Phablet or Tabone…. Who Cares!
Owning a series of U8180 based Android phones with a small screen has served me well, however, my eyes aren’t getting any better and the lower spec CPU’s work for web browsing but are a little sluggish as the screen has to be scrolled around so much.
Enter the Freelander PX2, it would be best described as a tablet that can be used as a phone, rather than a phone that can be used as a tablet. To my mind a phablet sounds more like a phone that can be a tablet. So is the PX2 really a ‘Tabone’ who knows, who cares? It generates a lot of mickey taking out of me in the office by my colleagues, however, I know what I want to use it for and believe it should be great for my usage.
After all it takes dual sims, in my case an O2 and a T-mobile and it takes me over a year normally to use up £10 of credit on either sim. I’m not exactly a heavy phone user! In the New Year I may want to use one of the sims to access a 3G connection whilst out and about. Several sources are now offering quite good data packages even on pay as you go (PAYG).
The PX2 has a 7 inch diagonal screen and a reasonable screen resolution. It isn’t any where near the best screen resolution or quality for its size but it is a lot more usable than my Rapport/Stockholm or Vodafone Smart for web browsing and most definitely for typing any text, SMS and screen inputs. The keyboard is plenty big enough for my big fingers in portrait or landscape viewing modes.
The screen feels responsive to touch input and being capacative multi-touch zooming in and out and other features are more easily used on a screen with so much more room for my big hands.
The quad core processor and 1GB of Ram the device feels fast and fluid to use, although it does start to slow down slightly after a while in use. It is most noticeable when flipping from the home screen to the Apps screen. Although this is easily worked around by installing App cache cleaner and Advanced task manager. I’ve used these apps for a long time on my old phones and it makes a difference to how responsive the device is. It still works the same way on the PX2 and instantly makes a significant difference to how fast the different screens flip and update. A few seconds every now and then to make the phone as fast as when it was first powered on. Well worth it!
The PX2 came supplied with a total of 8GB of internal storage, however, only part of that is available as some is used for the Android system installation. A 32GB class 10 micro SD card from Scan computers in Bolton and the system has far more storage capacity then I am ever likely to need.
The PX2 also supports USB OTG, something my smaller phones don’t. This allows me to connect USB pens external hard drives; mice etc. if the need arises.
The device uses the same USB connector for data and charging as my other phones and my Nook Simple Touch, always handy – no need for a series of different cables. ThePX2 supports being connected for the usual purposes to a computer, mass storage device, ADB, USB tethering, It has bluetooth support and a micro HDMI output connection. It supports Wifi connectivity and tethering, 3G data connectivity. Everything I might need so what might I not need or want in my new device? After all it even came with King office and a few other useful Apps pre-installed.
Apps installed that I didn’t want that can be easily uninstalled:-
Angry Birds and every other pre-installed game.
Apps not so easily removed:-
The biggest downfall at first was the fact that my O2 sim would keep saying it had no coverage, when I know that it never has a problem at home in my old phones. Indeed you could watch the signal go up/ down and even vanish sitting in the same place on the coffee table. Not really something I was wanting to see and certainly inconvenient as it is the sim I use more often as most of my family are on the O2 network.
Also after a few days the device suddenly started re-booting itself when just browsing on a wifi connection. It would do so several times and become annoying, so a cold boot was called for after which it seemed more stable.
As a result I started reading up on the Internet at http://www.pandawillforum.com forums for ‘PX2 Clean ROM’. There was obviously an issue early on with the PX2 with re-boots that has been resolved by a firmware update, however, other items then stopped working correctly, a community of members at the forums have then spent some time resolving these issues by producing a custom ROM firmware that is based on the original and parts of various official updates and other sources. At the time of writing this the relevant topic is 19 pages long. I would suggest to anyone to start at the beginning and read all the way through before upgrading the firmware. Then they can choose which version is best for them.
OK, so at less than a week old – to me – obviously my PX2 was new but obviously ‘old stock’ and I was going to update the firmware to stop the re-booting issues and hopefully improve the O2 sim stability.
First thing to do was to carry out a backup of my system to the SD card using the installed backup and restore App. Next was to carry out a full ROM back up just to be certain.
I then downloaded the flash tools and firmware via links on the pandawill forums and carefully carried out the instructions to the letter in the included documentation.
The result? I now have a Freelander PX2 that is stable, with both sim slots working as expected and is extremely handy to use as a small tablet, one that can be used as a phone!
I still uninstalled all the items I really didn’t want on my PX2 such as Facebook, Twitter etc. However, I am now happy with how it runs, I’ve now installed various other applications that I want to use instead.
For the price I paid of approximately £107 including delivery it is a veritable bargain. Yes it is no Samsung, Nexus or similar, however, it works exceptionally well. I use it mainly as a tablet but I can and have used it as a phone and for SMS texting. I have also used it as a very large Satnav by installing a free offline GPS application that makes use of the Openstreetmaps mapping data.
The same App can use TomTom data if you want to pay for it although the free mapping on the whole works well enough for most navigations. It even supports UK postcodes although the openstreetmaps data is lacking in some areas. On the very first time I used it I did find an error in Wigan with a road that it told me to drive down but I couldn’t because it is one way and has been for well over 20 years. This isn’t a fault of the PX2 however but of the application and the data source.
The PX2 picked up a GPS signal very quickly for me, even inside my house when my proper satnav’s are unable to do so. Route re-calculations are impressively fast – but hey it is a quad core 1.2 GHz instead of single core 600Mhz processor. I did have to go through a process I found on line to have the GPS signal work as quickly after updating the firmware though, which involved entering a hidden engineer mode. Again the documentation for what was required was very well written and worked straight away when followed to the letter. The advantage of a Youtube tutorial is you can always pause it and see what is happening on the video screen – very easy when you are using a 7 inch screen!
The screen is large enough and easy enough to use even with an Excel spreadsheet opened up in King Office. Again the size of my fingers for keyboard input is so much easier than on my old phones.
Web browsing, searching, email, playing Youtube or other video footage, downloads, network tethering all worked at acceptable speeds and good stability since the firmware update.
I may have fun poked at me at work because of the size of it as a phone, but I’m happy with the overall cost and performance of the PX2.
My wife has even made me special padded case to keep it in for safety from scratches or other damage.
My only gripe with the build quality of the chassis and covers is that the cover over the dual sims does not look like it will hold up to frequent removal for swapping the sims for other networks. Although how often will I really be changing from one network to another? Slightly more often than finding a complete set of hens teeth in a farmyard!
The only system issue that needs a permanent ‘fix’ for is the Wifi, it does work, and may not cause an issue for other users of PX2′s but the tablet produces a broken MAC address Whenever it is attached to a Wifi router issuing an IP address dynamically it will potentially get a different address every time wifi is restarted as a service. Why? Because the router binds the IP address to the Mac address. This means that potentially I could run out of IP addresses at home very quickly unless I change the address lease time to run out. Alternatively I could leave the wifi service enabled all the time so the MAC address stays the same and watch the battery charge disappear more quickly than expected.
Every network card, ethernet or Wifi should have a fixed, permanent MAC address that is unique across the world. Far East manufacturers have been known to produce NIC’s all with the same MAC address. If they are all on different networks it might never cause an issue. But two or more devices with the same MAC address on a network – NOT a good idea.
It may never cause me an issue, but what happens when it does, at home, at a wifi hotspot or even on our wifi guest account at my place of work?
Does it show up in anything that could be seen by myself or others? Well it causes an error in the Wifi that creates a very ‘loud’ and bogus wifi SSID as below.
The pandawill forums has now extended up to 20 pages on the subject of the PX2 clean ROM and they now also post the links to how to make the Wifi MAC address fixed.
By using the link to the two archived files to download and unpack. Together with the link to another forum with the procedure required well documented. I can confirm that with less than another 5 minutes work and a re-boot later my PX2 now has a fixed MAC address and now keeps obtaining the same IP address from my router after each disconnect/reconnect.
Everything is now working correctly and although a few hours reading and about 30 minutes work have been required my PX2 is now completely ready for daily use, at home or at my place of work.
After applying the MAC address fix not only do I keep the same IP address each time on my home router. The NVRAM WARNING Err = 0×10 peak on channel 1 on my Wifi analyser has now disappeared. Excellent! And many thanks are due to the community of users on the pandawill forums that have turned the PX2 from a good but flawed tablet/phone in to an excellent piece of kit that works like it should really have done out of the box!
By Andrew Edmondson