Budget smartphones are so last year. 2014 has been the year of the budget tablet, and after being beaten to the line by rival Vodacom, MTN is all about getting in on the budget tablet act with its Steppa tablet.
The Steppa tablet follows the same recipe as the Steppa smartphones before it, and see MTN teaming up with chip maker Qualcomm to produce a cut price tablet with some bundled data thrown in to entice price conscious South Africans out of their hard earned Randelas.
Strangely enough, the Steppa Tablet bears the same R999 price tag as the Steppa 2 smartphone which might lead you to believe that you’re getting a much better deal out of the tablet. After all, this is 7inches, the phone is merely four, right? It also bears the exact same price tag as the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G which makes for some compelling comparisons (more on that later).
We like to be thorough about things here at htxt.africa, however, so assumptions have been set aside while the Steppa Tablet is put through our rigorous testing so that we can give you the low-down on whether or not this is the budget tablet for you.
If you thought your R999 tablet would be served up in a premium piece of industrial design then you’ll be bitterly disappointed with the MTN Steppa Tablet. In fact, if you were expecting even mediocre design you may want to reset your expectations before lifting the lid on the box.
Looking more like a R300 digital photo frame than a modern tablet, the Steppa Tablet is a bit of an eye sore. A throwback not just to early Android tablets with their terrible wannabe iPad frames: the massive grey bezels surrounding the display look like they were painted with leftovers from a 1940s Home Affairs building.
The frame is made from the cheapest feeling plastic we’ve ever seen, and the brushed aluminium back plate manages to both look completely out of place while somehow feeling cheaper than the stuff they use to make cold drink cans.
The Steppa Tablet looks like it was designed by three kids who all had different ideas and mom let them all get their way.
Round 1 goes to the Smart Tab 3G then with its understated, plain but effective design.
As we mentioned before, the Steppa Tablet is the same price as the Steppa 2 smartphone which surprised us because of how much more the tablet offers in the hardware stakes.
For your money you get a quad core 1.2GHz processor from Qualcomm with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of microSD card expandable storage. A 3 500mAh battery with the same Qualcomm Quick Charge technology as the Steppa 2 smartphone has allows for rapid replenishment of battery life in minimal time so long as you use the included charger and cable.
A 2 megapixel camera sits on the back of the Steppa Tablet with a VGA resolution camera on the front for video calling and selfies.
Not only does the Steppa Tablet thrash the Steppa 2 in our benchmarking, it blows the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G away when it comes to the GPU power needed to scroll through web pages and apps with any sort of fluidity. Google Maps is a particularly good example: the Vodacom tablet will barely be on planet Earth while you’ve pinched and zoomed into your front door on the Steppa.
Round 2 goes the way of the Steppa by a landslide.
As with the Steppa 2, the Steppa Tablet runs pretty close to stock Android OS. However, unlike both the Smart Tab 3G and the Steppa 2 it uses Android 4.4.4 which gives it vastly better use of the memory resources at its disposal.
Bloatware is almost non-existent on the Steppa which, considering the tiny 4GB of onboard storage, is a most welcome sight.
The camera interface is miles ahead of the Steppa 2 in terms of simplicity. And that makes no sense to us as we hate taking pictures with tablets.
Round 3 goes the way the way of the Steppa Tablet again putting it ahead of the competition at this stage of the game.
After soaring into the lead, the Steppa Tablet finds its way back to earth with a resounding thud on the back of a truly diabolical display.
Several times in our testing the simplest of taps on the screen went unnoticed making text entry a hit-or-miss affair that complicated everything from browsing the net to writing email.
Text was surprisingly sharp for the low resolution display but colours would get washed out with a small tilt off centre. Couple that with abysmal performance in any sort of sunlight and a lack of an automatic brightness adjustment and the Steppa Tablet bombs out of the display content.
The display in the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G also lacks automatic brightness adjustment and has the same shortcomings in direct sunlight, but it makes up for it with accurate touch inputs and decent enough brightness levels for indoor use.
Round 4 goes the way of the tablet from the guys in red.
At 3 500mAh the Steppa Tablet’s battery is less capacious than that of the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G which clocks in at 4 060mAh. However the addition of Qualcomm’s Battery Guru app and Quick Charge technology mean that the gap is basically non-existent for the purposes of comparison.
If you’re going to be near your charger all day or recharging the battery on your tablet more often then the Steppa will win out because of the rapid recharging prowess of Quick Charge.
If however you’re looking for a greater standby time and are less likely to haul your charger around with you the Smart Tab 3G will more than likely be the better option for you.
Round 5 ends in a stalemate.
Why did MTN have to outfit the Steppa Tablet with such a useless screen? And what’s with the clumsily oversized bezel and hamfisted attempt at style with those drinks can backplates? As the only method of input for a tablet a poor display is simply unforgivable and while we don’t expect a budget tablet to be the height of well coutured elegance, form and function people and all that.
So the win goes to the Vodacom Smart Tab 3G by virtue of a better display even though the Steppa would have easily been our pick due with its hardware and battery charging prowess.
There is, however, one final redeeming feature in this comparison: if you buy the Smart Tab 3G for R999 cash, you get 100MB of data for three months thrown. MTN has seen that and raised the stakes: prepay Steppa Tablet owners get a more generous 200MB of data for 12 months. And the chances are that that will be the defining factor, if we’re honest.
[UPDATE] Vodacom has since increased the bundled data with its Smart Tab 3G to 200MB a month for the first 12 months to match the Steppa Tablet.
Or you could just wait. The recently released Steppa 2 has more or less fixed all the faults of the Steppa 1 – will it be the same for the second gen MTN tablet?
Display: 600×1 024
Operating System: Android 4.4.4
Processor: 1.2GHz quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor
Storage: 1GB of RAM
Battery: 3 500mAh
Camera: 2 megapixel rear camera, VGA front-facing camera
Networking: 802.11 WiFi, Bluetooth