Craig CMP 738a Review – $75 Android tablet from CVS

Introduction

When I first saw this tablet at CVS, I was curious on multiple levels. I was curious what a $75 ($99 originally, but $25 coupons are floating around everywhere, they are actually easier to find than Craig tablets in stock at CVS) can offer. I was curious if it can be rooted and I was curious if my 7 year old will be able to use it successfully (and I won’t care that much if he breaks it). I bought it, played a couple of days with it without rooting it, that I realized is rather limited so I was able to install two different custom ROMs, one based on Android 2.1, the other based on Android 2.2 (full details about how to root Craig CMP 738a here). Both of them hugely increased the Craig CMP 738a speed and response time transforming the crippled  $75 device into something quite usable. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Read ahead for the rest of the review.

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Design & Ergonomics

Design wise, Craig CMP 738a won’t win any prizes, but it is not entirely bad either. The overall thickness is comparable with a pack of cards, the back is painted in an attractive chrome finish while the front is piano black plastic. The speaker is positioned on the back, on the left side, immediately next to the stylus. On the front there are the three main buttons on the right side: Menu, Power and Home. On the top right side you can find the Power On / Off slider button and Volume – and Volume + buttons.

craig_cmp_738a_content_2

All the connections are available on the right side of the tablet as following (starting from top to bottom): USB Host (full size USB), mini HDMI, mini USB (client), HeadPhones, microSDHC slot and the power slot. It looks like Craig designers did not manage to have the tablet charge through the computer USB (limited at 0.5Amps – the tablet probably needs more).

While the back finish looks nice, the front looks cheap and scratches easily. I got some nasty scratches in only a couple of days, while my iPad 2 after significantly longer usage is still nice and shiny.

craig_cmp_738a_front_compared_2

In terms of ergonomics, the most obvious flaw is the thickness. As I specified, the overall thickness is close to a pack of cards and it looks and feels significantly bulkier than an iPad 2/ Nook Color (see the photos). The tablet is not very heavy though, at less than a pound and I can read for longer periods using only one hand.

The screen quality is adequate with a reasonable viewing angle, considering that it is an individual device. The viewing angle drops significantly hen watched from the bottom direction. One advantage is that the display is matte, not glossy, but significantly less bright than the superb displays from Nook Color / iPad 2. The resolution is also lower, 800 x 480 but reasonable for a 7 inches size. It offers plenty of contrast while reading, but the quality while watching photos / movies is below average.

craig_cmp_738a_side_compared_3

The device does get quite warm when used heavily and for prolonged periods, especially when plugged in. It never got to the point where it would be too hot to hold though.

Battery Life

The battery life is better than expected considering the price. Depending of the usage, Craig CMP738a gets anywhere between 2 to 6 hours of charge, especially if you use it for music with the screen off. The problem is though a defective stand by mode that kills the battery in under 12 hours usually. A good idea is to turn it off when not in use for a longer time, it usually boots in less than a minute. A full charge takes under 4 hours.

Usage

Let’s make something clear from the beginning. If you do not root / install a custom ROM on it, you’ll be disappointed. Out of the box it is very slow and if you upgrade it to Android 2.2 using Craig’s website, it will get even slower. Out of the box, Craig CMP 738a also doesn’t have the official Market installed (it does have the SlideMe market though) and the included applications are quite old. You’ll be able though to use YouTube, eMail and surf the web. You’ll also be able to side load apk files if needed, so Amazon Android app store is working (but only if you upgraded to Android 2.2).

If you do root it however (and I posted detailed instructions about how to root CMP 738a here) this cheap tablet goes through some miraculous transformations. Everything becomes way more responsive and it looks like a completely new tablet. It becomes really usable and it also feels more expensive. If you do not intend to install a custom ROM on it, you’ll be disappointed and frustrated by its slowness. I don’t understand why the manufacturer did not install a better optimized OS package on it, the little tablet has soo much potential.

The resistive touchscreen which is to be expected considering the low price works much better with the stylus because unlike the capacitive one, it needs some pressure to function. It is fairly responsive and once calibrated, is surprisingly accurate (and it doesn’t display the issues that my Nook Color has, when you are trying to select something closer to the margins).

Note: One interesting aspect worth mentioning is that YouTube goes into HQ (high quality mode) by default and the playback is very smooth, obviously hardware accelerated even for 720p clips.

Tech Specs

  • 7-inch (800×480, 16:9) with Resistive Digital Touch Screen
  • Screen: 6″ x 3.5″
  • Weight: 13oz
  • CPU – Rockchip RK2818 ARM9 at 622MHz
  • Operating System Android version 2.1 (Froyo)
  • 4 GB Built-in Flash Memory
  • Built in 256MB DDR-ll RAM
  • Built-in WiFi (802.11 b/g)
  • Overall dimensions: 8in x 5.31in x 0.2

Connections:

  • Mini HDMI output
  • Mini USB
  • USB Host (Full size USB)
  • Micro SD Card Slot (Support Max. 32GB)
  • Built-in Rechargable Battery (up to 6 hours continuous use)
  • Built-in Speaker and Microphone
  • 3.5mm Stero Headphone Jack
  • 3G Ready (via the included USB Host Connection)
  • 4 Way Accelerometer

Conclusion

Craig CMP 738a is a very interesting toy. Very cheap but surprisingly good once you start tweaking it. While nowhere near the quality and smoothness of a more expensive device, it has a very good price performance ration. The resistive screen works reasonably well, better with the included stylus and it is obviously not multi-touch. The display is bright, not glossy but the viewing angles are noticeably worse than the more expensive devices. All in all, a very good value after you install a custom ROM. HDMI out and microSD are icing on the cake as well.

Pros

  • price
  • 4GB memory installed
  • HDMI output
  • USB host
  • microSDHC memory expansion slot

Cons

  • screen quality
  • resistive touchscreen
  • thickness

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