Nextbook Ares 8 Review (Android) Best Budget Tablet Ever?

This tablet is quite possibly, the biggest bargain for its price available for the Android platform, but there are a lot of strange decisions -mostly in regards to how Nextbook handles its software- that would prevent it from being useful for the average tablet user.

Design:

The build quality of most of the tablet is pretty satisfying until you examine the glass panel of the screen. This touch screen is made from an unusually fragile slab of gorilla glass, which attracts scratches, and would likely shatter if you drop it on a soft carpet made of rainbows and CareBare episodes.

If you look to the side, you'll notice that all the ports are located on only one side of the tablet, and the power connector is near the bottom (or top, depending on where you rotate it) of the tablet. Plugging anything into the side while trying to play games is like trying to play a Rubik's cube with a tarantula. The placement of the ports have a way of interrupting the flow of the on-screen controls like Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs.

Neverthaless, props to the Nextbook company for adding a Micro HDMI output that also outputs sound. even though the option to broadcast video wirelessly to a TV or a computer was left in this incarnation of the Android OS, it doesn't work, leaving only the option to plug your tablet into your TV or video capture card via HDMI cable.

The buttons are all at the long end of the tablet, so as to avoid constantly hitting the volume rocker when playing a game. this was a much needed improvement to the design most other budget tablets have, where in order to hold the tablet horizontally, you have to put your palm right on top of all the action. The tablet also sports a completely useless and unnecessary home button, which for some reason is much slower than the on-screen home button. I find myself hitting this thing by accident when trying to turn the volume down, and it's really annoying.

Hardware:

No other tablet in this price range can hold a candle to the Nextbook's performance. A 800 by 1280 display outmatches most other tablets by at least one full resolution bracket. It comes with an evenly back-lit, full color IPS display with zero color loss at every angle, and an Intel-based integrated graphics controller ensures that it dramatically outperforms every other tablet we've reviewed, all at a higher native resolution.

The touch screen is accurate to within at least 8 pixels of the on-screen resolution. Most tablets at this price range fall by the wayside when the touch screen is tested for anything other than clicking a button. Trying to play a First-person shooter on most tablets makes you feel like a storm trooper playing Lazer Tag, but that isn't an issue with the Nextbook. The touch sensor is extremely accurate, and playing games using the on screen controls feels smooth and reliable.

It comes with one of the first Intel Atom processors that supported the ARM API, meaning that it can run Android and its Apps naively with no emulation. Potentially, in the future, it could be possible to run windows apps on this device through a runtime environment like WINE for Linux. The Quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F clocked at 1.8GHz, making it pretty damn good for mobile gaming.

Where this tablet falls apart, however, is in the abysmal on-board RAM, which is 1GB of DDR3L; barely allowing the Atom's Intel HD GPU to reach its full potential, because of the bottleneck it creates in lollipop, which I will get to later.

For some weird reason, Nextbook decided to package this tablet with one of the worst USB-to-AC power adapters is the known universe. Connecting this tablet to it's bundled power adapter causes electrical interference that causes it to ghost-tap random things on the screen, and if you try to use it at all, it will open or close exactly everything you don't want it to. These glitches are often mistaken for defects in the Nextbook itself, causing people to get the mistaken idea that the Nextbook is a piece of junk. A lot of bad reviews of this device were made based on how it behaves when it is plugged into its demon-possessed AC adapter, when replacing it with literally any other one works just fine. I use this device with the adapter that came with my Moto G, and it works perfectly.

A big glaring problem comes in the form of the SD card reader's behavior when using a regular SDHC card. For some strange reason, the entire tablet slows down to an almost powerpoint slideshow level of slowness in the presence of a mounted SD card. The only way around this is by using an SDXC card with Ultra Class 1 or higher, who's read/write speed is at least 83mbps. (Megabits per-second.)

The cameras on this device are nothing short of horrifyingly bad. Every photo you take handles like its in a low light setting, because the entire color spectrum is very dim. at only 1.3 Megapixels, every photo looks like it was taken at a crime scene, and grainier than found footage of someone being abducted by Aliens. The video taken at 720p makes everything look like you're walking through the unisex restroom of a silent hill gas station, and gets really choppy at even the slightest lighting change in the environment.

Software:

This is where the good news ends, unfortunately. The Ares 8 is limited to Android 5.0, and if Nextbook's track record for firmware updates is any indication, it's never getting updated. The reason this is such a big problem is that Android 5 is infamous for its memory leak bug, where it will keep entire programs open even if you think you closed them. This means that every app you open is stuck in the RAM, so the more apps you open, the more likely they are to crash. This stupid glitch was fixed in the Android 5.1 Lollipop update, but the Ares 8 is never going to see it, because like I mentioned earlier, Nextbook inc. is crap when it comes to firmware.

The only way around this is to root the Ares 8, and install the Lollipop memory leak fix from the Google Play Store. Doing this is of those things that makes this tablet not so user friendly, because most of its biggest problems are caused by the software it comes with.

Rooting the tablet is fairly easy, and allows for an enormous range of features that can reverse pretty much every problem the software has, such as expandable storage, using Link2SD to replace the missing App2SD support, which allows you to move apps away from the tiny 16GB internal storage, and into whatever SD card you have. The problem is, these solutions, though possible, alienate casual users from taking advantage of them, since most of them can become pretty complicated. This shouldn't have to be the case at all with an android device. You should be able to open the box, start using the device, and everything should work the way its supposed to.


Verdict:

This is a very good Android device for people who know what they are doing. As a developer, I had a lot of fun with this tablet, even with its ridiculous memory leak problem that I inevitably fixed. This is not great for regular people, who want to just pick it up and use it, however, because of the way Nextbook handles its firmware updates. (Which is to say, they don't handle them at all, because they don't exist.)
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About Tom Hollis

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