Back in July I wrote about an Android tablet computer that I picked up on Amazon for £85. This is a really interesting device and seemed to do quite a lot. A couple of things really let it down though, its speed and the fact that you could not use Android Market with it, making obtaining most Android applications quite difficult. Fortunately a group of enthusiasts have formed a community around this device, the Eken M001, and similar devices over at Slatedroid.com. A couple of people there have put together a new firmware image which is still in beta but I've been trying it out and I am impressed so far! The tablet now has a working Market and feels much more responsive.
The new firmware Slatedroid Mercury Speed Edition Beta was announced yesterday and you can find the details at: http://www.slatedroid.com/content/slatedroid-mercury-speed-edition-beta-387/. It is a beta so be warned there could be problems. Make sure you read up about the firmware and comments about it over at Slatedroid before attempting to update your machine with it. I've made some notes here about how to install the firmware, but as ever you proceed at your own risk.
When you get the download from Slatedroid you will notice that Ubuntu might complain and not open it. To fix this search for and install “7zip” from the Ubuntu Software Centre (under the Applications menu) and you should find you can extract the file as normal by double clicking on it. Extract the file and copy the whole “script” folder inside it to an SD card and place this in the M001. When you power on the machine should update, this process is quite quick, but the first boot will take quite a long time (possibly nearly ten minutes).
When the new firmware starts up it asks you for your Google credentials, but you cannot put them in just yet as the machine is not connected to the Wifi, so select the option to put these in later and you should find yourself at the rather nice looking new home screen. Set up the WiFi by opening up the app drawer (the collection of squares on the right hand side) and selecting WiFi settings, set up as normal. If you click on the Market icon now you get prompted for your Google credentials, once you put these in the other Google apps get updated too. It was great to find that the Market worked properly, I could search for and install apps as easily as any other Android device. I'm not sure if they all work though as the last.fm app seemed to think I was offline, however Jango worked.
I also found the whole tablet a bit more responsive and the browser seemed to render pages at faster rate. The authors of the new firmware, who identify themselves as lefeudedieu & Roger Calver have also included some apps to get you started. So far the new firmware is looking good, I've only been trying it out for a couple of hours but am looking forward to seeing what else the machine will do now I've got access to the Android Market. Congratulations to the team behind the new firmware, it does feel like the machine has a new lease of life! If you own an Eken M001 or something similar Slatedroid is a must visit site with a lot of useful information.
Of course the device is still a bit underpowered and there is plenty it won't do compared to some other tablets coming onto the market. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of being able to have a play with the new Samsung Galaxy Tab, a high end Android tablet computer that also has a seven inch screen at the Three Meetup event. The Samsung was a pleasure to use, a device that felt luxurious. However, Luxury is expensive and at an expected price of £599 (at the time of writing) I can't help looking at that and looking at my cheap Eken tablet with its new firmware and wondering if there is not room for a company to do something compelling in the middle? Why must tablets be a luxury item? We know they can be manufactured cheaply, the Eken feels like it is nearly there as a decent product, it could just use a better processor.
Watching the new tablet computing scene unfold I can't help thinking that the first company to be brave and market a budget device at a reasonable price will have a hit on their hands. For now I will stick to the Eken M001 and see what happens with the new firmware.