Orange has taken a while to come up with an own brand tablet, and given its great success with its Android toting own branded smartphones that's something of a surprise. Still, it has at last released a tablet, whose name, Tahiti, follows the trend with Orange's smartphones, which are often named after places.
Just as with its smartphones Orange has gone to a third party for the Tahiti hardware. In this case the provider is Huawei and you can buy the same device as Huawei's MediaPad if you like the Tahiti but don't want to be tied to Orange.
The Tahiti is free on a 24-month, £25 a month contract with 1GB of anytime allowance a month. There's an additional 1GB of 'quiet time' data allowance usable between midnight and 4pm as well as unlimited access to BT Openzone Wi-Fi. That's if you're an Orange customer already. If you aren't with Orange then the same deal is £27 a month. It's not a lot of data, to be honest, so you may well either need to stump up for more or make good use of your home Wi-Fi or free Wi-Fi when out and about.
It'll be case of matching that to the initial zero outlay for the tablet itself that might be a deciding factor for some people, and interestingly on that point, Orange quickly moved from a £69 charge for the Tahiti when it was announced in January to its present free price point.
The Tahiti itself is a small tablet. Rather than go for a 10in model Orange has chosen the much smaller 7in option. The debate concerning tablet size is one that's hotly contested, with pros and cons on both sides. If you want to use a tablet for catch-up TV or video viewing, the extra space offered by a 10in screen will likely be welcome. Conversely, there's no doubt that a 7in tablet is much more portable.
Still, there's no grumbling about the quality of the screen. Its pixel count is high at 1280 x 800 and text and video look sharp and clear. It is entirely capable of displaying web pages very well in both portrait and landscape orientations. In portrait mode we happily used the Tahiti as an ebook reader too - not something we say about every tablet and its relatively small size in the hand is a real plus point in this respect.
Viewing angles are good too, though we do have two grumbles about the screen - it isn't great outdoors in bright sunshine and, perhaps bizarrely, the high resolution means it can sometimes be tricky to prod small icons accurately.
Very interestingly, the Tahiti has a workaround for our second grumble. If you don't find 1280 x 800 pixels work well for you then you can dial down to 1024 x 600 in the system settings. This makes hitting icons that little bit easier - though obviously you lose some visual detail. Switching resolutions needs a complete device reset so it takes a while, which is quite irritating, but it is nice to have the option.
Unfortunately, the Tahiti only ships with Android version 3.2, rather than version 4, but remember that many low cost tablets run Android 2.3. The Tahiti should also be upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich if Orange decides to make the update available.
The 512MB of RAM supporting a 1.2GHz Qualcomm dual core processor work together to ensure pretty smooth running. We did notice a bit of lag at times, and even auto screen rotation seemed sluggish, but video ran smoothly and there weren't inordinately long waits for apps to run. 1GB of RAM might have helped a bit, but it is not a serious issue in our view. There's 8GB of internal storage, which is plenty to get you started, and a microSD card slot means you can add more.
Of course Wi-Fi and GPS are present, and the 5-megapixel camera on the back is joined by a VGA camera on the front of the chassis. Shots from the main, flashless, camera are passable, but as ever we'd recommend a dedicated digital camera for anything you are likely to want to keep for posterity.
We're always happy to see an HDMI port, and Orange provides a converter to turn the mini-HDMI port into a full size affair - you'll still need your own HDMI cable though. It is more than a little irritating that the Tahiti charges via a small round pin plug. USB is for PC connection only - not for charging.
The non-standard power socket could be an issue since battery life isn't great, so you may find you need to carry the charge cable on your travels. We'd certainly recommend carrying it even on a weekend break. Orange doesn't quote battery life on its web site, but the press materials quote six hours of working time. We found we were in smartphone territory here, with a daily battery boost needed if we were making reasonably heavy use of the Tahiti for video, music, web browsing and streaming.
The hardware construction impresses. The build is solid with no flex to speak of, and the back is mostly silver metal into which are built two black plastic chevrons one of which houses the camera surround, and the other of which is removable. Under it you'll find the SIM and microSD card slots. There's no access to the battery.
With good design quality and generally impressive internal specifications, the Orange Tahiti is a cut above the average budget tablet. But Orange hasn't got everything right, and we aren't convinced that the free on contract route is the best one to take in the fast moving world of tablets.
Well built, nicely specified and with full Android on board, the Tahiti is impressive and seems like a bargain at first glance. But total up the contract cost, and consider that two years is a long time in the world of tablets before taking the plunge. If you have the money it might be worth spending that contract total up front on something you can sell on when upgrade time comes.
Pros: Well made, generally well featured, two screen resolutions on offer.
Cons: Proprietary power socket, poor battery life, contract price/length.
Network: HSPA 900/1900/2100, GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Processor: Qualcomm MSM8260 dual core 1.2GHz
Memory: 8GB user memory
Memory expansion: microSD
Display: 7in, 1280 x 800
Main camera: 5-megapixels
Front camera: VGA
FM radio: No
Size: 190 x 124 x 10.5mm
OS: Android 3.2