[REVIEWED] Mecer Smart Life M785, a powerful and well-priced tablet for the masses

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My first ever encounter with a computer was those big, white PCs we used in primary school. Like most schools at the time, they came from South Africa’s largest PC producer, Mecer.  In this day and age of cheap Samsung, ASUS and Huawei gear, it’s fair to say that Mecer has struggled to be seen as a premium tech brand: so when I discovered they also have a range of tablets, it was a blast from the past I couldn’t resist. Has the company got what it takes for the post-PC era?

I took the Mecer Smart Life M785 tablet for a spin to find out.

Design and software

I couldn’t help but notice how much the Mecer Smart Life M785 resembles the white iPad mini, and I wasn’t the only one. Wherever I went with it, people thought it was an Apple device until I showed them it was actually from Mecer. The design similarities are superficial, however: the 8-inch Mecer Smart Life M785’s entire body is made of plastic with a metallic-looking finish on the back.

It does, however, have a 7.8 inch Gorilla Glass screen, weighs in at 400g and is just 200x134x7.75mm (compared to the iPad mini’s slightly leaner 200×134.7×7.5mm size and 331g weight). It comes with a folio case mind you, so in the end the differences are neglible.

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The Mecer M785’s folio case
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The metallic-like back cover

The one thing I wasn’t so happy about with the design was the SIM card slot, which is the same as the iPhone and Huawei smartphones’ slots that have those tiny holes that you open using a pin (usually provided in the box). It’s inconvenient and you’re almost guaranteed to lose those pins at some point.

Mecer tablets all run Google’s Android operating system, and sadly the Mecer Smart Life M785 is a little behind most. It runs Android 4.2 (two releases back from the current builds) so it took me a second to get used to the JellyBean version again. The Mecer Smart Life M785 is powered by a Quad Core Cortex-A7 1.2GHz chip and has 1GB RAM expandable up to 32GB by Micro SD.

Camera

Unfortunately, I can’t say the Mecer Smart Life M785’s camera quality is very high. Tablets generally don’t have the best cameras (although Apple has done some seriously good work on improving the iSight cameras on its latest range) but the M785’s 2 MP rear and 0.3 MP cameras are not ones I would recommend you rely on or taking shots. Here are examples of some photos I took.

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Early morning shot of our office taken using the rear camera.
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There’s not a lot of dynamic range – highlights blow out early. Shadow detail is good though.

Performance

I’ll give the Mecer Smart Life M785 credit for its performance and battery life. I found it didn’t lag too much when using multiple apps and the internet at the same time – it hardly gave me any problems at all. A single charge gave me a good 18 hours of battery life, depending on how much I had used it.

It also has built-in GPS and 3G (voice and data) so you can slot your SIM card in to make phone calls, send SMSes and browse the internet via mobile data.

The most critical part of any tablet, of course, is the screen. And while Mecer’s is nothing special in terms of resolution it is a brightly coloured IPS affair which has good viewing angles and is frankly a lot more than you’d expect for the price.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the M785 is great if you’re looking for something very simple at an entry-level price. It has all the basics and performs really well, and a good screen plus built-in modem make it appealing to even demanding Android users. It’s not the classiest design or best for taking photos, but for games, web browsing, video and email duties, who cares? And then there’s the fact you’re not really buying local – the M785 isn’t assembled in South Africa, it is just another white label Chinese slate rebranded, but again – at this price it’s hard to be too sniffy.

For me, the best thing about the M785 is its price tag. At just under R2 000, it’s affordable compared to most other Android tablets. An equivalent iPad mini, with cellular modem built in, is a breath taking R5 799 – or almost three times as much. Indeed, there’s only a couple of other tablets with 3G built in available for the same price, and they’re from no-brand rivals who may not offer local support.

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Details

Price: R1 884 from Takealot

Display: 7.85″ Gorilla Glass HD (1024 x 768)

Dimension: 200x134x7.75mm

Weight: 400g

Operating System: Android 4.2 JellyBean

Networking: Wireless LAN, 3G and voice

Processor: Quad Core 1.2GHz

Camera: 0.3MP front camera and 2.0MP rear camera 

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