- Good chassis design
- Well thought-out Android skin
- Attractive price
- Stand makes for convenient tabletop use
- Runs Android 2.1 rather than 2.2
- No native Flash support
- Disappointing battery life
- Can't charge via Micro-USB
Despite the best efforts of the competition, Apple still rules the tablet roost with its iPad. Google's Android is the leading platform in terms of the number of products, though, and the Huawei S7 has just swelled the growing ranks. The S7 costs £286 (inc. VAT; £238.33 ex. VAT), which is much less than our current favourite Android tablet so far, the £550 (inc. VAT; £458.33 ex. VAT) Samsung Galaxy Tab. However, corners have been cut to meet that attractive price point.
The Huawei S7 measures 209mm wide by 108mm deep by 15.5mm thick. Its 7in. screen has a native resolution of 800 by 480 pixels — similar to many higher-end smartphones, including all of the current Windows Phone 7 handsets, plus HTC's Android-based Desire Z and Desire HD. The screen resolution is considerably lower than the Galaxy Tab's 1,024 by 600.
The Huawei S7's screen is resistive, whereas the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab has a capacitive touchscreen. The S7's screen needs a firmer touch than a capacitive unit, but we found it reliable and responsive. If a fingertip is not precise enough, there's a small plastic stylus in a housing on the back of the chassis.
The screen has a slightly different shape to the Galaxy Tab. We measured the Samsung tablet's 7in. screen at 154mm by 90mm, while the Huawei S7's was 154mm by 85mm. Those five millimeters make a difference: we found we used the Huawei S7 almost exclusively in landscape mode.
That's what Huawei seems to intend users to do, as the S7 is long and narrow thanks to wider screen bezels on the short edges than the long ones. There's also a sturdy stand on the back that allows you to sit the Huawei S7 on a table top at a perfect angle for viewing.
The left-hand edge (in landscape mode) offers the usual Android Home, Menu and Back keys, while the right-hand edge carries Call and End keys plus an optical trackpad.
The trackpad is responsive and particularly useful for scrolling through web pages to locate links accurately, and for moving through text to precisely locate a desired editing point. The remaining keys are physical buttons sitting under a flat panel made from plastic with a brushed-metal finish. They backlight when pressed and look rather sleek.
In fact, the Huawei S7's design has all-round appeal, due in no small part to the iPad-like silver trim on the front of the device.
The long, thin format does have some consequences, though: our relatively small hands couldn't comfortably reach across the on-screen QWERTY keypad in landscape mode for entering text, so we almost always had to use portrait mode to type anything longer than a text message.
The Huawei S7 is surprisingly heavy at 500g. By contrast, the Samsung Galaxy Tab weighs 385g, while the 9.7in. iPad weighs not much more at 730g (with Wi-Fi and 3G) or 680g with Wi-Fi only. We really did notice the weight, which makes the S7 slightly less comfortable to hold for long periods than either of these two competitors.
The Huawei S7's 768MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 512MB of RAM keep things running at a reasonable speed, and there's 8GB of internal eMMC storage. A microSD card slot in the bottom edge of the chassis caters for expansion.
This might sound great for fans of third-party apps, which are a real advantage of the Android platform. However, the S7 runs Android 2.1, which does not allow you to install apps to SD cards or embedded MMC storage. There is 512MB of internal flash — of which, out of the box, our review sample reported 157MB free. That's all you've got to populate with third-party apps; the 8GB, and any microSD storage you add, is really only useful for storing data such as music files or images.
Tiny speakers flank the screen in landscape mode, and deliver reasonably good-quality sound. There's certainly enough volume for listening to music, although audiophiles will want to use external speakers.
The S7 has a SIM card slot that sits beneath a very solid metal backplate. The device functions as a mobile phone, up to a point: you can make calls in speakerphone mode or with a headset but not, as you would with a normal phone, by turning speaker mode off and holding the device to your ear. That's OK, though, as it's really too large to use in this way while retaining any dignity.
Mobile broadband (HSPA) speeds of up to 7.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up are supported. You also get Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1) and A-GPS. There is a 3.5mm audio jack on the top edge (with the S7 on its stand in landscape mode), a volume rocker on the left and micro-USB and power connectors on the right edge. The S7 doesn't charge over USB.
Flash is not supported natively under Android 2.1, and its absence makes streaming from web sites such as BBC News impossible. We could access YouTube, though, as a client app is preinstalled.
A 2-megapixel camera on the front of the chassis delivers reasonable image quality. There's no rear-facing camera, though, which makes shot-framing rather challenging.
Huawei provides an interface skin for Android, dividing the home screens area into sections: Home, Web, Entertainment, Communications and Favorites, all of which have two screens you can populate with widgets. You get to these sections by tapping a bar on the bottom of the screen; you can also access the main apps menu from here. The 7in. screen means that widgets for things like RSS feeds are actually useful in that they can display a fair amount of data.
Huawei includes a number of what it calls 'Emotion' widgets, some of which can display live data such as weather, email alerts and RSS feeds; others offer features like music controls. Many of these widgets are large and a couple will be all a screen can handle.
Documents To Go is preinstalled, but it's the viewer-only version. To create or edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents you'll need to pay for an upgrade.
The S7's 2,200mAh battery, for which Huawei claims 3-4 hours' life, is not really up to the job. Tablet battery life is very difficult to quantify as usage patterns vary greatly, but we typically got only 2-3 hours' continuous use when using web-based services over Wi-Fi. We'd like to see an improvement in battery life, and the ability to recharge over micro-USB.
Huawei has come up with a good chassis design for the S7, adding a useful stand and, for the most part, making sensible compromises to keep the price down. However, we'd prefer to see a more up-to-date version of Android and longer battery life.