The Orange Tahiti is a 7-inch Android tablet based on the Huawei MediaPad. A couple of millimetres slimmer than the original Apple iPad at 10.5mm thick, it weighs 394g and takes up just 190x124mm of pocket or bag space. In common with most Android tablets, it has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1280x800 pixels. There’s a deeper bevel than is strictly necessary – aside from a webcam at the top left corner, this 6mm-deep band serves no apparent purpose.
The display’s rich colours are impressive but the screen itself suffers badly from glare. It makes an excellent mirror when viewed at an angle or even face on if you’re outdoors.
The Tahiti runs Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) and has a 1.2GHz processor; overall performance is good with no apps crashing on us during our two-week trial - though we had plenty of interface issues. Orange has not announced plans to upgrade this tablet to the processor-intensive Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android.
You get 5.8GB of internal storage for downloads and media files. This can be supplemented via a microSD card (not supplied).
Compact size aside, the Tahiti’s main selling point is the inclusion of 3G. You get a scant 1GB monthly data allowance though, so will need to use this judiciously. Leave the video downloads and media streaming for when you’re at home – and ensure the 3G module is switched off when not in use. When we first started using the Tahiti, it immediately went and fetched the photos, video clips and Android apps from our previous tablet adventures, but failed to alert us that this process had taken place over 3G - the Wi-Fi was not active at the time.
Another point to watch out for is that we were able to send and receive emails – with some delay – over 3G even when overseas. Useful, but also a concern in terms of data and roaming costs.
The Tahiti is either £299 to buy outright, or £25 a month over two years with 1GB of data and the same for BT Openzone Wi-Fi. This could be ideal if you’re a light web user but value ultraportability. Compared with the £399 purchase price of the average Wi-Fi only tablet, the Tahiti is fairly good value, working out at a smidgen over £8 a month for the 3G element.
So much for the spelling bee
The Tahiti is best used as a workaday connected slate for catching up on and sending emails when sitting on the train or the Tube. Unfortunately, you'll probably incur raised eyebrows or tutting from your fellow commuters: the keyboard is a dog to use, causing at least mild irritation, and we're not known for reticence in such matters.
In landscape mode, you get the full Qwerty experience, but you're also treated to double vision. The touch-sensitive screen overlay showed letters in blurry, doubled-up fashion. The auto-correct and auto-suggest options are poorly implemented too. Pause momentarily and the tablet forgets that you were midway through a word and only takes into account the next characters you enter, as though they were the start of a new word. If you'd paused to consider a spelling, this is terribly unhelpful,
It's a good job the Tahiti's touchscreen is responsive, as endless retyping is no fun and having to wait for the device to catch up with our input would have driven us to distraction. To Orange (or rather Huawei's) credit, we encountered few 'lag' issues when typing on the Tahiti.
Online and offline viewing
The browser works well, reproducing graphics faithfully and loading images smoothly. The Orange home page can be changed, but check out the offers for free Orange Wednesday film tickets and other offers first. YouTube, iPlayer and embedded video clips in web pages all worked fine, as long as the Wi-Fi bandwidth was available. Since the Tahiti is a widescreen tablet, there's not much depth to web pages, so you might prefer to hold the Tahiti in portrait mode when reading longer articles. We found we were apt to accidentally raise or lower the volume when holding the Tahiti in this orientation.
If you’re in battery-saving mode - with the Tahiti’s screen set to time-out after a minute - you’ll want to change this setting for entertainment use. It’s also worth changing the screen setting from Standard to High if video playback is your main interest. Don’t set your hopes too high, though: the viewing angles are better than on most tablets, so you can share your screen with a friend, but the playback resolution is poor.
The best that can be said about the 5-megapixel camera is that its effects are a lot of fun.
Tablets aren't the best form factor for taking snaps, but the Tahiti's smaller size makes it less unwieldy than some tablets we've tried. On a sunny day, with plenty of distinction between objects, we got some reasonable photos - they'd pass muster on Facebook or Twitpic - but their fuzziness and tendency to overexposure means you won't be doing much more with them. The sensor can't cope with low or especially bright conditions - halo effects, fringing and white-outs were common, while indoor shots were extremely gloomy.
Curiously, we got some decent video footage. When spinning around at speed, jerkiness was minimal and the tablet was able to keep pace with the constantly changing colours and objects without blur. The resolution is a mere VGA though.
Battery and audio
Video playback of a five-minute music video, streamed over Wi-Fi, from YouTube took the battery level from 75 percent to 72 percent. It wasn't a pleasant experience. The audio is tinny and lacks depth. It doesn't help that the two small speakers on the Tahiti are located on the left-hand side of the tablet's frame as you view. Even with the tablet in portrait mode (so the speakers were balanced) we were unimpressed.
The resolution is just too low to make entertainment edifying. We viewed the same Lana Del Rey video on our Sony Tablet S, running the same version of Android, and found it much more enjoyable.
We used a combination of Wi-Fi streaming, general web browsing, emailing and playing a looped 1080p video footage stored locally to work out how long the Tahiti’s battery lasts. We guesstimate around six hours with the Bluetooth and 3G inactive but Wi-Fi switched on. The browser and screen are power guzzlers, so tweak the time-out settings when not viewing movies.
Navigating the Orange Tahiti is straightforward, with no fancy manufacturer overlays getting in the way. Pre-installed apps and those imported or downloaded by the user are separated out, but items end up scattered across several screens.
Connectivity-wise, there’s Bluetooth and HDMI on top of the GPRS/3G and Wi-Fi. A large triangular plastic panel on the rear pops off revealing slots for the 3G SIM card and an optional microSD card.
We really like the neat form factor of the Orange Tahiti, its 3G inclusion and removable SD card storage.
If you’re more interested in using apps and sending emails than streaming video or cruising the web, it could be a decent alternative to a bulkier 10-inch tablet. But the onscreen keyboard really does need improvement and the through-speakers sound quality is dreadful. Pack earbuds, a proper camera so you aren’t tempted to try the Tahiti’s, and try not to swear out loud.