Ainol Novo 7 Flame/Fire Review

Ainol Next To Nexus 7
Nexus 7 and Ainol Novo 7 Flame/Fire

So here’s my Ainol Novo 7 Flame/Fire review. Warning, it’s long. If you’re over 65 don’t bother you’ll be gone before you reach the end.

First a run down of features:
AMLogic AML8726-MX Dual Core Arm Cortex A9 at 1.5Ghz
Mali 400 GPU
16GB Storage
1280×800 Super IPS display
2MP Front Camera
5MP Rear Camera
Mini HDMI port
MicroSD card slot
Micro USB port
Headphone Jack
Power connector for fast wall charging
5000mAH battery(non-user replaceable)

I’m going to do a lot of comparison to the Nexus 7 as that is the tablet I currently own and is among one of the most popular. So if you love something else…buy a Novo 7 Flame and do your own review. Pics of and from the device can be found here.

Well lets jump in shall we? The device is very presentable. It’s got a nice brushed aluminum back and the tablet standard black plastic bezel around the screen. It appears to be designed to be used primarily in landscape mode because it has a top(landscape) or right(portrait) orientation for both the front and rear cameras. So basically to ensure you are right side up during hangouts you will have to use the tablet in landscape orientation. Over all the build quality feels solid. The tablet has a little bit of heft to it which much like an ipad makes it feel like a solid quality product. However it is not enough weight to make it uncomfortable to use. In fact if you look at the dimensions below you’ll see the Novo 7 Flame is actually slightly lighter than the Nexus 7. There are 3ish buttons, also situated on the top/left side, that consist of a power button, rocker buttons for volume up/down and another separate physical home button. The screen is the exact same size as the Nexus 7 but the physical dimensions are a little different. The Ainol seems to go with equal bezel on all sides which makes it a little shorter than the Nexus 7 and just a slight bit wider. It takes on a nearly 4:3 ratio despite the screen. It appears from even a short distance that the tablet is thicker but when you set them side by side the difference is almost indistinguishable with the Novo 7 Flame being just a touch thicker. Lets throw down those numbers for reference.

Novo 7 Flame/Fire H186.6 x W126.93 x D10.6mm – 336g
Nexus 7 H198.5mm x W120mm x D10.45mm – 340g

The screen is as sharp and bright as the Nexus 7 and if you never looked at them side by side you wouldn’t know the difference. When you do place them side by side the Nexus 7 looks a little richer. It’s hard to put your finger on it and it may simply be a color setting you can change to get the exact same richness. I was rather shocked to find there was very little difference since the Nexus 7 is probably one of the better screens I’ve seen in a while. The viewing angle is stated at 180 degrees which means you won’t be missing anything when viewing at an angle. For those watching questionable material be wary. I apologize for such a short statement about the screen but there isn’t much to say. If you’ve seen the Nexus 7 then you’ve seen this screen.

Performance wise there is only the slightest difference in noticeable performance and this may well be caused by the fact that this tablet comes with Ice Cream Sandwich(4.0.4) instead of Jelly Bean. Having used JB on both my Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7 for so long it really makes the little hitches in previous versions of Android that much more noticeable. If you are coming from Gingerbread or some other ICS device then this device is about as slick and fast as they get. I’m going to expand a bit more on the software shortly. I’ve run general OS navigation, browsing and a few games and so far it hasn’t skipped a performance beat. The most intensive things I’ve run were the games of course. Rayman Jungle Run to see how 2D handled and Mass Effect Infiltrator to give the GPU a little bit of a push. Both were silky smooth. There was however one slight glitch in the matrix when it came to running intensive games. The SOC must be situated on the left side of the device in landscape or the top of the device in portrait and the SOC being passively cooled is generating a bit of heat inside that shiny metal case. While it wasn’t enough heat to be directly uncomfortable it is possible that longer play sessions could lead to some uncomfortably sweaty hands. I guess this is where having a sixaxis controller and hooking the thing up via HDMI is the solution. I also think if you pick up a case you won’t even notice this as an issue. Ainol offers several case options and there are a few other manufacturers out there offering cases for this specific device.

The Novo 7 only has a single speaker located bottom right if you are holding it in landscape. It isn’t producing anything amazing but it’s no slouch either. It’s a bit quieter at max volume than the Nexus 7 but the audio seems clear and is as good as one can expect from such a small device. Max volume through the headphone jack was rather loud on my Skullcandy Hesh 2’s. I had to turn it down to approx 2/3 volume to have a comfortably loud listening experience. Sound quality was over all quite clear. Bass was not super deep but it wasn’t entirely absent as most low cost devices tend to be nor was treble screeching or tinny. Not being an audiophile I find absolutely nothing wrong with this listening experience.

The cameras are actually pretty decent. I haven’t had a chance to take low light pictures yet but the 5MP camera has turned out some pretty nice images. They are free from the usual sort of noise you get in low quality sensors and the color captured looks to be spot on with the actual color in the scene. It’s only down fall thus far seems to be it’s lack of a lagless shutter. I’m not Android dev or photography expert so I wager some of that is achieved through software so perhaps a 3rd party app will perform better or an upgrade to Jelly Bean will have some bearing on the situation. All around it seems to be a fairly nice rear camera. There isn’t much to say about the front camera. It serves it’s purpose and like most everything else on this device is not the cheap crap you would expect from such a cheap device.

Finally the software. First there is something to know about naming and the software. There are two devices that Ainol makes. The Novo 7 Flame and the Novo 7 Fire. Both devices are virtually identical. Apparently there are some small differences in the touch screens used(and thus a driver difference) but beyond that the difference is entirely software. The Flame model comes in a black box and has all English software installed(tm at the end of the build number). The Fire comes in a white box and is defaulted to Chinese(qm at the end of the build number). For what ever reason most of the sites that sell the device list the device with both names and may or may not have accurate product images so if you want to purchase one make sure you know what you are getting. I made the mistake of getting a Fire(qm) so every time I flash stock I have to guess my way in settings to change the language to English and then file browse to remove the Chinese regionalized apps that are rolled in to the rom.

As mentioned above the tablet comes sporting Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.4. One of the great things about the software is that it comes rooted right out of the box. Ainol has not tried to lock this device down in the least bit nor have they modified it. While it comes with a standard recovery that looks for signed roms there is nothing stopping you from installing and running CWM or root requiring apps. I am still left pining for Jelly Bean but ICS is perfectly bearable with a quick install of Apex launcher or your launcher of choice.

As Ainol didn’t seem to spend to much time modifying anything in ICS you’ll also find things are a little small when you first get the tablet. This is because they didn’t adjust the DPI setting to account for such a high resolution on such a small screen. On the Nexus 7 this has been done for you. You can fix this yourself by simply installing “DPI Changer” in the market and setting it to custom and 213 DPI to match the Nexus 7’s DPI setting. Or if you’re hardcore you can edit your build.prop yourself.

The only catch on the software side is that the stock rom seems to be missing some of the DRM software that a standard install of Android would come with. This means that apps like Netflix and Hulu don’t seem to work. While I’m sure this seems like a deal breaker I’m reasonably sure there are APKs for both apps out there that have had this requirement disabled so with a little googling you should be able to work around it. There also seem to be a few roms available that may have proper support included but I haven’t had time to give those a go.

Other than a little Jelly Bean envy and a few apps that don’t work due to lack of icky DRM the software situation is ideal. This is how Android devices should come.

Over all it’s an incredible device for the price. While it takes a hit on the processor side(far faster than a tegra 2 and a bit shy of a quad core tegra 3) the rest of the specs and extra features make it a formidable alternative to the Nexus 7. The openness of the software should be a big boon to any would be Android devs and maybe even enticing to the hardcore. There is currently an effort under way to bring Jelly Bean over from one of Ainol’s other devices that they provide official Jelly Bean support for but it’s not quite polished yet. All in all I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to save yourself some clams and get this over a Nexus 7 if you can live with out Jelly Bean for a while. If you asked me for a 1 to 10 with 10 being orgasmic I’d give this a solid 7.8.

I didn’t have a miniHDMI to HDMI converter on hand to test the video output performance but when I get a hold of one I’ll be sure to post about it. I also have some pictures of the device along side a Nexus 7 that I will post and link back to this post shortly.