Perhaps the genre of the ‘Tablet’ PC hasn’t been purely defined because it seems like its some sort of Fad or new term people are clinging to make a sale. Motorola announces a new handset with a 3.2-inch display and casts it in the role of a tablet (laughable), the Dell Streak seemed like something in between a handset and a tablet but was nevertheless termed as a tablet, and now this, the Magnum form LACS. Seems like the term is frivolously being used wherever possible. If these devices could be called tablets then Cowon’s A3 or O2 would also be called tablets and not PMPs (Personal media Device), or MIDs (Mobile Internet devices). There’s affine line between the two, so fine in fact, it’s invisible.
But we’re here to talk about the Magnum and whether or not it deserves to be placed on the mantle of the Tablets, so here’s a closer look. But before getting into the nitty-gritty, I’d just like to state that LACS has not designed this device for the ultra tech-savvy or hardcore mobile internet user, but instead, according to the company, for the lower end segment, college kids and so on. Also keep in mind that as of now this product is far from ready as there are a quite a few updates, I was told, which should enhance the devices potential considerably. That remains to be seen so stay tuned to this space for updates.
The Magnum is currently available in two variants – one with a 4.3-inch touchscreen (480 x 272 pixel resolution) and the other with a slightly large 5-inch display (same resolution as the smaller model). LACS has gone with resistive touchscreens presumably to reduce cost. A little stylus has a slot placed in the rear of the device. On the right side is where you’ll find the mini USB port, microSD card slot (2GB internal supports up to 16GB via cards) and a 2.5mm earphone socket. It was a bad idea to deviate from the conventional and go with a 2.5mm socket but I was told that an adapter to 3.5mm would be included with the package. It would have been simpler, obviously, to simply have gone with a standardized pin in the first place. A power button/screen lock is laced on the top right hand side of the device.
Should have stuck to the conventional
While the purple color didn’t appeal to me, I have to admit that the slight rubberized coating on the shell does make it easy to grip and comfortable to hold. Sadly though the resolution of the display is disappointingly low and although clear enough for most mundane uses sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to videos and other visual media.
Features and Performance
As of right now, out-of-the-box, the Magnum comes with what could be considered in this Android world, an outdated Windows CE 6.0 OS running on an Arm 11 500MHz processor. Although the layout is extremely well-designed and very user friendly even if it is a bit sluggish and not altogether responsive to finger usage especially when trying to return from a specific feature screen. The reddish orange background wallpaper clashes a bit with the purple background, a future update will allow you to change the background image though. The biggest flaw is the insanely small keypad you have to work with. It’s only usable with the small stylus. Multi-tasking is not well handled - the more apps running in the background, the slower the overall speed of the device. But it’s quite limited to also just playing music files in the background while you’re doing something else.
While this is being called a tablet, it shows no signs of being one, at least in the conventional sense. It requires to be tethered via Bluetooth to a mobile handset for all connectivity purposes. You can access your phone book by syncing it to a compatible handset. So afar I know it doesn’t quite support the Android platform well enough just yet. You can pair it with your handset, make or take calls from the device but can’t access the phone book or connect to the net. It only works with GPRS/EDGE connections so if you’re still using WAP, forget about it. It worked great with The Nokia N97 mini but had issues with the N8 oddly enough. I guess Symbian ^3 is still a little too new for support, but updates should iron out those wrinkles as well.
While it does let you take calls from the device it won’t let you access the phone book or internet via the built in Opera Mobile browser. You won’t have this issue with most other smart of non-smartphones. Some of the more popular internet profiles (3G supported as well) are preloaded into the device and surprise, surprise Loop isn’t one of them. So tethering the device give you access to the browser, your phone book (that can be backed up to the memory card or device memory, your phone log, a dial pad for making calls and of course the options to make and take calls using the device.
There’s no video streaming option yet but a YouTube app will also be updated with a new firmware version. The lack of Wi-Fi connectivity did make its appeal seem even less… appealing for want of a better term. This means a heavy drain on the battery life of your mobile handset and the device itself since we all know how much BT consumes when in action.
Thanks to the built-in Sirf 4 STD chip set, the Magnum also offers GPS connectivity. Although The device I received for testing came with SatGuide maps V7.0, I was told it won’t be coming with any mapping software bundled. The idea is to give users the freedom to install any software of their choice, SatGuide being one of them. Pity that didn’t help reduce the price much.
The Magnum supports external memory via microSD cards so you can simply stick in a card with your music and you’re good to go. You can create a playlist from your files on the memory card but there doesn’t seem to be a way to create more than just the one. There are no other settings other than a repeat/shuffle option, no EQ presets. It will also support .LRC files.
The audio is not bad at all via the built-in speaker with a fair amount of balanced tone quality when it came to music. Via the earphones the quality was a different story, the tone quality was distorted and the decibel level was a little low. Although the device has no FM radio it does have an FM transmitter for hooking it up to your car stereo or any other FM friendly device. Signals are clear but not crystal clear.
The video player is supposed to play - 90% of all available popular formats, according to the Magnum website. However this is not true, not just yet anyways. While it played some of the more standard formats viz. 3GP, WMV and Low resolution MPEG4 (iPhone-sized framed quite a bit), but it didn’t fare too well with AVI files with a DivX and XviD codec and the higher the resolution the worse it got. This is a real pity as it’s a waste of the large display. We’ll just have to wait for the next update to see if more codecs are included. A video converter for the device is also going to be announced soon.
Images don’t look too bad on the large display and the system offers magnification, rotation and a slide show option. Using it as a Digital Photo frame is also another USP for the device.
Stream music to your car radio or any other FM ready device
Quite a few games, 30 to be more accurate and a whole list of other fun stuff have been preloaded on to the device. Aside from the games there’s also a Virtual drum kit but response being a bit slow makes it a little hard to get a steady beat. There’s even a Virtual Piano keyboard but it’ll require you to use the stylus to coax any kind of response from the keyboard. To help you even further your musical prowess, the Magnum also comes with a Guitar tuner.
Like a mobile handset or any other computing device the Magnum comes with a few handy extras. These include a MS Document readers for .DOC, XLS, PPT and PDF files. For now they’re all just readers but with an upcoming update you’ll be able to create and edit files as well. A Wordpad app is present though to take quick notes if necessary, of course you’ll have to contend with the ultra small keypad on the large display till an update comes along for that too. The Calendar app is duplicated. It shows up on one of the outside menus and then again in the tools. Sadly both will give you no more than the date and allow you to select specific dates. You can’t add any kind or schedule or appointment marking simply change the color of the tab. Ridiculous.
Just reads documents for now...
A calculator (very basic) and alarm clock, stopwatch and a torch option much like the iPhone’s, it only switches on a white screen and boosts the brightness level. However this one does come with a funky Ambilight option that lets you ‘Disco’ the screen a bit by adding colors and a bit of animation. I’m not sure why you’d want a torch that changes color but it’s there if you want it.
The company claims that the device should give you about 3-5 hours usage on a single charge. That’s just about right. On an average it ran for about 3.5 hours to 4 hours before quitting. It played a full length 3 hour video at a stretch and had just enough life to take about 2 short calls.
The tethering isn't too hard
The Bottom Line
If you’re thinking of buying the Magnum, I suggest waiting for just a little longer for the updates or the Android version that I was told just might make it out by the end of this year. That’s got be a more stable platform to work with and will surely render this version obsolete. As of now, the smaller 4.3-inch model is priced at Rs. 13,999 and the slightly larger 5-incher at Rs. 15,999. A silver lining in the Magnum’s slightly gray-ish cloud is that LACS is planning on introducing an app store just for the device where users will be able to download all kinds of goodies to beef up the overall functionality of the device.
As tablet PC’s go, I wouldn’t classify this as one just yet, but there’s tremendous potential or a device like this, if the pricing were lower. As much as the device might offer in the future, I wouldn’t pay this much for it now, so just be patient, I’m sure LACS has quite a bit more up their proverbial sleeve.