A tablet-computing device has been in my sights for over a year. I've ordered and tried two lower cost 7" tablets. I was disappointed with both units and returned them. In the interim my trusty ASUS netbook threw a shoe and I had to put it down. And, right on cue, my older HP dv6 laptop gave up the ghost. The HP was too old to economically revive. The ASUS netbook could have been revived with a new hard drive (and I still may to have it as a back-up), but it was time to move forward.
So, I did some shopping and found a good deal on a larger format Dell ultra book computer with Windows 7 and an upgrade path to Windows 8. I reluctantly gave up my trusty Windows XP (no longer supported by the "Mother Ship" in Redmond, Washington). I am still getting acclimated to Windows 7. I have a brand new sealed version of Windows 8 that I don't have any intention of using anytime in the immediate future.
So, I have a smartphone that I reported about in an earlier post. I have a current model ultra book with a fast processor. It cost me one-third what my HP dv6 laptop cost six or seven years ago and is faster, has three times more RAM and more that twice as much hard drive, plus USB 3.0. But, I still hadn't found a 7" tablet-computing device to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the ultra book.
Introducing the Sero 7 Pro
May 24th, I received an email from a van dweller friend, Marshall, telling me about a new tablet being introduced to the market that day. It was the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. If the brand name Hisense doesn't strike an immediate chord that's because the Sero 7 series of tablets is their first entry in a very competitive market. The major players are HP with their Slate 7 tablet, Google with their Nexus 7 made by ASUS, ASUS with their own version of the Nexus, Acer, Amazon with their Fire HD and the Apple iPad Mini, their 7" entry in the tablet market. My friend has two Nexus 7 tablets. He sent me a CNet prerelease review of this new, unknown tablet. He suggested that the Sero 7 Pro, operating on the latest Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system, looks like it's going to give the Nexus 7 a run for its money for $50 to $70 less. Now, here's the kicker. The Hisense Sero 7 Pro and its lighter sister tablet, the Sero 7 LT, are only available from Wal-Mart.
It turns out that Hisense is a Chinese flat screen TV manufacturer. Wal-Mart is their major outlet in the U.S. From what I've learned, the Hisense TV's are a good buy and are very popular and appear to be reliable. Here's the link to the review that my friend Marshall sent me about the Sero 7 series of tablets: CNet Sero 7 Pre- review
So, I went to a Wal-Mart a couple days later and looked for a display of Sero 7 tablets. I didn't find one. I asked the woman at the electronics counter if she had any. She did and they were locked up under the counter. I read the box and still felt a bit apprehensive about buying a Wal-Mart exclusive brand computing device. I left and thought about it until the following weekend. I went back and bought one. And that was the beginning of my enlightenment. It appears that I had finally ended my quest for a nominally priced, 7" tablet.
It's now two full weeks since I bought the Hisense Sero 7 Pro tablet and as of right now, I am a happy camper. I found a tablet computer that meets my requirements and my expectations and only costs $149.99 at a Wal-Mart near you. But, I might add that from what I'm reading, the word is getting around fast and it may be a little more difficult finding a Sero 7 Pro tablet then when I bought mine two weeks ago. They are being bought in lots of two or three at a time.
You can read all the specs on the tablet here: Hisense Press Release with Sero 7 Specs
Here are some photos of my Sero 7 Pro:
|This is the package the Hisense Sero 7 Pro comes in. It's well packaged and should prevent any pre-sale damage. The package is also sealed, so you'll know if it's been opened before you received it.|
|The screen is great for looking at detailed still photos and high definition videos. The above photo is taken from a PowerPoint presentation.|
|This is the same photo taken as a macro close-up with my older generation digital still camera. My camera doesn't do the sharpness and detail of this photo justice. But, you get the idea, I'm sure.|
So, it appears, for me, that I've found the bridge between my Motorola Atrix 2 smartphone and my Dell ultra book computer. I have only scratched the surface with this tablet and learning all the things I can do with it. I've already been using it for email, surfing the Web, reading my Kindle books, reading the news, tracking the weather, GPS, calculating, taking notes, keeping my "To Do" list and several other functions. I've used it while parked in the car, at a McDonald's wifi hot spot, in my doctor's office, while on a client project at the Grand Hyatt at Dulles International Airport. I have found it to be amazingly fast. It has a great screen with HD detail. I'm sure I'll find something at some point that it won't do or won't do very well, but I haven't found anything, yet. Oh, and I should mention that it fits in the pocket of my cargo pants and cargo shorts.
The next additions will include a cover a vehicle mount, a 32GB micro SDHC card and a bluetooth keyboard. There will probably be others as I learn new uses for this handy device and more accessories become available.
Here is another review from Laptop Magazine that is more current and actually compares and scores the leading 7" tablets in the same category and price range as the Sero 7 Pro (the Apple iPad Mini is not included since it is in a completely different price range): More Current Sero 7 Review
Some Sound Advice
This next little item is something I've been looking for to use in the van. I recently added a hands free, bluetooth speakerphone from Motorola. It has really made driving safer and it works great with the voice command capability of the Atrix 2 smart phone. But, I've also been using the Atrix 2 as my GPS. I still keep my Magellan stand alone GPS near at hand, however. It has some functions not available (at least to my knowledge) in my Google Navigation app on the Atrix 2 like satellite tracked speed of the vehicle, a compass and an altimeter to mention a few. I find these functions handy while I'm on a trip. But, back to the Atrix 2. The volume from the speaker on the Atrix 2 is not loud enough to override NPR or whatever station I happen to have on the radio, so I can't always hear directions when they are announced. And for some reason, while the phone function works perfectly with the bluetooth speakerphone, the GPS audio does not transfer to the Motorola speakerphone. I will probably use the Sero 7 Pro tablet for GPS once I have a car mount for it, but I suspect it also may not have enough volume to always override the radio audio.
Enter the Altec InMotion portable speaker.
This is a great sounding little portable speaker that plugs directly into the headphone jack of my Atrix 2 smartphone or the Sero 7 Pro tablet. It is only a monaural speaker, but it makes the female GPS voice crisp, clean and sexy. But, most important, I can hear it over the radio without it being intrusive or overbearing. As you can see from the photo, it comes with a handy-dandy case, so it can be packed away or carried around with you.
The two disadvantages I've found, so far, are: #1, it uses three AAA batteries to power it and there is no external power port and #2, the cable from the speaker that terminates in a 3.5mm stereo phone plug is very short.
Three AAA batteries are just about 5.1 volts with fresh batteries. That's not too much different than the 5.3 volts typically delivered by a powered USB port. So, I'm going to see if I can make a modification to feed it from one of the USB ports I'll have available at the van dashboard. If I can accomplish that, I'll never have to be concerned about turning the unit on and off or carrying fresh AAA batteries.
The short cable is an easy fix; I'll simply buy or make a short extension cable to increase the length of the cable to reach either the Atrix 2 smart phone or the Sero7 Pro tablet. Problem solved!
I bought the Altec InMotion speaker from Rakuten.com (also known as Buy.com). The price was $19.99 with free shipping. It arrived about three or four days after I placed the on line order. One more purchase from Rakuten.com. I'm still (always) a happy customer.
In The Future
One thing that drives me crazy is receiving reliable and strong radio signals when I'm driving around the country. I'm an NPR and talk radio junkie. I virtually never listen to commercial music radio stations anymore. I've been interested in adding Sirius/XM satellite radio to the van, but I really didn't like their packages. The last time I had looked over a year ago they wanted something like $14.99 per month for this massive selection of stations, most of which I'd never listen to (similar to cable and satellite TV). I wasn't willing to pay that much for stations I'd never listen to. But, I checked their Web site recently and they now offer a $7.99 monthly package that included up to 50 stations of the subscriber's choice. Now, we're talking. I don't know that I'll be able to pick out 50 stations that I really want, but I know I can probably get the top six or ten and maybe another ten or fifteen that I'd listen to occasionally. The rest I'll probably just throw a dart and the list and take whatever comes up, within reason. To have the stations I want I'm willing to pay the $7.99 a month.
I'm going to replace the current (19 year old) van radio and get a new, up to date radio with remote controls I can mount on or near the steering wheel. The new vehicle radios all seem to have auxiliary inputs allowing one to plug in an mp3 player or other sound producing devices including a satellite radio receiver.
So, this is a project and tech addition I'll be planning to add before the fall so I have it for when I'm on the road again. I don't want to deal with radio stations dropping in and out and losing information programs in midstream and never hearing the end or picking up programs midstream and never hearing he beginning. I find that very frustrating and distracting. I want my "cockpit" to be ergonomic and user friendly causing the least amount of stress possible.
More to come.