The Ampe A10 is one of the first Android tablets to feature a Freescale i.MX6 quad-core processor, so when the folks at PandaWill asked me if I’d like to review the tablet I jumped at the opportunity.
Freescale’s i.MX6 Quad processor is a 1.2 GHz chip with Vivante GC2000 graphics. While it doesn’t perform quite as well as NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 quad-core CPU in benchmarks, Freescale’s new chip doesn’t trail NVIDIA’s latest by very much.
If the price of the Ampe A10 is anything to go by, Freescale is also offering up the i.MX6 Quad as a low-cost alternative to some of the other speedy chips on the market. Pandawill sells the Ampe A10 for $220. That’s one of the best prices I’ve seen for any tablet with a 10 inch display and a quad-core processor.
But it takes more than a fast processor to make a good tablet. The Ampe A10 unit I received has a few hardware and software bugs that make it difficult to recommend, although the low price almost makes up for these problems. Some of the issues could probably be addressed by software updates (or third party custom ROMs), while others might be a little trickier to solve through software alone.
The Ampe A10 isn’t a horrible tablet. But it’s not a great one either. It’s just one of the first devices to ship with a Freescale i.MX6 Quad processor though. Hopefully we’ll see future devices with better build quality and software.
Specs and overview
The Ampe A10 tablet features a 10.1 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel capacitive touchscreen display, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of flash storage, and Android 4.0 software.
It has 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, a 2MP rear camera, 0.3MP front-facing camera, a microSD card slot, mini HDMI port, and a micro USB cable. There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack.
The tablet measures 10.5″ x 7″ x 0.45″ and weighs 1.45 pounds. It features an 8000mAh battery which the manufacturer says should last for up to 8 hours. It doesn’t.
The Ampe A10 is powered by a 1.2 GHz quad-core Freescale i.MX6 processor. That’s an ARM Cortex-A9 chip with 1MB of L2 cache, and Vivante GC2000 graphics with support for 3D hardware acceleration and 2160p HD video playback.
Design and build quality
At first glance the Ampe A10 looks surprisingly nice for a cheap tablet from a manufacturer you’ve probably never heard of.
It has a dark gray aluminum rear panel, a lighter silver-colored plastic panel around the edges of the tablet, and a glossy display with 180 degree viewing angles (colors do look best when viewed head-on, but that has more to do with glare that’s introduced when you hold the Ampe A10 at an angle than with colors washing out the way they do on cheap laptop displays).
Upon closer inspection, there are a few things to suggest that this is a budget tablet, not a premium model.
As I mentioned, the sides of the tablet are covered in metallic-colored plastic rather than actual metal. The volume and power buttons are also made of plastic and while I’m not worried about them breaking off, they don’t have the solid feel you’d expect from a tablet with a case made mostly of aluminum and glass.
The demo unit I received also has a few screen defects. There’s a dead pixel that sticks out like a sore thumb when I’m reading eBooks, watching videos, or surfing the web. It’s stuck on blue, so unless I’m viewing content with a blue background, it’s noticeable.
There’s also an air bubble trapped below the center of the screen. This isn’t something that bugs me all the time, but every now and again it makes it difficult to read text on that portion of the screen. The bubble looks sort of like what you’d get if you applied a screen protector improperly, but I’ve been using the Ampe A10 without a protector.
PandaWill tells me that the demo unit they sent me didn’t have any screen defects when they shipped it — and that it may have been damaged during shipping. But even if that’s true, since all of the retailer’s products ship from China, there’s a chance that this isn’t a unique incident.
PandaWill does offer a limited warranty, allowing customers to request replacements for some products in some circumstances for up to 30 days, or repairs up to 12 months from the purchase date.
But before ordering this sort of product it’s a good idea to lower your expectations a bit — the Ampe A10 is a device that wasn’t necessarily built to the same specifications you might expect from a device made by a major PC maker, and while it ships with English-language software, there are also some Chinese language apps which serve as a reminder that this tablet wasn’t necessarily designed for American or European users.
While the tablet doesn’t score quite as well as the Google Nexus 7 (with an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, it scores about twice as well in each of those tests as any tablet I’ve tested with a TI OMAP 4430 or NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor… two of the best ARM-based processors to hit the streets in 2011.
But not every app runs on the tablet. I was able to install Zynga’s game Horn, for instance and watched as it slowly ate up nearly 2GB of disk space. But after the game had finally finished downloading, it wouldn’t load on the tablet. Every time I tapped the icon to launch the game, the screen blinked for a second and then the Android home screen reappeared.
I stink at first-person shooters, but they tend to tax a processor a bit more than Scrabble, so I also took Dead Trigger for a spin. That game played smoothly and I didn’t have any problems with graphics or on-screen controls.
Some apps simply didn’t show up in the Google Play Store. For instance, in order to run the Antutu and Quadrant benchmarks I had to sideload them. They run fine on the tablet, but the Google Play Store thinks they’re not compatible. The same goes for the Netflix app.
You might be able to get around some of these issues by installing a third party app store such as the Amazon Appstore, or by copying the APK installer files from another device. That’s how I got Netflix up and running, and once it’s installed it works just fine.
For the most part the tablet felt responsive — but from time to time it took a little longer than expected for the Ampe A10 to register a key-press. This can be a problem when you’re entering text or using a web browser — since you might think the first tap didn’t register and end up typing the same letter twice or hitting the back button more times than you intended and accidentally closing the browser when you simply wanted to go back one page.
When surfing the web, I noticed that pinch-to-zoom gestures work well… as long as you perform them slowly. If you try to pinch too quickly the graphics stutter a bit.
On the back of the tablet you’ll find stereo speakers. They’re placed surprisingly close to one another towards the center of the device, thus negating a bit of the stereo effect. You’ll probably never notice that though — because they’re so quiet that you can barely hear them anyway.
If you plan to use the Ampe A10 to listen to music or watch movies, you’re probably going to want to use headphones or external speakers. The tablet come with a pair of earbuds.
Battery and power issues
The Ampe A10 has an 8000mAh battery and a low power processor. Theoretically it should be able to run for up to 8 hours on a charge — which means that unless you use it constantly to watch a few movies back-to-back or for a massive gaming session you should be able to go a few days between charges.
That’s the theory anyway. In practice, the tablet seems to get closer to 4 hours of constant use when used with WiFi enabled and the display on (with brightness set to about 50 percent. And for the last hour in my run-down test, I was constantly bombarded with pop-up alerts letting me know that the battery level had dipped below 7 percent.
You might want to start a stopwatch when you turn the tablet on though — because the battery meter is virtually useless. After leaving the Ampe A10 plugged into a wall jack for 2-days straight, the meter reported that the batter was 88 percent full. I turned off the screen and turned it back on again, and the tablet said 92 percent… then 87 percent.
Unplugging the tablet from the wall, I used it to surf the web and read eBooks for about 45 minutes and watched the battery level drop to 45 percent.. and then jump to 57, down to 24, and so on.
Like I said: virtually useless. Typically when the meter dips below the 15 percent point it will stay there, but it wills till bounce around a bit.
I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing that a software update could fix. If power management is as poorly implemented on this tablet as power level reporting, it’s also possible that better software could lead to longer battery life. And I’m guessing there are power management issues — the tablet has a habit of shutting down unexpectedly.
It usually only does this when the screen is off. But sometimes I’ll hit the power button to turn off the display, walk away for a few hours, and I can press the power button again and watch the tablet spring instantly to life just like a smartphone or tablet should. Other times I’ll press the button and watch as… nothing happens… because the tablet has turned itself off at some point while I wasn’t paying attention.
At that point all you can do is press and hold the power button to boot the Ampe A10 and wait about 35 seconds for the tablet to boot. Mercifully, it boots more quickly than many Android phones and tablets I’ve used.
I wanted to test the Ampe A10 so I could kick the tires on Freescale’s i.MX6 quad-core CPU. It’s a low-cost, low-power chip that performs reasonably well in benchmarks. Unfortunately, like a lot of new chips, it seems to confuse the Google Play Store. Many apps run perfectly well on the Ampe A10, but Google won’t let you download them from the Play Store because they’re not officially “compatible.”
While the i.MX6 quad isn’t as fast as some other recent chips, it seems to provide a decent bang for the buck. At $220, the Ampe A10 is one of the cheapest 10 inch tablets around with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU.
Even with a few screen defects in my demo unit, I’d almost say the Ampe A10 is worth the asking price. It wasn’t all that long ago that dirt cheap tablets were truly awful. These days tablets like the Ampe A10 only look bad because there are other reasonably priced options on the market.
But the Ampe A10 suffers from two major problems that make it hard to recommend: Poor power management and occasionally sluggish response to screen taps or gestures. Unless official (or unofficial) software updates address these issues, I’d probably stay away from this tablet.
If you’re looking for another unique tablet from China, PandaWill also offers the Chuwi V99. It’s a 9.7 inch Android tablet with a dual core processor and a Retina- style HD display. I’ll have a full review of that $290 tablet soon, but so far I’ve been pretty impressed with the display, build quality and performance.