In terms of operation, the T-Mobile SpringBoard is a remarkably smooth tablet. While I encountered some random glitches, typically with third-party apps like Netflix (more on that later) the tablet isn?t buggy. The 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor keeps things running well enough, and while the SpringBoard came in on the low end of both our Quadrant and Sunspider benchmarks, it?s within spitting distance of the highest performers from this generation.
Quadrant measures CPU, 3D, and memory performance. Higher numbers are better.
The SpringBoard takes approximately 45 seconds to power up from a dead start, which is about 20 seconds longer than speediest, but still not the worst by far. The battery lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes streaming video with Wi-Fi on and the screen set to maximum brightness, which is rather poor. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 lasted 4 and 41 minutes, while the Lenovo K1 IdeaPad almost hit 6 hours under the same conditions. Users will certainly squeeze at least a few more hours out of the SpringBoard with average use and at reduced screen brightness, but they shouldn?t tray too far from their charger and an outlet.
And about charging the SpringBoard, it can’t be done over USB. The only way to juice the Honeycomb tablet up is through the pin connector into a wall socket, and it charges very slowly.
The SpringBoard ships with Honeycomb 3.2, which is extremely stable compared with previous 3.x versions. The biggest difference, outside of bug fixes, is that 3.2 supports seven-inch displays and processors other than the NVIDIA Tegra 2 found on every previous Honeycomb tablet. There is also a nifty app resizing option I?ll touch on later.
I don?t know if it?s part of Honeycomb 3.2 or a Huawei tweak, but the SpringBoard has one Android feature I?ve been clamoring for since the OS launched. Users can close out running apps via the recent apps icon on the lower left corner of the display. On other Android devices (sans the Lenovo IdeaPad A1 and ThinkPad tablets, which offer the same), users had to navigate through the settings to close out running services. It?s obviously a decent tweak as Google announced that the next major version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), will have a similar feature.
The SpringBoard ships with the standard carrier and manufacturer bloatware found on most tablets. This includes an eBook app (Blio), eMag app (Zinio), GPS (TeleNav), and a host of T-Mobile-branded account managers and content markets. Outside of a file manager, nothing is particularly useful, including the basic Quickoffice HD app that only allows users to view, but not create nor edit Microsoft Office files. In fact, there are better alternatives in the Android Market to most everything pre-loaded on the tablet, and the pre-loaded apps I actually would use, like Yelp, are free anyway.
The tablet also ships with Netflix, which is now available for all Honeycomb tablets. Too bad Netflix is a buggy mess at launch. This is also not limited to the SpringBoard, because I?ve had issues with random Netflix freezes and crashes on multiple Honeycomb tablets since the streaming service launched for Android 3.x. SpringBoard owners looking to stream video on the tablet?s excellent display will have to find something in the subpar choices available on T-Mobile TV or the Blockbuster app, which has a decent selection of new releases for purchase or rent. Users can also rent Google Movies through the online Android Market, but not the actual Android Market app, at least not at the time of this review. Various networks also have television and movie content available in apps or online.
App selection in the Android Market has improved dramatically since Honeycomb launched in early 2011. While it still pales in comparison to the iPad selection (160,000 plus as the time of this review), and there are still some glaring omissions (Hulu, for example), nearly all Android apps support the full screen, and Honeycomb 3.2 has a neat feature that will either scale up apps that don?t, or run them in their native resolution surrounded by black space.
Like all Android Honeycomb tablets, the SpringBoard supports Adobe Flash, which is becoming of less importance due to the growing popularity of HTML5. Too many Flash elements easily bog down the SpringBoard, but that?s the case with most tablets.
The SpringBoard also ships with a bright Swype on-screen keyboard that is superior in every way to the stock Android QWERTY. It also offers very effective haptic feedback in the form of a slight vibration when each key is tapped.
The Honeycomb tablet supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and the T-Mobile HSPA+ network. T-Mobile claims it is a ?4G? network, which is in reality a marketing term. While it?s generally faster than the last generation 3G networks, it?s not as fast as the LTE networks most wireless experts consider true 4G (or, at least theoretically capable of hitting technical 4G speeds).
That said, it?s a capable and relatively speedy data network. I would caution against using it for streaming movies, video chatting, or any other data intensive operation, however. While T-Mobile doesn?t charge for data overages (at least not at the time of this review), it will throttle data speeds down for those that exceed their monthly cap, which could bring back memories of the dial-up days of extremely slow internet.
Unfortunately, Huawei has given no indication that it will offer a Wi-Fi-only SpringBoard (or MediaPad). The only way to get it is through T-Mobile. The subsidized price of $180 (following a $50 mail-in rebate) makes it one of the less expensive carrier tablets on contract, but keep in mind that binds you to a two-year contract, and T-Mobile requires an upfront payment of $10 per month for twenty months of service ($200). T-Mobile has a number of plans, but the basic plan that offers 2GB a month runs $40 per, and prices range up to $80 per month for 10GB.
With the cost of the SpringBoard and the required $200 down payment on a plant, the total upfront cost for the SpringBoard is $380 ($430 before the $50 rebate). Users then have to pay at least $30 for the 2GB plan ($40 minus the $10 down payment). T-Mobile postpaid voice customers save an additional $10 off monthly data service, bringing their monthly costs down to $20 for the 2GB plan.
Those not wanting to be tied to a contract can also fork over $430 and purchase the tablet off contract.