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Android tablets are very hit and miss, you can get total brilliance that will suit you for years or something you want to throw in the bin within a week. Clearly, the likes of Samsung still dominate the Android tablet market with the Tab SX range and do a very good job of it. But what happens when you don’t want to spend that amount of money but still want a decent tablet?
TCL is on their next generation of tablets with the TCL NXTPAPER 10s, and, it’s actually pretty impressive for the dollars.
What is it?
The tablet we’re talking about is a 10.1-inch WUXGA (1200 x 900) resolution display. It offers a MediaTek 8768 processor with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage (expandable through MicroSD) and an 8,000mAh battery. The screen is very interesting to me, as it’s not the highest resolution I’ve seen lately and isn’t the most responsive, but it feels nice. The touch has a very slightly abrasive feel which makes it easy to use as a touch screen, and it works really well for streaming media such as Netflix, YouTube and Kayo Sports.
It’s offered in Dark Gray or Ethereal Sky, which fits in with the current tablet world and looks the part. Perhaps, if you’re using it as a stand-alone tablet, it’s a bit of a magnet for fingerprints, but — more on this later — the fact it comes with a keyboard cover is truly excellent.
If you’re looking at the connectivity of the device, there’s a basic suite available, including LTE (adding plenty of versatility), 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C and the capacity to add both a SIM for mobile connectivity and a MicroSD card.
Physically, the device measures 241.3 x 159.2 x 8.3 mm, which is slightly larger than the TCL 10s we previously reviewed, but only slightly. It weighs 490 grams which makes it very portable and I’ve had it in my daily carry bag throughout testing and at times forgotten it was there as it’s so light.
The package includes a keyboard case which is excellent for productivity; it allows you to use use the tablet as a makeshift laptop. Coupled with PC Mode, akin to DeX on Samsung, I’ve found it to be not just a great entertainment option but useful for productivity as well.
When you fire up the tablet for the first time, you’ll have Android 11 staring you in the face, which is upgradable to Android 12 once released. There’s also the promise of security updates until the end of 2023 on the TCL website.
There are a couple of downsides, as earlier mentioned, to the specs because, even as someone who lives largely in the cloud, the storage being only 64GB does feel inadequate. With 4GB of RAM, while it’s not a complete deal breaker — with MicroSD you can add a further 256GB — it does eliminate some of the mid-sector of the potential buyers’ market for what would surely be a minimal cost increase to go to 128 and 8GB.
The positioning of the physical buttons is ideal for use in the PC mode while attached to the keyboard. The volume rocker, in landscape mode, is positioned on the top left, where it’s difficult to accidentally press it. The power button is on the left side near the top; again, easy to use but difficult to trigger accidentally. Cleverly, both have been positioned where they’re viable to use in portrait mode too, which is a contrast to some smart cases.
The volume is impressive, but it does lack a bit of balance, with the high range being a bit flat, leaving the mid-range becoming a bit overwhelming. It’s not uncommon for me to watch streaming media on a tablet while doing chores around the house, relaxing in the yard, or simply not wanting to listen to whatever the kids are watching. So headphones of some sort are usually my go-to, but the quality of speakers here meant that I could be a bit more flexible.
The cameras are basic, with functionality enough for a happy snap and video calls. But don’t expect too much more because it’s almost certain that whatever phone you have in your pocket will provide you with better photographic results. While it’s not the specs that some users will want, keep in mind the price, the comparatively low price against other tablets and the generally good productivity capacity.
Daily Use: It’s capable, but not high-end
So to put this in perspective of the current market, there are Android tablets available that will set you back in the range — or even over — of $2,000.00 plus optional extras. That’s a huge amount of money when you consider a very good laptop costs less, so to have a tablet like the NXTPAPER 10s in the sub $500 price range shows where TCL is positioning the device.
The T Pen, although not included, is a great addition that can improve the tablet’s functionality, particularly in relation to some apps and productivity pathways. In previous reviews where a stylus has been included, the use of apps like OneNote and general navigation of the device has been a pleasure. With the addition of the T Pen and considering it’s more like an actual pen vs a thin, small and light stylus means, you’ll be far more comfortable with using it naturally.
I’ve already mentioned the keyboard case and the functionality that it adds to the tablet. The simple click-in setup and the fact that it’s pogo pins result in the case being useful as a folio carry or click-in for use as a productivity tool. The real bonus is that provided you buy the bundle, the keyboard case is included.
We’ve previously spoken with Joseph Corrente, the TCL Channel Sales Director for Oceania, about the market strategy for TCL and the NXTPAPER 10s fits perfectly in that. It’s not pretending to be more than it is, it’s good value with a nice screen and decent performance.
TCL hasn’t aimed the NXTPAPER 10s at power users; it’s for your average user. Mums and Dads who want to surf the web, stream some content, send some emails and relax while reading. The screen itself, particularly if you’re reading has another welcome inclusion as it reduces blue light significantly, which makes reading in low light easier on your eyes, reducing eye fatigue and allowing you to read longer. As we mentioned in the original release of the NXTPAPER 10s:
The screen design is intended to aid your long-term eye health by reducing blue light by over 73%. For anyone not familiar with the concept, it reduces glare as well as strain on your eyes. Given the increasingly connected world we’re in, with increased screen time daily, the importance of eye health can’t be overstated.
Storage isn’t that big of a deal in the connected age, but TCL, please… put more RAM in your devices. That minimal cost outlay will make a significant difference to the performance and the user experience.
Side-stepping the need for RAM, TCL continues to deliver a delightful, stock Android experience with little by way of bloat included in the out-of-box experience. There are a few little tweaks to the UI, but I tend to find the TCL interface pretty slick and easy to deal with as a lover of a pure Android experience.
After almost a month with the NXTPAPER 10s, the battery life is generally very good. I did find a few apps would drain the battery somewhat unexpectedly when not in use, but that’s almost certainly a bug with the app vs an issue with the hardware. The optimisation around the battery is pretty impressive, provided you don’t have any critical apps that you need notifications from ASAP; otherwise, you’ll need to add exceptions to the app permissions to allow background operations.
Should you buy one?
This is an interesting question because TCL is targeting the value market. While that is admirable in not trying to take on the likes of Samsung and the might of the iPad, it also artificially creates a niche for their hardware. Tablets seem to be making a resurgence, but primarily around the high-performance laptop replacement level, not as much in the entry-level space.
The TCL NXTPAPER 10s is perfect for the casual user who wants to be able to do a bit of everything. But it goes a step further; the T Pen and Keyboard case can be really useful, complementary tools for productivity.
Tablets aren’t going away, but they’re certainly not something everyone wants or needs. It’s a device that, when you have one, you’ll use more, and the NXTPAPER 10s has a lot of good points to it. Providing you’re not looking for a laptop replacement style tablet; then this is a very good option to consider.
If you’re keen to take a closer look, you can grab an NXTPAPER 10s from the usual retail pathways, including Mobileciti, Bing Lee and Target, for between $488.00 and $499.00 bundled with the keyboard.