At the beginning of the week I’ve finally received one of the tablets I’ve been waiting for quite some time: the bModo 12G Windows 7 Tablet. It’s one of the few Atom slates to actually make it to market, even if more enough of those were announced last year.
This particular model is an 11.6 inch model with HD ready resolution, which means more pixels for you, so more real estate, but also smaller User Interface elements that are harder to reach when needed. Overall I’d say pixel density is similar to the one on 10 inch tablets with 1024 x 600 pixels resolution.
Unlike other Windows 7 tablets, this one is fully loaded with 2 GB RAM, an SSD drive (small but fast), an HD decoder chip to keep the slow Atom CPU breathing, 3G SIM slot and even GPS. Below is the complete list of specs.
bModo 12G specs
11.6″ HD LCD TFT (1366 x 768 pixels resolution) with Capacitive Multi Touch (Real Two Points Touch)
Intel Atom PineView-M N450 @1.66GHz CPU + ICH8M
Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
Broadcom CrystalHD Discrete 1080p HD Video Accelerator
2GB DDR2 800MHz
SanDisk SSD 32GB
WiFi 802.11N, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Built-in Mini PCI GPS card (supports A-GPS and S-GPS function), 3-axis accelerometer
Unlocked SIM card slot
1.3 megapixel front facing camera
Built-in Speaker (1.5W) x 2, Mic x 1
2 cell 27 WHr battery
295mm x 195mm x 14mm, 990 grams
The first thing I’ve noticed when I took the bModo 12G out of its case is the rather nice build quality, with a rubbery back, an edge to edge screen glass and pretty slim body. It’s even comparable to the iPad, which seems slim (its back curves a lot actually) but definitely the iPad is smaller in volume. The height is the same, but given the 16:9 aspect ratio screen of the bModo 12G, this one is longer by 2-3 inches at least. Weight is approximately two pounds, which makes it slim enough to hold in hand for longer periods of time.
One of the challenges I had int he first minutes, was to find the power button. It’s not placed where you would expect (on top of the frame), but on the top left back of the tablet. It’s actually a better decision because it’s harder to reach accidentally and hit the button. Remember that you have to press the button for a few seconds to start, so it won’t start on its own when placed into a bag.
All ports are placed on the left side, leaving the right side empty and the bottom side only with the docking connector and two stereo speakers. So the array of ports consists of DC IN, mini HDMI (you’ll have to buy an adapter yourself), 2 x USB, headphone jack, SD card slot and SIM card slot.
Even if we’re talking about a high resolution screen this doesn’t translates in better performance. Unfortunately the screen is not match for the one found on the iPad. Viewing angles are not terrible, but don’t expect to see the colors when watching at steeper angles. Colors are washed out and the protective layers is very reflexive, which makes it almost impossible to use in direct sunlight.
The screen orientation can be changed automatically by the 3-axis accelerometer, but you can lock it manually with an utility offered by bModo. It works as expected, with transitions taking 2-3 second maximum. The capacitive layer that enables touch input is pretty accurate and sensitive, but supports only 2 points of input. See the text sample below:
For an extra 75$ you can get the docking station that also acts like a stand. There are quite a few benefits of using this accessory, namely the extension of available ports with Ethernet jack, headphone and mic inputs, three more USB 2.0 ports and power charger port. The base is heavy enough to help with keeping the tablet steady on the desk, but you must be careful when inserting the tablet into the docking port because it’s a pretty tight fit (that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
One thing I don’t like about the docking station is the inclination angle, which is pretty steep. I reckon is somewhere around 80 degree, which makes impossible for you to watch the screen at a direct angle. And there’s no way to adjust that.
I have to say that when I’ve seen the specs, the single core Atom CPU running at 1.6 GHz didn’t impressed me, and I was expecting slow performance, like you’re used to with those kind of low power CPU. But it wasn’t like that, as bModo fitted a 32 GB SSD inside the bModo 12G and a Broadcom Crystal HD accelerator chip for HD and Full HD video playback. This means that apps launch fast and when viewing media files, stored on the tablet of flash videos streamed online, the tablet doesn’t seem to have any problem coping with those tasks. But don’t mistake the bModo 12G for a fast computer, because as soon as you start dealing with CPU consuming tasks the system slows down significantly (handwriting recognition for example).
As you’ll see in the video review at the end of the article, the bModo 12G is pretty fast at some tasks like video playback and web browsing, but sometimes seems to slow down unexpectedly, which I have to say, might be due to Windows 7 Home Premium, not exactly an OS optimized for devices like this one (I’ve counted 55 processes running when the system is IDLE, with no apps running).
One problem I’ve run into was hardware decoded video playback, which seems to be working only with some codecs and media players. After researching a little bit on the web I’ve found out that the Broadcom CrystalHD decoder is bound by drivers to work only with some players and video codecs. Situation is improving as we speak, but there are still problems. I couldn’t make it work with Windows Media Player 12 (which is supported, by the way), but it worked excellent (as you’ll see in the video review below) with Media Player Classic. Also 720p and 1080p Flash video playback was not without skipped frames, but definitely good enough. In the latter case I needed to install the latest beta Flash player from Adobe, but that isn’t really a challenge. I’ve always checked if the Broadcom decoder was working with an utility provided by the manufacturer.
Heat and noise
Atom CPUs are not known for performance, but for power consumption, and this is something that also translates in less dissipated power, so the bModo 12G only needs a small cooling vent on top of the bezel. During normal operation there’s almost no heat coming from that opening. Load some pages with flash content or run an HD video stored on your hard drive and things start to heat up a little bit, in the sense that the cooling fan starts working harder and becomes clearly audible, but not even with the CPU at full load it’s not disturbing. The case of the tablet remains barely warm to touch at all times, which is good for a device you’ll be holding on your lap.
Achilles’ heel is battery life. During normal use with the screen at 75% I was able to squeeze just over 3 hours away from the plug. When streaming videos or viewing a lot of clips on Youtube battery life dropped to around 2,5 hours. It’s not extremely bad, but nowhere near the iPad. It’s good that the power brick is very small, as you’ll have to get it attached to the bModo 12G pretty often. The 2-cell battery fully charges in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, so at least you don’t have to wait forever, like I do with my Vaio laptop that charges slower than it depletes the battery.
Bossa Nova custom user interface
As you are accustomed with Windows 7 tablets, everyone is trying to make custom user interfaces to keep the touch experience at a decent level, given the inability of Microsoft to make Windows 7 a touch oriented OS (don’t believe what Steve Ballmer tells you). In bModo’s 12G case, the custom UI has a name: Bossa Nova and provides access to a few settings (Brightness and Volume), a weather widget and a few optimized apps (read bigger buttons) like a browser, RSS reader, Twitter and Facebook. It’s not the best custom UI out there but for some it could prove worth using. That was not the case with me, as I prefer using the apps I’m already accustomed with.
Bossa Nova can be conveniently accessed by pressing a dedicated orange circle button placed on the top left part of the screen bezel, right next to the status LED.
Price is the really the ugly part
If there’s something I don’t like about the bModo 12G it has to be pricing. Even if overall it’s a very decent tablet, especially considering the Windows 7 OS, when you hear you have to pay 849$ for it (799$ for the 1GB RAM bModo 12) and 75 $ more for the docking station things become complicated. I don’t believe too many consumers are willing to pay almost 1000$ for a tablet, no matter how good it is. With the iPad starting at 500$, the Samsung Galaxy TAB making you pay even less with a subscription and the large number of announced Android tablets that will sell for considerably less, I believe bModo 12G has a lot of competition and explaining to do.