Longer term, what I'd like is a 10" Android model, with more Honest-to-Ghu RAM and a BT or USB keyboard. (The FAQ for the A727 says it can't use an external keyboard, but I suspect that may not be the case once rooted.) Meanwhile, the A727 is a handy device to learn on, and more than worth what I paid for it.
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Old 05-01-2014, 12:20 AM   #2
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Last year I spent a little more than that for a 4.3 inch Android tablet. At the time I was using a "feature phone" (pretty much for voice calls and text messaging). As limited as it was, it was pocket-sized and surprisingly useful (again, in the absence of a smart phone). I take a lot of trips up the NY Thruway, and it was nice to use Google to check on traffic. I used the rear-facing camera to document some miserable weather -- just 0.3 MP, but it was good enough to show water cascading off a roof. And it had some fun applications to kill time.

I have since upgraded to an Android phone, with the same screen size. It would have been worth it just as an intro to Android on the phone.

I have 7" and a 10" Android tablets (very inexpensive, but not useless) that get a lot more use, but I do still have the little one. I don't use it much these days, but I'm very happy I got it. It was definitely a worthwhile purchase.
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Old 05-01-2014, 10:10 AM   #3
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Last year I spent a little more than that for a 4.3 inch Android tablet. At the time I was using a "feature phone" (pretty much for voice calls and text messaging).
That's what I use. I have the smallest, cheapest feature phone Samsung makes. All it does is calls and SMS, and that's all I want it to do. Everything else is something else's job.

<...>

Quote:
I have since upgraded to an Android phone, with the same screen size. It would have been worth it just as an intro to Android on the phone.
That's largely my feel about the A727. It isn't what I ultimately want. but it's a good way to learn about Android, and be better prepared when I acquire a larger device.

Quote:
I have 7" and a 10" Android tablets (very inexpensive, but not useless) that get a lot more use, but I do still have the little one. I don't use it much these days, but I'm very happy I got it. It was definitely a worthwhile purchase.
Yep.

My issue overall is form factor. Most of what I am likely to do on a device simply requires a larger screen size than a practical phone will have, and rules out a smaller tablet for the same reasons.

The 7" A727 works just fine for the primary use case of eBook viewer, but is less suited for some of the other things I do. It is a good platform to learn and experiment on.

The biggest annoyance is the camera is front facing. I can't be bothered to take "selfies", and other than the odd screenshot, it's effectively useless. (I took the camera button off the task bar to avoid taking an accidental self-portrait after the first time it happened :-P)

Still fiddling with trying to get it rooted, but even if I can't, it does enough to have been a worthwhile purchase.
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Old 05-04-2014, 12:54 PM   #4
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$20, unbelievable price. I would buy one too.
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Old 05-04-2014, 02:33 PM   #5
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$20, unbelievable price. I would buy one too.
As mentioned, list price is $80, and I wouldn't buy one at that price, but $20 was a "no brainer yes" offering.

It's more than worth it just as an eBook viewer. Everything else is a fringe benefit.

(Micro Center is an Azpen retail channel partner for their offerings, so I suspect they got a sweet volume purchase deal, and weren't losing much if anything offering it as a loss-leader promotional item to build traffic. I'll be returning simply because they stock pretty much everything computer related, and there are enough instances when I need something now, and not several days later after online order and shipping, that a local supplier I can go to and walk out with what I need is a boon.)
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Old 05-05-2014, 04:28 PM   #6
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Since getting the tablet mentioned here, I've been fishing in the Android software pool. The following is the current lineup. Stuff in italics came pre-installed. The rest are my additions. All listed are free, and the ones that are also open source are noted. Several of the freebies have payware "pro" versions, but the free ones do a lot as is.

Google apps I make extensive use of Google services, so I installed all of theirs.
Calendar: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...droid.calendar
Docs: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...s.editors.docs
Drive: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...roid.apps.docs
Earth: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...m.google.earth
Gmail: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...gle.android.gm
Google Play Music: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d....android.music
Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ndroid.vending
Google Play services: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...le.android.gms
Google Search: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...quicksearchbox
Google Text-to-speech Engine: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...le.android.tts
Google+: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...roid.apps.plus
Quickoffice: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...office.android
Sheets: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...editors.sheets
Hangouts: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...e.android.talk
Maps: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...roid.apps.maps[/i]
[i]Translate: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...apps.translate
YouTube: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ndroid.youtube

Docs, Sheets, and Drive are seperate interfaces to the same thing - stuff stored on my Google Drive. Docs and Sheets are specific to those kinds of documents. Drive gets to everything.

QuickOffice is an Android version of a package I looked at on Palm OS for handling MS Office files. It can open and edit Word Docs, Excel spreadsheets, and Powerpoint presentations. Google bought them and made the Android app free. The win is that it can interface with Google Drive, and create/view/edit stuff stored on my drive.

Other apps
920 Text Editor: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ecelyin.editor

A capable open source syntax highlighting text editor for android.

Adobe Flash Player 11.1: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...be.flashplayer
Adobe Reader: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...m.adobe.reader
AndFTP: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ysesoft.andftp

Seems to be a highly regarded FTP client.

Azpen eReader: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...idreader.azpen

This is actually the Blio app for Android, installed with Azpen's branding. Without rooting, it doesn't seem possible to get rid of it.

Chrome Beta: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...om.chrome.beta

I have Chrome Beta on the PC, so here as well. If Chrome sync is turned on, and Chrome is active on the PC, what's up in the PC version shows in the Android version, too.

ConnectBot: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...org.connectbot

Seems to be a best regarded SSH app.

FBReader: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ary.ui.android

My preferred eBook viewer app. I have it up under Windows and Linux,so the Android port was a no-brainer. The big win is that FB handles ePub, Mobipocket, and PDF files (PDF through a plugin.) I have books in all three formats, and I didn't want to do a lot of format conversions in Calibre to be able to read them on the tablet. FBReader to the rescue. Free and open source.

Free Advanced Task Manager: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...askManagerFree

While Android has a task manager, it doesn't seem to be present in the build on my tablet, and the tablet FAQ recommends installing one. This seems to do the job. (It displays ads, but only if wifi is on. Wifi normally isn't, so it's not a major annoyance.)

MetrO: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d....kinevia.metro

On PalmOS, I used an app called Metro, that provided subway transit info for just about every place in the world that has a subway. This is a preliminary Android version.

Hacker's Keyboard: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ion.pckeyboard

The tablet came with the Google keyboard, but this is a lot closer to my desktop, and far better suited for what I do.

Nova Launcher: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...oilsw.launcher

Adds a lot of options while retaining the stock launcher interface.

OneBox Package Manager: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...onebox.manager

Possibly the most interesting find. It's an installer package for KBOX, which attempts to provide a Linux environment on an unrooted Android device. It includes a custom build of Busybox with a lot of stuff not in the one bundled with the tablet, and an ash shell to work in. It works very nicely in Android Terminal Emulator. It's nice to have versions of less and vi available,

SL4A: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...roid_scripting

Scripting support layer for Android. Modules for Beanshell, Perl, Python, and REXX are installed.

Android Terminal Emulator: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...al.androidterm

Provides a capable console window for command line access to the tablet. Equivalent to opening a CMD window on Windows, or running a shell on Linux.

WiFi OnOff: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...gets.wifionoff

A widget on the Home screen to toggle Wifi without having to go into Settings.

ZArchiver: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...devs.zarchiver

An archiver compatible with the open source 7-zip archiver, whoich is what I use under Windows and Linux.

androidVNC: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...oid.androidVNC

Based on a fork of TightVNC. Open source rules,.

dSQLiteManager: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...asqlitemanager

SQLite is an open source, public domain SQL compatible database implemeted as a single shared library. It's used in a lot of places (Firefox keeps bookmarks and history in an SQLite database), and a version is provided in Android. This is an open source SQLite manager app, that lets you create, query, and modify SQLite databases on an Android device.

This list is subject to change, but represents the current state. Suggestions for other things I might look at are welcomed.
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Old 05-05-2014, 05:44 PM   #7
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I use Tomdroid, a Tomboy client for Android. I use it mostly for local notes, although it does offer some sync options. I think it's still in beta.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...d=org.tomdroid


Since my tablets aren't always on a network I also have (and use) Maps With Me -- the free version -- with map data downloaded for several northeastern states. It's a good off-line map, but doesn't give traffic data, of course.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ithme.maps.pro


I also have Dropbox to exchange files with my computers.
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Old 05-05-2014, 08:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
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I use Tomdroid, a Tomboy client for Android. I use it mostly for local notes, although it does offer some sync options. I think it's still in beta.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...d=org.tomdroid
It is still in beta.

Installed for a look, since I don't have a notes app on the tablet. On the PC, I'm playing with a program called TiddlyWiki. It's a personal wiki, implemented as a single file of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, that you work with in a browser. The idea of a wiki based notes app on the tablet is appealing, and I prefer open source.

Quote:
Since my tablets aren't always on a network I also have (and use) Maps With Me -- the free version -- with map data downloaded for several northeastern states. It's a good off-line map, but doesn't give traffic data, of course.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...ithme.maps.pro
I'll look at that next, I think. I have the Google Maps app, but something that can work offline may be of value. Like you, I'm not always near a hotspot.

Quote:
I also have Dropbox to exchange files with my computers.
I use Google Drive for that at the moment, but may use Dropbox down the road. There are an assortment of Android apps that state they can sync with it.
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Old 05-07-2014, 12:14 AM   #9
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Since getting the tablet mentioned here, I've been fishing in the Android software pool. The following is the current lineup. Stuff in italics came pre-installed. The rest are my additions. All listed are free, and the ones that are also open source are noted. Several of the freebies have payware "pro" versions, but the free ones do a lot as is.
:
:
This list is subject to change, but represents the current state. Suggestions for other things I might look at are welcomed.
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Great stuff. Thanks.
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Old 05-07-2014, 12:45 AM   #10
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Great stuff. Thanks.
You're quite welcome. The stuff listed Works For Me. The primary use case for the tablet thus far is eBook reader, but I wanted to be able to do other things if need be.

I need to update the list already, as a beta version if VLC for Android has joined the fold, as have Android versions of the Unix Fortune program, Nethack, and Simon Tatham's Puzzles collection. I use VLC as my media player elsewhere, and have Fortune, Nethack, and Puzzles under Windows and Linux as well.

If I pointed you at some things you'll find of use, I'm pleased.
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Old 05-08-2014, 11:23 AM   #11
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And as far as I can tell, I have now successfully rooted the device.

This was somewhat more complex than might have been. The first required step was to install the Google Android USB driver to be able to establish communication with the tablet from Windows. On the tablet end, that required turning on USB debugging, which was non-intuitive. To do it, you had to go to Settings/About Tablet, scroll down to Build Number, and tap it multiple times. you would get progress messages, and finally be told you were a Developer, which puts a Developer Options menu choice in Settings where you can turn on USB Debugging mode.

Getting the Google USB driver installed was another matter. Getting the driver requires downloading 520MB of Google Android SDK, installing it, and running the SDK Manager to get the driver. Once you have the driver, you can connect the table to Windows via the supplied USB cable, and have Windows install the driver. The problem is that operation failed from the XP machine I originally tried from. XP complained it couldn't find the software, even though driver, inf file and supporting files were in the location I pointed to.

As I suspected, this was a Windows issue. I downloaded the 64 bit version of the Android SDK and put it on the SO's 64bit Win7 laptop. The driver successfully installed there.

From there I could use a "one-click-root" solution, specifically Kingo Root, to install the needed software on the tablet and root the device. (The instructions for rooting it in the first place provided a more laborious manual method if a one click solution didn't work. Fortunately, one did.)

It appears I can now successfully remove various things that came pre-installed on the device, and that was pretty much the point of the exercise. (No, I don't want the Blio app, ThankYouVeryMuch...)

The unanswered question is whether rooting it will also permit use of an external USB keyboard. The device FAQ says no, but whether this is a limitation of the unrooted version of the OS, or a hardware issue where USB host mode simply isn't present is unclear. If the latter, no USB keyboard, but I'll live. While it would be nice, little of what I do on the tablet really needs it.

We'll see.
______
Dennis

Last edited by DMcCunney; 06-12-2014 at 04:19 PM.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:59 PM   #12
naftoli
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Hi everyone, so i went to micro center and bought this 20$ tablet.
My Main issue with it is that screen is slightly stretched!?
especially as a pro photographer i wanted to keep a portfolio of photos to show clients
perhaps an update will come out that will fix this issue??
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Old 06-12-2014, 04:13 PM   #13
DMcCunney
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Quote:
Originally Posted by naftoli View Post
Hi everyone, so i went to micro center and bought this 20$ tablet.
My Main issue with it is that screen is slightly stretched!?
especially as a pro photographer i wanted to keep a portfolio of photos to show clients
perhaps an update will come out that will fix this issue??
It's an 800x480 display. The question is what you will use to view/display your photographs, and you should be able to control the aspect ratio there.

Personally, I'd want a larger screen in higher resolution for your use case.
______
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Old 06-13-2014, 04:01 PM   #14
naftoli
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Originally Posted by DMcCunney View Post
It's an 800x480 display. The question is what you will use to view/display your photographs, and you should be able to control the aspect ratio there.
______
Dennis
Thanx for the reply DMcCunney!
im using the defualt photo viewer that came with the tablet. is there another viewer i should be using that wont stretch the display?
How can i control the aspect ratio?
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Old 06-13-2014, 04:41 PM   #15
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Thanx for the reply DMcCunney!
im using the defualt photo viewer that came with the tablet. is there another viewer i should be using that wont stretch the display?
How can i control the aspect ratio?
The A727 includes connectivity to Google's Play Store, and there are a lot of image viewer apps you can install from there, both freeware and commercial.

I'm using a freeware viewer called QuickPic, but it's installed against future use. Right now I have few images on the device I have any need to view. And I'm not a pro photographer, so minor rescaling that changes dimensions and aspect ratio slightly isn't a concern, because I don't need to see the image exactly as in the original.

Just how badly distorted are your pictures viewed with the built in viewer? I assume since you're a professional photographer, that being able to view images on the tablet is in large part a marketing tool, to be able to show folks who might commission work what you do. Minor distortion might not be an issue in that case, because it would still effectively showcase your work. The potential customer wouldn't know it was slightly distorted.

You need to do some research and see what sort of image viewer apps are available for Android. I simply don't know enough about what's out there to make recommendations.

(Thinking about it, one option might be to assemble a representative sample of your work, and put it into a PDF file. I believe that would prevent distortion of the images. I use an open source PDF viewer called MuPDF, but Adobe's own PDF viewer for Android comes with the device.)
______
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