Tablets

The Coby Kyros is the practical tablet of choice for most people

For under $150, the Coby Kyros MID7015 Android-based tablet is a pretty impressive device. Find out how Donovan Colbert thinks it stacks up against the iPad.

Last year, on Black Friday, I saw a K-Mart doorbuster for a $139 Augen Android tablet and "threatened" to go get it. I didn't really intend to, because I was certain it would be a disappointment. My wife snuck out with our friend who was visiting to buy it for me - but instead, she got the alternative, a Coby Kyros MID7015 Android tablet.

The Coby device fits in a niche of low-end tablets that exist somewhere between Chinese counterfeit knockoffs and legitimate name brand devices. You only need to look at the COBY logo - it's no accident that they use almost the same font as SONY uses for their corporate identity - to get a feel for how this company operates.

Notes: This post was first published as two separate entries in the former TechRepublic Out Loud blog.

From the very start, this device represents the paradox of the Android platform. On one hand, it's an opportunity for a small importer of inexpensive Chinese electronics to compete with big brands like Samsung and Apple. The opportunity for a company like Coby to compete with these big firms probably benefits consumers with a more competitive market. After all, Acer was once a small upstart offering inexpensive electronic solutions.

On the other hand, Android also offers an opportunity for abuse and neglect. Smaller companies may bite off more than they can chew, with grand aspirations that they can't quite deliver in their products. Less scrupulous organizations may not really care, looking to mislead consumers and make off with a quick profit by selling devices that are little more than expensive paperweights.

I was honestly surprised when I opened the gift. Even though I probably wouldn't have bought it for myself, I put on my best, "What a great gift!" face and decided to give it a shot, if only to show my wife my appreciation.

Out of the box, the device actually surprised me with the build quality. I only have hands-on experience with one other tablet, my iPad, and the Kyros feels of similar quality. The device is surrounded by a metal band that gives it just enough heft - not so light that it feels cheap or plastic and not so heavy that it's uncomfortable to hold. When it's in the included leatherette case, it looks like a small padfolio.

Initially, I thought to myself, "At the very least, I'll load this up with e-readers and e-books, and it'll probably make a good, inexpensive digital library." The truth is, this device would be a very good purchase for that role when compared to the price and features of dedicated e-readers. However, there are some significant caveats.

This is not a Google-authorized device. In fact, none of the current tablets available at the time of this writing are, to my knowledge. That means no "Android Market" and no "Google Experience," which includes a bundle of apps that are available on many Droid devices, such as Navigation, Google Maps, and other assorted goodies.

Instead, the device carries an alternative app market called AppsLibs. Not only was the AppLib site down for several days right after Christmas, due to a deluge of Android tablets and netbooks, but when it was accessible, I couldn't find many of the big name apps I know and love from my Droid 2 in the AppLib library. I've argued in other posts that it doesn't matter if you've got 200,000 or 20,000,000 apps, as long as you've got the right apps. AppsLib doesn't quite meet this expectation.

This one/two combination led me to start flexing my Android skills. The first thing I realized was that with a File Manager like Astro, you can easily back up Market Apps to .apk format, copy them from one microSD card to another, and side-load them on another device. This worked in most cases - like Facebook and The Great Land Grab.

However, the official Twitter app didn't work, which was disappointing - but at the price point, there was already enough of a value proposition in this compromise that I decided the device was worth keeping. The biggest value was the freedom to do something that should be my right to do - the trust in my abilities, my competency, and my honesty that the Android OS grants me (things that the "other guy" denies me).

Emboldened, I decided to root the device. This was a far more trivial process than I expected (install an app, click a button), and I'm not setting myself up for a cat-and-mouse game with Coby where new firmware or OS updates require me to go through outrageous hoops. Hackers and gadget-geeks who like to tinker with their devices will certainly find this appealing.

After rooting, I was able to install the Android Market and Google Experience. While this is warranty voiding, unauthorized, and requires a certain degree of technical competency beyond the average consumer, there isn't even the vaguest threat that the manufacturer, Google, or some other corporation might come after me with a legal team.

I don't have to worry that by rooting my own device I am placing my fate in the hands of a court system presided over by judges that barely understand the technology in the cases they oversee. That is refreshing. The reason we're not doing more with these devices isn't because they're not capable. It's because the manufacturers of the mainstream devices are preventing us from experiencing their full potential. See the gallery: Unleash the full potential of the Coby Kryos.

And once the full potential of the Coby Kyros is realized, it's actually a pretty impressive device, especially for under $150. A lot of technology bloggers are being hard on these devices, but most reviews by reasonable owners of the Kyros generally tend to agree with my own perception. The construction is of good quality, it has reasonable specifications and features, and even without rooting, the AppsLib library would probably satisfy most tablet consumers.

Truly, we've forgotten where we were a few short years ago, and now - especially among journalists - the iPad is the bar that must be met in order for a device to be considered worthy. But I don't think that the iPad bar is necessarily the bare minimum. I did, but that was before I spent some hands-on time with the Kyros.

So, where does the Kyros fall short?

  • The Resistive Touch screen. My Droid 2 has a much higher quality feel and response than the Kyros, but it isn't unusable or frustratingly unresponsive.
  • The battery life is very poor, especially compared to an iPad. I have to charge it every night with moderate use.
  • The system has far more instability than iOS devices. Apps lock up and frequently require a Force Close, and you have to reset the device when it reboots or hangs.
  • Some graphics don't render correctly on Angry Birds - and other apps, like Skype, just refuse to work.
  • There are times when, for no easily discovered reason, it just starts to run SLOW.
  • The Wi-Fi has terrible range and is picky, sometimes dropping connections or failing to see access points.

Some of these problems are unique to this device and others are Android quirks. This is the LINUXness of Android - the kind of half-boiled, DIY, roll-your-own grass-roots-ness of Linux that I so often disparage. But in this case, the weakness is the strength for the right consumer.

Face it, at $499, the entry-level iPad is too expensive and not full-featured enough for the average user. My kid got a 32GB iPod Touch for Christmas. She'll need every bit of that space, and it still cost $100 more than the Kyros. No one is going to disagree that even the Touch is a more pleasant, higher quality experience - but as a value proposition, the Kyros does the vast majority of things that the Touch or the iPad do, and it's capable of a few things that are more difficult if not impossible to do on some Apple devices if you're willing to put up with a few headaches.

I think the success of Windows proves that most consumers are willing to put up with a few headaches when the trade-off is a value proposition and empowerment, which is the most important thing that Android devices deliver. If you're modestly technically inclined, you can do a lot more with the Kyros than you can do with an iOS device and for a lot less money.

I'm a pretty well-off, middle-aged gadget-geek, so I can have my cake and eat it too. But if I was in my early 20s, freshly married, struggling to work full-time in a low paying job while putting my wife through school, the Kyros would be my choice over the iPad. It's the reasonable, practical, rational choice for most people. It may not be quite ready for everyone yet, but the Kyros certainly represents proof of concept that this is a completely achievable goal.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

6 comments
rmongenel
rmongenel

There are quite a few Kyros models now that are better hardware than the 7015, but still in the realm of "cheap tablet". The 7022 model is like the 7015 with a capacitative screen and a Cortex A8 CPU and more RAM. I've seen the 7022 go for as low as $160, which is very much worth it. They Kyros Tablet Zone forums do offer the same OS updates for the 7022 as the 7015, albeit with a bit less enthusiasm. They do not support any of the 8-10" larger tablets though. I updated my 7015 to 2.3.3 last night with some speed mods and efficiency configs... the thing runs a lot like the nicer Android phones now, and has full Market access. I love it. :)

dcolbert
dcolbert

The Coby 10" tablet in a TA\BP Truckstop driving back from Kentucky. The price was above $300, which is far too expensive for a Coby device - but it was interesting to see the device positioned as an impulse electronics purchase for long-haul truckers, and shows just how pervasive tablet-format technology has become. A quick Google Search shows the device available for under $200 from online retailers. I gave the Coby 7015 to a kid who stayed with us for awhile when his family was moving from Ohio to Chicago. Loaded it up with various eReader apps, books and some music and some games - still rooted, of course. He used the thing daily when he was staying with us, and really seemed to enjoy the device. I actually feel that the Coby screen was more responsive for text input than my ASUS Transformer, in retrospect - a remarkable feat for a non-capacitive display. At the current street price of around $100 or less - the Kyros 7015 is still probably the best low-end tablet I've seen on the market. Build quality and reliability are not very even, and you need to be able to root it and put the Android Market on it to be able to fully leverage the device. Even then, there are a lot of popular apps like Netflix that are unlikely to ever work on the Kyros. If you go into it with eyes-wide-open and you know what you're doing, you could still do a lot worse than the Kyros, especially for the price. I'd warn that my experience is solely with the MID7015. Coby has since released a wide range of tablet devices including redesigned 7" tablets all the way up to capacitive 10" devices. I haven't had any hands on experience with those, so I can't say what they might be like.

rmongenel
rmongenel

I second the motion to get your device updated to Gingerbread on the Kyros Tablet Zone. The tablet works SO much better. I picked mine up for $100 new, and its great save for the resistive screen. http://kyros-tablet-zone.team-talk.net/ Get the device updated and update your review of it!

Slayer_
Slayer_

So did COBY ever release any software updates to fix these problems?

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...My 7015 is in storage right now, and I will be glad to 'root & upgrade' it when I get it back. I too thought it a great value. Sure would like to see it discussed more extensively in TR.

CR2011
CR2011

for the original 7015...but when the 7015a came out they took it off their site. You can still find it a a couple of sites on the internet... I have 2 of the original 7015's and i went to kryos-tablet-zone.team-talk.net and followed the steps on the forums to install Gingerbread on both (sans the Honeycomb mod) and I am very pleased with the performance. Finally I would say rooting this device is kind of a must to get the most out of the system.

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