MSI has learnt, over the past few years, to live in the shadows of its bigger rival, Asus. Like Gigabyte, the other big Taiwanese component manufacturer, it hasn’t quite been able to negotiate the difficult transition from ODM/OEM to kind-of-household name. Asus, in stark contrast, has been able to up its game and compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple at least when it comes to tablets. The Transformer range enjoys a relatively positive image amongst techies, not least because that family reached some fairly significant milestones; first affordable quad-core tablet, first affordable full HD display, first 3-in-1 tablet/laptop, first quad-core tablet on the market, etc.
MSI, it seems, wants to come back but even before I opened the box, I knew that the tablet it sent me - the Primo 73 - was doomed. The tablet currently retails at Scan for just under £109 and unfortunately, there are a number of rival models that either offer more for the same price or the same for almost half the price.
A quick roll call from just ONE retailer (eBuyer): Zoostorm SL8 mini tablet, £70, Sumvision Cyclone Voyager, £75 and Sumvision Voyager 27 (quad-core), £100. Clearly, if you don’t worry about the brand (and if you’re going for MSI, you probably fall into this category), you will be spoilt for choice. MSI has clearly chosen the most difficult path to Android success.
The company has also unveiled a number of other tablets to fit all the necessary price points: the Primo 75, Primo 93, Primo 76, Primo 81, Primo 91 and Enjoy 71, but none of them were widely available in the UK at the time of writing.
Back to the tablet. The Primo 71 boasts a sleek metal unibody chassis. It is noticeably smaller (189 x 107 x 9.4mm) and lighter than the original Google Nexus 7 tablet thanks to a smaller (piano black) bezel and a thinner chassis.
Other features include an Allwinner A20 dual-core Cortex-A9-based SoC clocked at 1GHz with a Mali400-MP2 GPU, 1GB of RAM, 16GB onboard storage, a microSD card slot, a 7in IPS display with a 1,024 x 600 pixels, a micro HDMI port, a front-facing VGA camera and a 2-megapixel rear facing one (without flash), a single speaker, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, a 3,000mAh battery and a weight of 300g.
We ran the Primo 73 on two popular benchmarks: it reached nearly 8,200 on the latest iteration of Antutu Benchmark which is even less than the 30-month old Galaxy S2 which is based on a dual-core Cortex-A9 as well. Things took a turn for the worse on the Quadrant SE benchmark scoring a puny 1,460 which is even less than the Samsung Nexus S or the single-core HTC Desire HD.
However, the tablet handles well. It is sturdy, can be slipped into one (large) jacket pocket, doesn’t feel too wieldy and can almost be managed with one hand (in portrait mode). It comes in an anonymous cardboard box with a protective cloth sleeve, a converter, a power supply, a booklet and a USB cable.
So, in a nutshell, the tablet is a decent model whose chances of success in the cut-throat market of 7in Android market are almost nil because its rivals are cheaper and better. And things are going to get even more desperate by the end of the year when quad-core tablets with HD displays finally break through the £100 floor.