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Mid Elite VIA 8650 Android 4 0 PC Tablet Review

When the Mid first arrived in the UK last September, it was in a class all its own. There were plenty of other seven-inch tablets running Android, but none of them were as successful. Sure, Amazon's tablet did most of the same things as competing offerings. Some of those things it did ably, some it did sloppily -- but it did them all for less than half the price of the cheapest iPad.

It turns out "cheap" was quite the trump card, and despite its many quirks, the Mid was a huge smash. But things are different now, and other manufacturers have come out with devices that hit (or come close to) that magic price point. Most notably, there's Google's own Nexus 7, a consumer favorite that's set new expectations for how a £129 tablet should look and perform.

Competitive pressure is usually a good thing, and after using the newly updated seven-inch version of the Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet for close to a week, I can say that the changes Amazon has made in order to stay at the head of the budget tablet pack have produced a machine that's just plain better all around. It will go on sale in the UK in October for £119.99.
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The Mid Elite user interface has been improved, and is now smoother and more polished. The hardware is more elegant, too, with a better screen, a smarter set of controls, and a redesigned shell that no longer looks like a BlackBerry PlayBook. Enhancements to the Mid Elites core functions -- reading books and watching movies purchased from Amazon's vast content store -- have make consuming media on the tablet more enjoyable than before.

The depth of the hardware improvements can't be overemphasised. The very first thing I noticed when I picked up the Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet was how the new rounded edges nestled into my hands more naturally than the chunky, square edges of the original Mid. While the screen is still seven inches, the face of Mid Elite is larger than that of its predecessor: it's two millimeters taller and 17 millimeters wider. But what the Mid Elite has gained in 2D real estate, it's lost in height and weight, measuring one millimeter slimmer and 18 grams lighter. That might not sound like a lot, but the device is noticeably lighter.

The original Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet oddly lacked external volume controls, so you had to tap through the menus just to raise or lower the sound. This super-annoying quirk has been corrected, and volume buttons now sit flush along the tablet's tapered edge, next to the sleep button. The old protruding sleep button is gone, too. It's now recessed, so it's much harder to accidentally press it by placing the tablet on a table or in a cradle while holding it in portrait mode. Goodbye, inadvertent sleeping.

The new display is much nicer, a 1,280x800-pixel IPS panel with a pixel density of 216 ppi. When viewed next to the Google Nexus 7, the Mid Elites display is clearly crisper and has better contrast, though neither can compete with the latest iPad's Retina display. The Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet display is also notable for its glare protection. It won't eliminate glare entirely, but it does have less glare than the iPad and Nexus 7, making it easier to use in less-than-optimal lighting situations.

Like the previous Mid, the Elite model runs a version of Android that's been dressed up and customised by Amazon -- though the Fire now runs Android 4.0 instead of stale old 2.3, and performs much better because of it.

Mid has removed the "bookshelf" from the Ikindle's interface, replacing it with a "favorites" drawer. You can access this personalised list of favorite items from within any app by tapping the star that resides near the home button. You can place whatever apps, albums, movies, websites (anything that appears in the main carousel) you want into the favorites drawer for quick access.

It's a welcome addition, but the Favorites drawer can't replace the power of a quick app switcher. If an item doesn't reside in the Favorites drawer, you need to return to the Home screen and scroll through all your installed items to access it. This is a pain for power users who have become accustomed to quickly switching between apps on other devices.
If you do have to navigate back and forth between apps, the process is much smoother than before. Flicks of the carousel and swipes of the menus are responsive and smooth as butter. All the herky-jerkiness of the original Fire's UI has been exterminated. The only times when I encountered stutters or system hangs was when I was launching the Silk browser by tapping on a link in some app or document. The tablet always seems to hesitate a moment before launching the browser.

The browser itself is better than before, but it's still the place where the Mids weakness is most exposed. Some sites lacks the smooth scrolling evident in the rest of the operating system. Amazon did add some fancy custom features, like the ability to strip ads, photos and other miscellaneous items out of articles -- similar to the Reader feature Apple built into Mobile Safari to make reading web articles easier. Alas, the Mid has no read-it-later feature; you'll need to pick an app for that. In all, the browser lacks the polish and smoothness I've grown used to on other devices, and it feels about 90 percent finished.

Likewise, the email client, contacts manager and calendar are serviceable, but they all feel kind of not-quite-there. The email app is as quick and snappy as the rest of the system, and it supports Exchange, so it takes only a few moments to set up a new account. However, the client doesn't support downloading inline images in emails to the device. Attached images will download just fine, and you can open them separately, but you can't download images that are inline.

The email client isn't the only thing that has a problem with images -- the tablet has a front-facing camera, but it ships without a default camera app. As of press time, the only way to access the front-facing camera is to use Skype for Mid Elite. By using Skype, I can confirm that the camera works, but I can't actually determine how well it captures pictures or video. I'm sure Instagram will appear in the Amazon App Store with support for this camera at some point, and we'll all be able to apply funky filters to our selves.

X-Ray and audio
X-Ray -- the feature that brings up an index-like listing of information for whatever you're reading or watching -- is outstanding, and especially helpful for novels with a plethora of characters. The new integration of IMDB data into the X-Ray for Video feature is also excellent. At any point, you can pause your movie and look at all the associated data about the actors, director, or whatever. It's interactive and fun, and totally in tune with how the ultra-connected among us already watch movies.

The new features Mid has added to the ebook reading experience are also top-notch. Initially, I thought the Immersion Reading feature -- a sort of "read along with me" trick that highlights text while the audio version of a book is read aloud -- was just a cute gimmick I would tire of quickly. But after reading along to the text of Bossypants as Tina Fey spoke the same words to me through the speakers, I'm a believer. It's mesmerising.

Better yet, the Audio Whispersync feature is flawless. I listened to a book for a while, stopped the audio, then opened the text version. The sentence where the audio left off appeared at the top of the page every single time.

Speaking of sound, the audio pumped out by the Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet sounded better than other tablets. The Dolby-tuned stereo speakers actually produce a clear stereo image, instead of the flat, tinny reproduction you get on other tablets with one speaker. Bass is negligible, and in a loud room, you're always going to be better off with headphones or an external speaker. (It has Bluetooth, so hello Jambox.) But in a pinch, it's a decent setup for listening to tunes or audiobooks

Where do you store all those books and videos? Your Micro SD Card, of course, though the Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet ships with 4GB of storage, which is more than you get on most tablets in this price range. (The Nexus 7 starts at 2GB for the same price.) You can quadruple that storage for an extra £20. (With a Micro SD Card)

Clearly satisfied with the success of last year's initial launch, it seems Mid is now intent on building up the quadruple to make it the most compelling and feature-rich tablet you can buy for £74.99. Purists will still prefer something like the Nexus 7, which has a better browser, extra goodies like GPS, and offers a more well-rounded experience. But if you're aligned with Mid's vision, and especially if you've fully immersed yourself in the company's ecosystem -- signing up for Prime, watching tons of videos, reading stacks of books -- you won't do better than this.

It's possible the 8-inch version of the , which has a sharper screen will be the smarter purchase for US users, but sadly that model isn't scheduled to launch in the UK. However, even as other compelling tablets swoop into the spotlight over the next few months, the Mid Elite Android 4.0 PC Tablet will still be a great piece of hardware at a great price.

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Article Added on Thursday, December 20, 2012
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