Coby produces low cost consumer electronics, but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The Coby Kyros MID9742 Android tablet may not be in the same class as the Asus Transformer Pad — or even the Amazon Kindle Fire. But the MID9742 sells for half the price of the former and offers a number of features you won’t find on the latter.
The Coby Kyros MID9742 features a 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 pixel capacitive touchscreen display, an Allwinner A10 1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 single core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 4GB to 8GB of storage.
It has 802.11n WiFi, front and rear cameras, and microSD and mini HDMI ports. The tablet ships with Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but it’s not a Google certified device. It includes the GetJar app store instead of the Google Play Store.
It’s not the fastest or most responsive tablet around. At times it even feels downright sluggish. But it gets great battery life, feels sturdy, offers decent viewing angles, and has reasonably good speakers.
Coby loaned me a unit for a few weeks for the purposes of this review, and while I ran into some issues from time to time, the Coby Kyros MID9742 is a pretty serviceable Android tablet for reading eBooks, watching videos, viewing pictures, or playing some games.
Web browsing was a bit more of a hit or miss experience. More on that in the performance section.
The Coby Kyros MID9742 is hardly the first tablet with a 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 pixel display. But it’s one of the cheapest.
It’s not quite as thin as the Apple iPad — although at 0.38 inches thick, it’s actually pretty close. But the plastic casing on the Coby tablet feels a lot cheaper than the aluminum iPad — or even the case on the HP TouchPad, which is also made of plastic.
The plastic on the back of the tablet has a matte finish which makes it relatively easy to grip. It also doesn’t show fingerprints as easily as some devices with glossy plastic panels.
On the front there’s a glass panel which covers the 9.7 inch display and a fairly chunky bezel around the edges of the screen. It’s not quite what I’d called edge-to-edge glass, since the rounded plastic edges of the MID9742 curve up to meet the glass around the sides. But overall, from the front the Coby Kyros MID9742 looks pretty much like every other tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio.
On one edge of the tablet (let’s call it the right side, although you can really hold the tablet any way you like) you’ll find a series of ports which definitely make it clear that you’re not looking at an iPad. There’s a micro HDMI port, a mini USB port, and a microSD card slot, as well as a headset jack and power jack.
The top edge of the tablet has a power button, volume buttons, and a back button. The layout takes a little getting used to — the back button is the one all the way at the end, where you might expect to find a power button. Since Android 4.0 includes an on-screen back button, you might not feel the need to use the hardware key all that often. In practice, I kept hitting it when I meant to turn the screen on or off.
There are stereo speakers on the back of the tablet… but they’re located so close to one another that I’m not sure why Coby bothered with stereo.
Audio is reasonably loud and clear, although you’ll certainly get better sound if you plug in headphones or external speakers. But even with the volume cranked all the way up, I didn’t hear any distortion when listening to music or watching videos using the built-in speakers.
Coby includes a front-facing VGA camera above the center of the screen, and a rear-facing 2MP camera directly behind it. There’s no auto-focus or LED flash. These cameras clearly aren’t designed for taking award-winning photographs. But they’ll do for snapping a quick photo in a pinch, or for engaging in a little video chat — assuming you’re in a brightly lit room.
The 1024 x 768 pixel display has decent viewing angles. Some tablets in this price range have a tendency to make photos and videos look like negatives when you view them from the left or right, but you should be able to watch a movie with a friend on this tablet — assuming your friend wants to sit close enough to watch a video on a 9.7 inch display with you.
Like most tablets, the MID9742 has a glossy display which attracts and showcases fingerprints pretty well — and reflects glare when used outdoors, near a window, or under a bright lamp.
Unlike most tablets, the Coby Kyros MID9742 comes with a slip cover. It’s not a very impressive cover. It’s thin and barely looks large enough to cover the tablet (it’s a little stretchy, so it does, though). But it should help you keep the glass screen and plastic sides and rear panel from getting scratched up when you slide the tablet into your bag.
If you’re looking for a more protective case with padding, you’ll probably want to invest in a third party cover or case. But it’s nice of Coby to at least include a basic slip case. I’m not sure why more companies don’t offer something similar.
In the box you’ll also find a USB cable, a USB adapter, and a cleaning cloth.
The good news is that the Coby Kyros MID9742 comes with Google Android 4.0.3. The operating system is optimized for tablets, allowing you to hold the Coby tablet in any position and still access all the controls.
The bad news is that this is not currently a Google certified device. That means it ships without access to the Google Play Store or other Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, or Google Calendar.
Instead Coby preloads the tablet with the GetJar app store, Adobe Flash Player, and a few other apps. There’s also a YouTube “app” in place of the official app that comes with Google certified devices — but it’s basically just a shortcut in your app drawer that loads the YouTube mobile website.
There’s also an eMusic icon in the app drawer — but like the YouTube app it’s just a link to a website. Unfortunately there’s no simple way to uninstall these “apps” from the tablet, but you can disable them to prevent them from showing up in your app drawer.
GetJar is one of the better alternatives to Google’s official app store… but it’s still a pretty poor substitute. One of the first things I did when I started using the Coby Kyros MID9742 was install the Amazon Appstore, which offers about 40,000 free and paid apps for download.
But even that is just about a tenth of the number of apps available from the Google Play Store — which means that many of the best apps for Android aren’t available.
There is a way around this limitation — but it involves voiding your tablet’s warranty and installing custom firmware. You can find instructions for installing a custom ROM with the Google Play Store preloaded at Android Tablets.net.
Once you do manage to get some apps installed, the Coby Kyros MID9742 does a respectable, but not spectacular job of running them.
The Allwinner A10 processor is a low-cost chip that offers decent graphics performance, including support for HD video playback. But it’s an ARM Cortex-A8 chip that offers performance that’s about on par with what you’d expect from a 2-3 year old smartphone, not the latest dual and quad-core chips for mobile tablets.
In general-purpose benchmarks such as Quadrant or CF-Bench, the Coby Kyros MID9742 scored about as well as the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 portable media player or my Google Nexus One smartphone — a phone that was released in early 2010.
In day to day performance, I found that the tablet sometimes felt fast and responsive, and sometimes slow and sluggish.
The worst problems I had were in the web browser. Sometimes it would lock up for a few seconds while I tried to load a web page, or there would be lag as I tried to enter a URL with the on-screen keyboard, with letters showing up a second or two after I tapped a key. But these problems weren’t consistent, and seemed to occur more on some web pages than others.
Simple sites like Google.com didn’t present much of a problem. Script-heavy pages like Google Reader were more likely to load slowly or lock up the browser.
I also noticed some unusual behavior when streaming music over the internet using Pandora. For the most part, audio sounded fine. But Pandora clipped off the beginning and end of each song and each audio advertisement. I haven’t had Pandora do that on any other Android device I’ve tested.
On the other hand, while it took a little longer to load games such as Fieldrunners or Doodle Jump on the MID9742 than on some other tablets, once these apps were loaded, they ran smoothly. The tablet also comes with Angry Birds Space pre-installed.
I had no trouble streaming videos from YouTube and Netflix on the tablet, and it can support 1080p HD video playback of local files in supported formats including H.264. Since most of my video collection is in the Divx format I was disappointed to note that the default media player doesn’t natively support those files.
So I installed a few third party video players which use software decoding tools to handle divx and other video codecs… and found myself watching blocky videos with a lot of visual artifacts, dropped frames, and audio/video synchronization issues.
The MID9742 makes a great video player if you’re watching online videos or movies in H.264, MPEG 1/2/4, or other supported types. But it’s not exactly a Swiss Army Knife for video.
It’s also worth noting that the tablet has a 4:3 screen aspect ratio. That means that you’ll see black bars on the sides of videos with 16:9 or 21:9 ratios. But older TV which were shot in 4:3 look great when streamed from Netflix.
Another thing the MID9742 is pretty great for is reading comic books. I tested the Comixology and Perfect Viewer comic book readers, and both looked great on the 1024 x 768 pixel display.
Many comic books can be tough to read on smaller tablets, since you’re basically taking the text and images from a 10 inch piece of paper and trying to squeeze it into a 7 inch screen.
The Comixology app gets around this by letting you view comics one panel at a time if you want to, but if you have cbr files or other digital comic books that aren’t available from the Comixology store you might want to try a third party app such as Perfect Viewer. It doesn’t have a panel-by-panel view, but on a tablet with a 9.7 inch display, that’s not really a problem. I didn’t have any problem reading text on the MID9742.
Both comic book apps I tried also ran smoothly on the tablet, allowing me to flip between pages, zoom in or out, and generally sit back and enjoy the comic books and graphic novels.
One thing I don’t usually expect from budget tablets is good battery life, but the Coby Kyros MID9742 lasted for 7.5 hours in my run-down test. This involved streaming music from Pandora with the display turned on and the screen brightness set to 50 percent for as long as I could until I got frustrated waiting for the battery to die.
That took about 7 hours. I spent the last half hour streaming video from Netflix until the device popped out.
You’ll probably kill the battery more quickly if you’re using it only to watch videos or play games. And you can probably get much more run time if you stream music with the screen turned off or read eBooks with the WiFi disabled.
The battery meter isn’t always accurate. During my 7.5 hour endurance test, the meter showed that the tablet was 100 percent charged for nearly an hour, and shortly before the battery died, the meter said the battery was still 60 percent full.
But the battery meter isn’t always inaccurate. In fact, the only time I’ve noticed it act up is the day I decided to see if I could run the battery all the way down.
For $200, it’s tough to find a better 9.7 inch tablet than the Coby Kyros MID9742. But if you’re willing to opt for a 7 inch tablet, there are plenty of better options available.
The Amazon Kindle Fire and B&N NOOK Tablet, for instance, both have faster ARM Cortex-A9 dual core processors and feel much more responsive than Coby’s latest tablet. If you’re willing to spend a little more money on the $249 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0), you’ll also get a device that comes with the Google Play Store preloaded.
But if you really want that larger display, the Coby Kyros MID9742 has a good screen, decent support for video playback, and makes an excellent comic book reader and portable gaming device. Just don’t expect the tablet to be speedy or responsive all the time — especially when using the web browser.