Road Worrier Tests The Optus MyTab

The common geek criticism of Optus’ discount-priced Android tablet MyTab appears to be the use of a resistive touch screen. However, that’s not the oddest thing about the MyTab implementation.

Over the Christmas break, I took the MyTab on the road and tested it out, using it for both holiday browsing and for the odd bit of work I had to do in that period. First things first: yes, the resistive touch screen isn’t quite as responsive as the capacitive touch technology we’ve come to know and love in more expensive devices. When trying to access smaller links on screen, I’d sometimes find the wrong link being selected by mistake (and my super-short fingernails didn’t help matters).

However, if you’re not heavily into multi-touch gestures, you’re not going to detect a massive difference at any other time. For a casual browsing device, it hits the mark pretty neatly, with the added advantage of all that handy Google integration and fab selection of apps that Android brings to the table.

What I found very disorienting about the MyTab is that despite it having an accelerometer and adjusting the orientation in virtually every app you can think of, the home screen is locked in landscape mode, and doesn’t shift no matter how much you move the device around. This means if you pull the device out of a shirt pocket, you start off with the screen landscape mode, even though portrait mode is much more natural for quick, one-handed operation.

Even the unlock swipe is landscape-only, which feels distinctly odd. Assuming you manage to get through that, you’ll have to pick out any apps you want to launch purely by recognising the icons, since the text describing them will be sideways. Of course, you can give up and turn the whole thing around, but that makes one-handed access virtually impossible. I set up just a handful of icons for key apps in the centre of the screen which worked OK, but it would become fiddly if you had large amounts of apps you used regularly.

It’s a minor detail, but it severely impacts the usefulness of the device, especially in casual use scenarios such as standing in a queue. It turns out this isn’t an uncommon decision for bargain-priced Android tablets: Telstra’s similarly-configured T-Touch Tab also enforces landscape-only on the main home screen. For my own purposes, that immediately makes both devices less appealing than an option such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which fully implements landscape and portrait options. (One possibility I didn’t test was rooting the device to see if that option could be disabled.)

If that didn’t concern you — and especially if you’re the kind of person who invariably uses a tablet in landscape mode anyway — then the MyTab could serve nicely for the price. There’s some neat design touches like the etched Android logo on the back (though that and the front Optus logo being rendered for portrait viewing only serve to emphasise the oddness of the landscape issue).

Optus’ data network is, as ever, far from perfect, but didn’t give me any major grief in my testing. Depending on network availability, Telstra’s rival might be an equally sensible choice. Just be prepared for some orientation problems whichever way you go.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is still waiting to meet the Android tablet of his dreams. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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