Many new SoC will emerge during 2014 to replace the popular RK3188 and A31 (the most anticipated being probably the RK3288).
In the meantime, I decided to try the first tablet equipped with the quad-core ATM7039 from Actions: the Ainol Novo 9 Spark II (aka Firewire II)
Unpacking and first launch impressions:
Overall look and feel:
The tablet is correctly built but the finishing feels slightly below what I saw in other brands, with no real fault though. The design is classic except for the Home and Power buttons located on the same side which means that you will often mix them up.
The tablet feels (and is) heavier, it weights 703gr vs 642gr for a Visture V97HD.
It's the first time I see a 9.7" tablet equipped with a vibrator. I have very little interest for it. To completely disable this function you need to clear the "vibrate on keypress " in both Sound settings AND Keyboard settings (Language & input section).
The near-dead-on-arrival experience...
The tablet gave me some sweat initially just to turn it on: it gave no sign of life no matter how long I pressed the power button.
There were 2 causes for that:
- First, the tablet came with dead-empty batteries, it took a few minutes of charging to see a reaction.
- Second, the device once again refused to start after a while although the device was detected by the Windows ABD driver. It appeared later that it was caused by the formatted Class10 MicroSD card that I eventually inserted. The same worked fine in other tablets. So it seems that the Ainol Novo Spark II can be a little picky on the memory cards. I finally got one working.
Wi-Fi range Bluetooth:
The Wi-Fi range is only slightly superior to my RK3188 tablets but when it does catch a signal, it keeps it.
When tested in my garden, where the Visture V97HD would sometimes loose the signal, the Spark II remains connected all the time. The Wi-Fi Analyzer reading is comparable to my Pipo Max M6 (which has a plastic shell). Overall the result is surprisingly good for a tablet with an aluminium casing.
Battery life and charging:Performance:
The battery longevity
is comparable (updated 23/05/14) slightly shorter than the RK3188 tablets and charging via USB or even the A/C adapter takes longer than average. I noticed that USB charging while playing with the tablet would hardly just keep the battery at its current level.
The battery longevity
The overall Antutu score puts the Spark II on par with Galaxy Note 2 and Xperia Z. Most values are slightly higher than those I saw from previous review with the exception of the Storage and Database I/O which scored respectively 480/440 (I've seen much higher scores on the YouTube reviews). The RAM speed scored a good 1387. This all is probably the result of tweaking done on the latest firmware 140314.
Beside the theoretical numbers, web browsing experience is excellent with no lag, which is a clear improvement over my RK3188 tablets.
Heavy gaming performance is, on paper superior to Rockchip with higher 3DMark (4477 vs 3909) and Epic Citadel scores. In real life use however,
the difference is not striking.
Overall, the stability is good but with room for improvement: I had one real crash in 5 days of intensive use.
The tablet can feel warmer than a RK3188 on heavy load, but nothing exceptional.
|White tablet: Ainol Novo 9 SparkII|
Display and HDMI output:
Display quality is excellent as you would expect from any Retina screen. The brightness is slightly higher compared to a Cube U9GT5 in full daylight.
HDMI output work straightforward and Full HD video and audio playback is smooth, no surprise.
|1 DTV window + 1 video + Hay Day |
running together without a drop of sweat.
Another nice surprise is the OWL player that allows to plays several videos while running any other application.
The Android 4.2.2 tablet comes with a collection of Chinese apps but since it comes already rooted and that ES explorer is pre-installed, they can be easily removed from the \system\vendor\app folder.
The settings section also includes a list of supported 3G dongles.
Back and front camera:
|Picture taken with the rear camera (edited with Picasa)|
The front 2Mpix camera will do fine for Face Unlock and Skypeing under good light conditions.
Unlike the predecessor Novo 9 Spark, both cameras are centred on top of the frame which is a better layout for me, but it also means that cases currently available for Spark (I) will not fit the Spark II, and there's currently a very limited choice of good cases for it.
The speakers are located at the back which means that the sound might be blocked by a protection case. However the sound is louder than with the RK3188 tablets I tested previously (Visture, Cube, Pipo)
The new ATM7039 has nothing to fear from the existing competition.
It resolves most complains I had with the RK3188 tablets reviewed earlier.
While the performance index on paper is not much higher, it is all about user experience in the end: smoother browsing and overall operations, resilient Wi-Fi, good speakers, bright display, USB charging, ...
While it will still certainly have a hard time facing the Rockchip (RK3288), Allwinner (A80) tablets expected in the next few months, for ~155€, the Ainol Novo 9 Spark II is a good and affordable alternative to the current RK3188 tablets.
CPU: ATM7039 quadcore 1.6GHz (Cortex A9)
GPU: Power VR SGX544MP2
Battery 1300 mAh
RAM 2GB DDR3
ROM 16GB Nand Flash
Display: 9.7" Retina 2048x1536 (ppi 264)
Latest Firmware at time of writing: 140314
- Adequate Wi-Fi reception and stability
- Great browsing experience
- Good at video playback
- Charging possible from USB port
- Loud speakers
- Excellent display quality
- Both cameras are usable for Face Unlock, Bar code reading (and even taking pictures if nothing else at hand) and are conveniently located in the top-centre of the case.
Not so good:
- Confusing button layout (power/home buttons in particular)
- Slow Charging (either USB or A/C).
- Lack of specific protection case at the moment
- Heavier than average