Milagrow TabTop M8 Pro 3G

Milagrow M8 PRO review: brilliant effort but software mars the experience

|May 20, 2014 |Android, Tablets, Reviews, Android Tablets

"At its price point, the Milagrow M8 PRO comes across as a powerful package"

When it comes to smartphones, the Android platform reigns the territory and seems like there’s no stopping it. However, tablets seem to be a different ballgame altogether. Android might have been successful on smaller tablets featuring 7- to 8-inch displays, but as we mentioned in our comprehensive annual report on the state of the Indian mobile phone and tablet industry , the Apple iPad rules the roost when it comes to slates with larger screens. It’s not that there aren’t any Android slates larger than 8-inches, but most of them like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) and Sony Xperia Tablet Z are positioned at the high-end, and that's Apple's domain. Even Indian manufacturers like Micromax haven’t launched any large-screen Android tablets lately. That’s why Milagrow’s M8 PRO comes as a welcome change, aiming to offer a premium build and the utility of a large screen, without charging a bomb. We have used the slate for a week and here’s how our experience went.

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Ergonomic to hold and use

Milagrow M8 PRO 20

The Milagrow M8 PRO has differentiated its construction by choosing to go with a wedge-shaped design, featuring tapering sides when held in landscape mode. It has maximum thickness of 10mm which reduces down to 6mm. This gives it better handling as compared to blocky designs of other tablets. However, the edges seem to be little sharp and we would have appreciated if they were slightly rounded. The design is also reminiscent of the Sony’s foldable slate, the Tablet S, launched in 2011. The rear of the device is smooth and accommodates a primary camera with flash. While the rear is made of plastic, all the other sides are metallic giving the tablet a sturdy feel.

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The display is surrounded by a lot of bezel which seems to serve no purpose, except the presence of a front shooter at the top and two speaker grills. The top panel has a number of ports which include a regular SIM card slot, a microSD card slot, two micro-USB ports, a mini-HDMI port and finally a separate charging port. Out of two micro-USB ports, one comes with USB Host functionality, while the other can be used for data transfer. However, what’s ironic is that even though there are two micro-USB ports, they can’t be used for charging the slate and manufacturer could have done away with the redundant ports by merging their functionalities. A key that looks like a volume rocker is also there, but it functions like the standard menu and back keys on Android. A microphone is also present on this side.

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The power button, located on the side, is very easy to reach, though needs to pressed hard and for almost 10 seconds to power on the device. On the opposite side, there’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and while it works fine with standard headphones, it doesn't seem to be too friendly with headsets (earphones with inline microphone).

Milagrow M8 PRO 60 Milagrow M8 PRO 61

The presence of dual front-facing speakers might give the idea that the slate outputs rich sound, but while it's loud, the richness is lacking.

At the weight of 510g, the tablet doesn’t seem too bulky and can be used for long hours comfortably.

Good display but poor colours

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The M8 PRO features a 9.4-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels. This might seem low when compared against high-resolution displays on most tablets of this size, but isn’t limiting in any way. What felt bad though was the colour fidelity of the display – the blacks aren’t completely black. But apart from that, the display offers wide viewing angles ensuring that can be easily viewed by two to three people. Viewability is pretty good outdoors as well.

The display supports 10-point multitouch, but doesn’t detect the touch sometimes. The screen is also a fingerprint magnet and attracts smudges like anything.

Android layered with a custom skin, bogged by poor implementation

When you start the slate for the first time, you are welcomed by a vastly different and colourful UI as compared to regular Android. While it looks very pleasing to the eyes with big tiles, it’s a tad confusing initially. The interface combines the power of Android widgets with a layout that is inspired from the tile-based start screen on Window 8 (and Windows Phone 8).

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (7)

However, after the initial confusion, the five screens in the home screen give you a good idea about their purpose with clearly-defined categories in the form of Home, Media, Apps, Web and Office. This way, you’re able to see all the apps according to their categories in the respective screens, and thus allow you to quickly access the required app. Although the launcher isn’t fully customisable, you can add apps and also delete some of the default ones.

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (5) Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (6)

The Milagrow M8 PRO offers a virtual navigation layout at the bottom of the screen allowing you to return to the previous screen, go to home, check recent apps just like on the usual Android-based devices. Additionally, you get button to take a screenshot and keys for increasing and decreasing volume.

With such a nicely-organised home screen, one might feel that there’s no way to access the menu as we’ve seen in some Android skins like Amigo found on Gionee smartphones. But that’s not the case here – you need to click an animated circle at the bottom of the screen to get access to a semi-circular carousel of options. Not only can you jump to any of the home screens, but also search the device or the web (via Google), access the app launcher and add more home screens. Sadly, you can’t modify or delete the existing ones, but can just add more. However, since the animated circle is placed towards the bottom, your touch action needs be precise, otherwise you can end up opening the multi-tasking menu or capture a screenshot inadvertently.

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (8)

Taking a leaf out of Samsung’s “Note” book (no pun intended), the tab has Multi Window capability. Similar to the Korean brand’s implementation, the mode allows you to use up to four apps simultaneously. The mode can be enabled for any app by tapping the floating multi window button, and if you have opened multiple apps, then tapping this button again can also dock the apps. However, the apps can’t be resized or dragged anywhere, which is a big drawback for otherwise such a useful capability. Another option to open multiple windows is by swiping downwards from top, in the centre of the display. This pops up another shortcut bar providing access to the gallery, the default media player or settings and launching them in the multi window mode. Overall the utility offered by multi window feature is really good, but its half-baked implementation sours the experience. Additionally, the use of this feature freezes the device on occasion.

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (13) Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (19) Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (18)

Coming to the preinstalled apps, the company has tried to made sure that the M8 PRO can be used right out of the box without the need of downloading any apps. It’s loaded with most of the common apps, including the IncStage suite that comprises a file explorer, presenter, and eBook reader among others. However, some of these apps are trial versions limited to just 30 days.

Under the skin, the device is based on Android 4.2.2 and there’s no information whether it will be updated to the latest version. Milagrow has definitely put a lot of thought to M8 PRO’s software and interface, so it can be easily used by anyone. However, there were a few quirks – apps stop working in between, the device stutters and even the launcher crashes. Clearly, Milagrow's custom launcher is the culprit here, and the slate works beautifully if you use the default Android launcher (which is built in), or download a third-party launcher from the Play Store.

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (1)

Capable performer with minor hiccups

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Coming to the performance aspect of the device, it’s taken care of by a RockChip 3188 quad-core silicon clocked at 1.6GHz based on Cortex-A9 architecture. Although the brand may not be familiar as much as the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon or MediaTek SoCs, Rockchip doesn’t give any chance to complain. It handles all tasks very well, be it navigating the home screens (considering the custom skin is quite heavy), browsing the web, watching a movie or playing a game... although you can notice slight delay in the execution. The processor is supplemented by a healthy 2GB of RAM, making sure that the M8 PRO doesn’t slow down even while multiple tasks are running in the background.

Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (2) Milagrow M8 PRO screenshot (3)

For storage, the slate comes equipped with 16GB of onboard memory. After accounting for the space used by operating system, users are left with approximately 12GB for installing apps and their data. In case you need more, the microSD card slot comes in handy, allowing addition of up to 64GB cards.

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The 6,500 mAh fixed battery ensures that the device can used comfortably for long hours. Even with heavy usage of watching movies, playing games and web browsing, it can easily last more than a day. In our standard test of playing an HD video on loop, the Milagrow M8 Pro kept going on for nine hours.

There’s more to it..

The tablet also offers two shooters in the form of 5-megapixel sensor at the back and a 2MP at the front. The primary camera is good enough for basic shooting, but the detail simply isn’t there. The front-facing camera should serve your needs for video calling well. Click on the following images to get an idea of the rear shooter’s capability.

Milagrow M8 PRO camera sample (1) Milagrow M8 PRO camera sample (4) Milagrow M8 PRO camera sample (5)

The device supports USB on-the-go capabilities giving you an option to plug in flash drives of up to 32GB as well external hard-drives of up to 2TB. However, the slate can only detect hard-disks that have external power supply and not portable drives. The same USB host port also gives you an option to attach peripherals like a keyboard or mouse along with USB data dongles (the vendor claims support for up to 278 dongles). As mentioned earlier, the other micro-USB port can be used for transferring data between your computer and the M8 PRO. The slate also has a mini-HDMI port that allows you to enjoy the device on a large screen. There’s no dearth of wireless connectivity options too including support for 3G data (via a regular-sized SIM card), Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth and GPS. It also offers a wireless mirroring feature for beaming its display on to a TV.

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The vendor has cleverly packaged the slate in a sturdy, yet slim plywood-based box. All the accessories including the charger, earphones, USB and USB OTG are packed separately. The package doubles up as a protective cover for the tablet that can be easily carried around.

Verdict

The Milagrow M8 PRO was originally launched at the price of Rs 25,000, however, it’s now available under Rs 20,000. At the price-point, the slate is a worthy and powerful Android tablet featuring a large screen. All the other options such as the iBall Slide 3G 9728 are mid-range offerings with average specs.

However, what the vendor got right with the pricing and hardware, fell slightly short courtesy poorly-optimised software. On the surface, the UI looks very pleasing, but is prone to freezing and other quirks. Hopefully, these issues could be solved with an update.

Editor’s rating: 8 / 10

Pros

  • Ergonomic design
  • Connectivity options
  • Easy-to-use UI

Cons

  • Buggy software 
  • Average camera

Specs at a glance

Dimensions 240x172x10mm
Weight 510g
Display 9.4-inch
Display resolution 1,024 x 600 pixels,
Processor 1.6GHz quad-core
RAM 2GB
Primary camera 5-megapixel with LED flash
Secondary camera 2MP
Internal memory 16GB
External memory up to 64GB via a microsD card
Network support 2G / 3G
Connectivity Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth
Battery 6,500 mAh
Operating system Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean



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