You know all the good things about tablets such as the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1? Their beautiful screens, slick touch controls, speedy operations and excellent battery lives? What if you didn't bother with all of those, and made a really, really cheap tablet instead?
Well, Binatone is here to answer that particular thought experiment, and you will be shocked – shocked! – to learn that the result is pretty undesirable.
But let's start on a positive note. The form factor of the HomeSurf is fairly good. It's quite light, it's not too thick and it's easy to hold. Though it's purely plastic, it doesn't feel flimsy. If other cheap tablet makers are going to copy anything from the HomeSurf, we hope it's the chassis.
Conversely, if there's one thing we hope that other cheap tablet makers don't copy from the HomeSurf, it's the resistive touchscreen.
Yes, like all the best horror villains, resistive touchscreen technology keeps appearing just when you thought it was dead for good.
For this tablet, it means no multi-touch on the 7-inch touchscreen, and generally a severe lack of responsiveness. Typing, in particular, is a nightmare, unless you've got calluses like rhino skin on your fingertips.
Visually, the screen is more or less acceptable. The resolution is a mere 800 x 480, or the same as many Android phones. Yes, phones – not tablets. You can read text on it well enough and the viewing angles aren't the worst we've seen (though they're not a big step up from that). Colours look washed out, though, probably thanks to that resistive layer on top.
The 600MHz processor inside powers Android 2.1, so whole package is a little like an Android phone from 18 months ago. Except that it doesn't have Google's useful apps, including the Android Market.
There is a place to get apps, but it's pretty limited, and lacks nearly all the big names. There are few games, but since even Angry Birds won't run smoothly on the HomeSurf, it won't make much difference.
There are some basic apps built in — music and video players, an email client, a browser — and some bonuses, such as TuneIn Radio. The HomeSurf can also play 720p videos, loaded either onto the 2GB of storage or using the microUSB port, but noticeably drops frames.
With a low-power processor and low-resolution screen, you might be thinking you'd get good battery life from the HomeSurf. You would be wrong.
You will have to charge the HomeSurf every day, partly because it's only rated for up to four hours, and partly because it can't manage its power usage when on standby. Overnight, it'll use up all of its remaining juice, meaning you can't use it to read the news or check the weather in the morning. Brilliant.
The funny thing is, it's actually not too bad in operation in places. Android 2.1 may be ancient by current standards, but going between Home screens is smooth enough here, for instance. Sadly, because the screen is so unresponsive, it brings the whole experience down.
The size and shape is good, and we do like the idea of a £99 tablet.
The reality of a £99 tablet is not so great. A bad screen, slow operation, no Google apps, out-of-date software, terrible battery life… The list goes on.
Don't buy this. Save up and get a better tablet, or an iPod touch. It's cheap, yes — but because it's very, very cheap.