Following the launch of the original iPad, hardware manufacturers threw together budget Android tablets and thrust them on an unsuspecting world. By and large such devices were dogs - buggy stretched-up smartphones with inappropriate software and poor build quality.
The recent wave of high-quality Android tablets such as the Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has changed this perception, and for the first time since the iPad launched Apple is seeing its market share squeezed by tablets running Google software.
But the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD are loss-leader devices, sold at a price below the cost of production in order to encourage their users to purchase apps and media. Samsung's Galaxy tablets are popular, but expensive. The GoClever Tab R974 fits into neither camp, being inexpensive without the backing of a large media conglomorate.
Here we review the GoClever Tab R974 constantly keeping in mind that it is a budget device and acknowledging the fact that unlike the Amazon and Barnes & Noble products mentioned above, it is a full Google Android tablet, offering open access to the Google Play store.
GoClever Tab R974: build
First impressions of the GoClever Tab R974 are good. Second impressions, not so much.
Mainly plastic in construction, the rear of the GoClever has a faux metallic silver finish that gives a fleeting impression of quality. It's by no means a thin device - certainly not when compared to the current generation of iPads, but the edges taper of nicely so that it feels thinner than it is.
The bezel around the screen isn't huge, but it is bigger than that of premium tablets. The biggest issues with the GoClever's build, however, are the amount of flex and give in its plastic sides, and the loose plastic construction of the volume switch and on/off button. We also noticed small marks being formed in the black plastic front piece. It just doesn't feel like a high-end product (and at this price, it isn't). It also doesn't give off confidence about its long-term durability.
The GoClever Tab R974 measures 243x189x12mm, and weighs 660g. Compare that with the second-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 which is only 9.7mm thick and weighs just 587g and you'll notice the difference on both scores. The iPad 4, however, weighs almost the same at 652g. It is much thinner at 9.4mm, however. You get great connectivity options with the GoClever R974, including micro USB, mini HDMI out and a Micro SD slot.
The latter lets you boost the 16GB onboard storage with a further 32GB. There are front- and back-facing 2Mp cameras, the front-facing device being a CMOS snapper. Both capture video, making this a useful Skyping device. We can't imagine another scenario where such cameras would prove useful.
There's a single 1W speaker on the back of the device. We're pretty certain that if you use the GoCLever Tab R974 to watch movies or listen to music, you'll do so via headphones plugged in to the 3.5mm jack. You'll probably want to. The speaker is exactly as good as you'd expect from a single 1W speaker, and its position around the back exactly where your hand naturally rests makes it a less than ideal audio output.
GoClever Tab R974: display
The GoClever boasts a 9.7 inch, TFT capacitative touchscreen LCD. Its 1024x768 resolution makes it far from the crispest screen we've seen, but in the world of Retina displays that's hardly surprising, and there's nothing wrong with the GoClever Tab R974's display. Indeed, as a touchscreen it works well. It has 5 touchpoint control, and we found it zippy and responsive. Viewing photos and videos is actually pretty good too, and the viewing angles are decent. The display is often where budget tablet makers cut corners, but the GoClever Tab R974's screen is far from the worst we've seen.
GoClever Tab R974: hardware
The GoClever Tab R974's specs are actually pretty impressive, at this price. The CPU is a RockChip RK3066 dual-core Coretex A9 chip running at 1.6GHz, and it's backed up with a healthy 1GB of DDR3 memory. As we mentioned there is 16GB of storage built in, in this case MLC NAND Flash storage. There's 802.11n wireless, those two 2Mp cameras, an accelerometer and a 6800mAh 3.7V lithium-polymer battery.
GoClever Tab R974: performance
Those specs add up to decent performance. Subjectively the GoClever Tab R974 feels like a responsive and snappy device. This is born out by our performance benchmarks. In our GeekBench 2 test, the GoClever came out with an average score of 1178 points. This compares reasonably well with the Nexus 7, which scored 1452 points, although the fourth-generation iPad is a million miles ahead with an average score of 1769.
Interestingly, however, the third-generation iPad achieves scores only in the region of 750 points. In terms of pure processing power, therefore, the GoClever Tab R974 is in good company.
In terms of browser speed the GoClever Tab R974 did well in the SunSpider test. The results are given in terms of time, so a lower score here is best. The GoClever Tab R974 managed a decent score of 1267ms, faster than the Nexus 7 which completed the test in 1452ms. The new iPad is again the winner here, with a super quick completion time of 854ms.
So the GoClever's performance is decent, but we can't be sure about HD video and gaming.
We tried to run our usual Egypt HD gaming test, but couldn't get the Tab R974 to play ball. Similarly, we haven't yet tested the battery life of the GoClever Tab. We'll update this review when we have done so.
GoClever Tab R974: software
The GoClever Tab R974 runs Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean. This is no longer the very latest Android OS, but it's as near as dammit. Jelly Bean is the point at which Android stopped being a geek's platform and became suitable for normal consumers. It is slick to look at and snappy to use, intuitive and comfortable. Importantly, unlike the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble HD, the GoClever offers full access to the Google Play store.
If an app has been written for an Android tablet, the GoClever will be able to install it. And the Google Play store now offers access to much more in the way of Movies, Books and Music than it ever did before. Although the home and lock screens of our GoClever Tab R974 were set to GoClever logos (why?) we couldn't see that the manufacturer had made any further adjustments to the OS. That's a good thing!
GoClever Tab R974: the bottom line
In most cases in this world you get what you pay for. That is certainly true of tablets. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD are cheap because they lock you in to buying media from their manufacturers. All other premium quality tablets from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Microsoft force you to pay out a premium purchase price. The exception to this is the Nexus 7, where the bill is foot by Google in order to drive sales of apps and media via Google's own Play store.
The Nexus 7 is superior to the GoClever Tab R974 in almost every way - it is better built, from better components. But the GoClever keeps up in terms of performance, matches the Nexus 7 for software and storage, and has a bigger screen. It also has those two 2Mp cameras. Should multiple, low-resoltion cameras or - more likely - a larger screen mean more to you than build quality and design, the GoClever is a decent, budget buy. Just don't expect an iPad at half the price.
One of the better bargain basement tablets we've seen, the GoClever Tab R974 suffers from some of the usual faults of low-cost tablets: poor screen resolution and poor build quality. But it has a great feature set and decent performance. If £200 is your limit and you want a 10-inch tablet - this is a good buy.