The Metalbox sounds like it should be part of a fan-made Doctor Who film. Instead, it’s yet another in the ever-growing list of budget Android tablet contenders. Or at least, it thinks it’s a contender.
You don’t have to go very far to get a cheap Android tablet at all. Budget tech places sell them. Heck, even supermarkets sell them; as I write this, ALDI’s readying a special this week on a quad-core Android tablet for $249. When you can pick up a tablet in a supermarket, it’s truly mass-market. Apart from a slightly silly name, then, what can the Metalbox bring to the budget Android space?
On the plus side
The most obvious factor in the Metalbox’s favour is the asking price; at an RRP of only $199, it’s a reasonably affordable tablet option if you just wanted the basics of an Android experience, matching the price point, for example, of Kogan’s current run of Android tablets.
The Metalbox’s 10 inch display screen is par for the course at this price point with a resolution of 1280×800. Underneath it lurks a 1.5GHz ARM processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of inbuilt storage, plus whatever you’d care to add via microSD. The unit I tested needed a software update out of the box, which ran without trouble to bring it up to Android 4.0.4. That’s hardly cutting edge, but again this is playing in bargain basement territory, where being a little behind can almost be taken for granted. I wouldn’t be buying one and expecting a lot of official Android updates any time soon.
It’s a clean Android experience, which some may appreciate, although given the relatively lacklustre hardware underneath, it’s probably for the best that it’s not saddled with any kind of custom skin.
As a basic Android tablet, the Metalbox does cover the Android basics fairly well; if you just wanted an inexpensive Android browsing tool then you could do worse… but equally, I reckon you could do a lot better.
On the minus side
The Metalbox name is an odd one, because this is a tablet that you couldn’t possibly mistake for anything but pure plastic. I guess there’s got to be some metal within it, but that wouldn’t make it a Metalbox; that’d make it a MetalInnards, and nobody anywhere would buy a tablet called MetalInnards.
The Metalbox is cheap, but it’s very cheaply built as well. Everything is plastic and clicky, the screen resolution is only so-so, and as is common with cheap Android tablets, things can get a little sluggish if you’re trying to push too many apps at once. I also hit some issues just getting some applications to install on the Metalbox. With most Android devices if they’re not supported, they simply won’t show up as installable. If you can see them, it’s fair to assume they should run, although the speed at which they do so is always going to be variable.
The Metalbox refused (for example) to install the LogMeIn Ignition client at all, coming up with random Google Play errors instead. That’s a concern in a wider frame, as if it hits an application you really want but can’t access for seemingly random reasons, that’s going to be quite annoying.
Battery life isn’t spectacular. Again, that can be taken for granted with many Android tablets, but still I struggled to get over three hours out of the Metalbox without exhausting the battery in video playback tests. That’s seriously short of the 6-8 hours of playback time the box suggests it should be capable of.
Would I buy the Metalbox? No, but then I’m much more of a power user than its target market, so the question is somewhat unfair.
Should you buy the Metalbox? Probably not.
Not because it’s terrible value, but because the best it can possibly shoot for is fair value — and even then only if you managed to score a decent bargain price for it. There’s just too much competition that does Android around this price point in a much better fashion than the Metalbox can manage. A 16GB Nexus 7 is only $50 more than the Metalbox — and it’s a considerably better tablet.
In the 10″ space there are plenty of competitors around the $199 price point sporting more memory, better processors or, in some cases both. That makes the Metalbox’s value proposition diminish significantly, and as such, I’d only suggest picking it up after some careful shopping around — and only if you can heavily haggle.