The world of media consumption has changed dramatically over the past decade. Everything’s gone digital. If you want to feel old, ask your kids if they have any idea what “cassette tapes”, “long play records”, a “walkman” or <gasp> a “juke box” are. Odds are, they’ve never even heard of any of those and have no idea that back in the stone age people used to actually lug around books and papers to read, and plastic cassette tapes and tape players to listen to music. It’s true, you can see books and walkmans in old cave paintings. Ok, maybe not quite that old, but you get the idea.
Mobile and digital seem to be the big drivers these days. Who doesn’t like being easily able to take movies, music and reading materials with them on a small portable device? That brings me to the item I’m reviewing here today, the nextbook ™ Next6.
There seem to be two different kinds of tablets on the market today: E-readers and multi-function tablets. Sometimes the line between the two gets a little blurry, with devices like the Nook Color that are e-readers but can also do other things and have color screens. Color screens are great, but they are not always good for reading, especially in direct sunlight. The Next6 is marketed as a multi-function tablet.
The nextbook next6 box includes the tablet, an ac power adapter, a USB cable to connect to a PC and a user manual. The tablet comes with a good protective case, a nice touch for a tablet at this price point.
Lets start with the specs.
Measuring 7.48” by 5.11” by 0.44?, the tablet fits nicely in your hand. It weighs in at just under one pound, so it’s light and easy to carry. The Next6 features a beautiful 7” capacitive color display with a resolution of 800×480, with an ARM926EJ Dual Core 600MHz CPU, and 4 GB of built-in storage. That’s not huge, but large enough to accommodate most of your normal stuff. If you have more stuff to store, fear not, it comes with an SD/MMC card slot, you can easily plug in your own SD/MMC card for additional storage.
Out of the box it has the wireless connectivity you would expect, with 802.11 b/g connectivity built in, and the ability to handle WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption standards. I had no trouble getting the next6 connected to my home wireless network, the process is very simple (especially for those who’ve seen some flavor of the Android OS before). Select your network from the wireless networks listed, type in your password using the on-screen keyboard, and voila.
The device has a built in speaker as well as a standard headphone jack (3.5mm). I played some of my music on it and the speaker sounded nice and clean, even when you turn up the volume.
The next6 comes loaded with the Android 2.1 operating system (more on that later), and includes a gravity sensor – that means it knows which way is “up” and the screen/apps can rotate around as you rotate the device. It can handle a good variety of formats for reading (pdf, text, pdb, rtf, fb2, epub and epub with drm), listening to music (mp3, wma), viewing pictures (bmp, jpg, gif, png), and watching videos (flv, mov, mkv). That should pretty much cover all normal media types most people would use.
Finally, the next6 comes with a nice lithium-polymer battery that in my testing lasted a solid 8+ hours before needing recharged. Your battery life will depend significantly on how you use the device, but overall it should last you enough to use throughout the day without needing a charge.
I charged up the tablet for a little while using the AC power adapter, then fired it up. The next6 starts up very quickly, you don’t have to wait very long. The first thing that struck me is that the display is very nice and crisp with vivid colors. The capacitive resistance screen is very good quality. Many of the cheaper tablets use resistive touch screens that are not nearly as smooth and don’t work nearly as well. In fact, the next6 has multitouch capability, so you can touch two spots on the display at the same time and zoom in or out. Overall, I was impressed by the display quality. The device as a whole has a very solid feel to it, it doesn’t feel like cheap plastic.
The next6 has a button on the left and right side for easy page-turning. The buttons also perform other functions within other apps and within the operating system. For example, pressing and holding the left button (“previous”) brings you back to the “home” screen. The next6 comes with two ebook readers pre-installed. I used the included ebook reader app to start reading some of the ebooks included for free (25 books are included for free on the device, including some nice classics). Your options in the reader app are pretty basic, you can increase / reduce the font size, jump to a page and create bookmarks (though I couldn’t figure out how to make the bookmarks work). The other included ereader app, called Kobo has more advanced features and options, but generally felt very sluggish. Overall the next6 works pretty well as an e-reader. It’s not super fancy but it does the job.
Next I copied some MP3’s to the next6 tablet and used the media player app pre-installed to play them. The copying process was actually very simple. You connect the device to your computer using a USB cable (included with the device) and your PC will recognize the device as an external storage location. Just copy the files over and you’re done. Playing MP3’s went off without a hitch, pretty standard fare. I was also able to look at some pictures without a problem.
I used the built-in web browser to surf the web and check out some web pages. It works OK, but had issues rendering some pages. I personally really like the dolphin HD browser, I’d install it and use rather than the standard browser on any android powered device.
So far, I was pretty impressed by the next6. Sure, it’s not going to compete with a $500 or $600 ipad on some of the features, but that’s expected when the next6 can be had for under $200 from various vendors (including Amazon).
Then came the moment. I started looking on the app for the ‘standard’ Android/Google apps (gmail, calendar, contacts) and they were nowhere to be found. No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to the android market and add them…. Nope. Not gonna happen. The android market is not available on the next6. Instead, it has something called “slideme” that allows you access to some other app market to install to your device. The slideme market is a very poor substitute for the android market, it contains only a small fraction of the available apps. And even those are sometimes older versions of the apps. I tried searching the slideme market for some of the most popular android apps, but could not find any of them. Even Angry Birds, that silly fun game that seems to be everywhere these days was not to be found. Similarly, the youtube app included on the device doesn’t seem to work the way you’d expect it to: several searches that turned up results on other devices (as well as through the web) came up blank using the youtube app on the next6.
In addition, while you can play videos on the device, I could not find any documentation of how to actually encode/transcode a video so it could be played on the next6. It would have been nice to include some sort of guide or even a link to a site with a guide on how to transcode a DVD movie and copy it to your next6 so you can watch it on a trip. The video watching value of the next6 is significantly reduced by the lack of available apps .
To my knowledge there have not been any updates, bugfixes or newer versions of android released as of yet for the next6, and based on rumblings on various web sites there might never be a newer version of the android OS released for the next6. I hope Nextbook does release some updates in the future, it could add to the value proposition for the device.
Overall, I was actually very impressed with the hardware capabilities of the little next6 tablet. It fits perfectly in your hand and the form factor is excellent for reading books etc. The lack of the android market and the other ‘standard’ apps is really a shame because the next6 has the potential to be a great value for the consumer. If it wasn’t hobbled by the lack of apps and the android market, I’d have no problem recommending the next6 to anyone in the market for tablet. If all you’re planning to do with the next6 is read books, surf the web and listen to music, it’s very nice. However, if you’re planning to use it as a true multi-function tablet, I’d avoid it – at least until the android market (and thus all the thousands of great android apps) are available for it.
Note: I know you can install some of the apps by downloading them from the web to your pc and then copying the apk file to the tablet, but that introduces big (unacceptable) risk of malware and viruses getting installed on your tablet. Also, some apps won’t work without the android market installed, even if you download and install the apk file. For example, you can’t install the Amazon app market if the android market is not installed.
Overall verdict: the next6 is a nifty little tablet. It would be a really good deal and value if it came with the android market, google mail, calendaring and other tools pre-installed. Without those, it has a tough time standing out from other tablets on the market at the same price point. Come on nextbook, add the android market and google apps to this tablet to let it reach it’s great potential!
**The Nextbook Next6 Tablet was provided to me for review, the opinions expressed here on my blog are that of my own.**