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Monday, May 28, 2012

Onda Vi40 Elite Tablet

No matter how hard I tried to resist, I finally acquired a 9.7" Android tablet! And a non-brand one on top of that! ...yes... but I have excuses...

I sold my portable DVD player with DVB-T tuner that I used to take on any long car trip to keep my son entertained with films. Why not doing   that and much more with an Android tablet instead? It'd just need a 10€ universal tablet holder to do the trick...

Choosing the tablet
I would never dare risking an expensive device like Samsung, HTC or Archos on travel. With a budget limit decided at ~200€, I was left with either very low-specs models or non-brand 'SuperPad' tablets from obscure shops at the other end of the world.
However, some Chinese tablets have emerged lately with ambition to rival the giants makers, with high specifications (no more resistive screens!), powerful components and quality controlled manufacturing!

One model stands out quickly when you browse online shops and read reviews: the Onda Vi40.

The several versions of VI40:
Vi40 Elite with V.1 hardware and 8GB / 16GB storage options
Vi40 Elite with V.3 hardware and 8GB / 16GB storage options 
Vi40 Ultimate with 32GB storage (1 camera instead of 2, reviewed button layout)


The one highlighted above is my model. They're all have the same hardware base and running Android 4.0.3 (ICS). There's been some unclear hardware revision (V1 / V3), and it seems that Onda will only provide firmware updates on the latest hardware version. All the Vi40 Elite currently shipping are supposed to be V3, which can be verified from the S/N on the sticker. 
Onda.cn and the box show a 32GB version but I've never seen one. 
Such capacity is standard in the newer Ultimate version which is a sensible evolution, with a better button layout (only one on the face and volume buttons on the side), a smaller and unique 2 mpx camera (if you ask me, tablets are not ideal for photo-shooting anyway), all for the same price. 

Choosing the shop!
By far, the most delicate task! 
It took me one week to select a shop that seemed trustful, where the price would be within my limits, and where I wouldn't have to expect excessive additional custom duties and shipping fee over the initial price. I had a good experience with eBellking.com who shipped the unit to me in just 4 days, free shipping and at a final price of ~220€ (32GB version). I tested their customer service first and they reply to you quickly, and do so even if you ask something after having bought the product.
If you're into custom ROM, you'll come across the very good "TNT firmware", which is from topnotchtablets.com. A shop providing that kind of extra content in their product support section deserves some attention. Basically, take advice from the forums before deciding what shop is best for you.

Product Highlights

This model is already reviewed in details in many places, so instead I do a quick tour of the outstanding product aspects:

Out of the box, the product offers a good feeling of build quality with its aluminium casing and an overall nice design, no cracking, no squeaking.
A screen protection is already in place, which is good because this accessory is hard to find for the Vi40!

As any Android device, setting up the tablet is an easy task. There's some clean up to do however and you'll want to scrap all of the pre-installed Chinese applications. The tablet comes already rooted so there's no limit to your customization and no sticky app that you can't get rid off. But with great power comes great responsibility, and you'll have to be cautious not to delete too much if you want to keep your tablet operational!

One of the most commented drawback of being a non-brand Android device, is the amount of DIY work required to gather the applications you need:
In theory, the Vi40 is as compatible as any major brand with same specs, but, out of the box, many standard applications are missing (YouTube, GTalk, Maps...) or will shows as not compatible on Google Play store. Despite the custom market fixes out there, you will need to obtains  APK files to install some of them manually. 


Onda is releasing firmware updates regularly (3 updates between April and May) and will hopefully resolve the remaining  issues (mainly affecting stock web browser and launcher - still true with fw 1.2 rc2) and increase the overall compatibility. So, make sure you have the proper ADB drivers installed on your PC and also have the CWM recovery installed, you will need them sooner than later!

Short guided visit:
The most interesting hardware features of this tablet are all grouped on its bottom side:









The lock button on the left is used to disable to automatic display rotation.

The HDMI connector allows you to extend the display to a TV screen, which isn't only cool for watching videos and pictures, but also for gaming...






On each sides of the Mini-USB port are the RESET button and the MIC hole. Take some time to distinguish them!

The Mini-USB connector is an unlimited source of fun on an Android tablet. It takes about anything you plug to it (with help of the OTG cable provided): 3G modem like Huawei E220 (also test E270), storage media, mouse, keyboard, Ethernet adapter,...even joystick (I tested with my  Thrustmaster T.16000M)!

So far the only device that didn't work straight away for me was the Bluetooth (tried 3 different generic dongles). Obviously still under development...




The device is shipped with a AC/DC charger and , according to some source, this  must be used as the main way of charging the tablet over the USB connector "to preserve the battery life"

A µSD slot is available for additional storage. Since there is an internal storage, detected and mounted as "sdcard" already, the inserted µSD media will be seen as extsd ( \mnt\extsd ). 
You have to pay attention to this point because the internal sdcard gets wiped during a firmware update, so make sure to perform your backup to extsd beforehand! 

The community
When searching for help on this kind of tablet, don't go to onda.com. Event with a translator, it will be waste of time. Hopefully there's a growing community of Geeks around the AllWinner A10-based tablets which VI40 is part of.
Here's a few suggested bookmarks:
http://www.slatedroid.com/forum/287-onda-a10-tablets/
http://www.androidtablets.net/forum/onda-tablet-forum/
http://colonelzap.blogspot.com/
No doubt you will frequently visit those places!

Conclusion
As for most non-brand tablets, you can't expect to have all you need straight out of the box, and if you are not prepared to do some tweaking job on it, maybe you should consider paying the price for a major brand. However I've been with Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Acer android devices before and they all required  their fair amount of customization to eventually fit my needs.

Don't let the sluggishness of the ICS stock browser turn you off at this stage. First, this is not the fact of the Onda Vi40 alone (just google for "ICS browser slow" and see how widespread the problem is!). The hardware is fit for the job (throw any heavy game at it and see how it flies!) but still needs a proper implementation from the manufacturer. Hopefully Onda is still active on it and either them, the modding community, or even Google (ICS is far from perfect yet) will eventually address the outstanding problems. The latest 1.2 beta firmware for V3 hardware platforms brings some improvements (somewhat faster but does not eliminate the occasional lags), and ...breaks some other things (rotation lock only works in portrait)
For me, changing the stock launcher to Launcher Pro, and the browser to ICS Browser + brought significant improvement already. Clearing the cache and the Dalvik cache from time to time helps regaining performance (another sign of lousy implementation). Most missing apps, including YouTube, Skype and Google Talk (with video chat) can be added through market fix.

I've still have hundreds of unresolved questions on that device right now but I hope my short overview gave you some answers.
_________________________________________________________
Pros:
- nice looking tablet with a quality feel.
- superb IPS display
- appropriate storage capacity from 16GB version (Ultimate variant has 32GB)
- growing community with custom firmware due to popularity.
- good battery life 
- runs heavy games and apps fast (while still struggling with the web browser).

Cons:
- requires DIY work to get most basic apps installed.
- it has 3 front-facing hardware buttons (as for Gingerbread-like tablets), useless with ICS. The newer V40 Ultimate adopts a more sensible Ipad-like layout.
- ICS implementation still a work-in-progress
- slow charging and battery calibration not perfect yet (as of v.1.2 rc2)


Update #1 (July 2012): so far, for me, the most successful custom firmware is the CyanogenMod 9, which addresses the browsing performance issues and provide a good stability. Have a look at this SlateDroid post , and my post #101 for details. Official 4.0.4 (1.4rc3) update seems to bring performance improvements and Play/Market solution. Onda also announced 4.1 Jelly Bean for soon.

Update #2 (September 2012): I've been with CyanogenMod 10 (Jelly Bean) for some time now, while Onda still announces JB for soon since July, and despite failing to finalize a proper ICS. Onda's credibility has dropped sharply for me and it's only by the modding community that this device runs nearly as designed.

(Last) Update #3 (December 2012): With the emergence of multi-core devices, the Onda Elite Vi40 is really a thing of the past. No news from Onda on their "upcoming" JB, all other devices have been server but this one. Time to move on, to a Ployer Momo 11 Talent maybe.

20 comments:

  1. Actually, Best review and best video, Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I confess that the Onda Vi40 v3 is my first Android tablet experience but I've been quite disappointed.

    Most obvious are the niggles re having to locate core apps [Youtube, Maps..] and frequently finding that Google Play reports that the device is incompatible with mainstream apps [search for the apps apk on Google and install direct in such cases and you'll find they usually work ok-ish].

    However, I found the device to be
    - sluggish with most apps;
    - the camera to struggle to capture video without considerable blurring and poor comparison to smartphones;
    - in need of frequent reboots
    - wifi connectivity to be short-range compared to devices such as phones

    I'm running a slimmed down version of 1.1 with the chinese apps etc removed and market fix scripts applied etc. which are an improvement on the original software version it shipped with. As noted, onda.cn site is not a useful support destination.

    Whilst the price differential is enormous, I do find myself getting iPad envy for its' apparent ease of use & speed.

    This is not a consumer ready device and needs significant intervention to get running. Whilst the price differential on other brands is considerable, it may be worth it for a better supported and more stable device experience.

    I am hoping things will improve and certainly have no incentive for them not to!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi John, I understand your frustration and agree with most of your remarks. While the hardware is of good standards, there's much DIY work required to get something acceptable. This is unfortunately common to all those Chinese tabs.
    It was out of question for me to spend 400€ for an iPad but I agree life should be easier with it for sure.
    So far I achieve something correct with the Angel ROM (all the core Google apps can be downloaded with this one), using any other Browser than the stock one (which I disabled completely) and a CPU tuner(No-frills CPU Control)t to keep the minimum speed from falling to low. I have Google Talk with Video fully working and will soon post the related instructions.
    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Bubbah

    My name is Hari and I am from Indonesia. I just reset the tablet (onda vi40 elite) into factory data reset hoping to get better performance, but what I got is that everything back to Chinese language and the worst thing is that every time I reboot all the apps which I have installed gone.

    I can’t even access Google play and I cannot either open the browser. The internal storage is 0.00B and I can’t install app manually.

    This is the version of my tab:
    Basedband version : 1.0
    Kernel Version: 3.08+ lgm@Wserver #13
    Build number: mid-eng 4.0.3 IML74K 201220308 test-key
    SN VI40AC3V3B06201

    Is my onda version 1 or version 3?? I guess 3, am I right?

    My questions are:
    1.I have downloaded firmware update vi40_V3_v1.0 released in July and also vi40_v1_v1.0 and I have both tried to flash but I COULD NOT do it. It didn’t work. ( I have followed all the instruction of pressing the M key:
    Hold down the "menu" button *while* plugging the usb cable.
    Right after that, *while still holding the menu button*,
    Press the power button -several times quickly (can take ~10 times)- until Windows reports a USB device plugged. This part of the procedure sounds strange but is absolutely important. There is a full procedure "by Francis" on this blog, and another good one on the site Topnotchtablets.com
    2.What wrong with my tablet, or do I miss something here?
    3.Can I just install 4.0.4 (1.4rc3) just like what you did?? Or should I first flash the firmware?
    I hope you can answer my question and solve my problem.
    Looking forward to it and Thank you very much

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Hari,
    V3 is visible in you SN string, so, good news, have a V3, ignore any V1 stuff. Installing any android firmware means flashing the tablet. For official Onda package, this is done with Livesuit as you tried, and the only thing I could see is that maybe you didn't start the update operation with the tablet turned Off ?
    For my part, I moved away from Onda fw a few months ago for an unofficial portage of CyanoGenMod. CM9 (which is ICS based) gives better result than CM10 (JB) for me, so I suggest that you look at CM9 as an option.
    in this case the flashing method is different: you need to install a recovery partition first. No big deal, this is explained in my post
    Having recovery partition gives you added security against bricking your tablet and also many options to control the system. From there you can delete the cache partition and dalvik cache sometimes which helps when the tablet starts acting weird or too slow.
    It's also from there that you can install cm9 and other updates directly from the zip file.
    To install CM9, you need to download and copy 3 files on your sdcard (the sdext, not internal sd because this one is wiped on factory reset):

    cm9_nightly_20120624.zip, gapps-ics-20120429-signed, and vi40_compatibility_1.1.0.zip (check on Christian Troy repository)

    In CMW recovery:
    - Wipe data/factory reset
    - Click on "install zip from SD card" -> "install zip from internal SD card
    - Install them one at a time in these order:
    1. cm9_nightly_20120624.zip
    2. gapps-ics-20120429-signed
    3. vi40_compatibility_1.1.0.zip
    reboot

    Give your tablet about 10 minutes to initialize and enjoy an whole new experience!

    Note: there's an app pre-installed called "updateMe". each time you download a new .zip with it, remember that you always need to apply the gapps (Google apps) and the compatibility file (specific VI40 drivers, in particular for the touchscreen!)

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you VERY MUCH for your prompt reply.

    but i still need to read and learn a lot your explanation.

    BTW, I did turn the tablet off, all the method in colonelzap and your instruction I did, but nothing worked.
    “…For my part, I moved away from Onda fw a few months ago for an unofficial portage of CyanoGenMod. CM9 (which is ICS based) gives better result than CM10 (JB) for me, so I suggest that you look at CM9 as an option…” Could you explain in simple words?
    I mean what are CM9 and CM10 and JB???

    I guest that's all first and I am sure there will be a lot more questions to ask. he..he.. he..

    I just want to say again.
    Thanks millions and millions

    ReplyDelete
  7. How do I do these:

    In CMW recovery:
    - Wipe data/factory reset
    - Click on "install zip from SD card" -> "install zip from internal SD card
    - Install them one at a time in these order:
    1. cm9_nightly_20120624.zip
    2. gapps-ics-20120429-signed
    3. vi40_compatibility_1.1.0.zip
    reboot

    BTW, i have managed to do recovery "Installing Recovery on Onda Vi40 Elite "
    but not the flashing method above ( I still can not figure them out, still do not know what to do) can you PLEASE simplify them.

    I have copy all those 3 files in my external sdcard.
    How do i execute them?? I have extracted all the files and i could not find the exe.
    I also have tried to execute cm9_nightly_20120624.zip file with livesuit but it did not work.

    What should I do to make them all work??

    Thanks a lot

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Hari,
    Congrats on installing recovery, you've actually done the 'hardest' part.
    First thing: no need to unzip any file, keep them as they are, zipped!
    Next, you need to access the recovery mode which is explained in the "usage" paragraph of my post, just get 'Quick Boot' from the market to do so.
    Once you managed to reboot into recovery mode, you should see a text screen like this one.
    Navigate the hardware keys, as explained in my post ~it may take a bit of use-to~, and do "wipe data/factory reset" first, instructions will appear on screen, you'll have to confirm by pressing briefly the power button.
    Then, using the install zip from sdcard, install the files one at a time in this order:
    1. cm9_nightly_20120624.zip
    2. gapps-ics-20120429-signed
    3. vi40_compatibility_1.1.0.zip
    When the last file has been zipped, navigate back to the first menu (it can be a bit slow to show up sometimes) to select "reboot system now"
    You should see a difference already in the boot screen animation, then give it plenty of time to initialize the first time.

    This will bring you to CM9, which is Android v.4.0.4 aka "Ice Cream Sandwich". It's not perfect but the most stable, with a working market, no Onda crap-ware, and some good typical Cyanogen mods.
    The latest, CM10/Jelly Bean v4.1 does not work so well on VI40 in my opinion. Maybe this will change if Onda ever release an official 4.1 firmware as they seem to promise.

    more reading:
    The CyanogemMod project web site:
    http://www.cyanogenmod.com/

    The unofficial CM9 portage to many A10-based tablets by christian Troy:
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1760929

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dear Bubbah,
    You've been really helpful, however, I think I haven’t been succeeded in installing Recovery in Onda vi40 because I still can’t see the figure like this in the screen.


    “ just get 'Quick Boot' from the market to do so, HOW CAN I GET IT??? I CAN’T EVEN ACCESS THE GOOGLE MARKET (GOOGLE PLAY). And I can’t even install anything in my onda, even the one that I save in my SDcard. I have tried once but it didn’t work. I used to be able to do so even the apps that I took it manually from somewhere, say the illegal ones.

    I just downloaded “quickboot” manually and then installed it in my tab, but then it appeared in the screen “‘Out of Space’: quick boot could not be installed. Free up some space and try again”
    WHAT SHOULD I DO?? As I told you earlier that the internal sd card is “The internal storage is 0.00B and I can’t install app manually”.
    I tried to install ROM manager, pinball deluxe and it worked?? What happens???

    Update:
    Now I can access google play, but when I download quickboot it says ERROR, error download “ quickboot (rebooting)”. There is insufficien space on the divice.
    And the same message appears when I try to install firefox and Opera mobile. WHAT FILE SHOULD I DELETE/REMOVE OR what should I do????

    BTW, what does ROM manager app do?? Sorry I am really new to android, still a lot of things I should learn and know.

    DO YOU THINK THIS “ROM MANAGER” WILL BE MY ANGEL???
    Coz it already been installed in my tab.

    I reckon that’s all my unsolved problem yet, Honestly, I almost give up with this tablet, but I still have hope with you Bubbah.

    Cheers
    Hari

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hari,
    You'd need to uninstall several apps to makes space, this is done from the tablet settings (look for Settings icon in all your apps), there is an Application category from where you can select and uninstall apps. Start with games, they eat a lot of space.
    Rom manager can "Reboot into Recovery", that's the second option in its main screen. In theory it can also install the recovery partition for you but it was not working for me.
    "Reboot Recovery" is another app from play/market that can be used.

    I don't believe that the 2 options documented in my post may have all failed to install recovery, so I assume it's there but your system is just so saturated with apps it's nearly unresponsive.

    In the option #2, the A10_Recovery.zip file contains another script file called reboot_recovery.sh, you could try that one from the Android Terminal Emulator and type
    su
    sh reboot-recovery.sh

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here is what I can tell you from Apps setting:
    1. Download : No apps
    2. On SD card: No apps (681 MB of 12GB)
    3. Running apps: 3 Running apps (192 MB used of 622 MB free)
    4. All apps : all apps are from Onda such as Android keyboard, android system, browser and so on (since I haven’t installed any apps yet) { internal storage is still full).

    And Here is what in storage setting:
    1. Internal storage: Total space 0.00B ( the yellow bar is still full)
    Apps: 33.86MB
    Tota space :12.84GB
    Available: 12.17GB
    2. EXTSD: total space 14.81 GB
    Avilable: 6.57GB

    Just for your reminder that I have reset the tab into factory reset and all my bunch of apps all have gone.
    Sorry but I don’t think I have my apps left in the internal storage because the sign/mark is still full (grey color), moreover, I have just deleted MOST of remaining files in my storage.
    THE ONlY REMAINING APPS ARE THOSE FROM THE TABLE. NO MORE GAMES AND SO FORTH.

    Yesterday I installed ROM MANAGER, but today after I reboot, the pinball and ROM MANAGER have gone and it return to Chinese language.

    Now, I am really desperate
    I don't know what to do anymore

    hari

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hari,
    I'm out of ideas myself, the only similar situation I see on the web were caused by a wrong firmware being flashed (e.g. firmware for V1 flashed on V3, ...). If you can't get the tablet in flashing mode with Livesuit and also cannot get the CWM recovery installed and accessed using the scripts via an Android terminal, I see no way to re-flash the tablet. Maybe a specialized shop would be able to help?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Bubbah,

    First off, many thanks for your site & reviews. I ordered an Onda vi40 (v3) a few months ago and was disappointed with the slowness & unresponsiveness of the Onda firmware. I tried several other ROMS including the TNT, and Angel firmwares but not of them quite solved the problem for me. I'm currently running the Cyanogenmod 10 (Jelly Bean) and am amazed by the vast improvement - the tablet is noticably faster, less lagging, and far less freezes. However, the battery life is much reduced - my Onda is currently at 27% battery after 3 hours 39mins of usage. I've already tried battery optimizers but no significant difference. Can you tell me if this is normal with Cyanogenmod 10, and is the battery performance with Cyanogenmod 9 better? What are the pros & cons of both?

    much thanks,

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Dhayan,
    The battery life is a general problem reported with both CM9 and CM10. I have tried several builds released from AutoUpdate without much improvement so far.
    In my own experience, the tablet was less responsive and stable with CM10, and although I hated to do this, I reverted to CM9, which works overall better for me. It's still not the paradise especially for web browsing but it's manageable.
    I start to doubt that Onda will ever release a stable official JB since they failed to do so for ICS, so I start looking at replacing it soon with the Ployer Momo11 "speed". The 'brand' has a good reputation, it is similar in specs and hardware quality (+ multi-core and Bluetooth).
    Regards

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks Bubbah. If that's the case I'll stick with CM10 for now, since I haven't had any issues with it (why fix something that ain't broken?).
    On the battery life, I'm happy to know that the tablet can be down to 1% and still be fully functional, so i get around 6+ hours usage out of it (playing movies, streaming video and internet browsing).
    Thank you for your help!

    ReplyDelete
  16. thx for review ,

    but i have a problem , i have onda vi40 dual core v2 , when i connect my zte mf190s usb modem it's like dead and usb storage also, i need help i want to connect usb modem :(

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hey, Does these games work on Onda vi40:
    1.Resident Evil 4
    2.Asphalt 7
    3.NFS Most Wanted
    4.Grand THeft Auto III
    5.Grand Theft Auto Vice City
    ANd i want to konw about this HVGA thing.......!
    Onda does not support HVGA apps.....why???
    I really want to play these games on my tablet....
    plz help...

    ReplyDelete

  18. I am very enjoyed for this blog. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.
    I am also sharing a website How to charge tablet battery How to increase and safe Tablet Battery Life increase and safe android tablet battery lifeand there are a group of tablet battery gurus that have a very profound knowledge of tablet batteries and are determined to help people in understanding the best ways to get the maximum out of the batteries of their favorite devices .Need more information and more knowledge and how to safe battery life …..visit here http://www.tabletbatteries.net/

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello i have a big problem with my onda vi40...
    I've forgotten my unlock key, now i have to log in with my google account.
    So the main problem is i have no internet because i cannot put on the wlan... (i have to unlock to put on)
    My handy sim card doesn't fit into my tablet!
    I've tried to Reset but this doesn't work also!
    What can i do?
    Thanks for your help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are 2 ways to recover the tablet in that situation:
      1. connect a USB-RJ45 adapter to connect the tablet to an Ethernet port of your router.
      or 2. Re-flash a firmware to the tablet. You'll find some details on this in the last comments of that other post.

      good luck

      Delete