Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Choosing the SOC for your next budget tablet.

Nexus 7, Redefining Budget Tablets

With the recent announcement of Nexus 7 by Google, it is only fitting that I dedicate a post to help consumers in deciding which SOC is the best for their usage. Consumers in the USA should have less of a headache, after all the Nexus 7 8GB costs USD199 there so it makes little to no sense why you should settle on anything else especially on unknown chinese tablets. Unfortunately, for the rest of the world the decision making is not as simple.

In the UK the Nexus 7 8GB costs at least GBP199 and that is approximately USD312! In Australia the same device costs AUS319 (~USD335) and MYR868(~USD277) in Malaysia. Clearly, those unknown Chinese tablets still worth considering for budget conscious consumers outside US.

The Contenders 
If you currently still undecided on which SOC to settle on, there are about 6 SOCs embedded in the tablets which I think are worthy of consideration. On this day and time, you should NEVER settle on single core devices. So, the SOCs of my choice are as listed followed by their specifications.

  • Tegra 2, 
  • Qualcomm APQ8860, 
  • TI OMAP 4430/4460, 
  • AML8726-MX, 
  • RK3066 and 
  • Tegra 3 T30L as used in all the Nexus 7 tablets. 

However, I would advise against buying Tegra 2 and APQ8660 devices simply because they are too outdated. Unless you can get them with a very CHEAP price, say less than USD100 otherwise stay away. The main reason I included them here is to show just how much the performance have increased since the Tegra 2 era.

Benchmarks
CPU
Please note that I do not have any devices with RK3066 and T30L so I stole the numbers from many sources online. The T30L scores were taken mainly from Anandtech.com and the RK3066 scores from the slatedroid.com forum. I will list my sources in the References section later.


These benchmarks primarily stresses the CPU with the exception of AnTuTu as it tests all the components and combines them to get an overall score. The scores have been normalized so that the T30L scores represent 100% performance. Single threaded performance varies between the SOCs with Tegra 2 having 76% on average of Tegra 3 single threaded performance and on the other end RK3066 having 100%. 

It is interesting to see that RK3066 actually beats T30L on many CPU bound benchmarks like SunSpider and BrowserMark. However, none can challenge the raw power of the 4 A9 cores in T30L when it comes to multi-threaded performance. The RK3066 only possess 61% of the multi-threaded performance of T30L while Tegra 2 only have 49%. 

Overall, if we were to believe the AnTuTu benchmark score, the Tegra 2, APQ8660 and OMAP 4430 performs similarly having ~60% of the T30L performance. The AML8726-MX improves this by providing about 72% of the T30L performance and finally the RK3066 with about 89% of the T30L performance. All of this is to be expected as T30L is the only quad cores SOC in the list. However, once we get to the GPU benchmarks it is a totally different story.

GPU
*Both Egypt and Pro tests were offscreen test so the native resolutions of the specific devices should not have mattered/affected the scores much.

The quad core Mali 400MP4 in RK3066 really rocks! We all know the ULP Geforce GPU in the Tegra 3 is not the most powerful so the fact that the GPU in RK3066 surpasses it isn't really that shocking. Depending on the type of load, the GPU in AML8726-MX can perform similar to the Tegra 3 or at worst it can perform at ~68% of the Tegra 3. Considering that I bought the Ramos W17Pro at USD140, I really have no complain.

I am considering removing Basemark results in future reviews as it have a tendency to favour QualComm GPUs as well as being dependent on the device's native resolution. Just for fun, lets compare RK3066 with iPhone 4S and Galaxy S3 in GLBenchmark!

In Egypt, RK3066 is 1.4x faster than iPhone 4S while in Pro, it performs similarly to the iPhone 4S. Nothing else to say here other than well done to the Rockchip engineers! 

Form Factor
Once you have decided on which SOC to go with for your next tablet, the task becomes easier as you have now narrowed down the choices. All you need to do now is decide which size is suitable for you and which brand has the most support by the community (i.e. tabletrepublic.com and slatedroid.com). Whereas the performance of the tablets are objective as in we can objectively measure their performance using third party applications, we cannot objectively 'measure' which form factor is better than the other.

The usage patterns of different customers will be different hence it is not possible to give a general advice on this matter. What matters is what YOU think of the size and whether you can live with it or not. For me personally, I have tested the 7inch, 9.7inch as well as the 10.1inch tablets and I can say for ME, I prefer the 7inch form factor as it is bigger than a smartphone while weighing almost the same. The screen size is big enough for me to surf on and does not limit my usage. I also noticed that the bigger form factors tires me after prolonged usage mostly because of their weight and is not suitable for one hand operation. 

Therefore, it is important that you try these different form factors on your own and see which one you like the most. Reading other peoples' thoughts on this matter is useless as you will be the one using it in the end. If you don't like it then do not buy it regardless of whatever people think of it.

Conclusion
In the end, after all these benchmarks, the decision is still yours to make. If I can offer you any advice, try to not spend more than USD150 on any Chinese tablet as there are plenty of choices which cost less than that. If you decided to spend more than that, make sure the tablet have IPS screen, at least 1GB of RAM and of course a dual core SOC. Check the forums AND youtube for reviews on the tablet as well as any problems reported by early users. If more than one user is reporting a fault, this most likely means that it is a widespread issue and it is best for you to stay away from the tablet however tempting the specifications are. It is ultimately up to you to decide just how much is brand name, reliability and mainstream support worth. After all, peace of mind goes a long way. 

References
On T30L, Samsung S3 and iPhone results you can go to Anandtech and search for scores there.
http://results.rightware.com/devices/535
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAdC5HAyV7A

For the RK3066 results:
http://tabletrepublic.com/forum/cortex-a9-rockchip-3066/window-n90-dual-core-benchmark-results-2053.html
http://bbs.imp3.net/thread-10712275-1-1.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGf6f97gzwE&feature=related
http://www.glbenchmark.com/phonedetails.jsp?benchmark=glpro21&D=Yuandao+N90+DUAL+CORE2&testgroup=overall


8 comments:

  1. Great article.

    ¿Do you know by chance which good 7inch tabs with rk3066 are in or are going to be on the market?

    With the AML8726-MX I was thinking in the Ainol Flame or the Ainol Aurora II.

    Also I was thinking on stretching a little bit my budget and get a refurbished Samsung GT+ but I don't know if the 50$ to 70$ difference in price worth it in the out-of-the-box performance and in the later support/development... Samsung has a bad reputation in firmware updates and in sharing/updating drivers...

    Nexus 7 is tempting but the absence of the SD card slot definitely makes it a no go for me and the additional 50$ of the 16gb version it's just to much for only 8gb of more space.

    Great job. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello,

      Well basically as of now there are only 3 choices if you want a 7" tablet with RK3066:

      1) VVSUM K7,
      2) Cube U30GT and
      3) Window/Yuandao N70 dual core.

      VVSUM is virtually unknown, the Cube is known to have multiple issues and the N70 is criticised for its terrible speakers and power button placement. Read the reviews on the forums to know more and decide for yourself whether you are willing to live with these issues :)

      The Ainol Flame have yet to be released but specs wise it sounds awesome! But I wont put my hopes on it much though, Ainol is known for delaying their release dates multiple times :) The Aurora II is a fantastic device for the price with excellent online community supporting it. Just pray that you won't get any of the touchscreen issues experienced by many :D

      I am not familiar with the Samsung GT+ unfortunately. Googled it but cannot find any definite reference so a link would be appreciated. As for the firmware updates, I agree but at least the product will (almost) always work without any major issue due to the strict QC. Plus, if the product is well known, there is bound to be a community dedicated to updating the firmware unofficially.

      As on the Nexus 7, although I personally do not need that much disk capacity I can definitely understand why you would need one. If you are a gamer, definitely steer away from tablets without SD slot. Funny thing is, this is a standard feature in almost all major chinese tablets so the decision to exclude it cannot be due to its cost.

      There you go, an extra long answer for a long question :)

      Regards,
      YS.

      Delete
  2. ¡Thanks for your reply! :)
    I will do what you said and read the reviews on the forums of those tabs.

    PD: Here some links of the GT+.

    http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Galaxy-Plus-Universal-Remote/dp/B005N130Y4

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Samsung-Galaxy-Plus-inch-Tablet/dp/B0067G1NQQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344326588&sr=8-1

    Seems like they don't sell this tab factory refurbished on Amazon of the UK, only new or used...

    Thanks for your help.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If I remember correctly, the SOC in the Galaxy Plus is the same as the one in Galaxy SII (Dual-Core Exynos) so for more info on that just google on Galaxy SII reviews. IMO, that is still pretty fast even for today's standard but of course the RK3066 is still faster :)). If the price is reasonable, I see no reason why you should not buy this. Add ICS and this should be one fast tab (http://androidcommunity.com/samsung-galaxy-tab-7-0-plus-ics-update-rolling-out-20120803/).

    If I were you, I would just buy the Nexus 7 but then again I do not need the SD slot :) Have you read the reviews of the Aurora II? Sounds like it would be your best bet right now :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll search for the reviews and benchmarks of the SGS-II.

    Reading some reviews of tabs with the rk3066 you mentioned, I've found the Cube Mini and Pipo U1, both just about to be launched.

    I think I'm going to wait how well the Ainol Flame and the Pipo U1 perform and how well the developers community receive them. My top choices are this last two and the GT+ refurbished (180$, 190$ & 230$ respectively last time I've checked).

    I'm not in a hurry since my Nook Color with Mirage's ROM it's still doing great, but I want to upgrade to a better SoC and I'm very curious about the Chinese tabs and SoC's performance, eager to try and play with one. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi YS,

    can you give me your oppinion about Ampe A10 quad core tablet?
    (http://www.pandawill.com/ampe-a10-quad-core-version-tablet-pc-101-inch-android-40-ips-screen-16gb-bluetooth-hdmi-black-p67690.html)
    price/performances?
    220$...do you think I can find something better in this price range?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have a Nextbook 8 HD with the AML8726-mx. Absolutely love it, plus it was 99USD plus 9USD for 2 year protection plan from Walmart. The tablet performs admirably on almost any app, browsing etc. Fantastic movie playing experience. only problem is a small amount of apps are not yet compatible with the device but that is lesser known games

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

    ReplyDelete