Many of the tablets sold in Asia, particularly China and Southeast Asia, suffer from serious design and quality-control issues. On the other hand, some China-designed tablets actually compare quite well with well-known manufacturers. For example, the popular Hyundai (not Hyundai of Korea) T7 tablet pound-per-pound, beats the first generation Nexus 7 in specifications and in price. However, do the best tablets from China compare to the latest tablet, such as the 2013 Nexus 7 in terms of value?
In my experience, no. Plenty of excellent Chinese manufacturers exist, such as Pipo and Ramos. Unfortunately, the vast majority of China-only devices fall short of the standards set by multinational corporations in the United States and elsewhere.
This article delineates the hardware and firmware components of the Hyundai T7, and common issues with China-only tablets. At each point of analysis, I compare it against the 2013 Nexus 7. Ultimately, I determine whether Chinese tablets are worth importing.
Are Cheap Chinese Tablets as Good as the Real Thing?
To answer the question regarding the quality of cheap, Chinese-designed tablets, I purchased an ASUS Nexus 7 (designed in Taiwan) and a Hyundai T7, both with 7-inch screen sizes. What may confuse American readers is why a knock-off company would steal a Korean car company’s brand to sell tablets.
Hyundai in Korea manufactures almost everything, from televisions to the subcomponents of cars – they’re one of the few companies in the world that’s both horizontally and vertically integrated. However, it does not sell tablets. Several knock-off companies do sell tablets illegally under Hyundai’s brand.has nothing to do with the T7’s production.
Hyundai of Korea is totally unrelated to the T7. The tablet is actually made by a company known as Toptech Technology, which illegally produces tablets under Hyundai’s brand. You can find their website here. Regardless of its shady pedigree, the T7’s reputation among importers remains high. Many regard it as the best tablet for less than $200 for its low price and feature-rich specifications. Truthfully, it’s more comparable to ASUS’s MeMOPad HD 7 in terms of pricing — but the T7 beats the MeMOPad in almost every conceivable category at face value.
Depending on the manufacturer, Chinese-designed and manufactured tablets vary wildly in quality. Some manufacturers, such as Pipo and Ramos, maintain higher standards for both build quality and performance. Others, such as Ainol and off-brand manufacturers, while popular, do not possess a reputation for reliability or quality.
However, the hardware isn’t the primary failing of most Chinese tablets – it’s the firmware and software that fall short.
Conversely, the strength of the Nexus 7 is in its firmware. In fact, out of all devices sold globally, the Nexus series of products remains king of software updates. Not only does Google and its partners commit to a minimum 18-months of support, the enthusiast developer community produces firmware updates long after official support ends. For example, the HTC Nexus One received an unofficial update to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). Considering the Nexus One’s 2010 launch, Nexus phones remain the best of the best in software support.
Following in the Nexus series’ footsteps, the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) received a software update days after its release. It currently includes the latest Android 4.3 software, including TRIM support.
In comparison, the T7 received a beta-update to 4.2.2, the second most advanced version of the Android OS. Strangely, Toptech’s tablet also has a single custom ROM available, which eliminates many of the China-only apps and improves performance. Unfortunately, this particular custom ROM is based on Android 4.0. While the 4.2 beta firmware update improves performance, it’s half-baked and suffers from a variety of problems, primarily bad battery life, occasional stability issues and strange glitches resulting in odd behavior.
Bad firmware remains a key weakness in China-only tablets. For the most part, China’s chipset manufacturers are reluctant to release source code. Additionally, developers also complain of poor support. Many apps run poorly on Chinese tablets and few quality custom ROMs exist.
Dimensions, Feel and Manufacturing Quality
The Hyundai T7 remains about two or three millimeters thicker than the Nexus 7. It uses a slick, piano-polish, white plastic case, with a plastic, silver bezel. Conversely, the Nexus is wrapped in a black, matte rubber finish. Neither design is particularly easy to tear down, although compared to an Apple product, the T7 is a cakewalk, whereas the Nexus 7 rated a 7 in repairability from iFixit.
Both feel very well made, although the Nexus 7 is qualitatively superior. Its screen has a resolution and quality that you can’t find at a similar price-point from a Chinese device. However, I should point out that neither screen suffers from busted pixels.
A commonly-reported issue in many China-only tablets is that of busted pixels. I’m not sure why this is, as the same factories that produce LCD screens for multinational corporations also produce them for small Chinese firms. Regardless, buying a cheap tablet will likely result in a higher degree of screen imperfections.
The Samsung Exynos 4412 CPU inside of the T7 feels snappy. Compared to budget tablets, it’s among the fastest around. Unfortunately, its implementation on the software side leaves a lot to be desired. While the T7 played several games without lag, it suffered from numerous graphical glitches.
Things eventually became pretty much unplayable, very rapidly:
I also ran several news reading apps, namely Feedly, and which ran extremely smoothly. Aside from the problems with 3D graphics, the T7 was rock-solid.
In comparison, the Snapdragon S4 Pro inside of the Nexus 7 ran 3D graphics, without the glitches which plagued the Hyundai. It also ran all apps without issue.
In general, apps running on chipsets popular in China will likely experience a great deal of compatibility issues with apps.
With its 3300 mAh battery, the Hyundai T7 should in theory give the Nexus 7 a run for its money in battery longevity. Unfortunately, it’s not even close. The T7 doesn’t doesn’t properly suspend while idling, meaning it drains out overnight. Fortunately, several kinds of power management software will eliminate the suspend issues, giving it proper idle state performance.
Frequent issues with Chinese-designed tablets are poor battery quality and overheating. The same holds true in the T7, which doesn’t properly calibrate its battery. If you’ll notice, the battery indicator fluctuates wildly, even after performing calibration.
AnTuTu Synthetic Benchmark
Anandtech recently discovered systemic issues in benchmarking software: Manufacturers universally cheat on benchmarking tests, with the exception of Nexus devices. For those who haven’t heard: Virtually every other manufacturers design their products to overclock if benching software runs, such as AnTuTu. Numbers can vary by as much as 20%, above actual performance.
That said, the T7 scores in the 17,000 range, which places it among high-end tablets, such as the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. Many recent Chinese CPUs perform similarly. For example, Rockchip’s RK3188 scores approximately equal to the Exynos 4412, in AnTuTu. The RK3188 also powers a large number of stick-PCs.
More or less, despite the benchmarking scandal, higher end Chinese CPUs can perform roughly on par with the latest designs from large multinational corporations.
Shockingly, the RAM used in the Hyundai T7 is higher quality than that used in the Nexus 7. In fact, it’s among the highest quality RAM I’ve seen in any device. Aside from that, however, the Nexus 7 is approximately equal, or better than the T7 in almost every other category.
- CPU: Oftentimes the most salient difference between tablets from the West and from China is in the build quality and hardware. The majority of China-sourced (and many Western tablets, as well) designs use one of three ARM chipsets: MediaTek, ATM, Allwinner and Rockchip. The Korean-made Exynos 4412 in the T7 appears infrequently among many Chinese tablets. Anyway, the Snapdragon S4 Pro is marginally faster than the Exynos 4412, scoring 20,000 in AnTuTu against the Exyno’s 17,000.
- RAM: The RAM performance of the T7 scores 1,700 in AnTuTu, whereas the Nexus 7 scores around 1,100. RAM performance isn’t all that impressive a statistic.
- Screen: The 800 x 1232 screen resolution of the Hyundai T7 equals the original Nexus 7. However that’s not enough to beat the extraordinary quality of the Nexus 7’s 1920 x 1200 resolution, which leads its form factor in screen quality.
- Storage: the 8 gigabytes of storage in the T7 is half that of the 16 gigabytes in the Nexus 7. However, the Nexus 7 doesn’t include microSD card support. The T7, on the other hand, can support up to 128 gigabytes of space. Additionally, Chinese devices rarely implement TRIM, meaning over time they will require a factory reset in order to prevent lag. Some can be manually TRIM‘d, fortunately. I suggest trying this TRIM method, first.
- Price: A $80 difference between the two devices still doesn’t justify purchasing a T7. While it’s better than any other device in its price range, in terms of hardware, its software doesn’t stack up to the latest Nexus tablet.
- Updates: The Nexus 7 receives firmware updates for 18 months after release. The Hyundai T7 received one half-baked beta update three months after its release.
- Custom ROMs: The Nexus 7 will have dozens, if not hundreds, of high-quality custom ROMs, which improve performance throughout its life-cycle. The Hyundai has one custom ROM and a potential AOKP ROM from Slatedroid developer Frontier. If Frontier manages to create an AOKP custom ROM, the T7 will compare well with even the Nexus series of tablets.
- Stability: The Nexus 7 is rock-solid. The Hyundai T7 occasionally experiences forced reboots/crashes.
So do Chinese-originated designs compare favorably to those sold by well-heeled companies, such ASUS or Samsung? Unfortunately, no – they’re not equal. In terms of hardware, you can get a better deal from China-only tablets, but because of poorly developed firmware in the Hyundai, fantastic hardware fails to function properly.
So while you can get a good resolution, solid-performing tablet for a lot less than its Western (and Eastern) competition, the hardware won’t perform properly because of poorly built firmware. Although some devices by Pipo and Ramos have comparatively better firmware than the T7, these come with higher price tags. Comparatively, you get a better deal by sticking with well-known brands.
It’s important to close on the note that most tablets originate from China. In fact, one of the best hardware manufacturers in the world comes from a territory currently claimed by China (Taiwan). It remains somewhat of a mystery why Toptech felt it neccessary to steal Hyundai’s brand name, given China’s pedigree.
Anyone else buy China-only tablets? Please share your experiences in the comments.