Review Score: 4 out of 5
Microsoft’s Surface has has seen a number of twists and turns in its young life, but two constants have been the presence of add-on magnetically attached keyboard covers and the unsurprising presence of Windows (and now, proper Windows in the Surface 3). Indeed, the Surface was always intended to be a showcase for Windows. But what if there was a Surface that didn’t run Windows?
That seems to be much of the idea behind the Remix Ultatablet, an Android tablet that has a strong resemblance to the Surface 2, such as an integrated multi-position kickstand (complete with microSD slot underneath) and a magnetically attaching keyboard cover. It’s missing a few niceties of the Surface 3. These include the ability for the top of the keyboard to magnetically attach to the base of the tablet, providing better stability and a kickstand that has a fluid range of angles. And while the Surface devices have a full-size USB port, the Ultratablet’s is a USB-on-the-Go connector requiring an adapter. On the other hand, Jide Tech includes the keyboard, which is a $129 add-on for the Surface. The tablet’s 11.6″ display lies between the current Surface 3 and Surface 3 Pro.
While the Ultratablet is a solidly built device, its polish isn’t quite up to that of the Surface Its magnetic power connector, for example, isn’t quite as sleek. Its AC adapter is rather large and lacks fold-in prongs. And its kickstand exhibits more give when opening and closing than the solid Surface’s. If you hold the tablet with the keyboard dangling, it’s apt to fall off; that’s not so for the Surface. However, the keyboard itself was comfortable and the trackpad — while small as was the case for smaller Surface devices — works fine. As the Ultratablet supports Bluetooth, a mouse can improve the experience.
The Ultratablet’s Surface illusion goes deeper than the hardware. The device runs a variant of Android that the company has dubbed Remix OS. In a nutshell, it’s about trying to make Android’s user interface as much like Windows’ as possible. Some of the major changes include a taskbar and removing widgets. A recent update brought a simple Start menu that essentially lists all apps installed. For those experienced with both Android and Windows, it can be a little confusing using something that’s in the middle. For example, there’s little support for right-clicking and files (in general) don’t show up on the desktop.
As has been noted in other attempts to make an Android laptops, several Android programs, particularly those written for phones, don’t run in a landscape orientation. Remix OS has a workaround, which is to allow those apps to run in “phone mode” — a movable window that displays the app as it might look on a phone. It’s a decent workaround particularly for, say, music apps, but the app must be restarted in order to switch between native and phone mode. Unlike in Windows, there’s no way to resize an app’s window.
The Ultratablet ran everything that was thrown at it with good performance; the tablet also has long battery life. Its camera was disappointing and didn’t focus well, but that’s par for the course in many tablets. Android is becoming a more productive OS. One part of this is due to Microsoft making its Office 365 apps available there. Since the Ultratablet campaign,though, Windows has gotten better (if not touch-friendlier) with the release of the Windows 10, and those looking for an inexpensive Surface tablet with good battery life and broad Windows compatibility can pick up the Surface 3 for $499 excluding the keyboard.
The Ultratablet is clearly not for those who want a pure Android experience, but those who like the concept of Surface but want access to more touch-enabled apps. It lacks the design panache of big tablets from Dell and Lenovo. But at $399 with the keyboard (virtually a necessity for Surface), it’s a good value.