Mobile Devices

May 07, 2013

Test Drive - The Idolian Mini Studio 8 Android Tablet

Let me start with full disclosure. The mobile gadget guru in our office, Tony Rizzo, thought it might be very interesting to have a tablet newbie be the one to review the new Idolian Mini Studio 8 – something he assured me would be a worthwhile experience. I have been a Kindle Fire user from early on but I have resisted the urge to join the full tablet revolution. The Mini Studio 8 changed my mind. Goodbye Fire, and hello new eight-inch Android tablet.

I cannot believe what I have been missing, especially since this device gives me access to all of my Google capabilities and the functionality of Android and at a price point - $198 with free shipping - that is more than $100 less than it would cost to obtain an Apple iPad Mini. Now, I know the iPad is intuitive to use simply from watching my wife and daughter put their Apple tablets and phones through their paces but it is an environment that speaks a bit of a foreign language to me. I’m an Android guy!

A Lot of Features and Functionality

Let’s start with the basics. The Idolian Mini Studio 8 features:

  • An 8 inch LCD IPS multi-touch screen with a standard SVGA resolution of 1024 x 768
  • 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, along with a Cortext A9 dual core 1.6 GHz processor
  • On board storage of 16 GB of flash memory, along with a microSD card slot that supports a maximum of 32 GB
  •  WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth (no 3G/4G radio, although it supports a 3G dongle)
  • Near Field Communications (NFC) support
  • Micro USB port
  • Type C mini HDMI port for playing 720p and 1080p
  • Compatible video formats include MVK, AVI, RM, RMVB, FLV, WMV9, and MP4
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Built-in microphone
  • 2 MP rear camera
  • 0.3 MP front-facing camera
  • 4500mAh li-poly battery (6 to 8 hours of battery life based on my usage)
  • Runs Android 4.1

The Idolian Mini also comes with a power adaptor and two USB connectors for syncing with your computer and for use as an alternate charger.

Now that is a lot of hardware for $198.

Since this is a device I have and will use at home or in the office, the lack of a built-in cellular radio was not an obstacle. While it would be nice if there were 4G dongle support, given how I use it this is not a deal breaker. For that matter I am not bothered by the lack of GPS, an accelerometer, or an ambient light sensor (manual is just fine).

In short, for under $200 retail there is a lot to offer most users here.

The Experience

All of that horsepower and functionality that Idolian provides in a relatively small package made the user experience illuminating for someone who is more used to reading, playing Angry Birds and checking Gmail than anything else.

First, let me say I was extremely pleased by the design and the tactile aspects of the Mini Studio 8. It looks and definitely feels like more expensive competitors, and clearly Idolian did not scrimp on making it sturdy. At 420 grams (a little less than a pound), from my frame of reference holding similar devices, it felt a bit heavy but was easy to handle with one hand. That said, the home page is inviting, has plenty of room for apps and the screen on booting is nice and bright.

Where the Mini Studio 8 shines is in the responsiveness of the screen. It is fast to the touch and Web pages load quickly thanks to the speedy processor. In fact, I also liked the speed at which the voice navigation worked, the quality of the pictures it is capable of taking for casual users and snapshot shooters. The video and picture quality in general is not that of an iPad, but the difference to me was not cause for alarm and the Idolian proved itself great for watching movies or reading on a long commute.

I also very much like the fact that I can connect to my laptop for charging purposes and with using the HDMI port for connecting to my HDTV. On the latter front, it would be nice if Idolian offered a wireless HDMI connection - they and others I believe are missing out on leveraging these kinds of devices for multi-screen and multitasking situations, which according to the latest studies are becoming the norm rather than the exception in most U.S. living rooms with big screen TVs. I should also add that the Google Talk feature has excellent sound reproduction and that the sound system in general, be it for watching videos or listening to music was excellent.

And, speaking of watching videos, I did a side-by-side comparison with an iPad 3 and while the iPad 3 with its retina display (and huge price tag relative to the Idolian) is hard to beat, considering its price, the Mini Studio extremely hard to beat. I was actually surprised by the picture quality and really pleased by the ease of use of taking pictures and looking at what turned out to be extremely satisfying results. And, the ability to watch videos in a floating window while doing other things in another window was very useful indeed.

A Few Things Need Some Work

Clearly I am pleased with the Mini Studio 8, but as might be expected there are a few things that Idolian needs to work on to improve the overall user experience. The device comes with a small user guide that is not terribly helpful, and the company’s website is even more devoid of instructions. It comes with a few Google apps pre-loaded but oddly they have missed a biggie in that core apps like the Chrome browser and access to Google Play are not directly provided on the home page. In fact, they must be enabled by going to the developer settings, which is something I only found out about only through a good amount of trial and error. Plus, even after playing with the settings, to get the full Google experience I desire I also had to install QuickShortCutMaker.

The company is well-advised to remedy this situation. Ease of use is a major buying consideration and the exposure of the flaw about getting full Google access right out of the box - this is an Android device after all – came as a bit of a shock.

I will add that I also did a bit of research to see what the “pros” were saying in their reviews and can report that the problems they experienced I have not. The pictures I have taken with the main camera look just fine to me, although you do have to be careful in making sure the lighting fits your needs by playing around a bit with the positioning of the camera versus the light source. It is possible that not being an aficionado of tablets, or prone to want to use one to take pictures I care about, that I am the wrong person to be judging camera quality – but I’m happy with it, so what more can I say? My real concern is with video conferencing and the front camera and it also works well.

I also have not experienced some of the lag issues other have described and if the device has been turned off for a while it does take a bit of time and experience with the on/off button to get it to boot. However, with a little practice it boots rather quickly, especially compared to my HTC smartphone.

You Can be Happy with a Tablet Under $200!

There is an old saying that you should never underestimate the ability of consumers to make buying decisions based on differentiation that may seem inconsequential to vendors. Reality is that in the tablet market, as we are witnessing almost daily, the recognition of this fact is growing as vendors flush out the size, functionality and price points they think will resonate with users.

From that perspective, the Idolian Mini Studio 8 - even or especially for somebody like me who has wondered why I even needed a tablet and has balked at the bigger models because I like having my laptop for heavy-duty business applications and for typing - is absolutely a device that should hit a rather sizable addressable market. Now if they could make it just a tiny bit more “Googlicious” coming out of the box and be a bit more newbie friendly in their support, you have to love all of the functionality and the price point.

I will not go so far as to say this is an iPad Mini killer, but for an Adroidean like me, and for the purposes for which I can and now do use this, the Idolian Mini Studio is a great fit with my needs. It very likely will be for yours as well.

Edited by Tony Rizzo

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