The Skytex Primer Pocket is a portable device with a 4.3 inch, 480 x 272 pixel display that’s best described as a portable media player. But it also happens to run Google Android 2.2 Froyo, which means you can also use the PMP to surf the web, play games, and run a number of Android applications.

The Primer Pocket won’t be giving the iPod touch a run for its money anytime soon. While it can handle many video codecs that Apple’s portable media device cannot, the iPod touch is smaller, lighter, sturdier, and features a higher quality display. It can also handle far more applications — not just because it runs iOS instead of Android, but because the Primer Pocket has an unusual screen resolution and processor, so many Android apps simply won’t run on the device.

But the Primer Pocket certainly holds its own when it comes to video playback capabilities — and there’s one area where the Skytex media player comes out ahead of almost any competitor: price. You can pick one up for as little as $89, making it one of the cheapest Android products available.

Skytex sent me a demo unit for the purposes of this review.

Specifications

The Skytex Primer Pocket is a budget device, with inexpensive components. Don’t expect a capacitive touch panel, Gorilla Glass screen, or 1 GHz dual core processor here. But while the specs are pretty basic for an Android phone or tablet, the device has pretty much everything you need for audio and video playback (although a better screen and higher quality audio would be nice).

Here’s a rundown of the specs:

  • 4.3 inch, 480 pixel capacitive touchscreen display
  • 600 MHz MIPS processor = 400MHz DSP
  • Google Android 2.2 Froyo
  • 4GB storage (about 2.6GB free)
  • 256MB DDR2 RAM
  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi
  • 1 Watt speaker
  • Mic
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • mini USB port
  • microSD card slot (up to 16GB)
  • 1400mAh battery
  • Support for 720p HD video in a wide range of formats

While the Primer Pocket doesn’t work with the official Google Android Market, it comes with the GetJar app store preloaded and I was able to install other app stores including Amazon and SlideMe — although not all third party apps from those stores can run on the device.

Design

Like most Android phones, tablets and portable media players, the dominant feature on the Primer Pocket is the display. From the front, the device is almost all display, with a relatively small black bezel around the sides and the Skytex logo on one edge.

The widescreen, display is 4.3 inches when measured diagonally. It has a display resolution of 480 x 272 pixels — which is the same as what you get with the PlayStation Portable. Unfortunately that’s a rather unusual resolution for an Android device, and some apps don’t display properly on the Primer Pocket because of it.

The screen is touch sensitive, and can even recognize two simultaneous touch points, which allows you to perform pinch-to-zoom and other two-finger gestures. But you won’t be confusing this display with a high quality screen found in higher end phones and tablets.

Skytex saved money by going with a plastic screen and a resistive touch panel. That means that while you can sometimes tap the screen with your fingertip if you press hard enough, the easiest way to interact with the screen is using a fingernail, stylus, pen tip, or other pointed object.

The screen also has limited viewing angles. While photos and videos look reasonably good when you’re looking directly at the screen, the colors start to wash out if you tilt the device. Some angles are better than others though.

When you hold the mini-tablet in landscape mode and view it from the left or right you should have no problem making out the image — although it won’t look as good to the person sitting next to you as it does when you’re looking directly at the device. But if you try tilting it backward or forward it doesn’t take long before the images simply disappear.

In other words, you can hold the Primer Pocket in your hands or prop it up with some sort of a stand to watch a movie — but you’re not going to want to lie it down flat on a table unless you want that movie to turn into a radio play.

The Primer Pocket is a little thicker and wider than a high-end portable media player or smartphone. But it’s still small enough to easily fit into the palm of your hand or slide into your pocket. It measures 4.5″ x 3″ x 0.47″ and weighs just under 5 ounces.

While the screen has a slick, shiny finish, the plastic around the sides and bottom has a soft, almost rubbery feel to it. The screen shows fingerprints (and scratches), but the rest of the device has a matte look. Fingerprints don’t show up all that easily.

Like most devices that run Android 2.3 and earlier, the Skytex Primer Pocket has a couple of hardware buttons for Home, Menu, and Back functions, as well as volume controls and a button you can press to turn the display on or off or press-and-hold to power down or startup the device altogether.

But while most phones place these buttons below the display, the Primer Pocket’s buttons are all on the side of the tablet — with the labels printed on the back of the device. This means that you won’t be able to see the name of the button you’re pressing unless you turn the Primer Pocket over and look at the back.

It takes a little while to get used to the button layout, but while you can’t see the labels from the front you can see the buttons, which means that once you remember where each button is located it’s not that hard to press the right one. This is in sharp contrast to the Augen GenTouch78 and a handful of other cheap tablets that literally place all the function buttons awkwardly on the back of the device so that you can feel them, but you can’t see them at all.

One one of the narrow sides of the mini-tablet (I’m tempted to call it the top, because if you hold the little guy with this end up your fingers can easily access all the buttons) you’ll find a mini-USB port, microSD card slot, and a headphone jack.

By the on/off button there’s a mic, a reset jack (which you’ll need a pretty tiny pin to use), and a third hole which probably does something, but I have no idea what that something is.

On the back you’ll find a speaker, plus explanations for all the ports and buttons. When you tack on the logo and FCC info, the back of the Primer Pocket starts looking pretty cluttered.

Software and apps

It’s probably best to think of the Primer Pocket as an Android-powered portable media player rather than as a full-fledged Android tablet. While it ships with Google Android 2.2 Froyo, it suffers from a number of limitations.

First, it doesn’t include the official Google suite of apps including Gmail, Google Maps, or the Android Market. Out of the box you do get a web browser, calculator, clock, file explorer, media player, and an unofficial YouTube video player. It also comes with Angry Birds preloaded.

But the lack of official Google apps wouldn’t be so bad if that were the only problem. There are plenty of other ways to find and download apps for Android, and the Primer Pocket even comes with the GetJar app store preloaded.

No, the problem is that even if you do manage to find the app you want and download it to your device, it may fail to install. That’s because the Primer Pocket has a MIPS-based processor, while most Android apps are compiled to run on devices with ARM chips. At least 75 percent of the apps I tried to install spat out an “application not installed” message.

Other apps did install properly, but when I tried to run them, they didn’t display properly because of the Primer Pocket’s unusual 480 x 272 pixel display.

The Aldiko eBook Reader, for instance, wouldn’t install at all. While I was able to install word game Wixel Lite, one row of letters was cut off, making the game nearly unplayable. While there are other eBook apps that do work with MIPS devices, Wixel is my wife’s favorite word game, and we’ve learned that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

The long and short of it is that most Android apps just don’t work on the Primer Pocket. But the good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of apps for Android, so if you spend enough time digging you can probably come up with a few apps that will meet your needs that do work. I don’t know how well this little device will sell, given its limitations, but if a user community does form around it, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a user-generated list of apps that are confirmed to work one day.

Performance

Here’s another tip: You may not mind the fact that most apps don’t run on this device, because even if they did, most probably wouldn’t run well. The Primer Pocket has no problems playing 720p HD video files without stuttering thanks to some decent graphics capabilities. But overall it’s a pretty slow machine, and some apps are Slow with a capital S.

Angry Birds is playable on the tablet, but as you pull back your slingshot to aim your bird, the graphics are just choppy enough to make it difficult to line up your shot.

The web browsing experience is painfully slow. I can’t remember the last time I used a device that took as long to fully load web pages as the Primer Pocket. It was probably back when I had a 56k modem. In this case it’s not the internet connection slowing things down though, it’s almost certainly the processor.

I tried installing alternate web browsers, and while the Dolphin HD and Dolphin Mini browsers are a little nicer to use thanks to support for tabs, full-screen mode, and other options, they weren’t any faster. I had high hopes for the Opera Mini web browser, which uses remote server compression to speed up surfing on devices with slow processors, but unfortunately Opera Mini failed to install.

The resistive touchscreen display is reasonably responsive, but it’s still a bit tricky to use an operating system designed for fingertip input with your fingernails or another pointed object. For instance, good luck typing on the on-screen keyboard with two thumbs. For the most part I had to hold the mini-tablet in one hand while tapping letters one at a time with my other. This may be good enough for entering URLs or search terms in the web browser, but I wouldn’t want to use this touchscreen to compose email messages.

As I’ve mentioned, the one area where the Primer Pocket actually outperforms many more expensive devices is multimedia playback. I tested a handful of video files on the tablet including a 720p DivX video and a 480p Xvid file and videos played smoothly.

According to the manufacturer, the device also supports 720p RMVB, H.264, RMVB, and MKV video files at reasonably high bitrates, although I didn’t test each of those formats myself.

Audio performance is acceptable, but not particularly impressive.  The speaker is reasonably clear and sounds a little better than you might expect from a 1W speaker on such an inexpensive device. But it’s not particularly loud, and talk or news radio or podcasts sound a little better than music when blasted from the spaker, since the sound is a little tinny.

The good news is that you can plug in a pair of headphones instead for fairly decent sound quality. With a good pair of headphones you can also crank up the audio volume to rather unhealthy levels, so proceed with caution.

During a two hour bus trip recently I listened to a few songs and a couple of podcasts. The podcasts made for much more pleasant listening, since it’s a lot easier to get the human voice right than rich instrumentation.

Battery life is a mixed bag. Skytex estimates that you should be able to get around 20 hours of battery life while listening to audio with the WiFi and display off, 4 to 5 hours of video playback, or 6 to 8 hours of mixed use including surfing the web and playing games.

I ran a simple test by streaming internet radio over WiFi for as long as I could while keeping the screen on at about 50 percent brightness.

The battery only lasted for about 2 hours, 45 minutes.

That seemed kind of low, so I ran another test. This time I kept the screen at 50 percent brightness, but turned off WiFi and played video files for as long as I could. This time the battery died after 3 hours, 27 minutes. That should at least give you enough time to watch a movie or a couple of TV shows on the go, but it’s still not all that impressive.

You should get better battery life if you’re only listening to music with the WiFi and display turned off, but my results don’t exactly inspire confidence.

I have noticed a few good things about the way the Primer Pocket handles power management though.

The first is that if you don’t touch the device for a long enough period of time, it will shut down completely. This prevents the battery from running down if you leave the Primer Pocket on overnight while you’re not using it. But it also means that you’ll have to wait a good minute or so for the device to power up the next time you turn it on.

The Primer Pocket also doesn’t seem to lose too much of its charge when it’s sitting idle with the display off — especially if WiFi is disabled. This stands in stark contrast with some low cost Android tablets such I’ve used  which seem to run out of juice quickly whether you’re using them or not.

Verdict

If you think of the Skytex Primer Pocket has a portable media player, it’s not a bad device for $89. It can handle a wide variety of audio and video codecs and while audio quality isn’t spectacular, it’s certainly passable if you want to use the device for listening to music or podcasts.

As an added bonus, the device can run some apps and surf the web — but it doesn’t do either of those things particularly well. If you’re looking for a device that’s first and foremost an Android mini-tablet rather than a glorified media player, you might want to look elsewhere.

Fewer than half of the apps I tried to install on the Primer Pocket ran properly. The touchscreen can be difficult to use. And the viewing angles are pretty poor.

 

Archos, Cowon, Samsung, Apple, and several other companies offer pocket-sized devices that offer a much more polished (and powerful) experience. Unfortunately those devices also tend to cost a bit more than the Primer Pocket, but this is one of those cases where you certainly get what you pay for — and the fact that the Primer Pocket offers even as much capability as it does for $89 shows just how much technology has advanced in recent years.

There was a time when the idea of a portable media player with a 4 inch screen and a 600 MHz processor for under $100 would have been inconceivable. Now that it’s available, I’m still not convinced it’s a great buy. If you can afford to spend a little more money you can get a much better device. But if you’re on a budget and looking for an Android PMP, it’s nice to have an option in this price range.

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19 replies on “Skytex Primer Pocket (Android PMP) review”

  1. My Primer Pocket isn’t working right!!! I got it as a gift and it is working fine untill now. It keeps popping, “The process android.process.media(etc.) has stopped unexpectedly. Please try Again”!!!!!!! I keep trying again and it still won’t work… I very disapointed! Please tell me whats going on…….

  2. I saw in your video on youtube that you had the amazon appstore on your primer pocket. I am having trouble getting it to download properly on mine….any suggestions?

  3. well, about the little hole next to the reset button: it’s a little red LED that lights up when the device is plugged into something.
    apart from this, i’m pretty much annoyed by the fact that mine just won’t start up any more. no idea why.
    as to the functionality, i can only say that the price says it all. personally, i wouldn’t have bought it. i got it as a gift :))

    1. the reset button is not as user friendly as most.  One of our skytex pp’s was fully charged but would not turn on.  I used a small pin and insterted in the reset hole… had to feel around for the button but depressed it and felt it click… the device then powered on.  I’ve had to do that twice for one of our three devices and it seems to do the trick.

  4. I recently purchased three skytex Primer Pockets… yup I have three kids 🙂  So far I’ve only UN-boxed one and am getting it ready to place under the tree.  I enjoyed this review.  I will say so far there is a lack of documentation and I know it has wireless but I’m not into letting my kids have free access.  We decided on these so they could play “simple games” aka angry birds, Play music (mp3) and read books.  I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t come with an e-reader so I’m researching that now which leads me to desire more documentation on how to load apps preferably from my computer to the device so I don’t actually have to WiFi enable it.  LOL I know why would I get it then… well, to usher in the technology to my kids while giving them a device that can be fun and functional (games, music and reading).  Now point me to some great step by steps and I’ll be happy.  Who knows… with three of them I just may have to start my own step by steps and post eh?

    1. I came back again today to read your review again.  You did a great job in this review.  As stated in my post above I am setting up three of these devices.  I am finding that 50+ of the apps I try and load fail and that the touch screen can be tricky with big ole fingers or even using a stylus and this is even after adjusting the screen/touch setup.  Using the keyboard to enter a wireless key was a bit challenging due to added key strokes or wrong positioning.  The lack of informational support by Skytex is a bit frustrating and due to this device being so new the lack of anything other than reviews is a bit frustrating as well.  Even a simple list of “Apps that work” and “how to load..” etc. could help the Primer Pocket end users.  I truly hope Skytex expands their support because it seems to me this device is being pushed heavily for the Holiday season.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience with the Pocket Primer…Unfortunately, I had a bad one.  I was excited about my purchase of my Pocket Primer, thinking that it would be a very handy pocket tablet that I could take on the go to anywhere and be able to access the internet, email, and many other apps.  The look and feel of the Pocket Primer is very slick, clean and pocket-sized.  But the quality of the Pocket Primer was WAY below my expectations and not even worth the $50 discounted price that I paid for it. 

    When my Pocket Primer arrived, I immediately charged it up (which took several hours).  Then, I decided to download some Apps onto the device.  I soon realized that even though it’s an Android compatible device, it doesn’t allow you to use any of my favorite Android App markets.  You are limited to the Getjar App market which is very limited.  It did have some of the basic Apps for email and news, but it was lacking any good sports, music, games, and entertainment apps.  I still managed to find some Apps to my liking (although some of them did not work after downloading them).  
    My Pocket Primer was ready to go, fully charged and set up with 15 Apps.  I decided to play Angry Birds which had been pre-downloaded onto the device.  After a nice 45 minute game of Angry Birds, I noticed that my battery charge was already down to 11%..so I had to plug it back into the charger.  Later that evening I decided to use my Pocket Primer to check some emails and do some web browsing.  I soon noticed that there were 4 white lines starting to appear across the top of my screen.  I tried to reboot the system, but the lines remained on the screen.  For the next few days, I still used my Pocket Primer for primarily checking email, web browsing and listening to some music….but I did have to recharge the battery a few more times.  Then, just 4 days after purchasing my Pocket Primer, it started to freeze up on me.  That’s when I decided it was time to contact Customer Support.

    I used the Skytex Customer Support form online and filed a Request for Replacement.  I NEVER heard back from anyone…just got a general email saying that my request had been submitted.  After 3 days, I sent an email to their order dept and customer support….didnt hear back for 1-2 days.  Finally I got a response from their customer support.  After a few emails back and forth explaining that I wanted to either get the Pocket Primer replaced or refunded, I was sent instructions for a refund.  In summary, the instructions stated that I would have to pay for all of the shipping/handling of the returned item, also pay a 15% restocking fee (whatever that is) and then I would be put on a refund list (whatever that meant).  In the end, I decided to simply keep my piece of junk Pocket Primer since I would only be getting a $30 refund(due to $10+ for shipping and 15% restocking fee) and I would probably have to wait 6-8 more weeks before I saw any sort of refund.

    I cannot recommend to anyone to purchase the Pocket Primer…even if its super discounted at $50.00.  I am chalking it up as a Loss and a Lesson learned.  Cheap Price = Cheap Quality.  If you are looking for a cheap tablet, don’t be fooled by the good looking Pocket Primer.

  6. I got my pocket primer Sat. It won’t turn on and yes I charged it. Skytex doesn’t have tech support on the weekend. Can anybody help me? I’ve been staring at it all day and I want to use it.

  7. I’ve seen quite a few of these devices around in Hong Kong recently and the specs are improving nearly every week. I am yet to find some of the better processors in the 5″ and below tablets, but it will come soon.

    Basically the processors available seem to be:

    arm11 – generally poor performance

    freescale mx515 – Should on paper be good, but doesn’t seem to work well, performance ok-ish.

    A8 RK2818 processor 600 mhz (quite slow performance)

    A8 RK2918 1.2ghz (really good with the new sdk2.0 roms on them). They are also usually paired with a PowerVR 540.

    A9 NEC (renesas) – single core 800mhz, not as good as the RK above.

    A9 NEC (renesas) – dual core but only 533mhz per core (sluggish android system performance but ok on games due to bundled mali400 gpu.

    A8 Samsung pv210. 1ghz (or 1.2 sometimes). Excellent performance and well optimized. 

    Most of the tablets here usually have something that stops them from being perfect.

    In the last couple of days I bought a 7″ RK2918 that is now running with the sdk2.0 rom and hits 2300 on quadrant and really is fast. I also bought a Samsung based one and the speed was amazing but the build quality and battery appalling, so it went back dead. Finally I have picked up an 8 inch RK2819 with a res of 1024×768. It is running very well but still waiting on the sdk2.0 rom for this one to get another 50% performance.

    If anyone wants to see a video demo of them running, let me know. I’m so impressed with the little 7″ one now, it flies through everything, including intensive 3D games.

    1. Thanks for the insight! I wouldn’t mind seeing a demo video if you have the time to post one. I’m also curious to know what you find yourself using the tablet for?

      My sense is that some of the cheapest models like the Skytex Primer Pocket are good at some tasks… but not good enough to recommend as general purpose tablets. 

      1. I’ll try and get the video made over the weekend.

        We are currently testing a few different ones as we are purchasing for a school. We love our iPads and iPod touches we already have but we have realised that we can get 4 android tabs for the price of 1 iPad. For kids they do everything we need (web browsing, sound recording, basic photo and video, puzzle games and some educational apps). Plus no need for itunes sync (which is an enormously onerous task when you have audio, video and apps in folders over 40 devices), just usb and copy off and on content.

        I think, from a functional point of view, that many of these are as good as the 7″ galaxy tab now.

        1. Sounds promising. Android devices are definitely available at lower price points and easier to customize for this sort of use — but some of the cheap models that were on the market last year and early this year were pretty unpleasant to use.

          It’s good to see that the low end devices are starting to get better — but it’d be even nicer if the models with subpar screens and processors would just disappear. Right now it’s tough to know what you’re getting when you buy an Android device for under $200. 

    2. I have just been given my Primer Pocket, and not tablet savy, please can you let me know where I can find how to load videos, pics and music and is there any manual for this tablet, would appreciate some help!  thank you

    1. The screen resolution certainly seems better, but I’m wondering if they’re being a little fast and loose with the “dual processor.” I’ve seen companies count the graphics or DSP as a separate processor. 

      1. If it wasn’t for the fact I am waiting on my new Samsung Galaxy player to arrive, I would take a chance and buy one.

  8. Overall, a fair review.  I took the plunge and bought this device as soon as it came out.  I am not disappointed, largely because I didn’t have extravagant expectation.  Setting the bar low meant I was pleasantly surprised at various aspects of the tablet/portable media player.  The video is really quite good, as I discovered; and the audio on videos and podcasts is more than satisfactory.  As the reviewer discovered, the use of good earbuds improved music listening greatly.  I even found surfing the Web both fast and visually acceptable for a 4.3″ device. I have tried to install wordprocessing software or a keyboard to it, which was originally the impetus of my buying it.  So, for now, it is a toy that I carry in my pocket and periodically use during down-time.  It’s not an iPod killer!  It’s an all-round mini-tablet/media player…with limitations.  It’s also available for $77-99 on the Web.  Finally, tech support is swift and very helpful.  Now that’s a surprise!  A welcome one at that.

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