This is part one of an 3 part mini review of the Eken M001 tablet, from a tinkerer’s perspective.

  • Part One: Review of the M001 as a tablet.
  • Part Two: Teardown & serial console.
  • Part Three: The M001 board as an embedded computer for robotics.
    (Robotics plan aborted due to poor build quality & insufficient vendor support, see below.)

What is it?

It’s a sub-$100 tablet computer running Android, with a 7 inch touchscreen and 2Gb of onboard storage.

Eken on my desk

There are a few other cheap models with the same chipset, like the M003 (bigger 8″ screen) and a netbook form factor model.

Summary

You get what you pay for.

Longer Summary

If you want an iPad, but don’t want to spend the cash. Don’t buy this. It’s not in the same league as devices like the iPad

If you want a “tablet device”, just not an iPad because you’re ideologically or tribally opposed to Apple, or you’re sure you need something that the iPad doesn’t do. Don’t buy this either. You’ll be underwhelmed, and eventually it’ll end up gathering dust on a shelf while you look to the next big iPad killer.

If you want a digital photo frame, a clumsy furless chumby, a mediocre tethered video player, or an ebook reader that works in the dark for limited periods. This might prove OK for your needs.

If you just want something to tinker with, then this is a good cheap gizmo to tinker with.

Eken in the dark

The Good

Price. $99 including shipping anywhere in the world. ‘Nuff said.

LCD. It’s actually pretty good for a cheap LCD display, especially if you’re in low light.

Performance. Pretty good in general, UI is responsive and snappy. Better than an iPhone 2G, similar to a 3GS. Some performance tasks (like video playback, depending on codec & resolution) are a bit limited by the CPU, though.

Community. A small community is forming around the M001. They have already come up with some software improvements. Unfortunately, they are limited by poor vendor support (see below.)

The Bad

Touchscreen. It’s resistive, so it’s never going to be much good for finger presses. My unit has major problems with mis-touches (wrong buttons being pressed) and identifying the difference between a tap and a swipe. Using a stylus didn’t really help, either. I think this might be solvable in software though, with better debouncing in the touchscreen driver.

Build quality. It isn’t going to fall apart immediately, but it’s not built to last. In particular, things like the LEDs are just cheap and nasty – one of the 3 indicator LEDs is enough to light up all 3 recesses, and the area around it.

In indoor lighting, it makes the LEDs really hard to read (only one is on in this shot!):
LEDs

In darkness, the whole thing glows:
Glowing M001

Fake chrome around the LCD. What were they thinking? Looks good in promo shots, means you have a reflection of your face any time you use the device in bright light. Really bad usability choice.

Battery Life. Seems like 2-3 hours is the norm, and the battery runs down at almost the same rate when the device is idle compared to when it is in use. Probably a driver problem, but whether it can/will be fixed is up in the air.

Accelerometer. Way too sensitive, the tablet flips orientation at any chance – including just when laid down on a table. Another driver sensitivity issue, I’m guessing.

Android 1.6. Lack of 3D acceleration, and only 128Mb of RAM, give the general opinion that Android 1.6 will be the last version that runs well on this device. That said, noone has actually run 2.x on it yet.

Bad vendor support. Eken haven’t released any of the GPL sources that they’re required to release. Not only is this in violation of the license, it prevents community members from working together to improve the software and the device performance. If I had to pick one thing that limits the potential for the M001, this would be it.

I think in this market a vendor who really nurtured open source development, and swiftly incorporated improvements back into the official software updates, would find a real competitive advantage – the product would still be cheap, but the software and driver layers would be less buggy and restrictive.

Conclusion

I didn’t buy this as a tablet (I bought it for a robot platform), so maybe I’m not the best person to review it as a tablet. However, I can’t see myself ever reaching for the M001 to perform anything but the simplest of tasks – watching a video I’d already loaded on it, for example.

My prediction is that in 3 months, pending some amazing community software developments, many of the models sold to date will be gathering dust in a corner.

26 thoughts on “Eken M001 Android tablet review (Pt 1)

  1. Me and my partner are trying to do the similar type of project that you are doing. We are using the Eken M100 to perform serial communication on its USB port connected to a USB-RS485 converter then to RS485 Device, to send a data in a protocol called “Modbus RTU” just to send commands. If you have any suggestion on how to serial communication since Android does not support it (that what pages on the internet say) please contact me at mastermk7@yahoo.com.

  2. Hi James,

    That’s probably the best way to go. There is an on-board 3.3v serial port (J17 on the back of the main board), but it’s hooked up as the boot console and then a root console tty.

    You could presumably edit inittab (or whatever Android has) to change it to a general purpose serial port once it boots, but it’s probably not worth the effort.

    Not sure which part Android doesn’t support. If it doesn’t have kernel modules for USB< ->Serial adapters then you should be able to compile one against the 2.6.29 kernel headers, at least in theory. Depending on what type of application you want to run will depend on whether that’s enough support for you or not, I guess.

    My M001 is dead now anyhow, so my tinkering may have come to an abrupt end!

    – Angus

  3. Hi Angus,
    Recently i had broken digitizer of M001, hunting for spare part… are you able to donate to me ?

  4. Thanks for the info and sorry that your M001 has dead. We are trying out some custom kernels for Android for USB port but I do not want to take it apart the M001. Maybe we will get lucky and good luck on your project.

  5. Shiki: Unfortunately for you, it came good again for now. I think there’s a cold solder joint somewhere on the board. Sorry about that.

    James: Good luck. If you have any more specific questions then I might be able to help you out. You may not need a full kernel, just try to find the right modules compiled against the Android-ARM 2.6.29 kernel.

  6. Awesome review!
    Been eyeing this little engine that could as replacement for my car-pc since it’s small and the 7″ form factor will fit perfectly into any double din. After playing around with your m001 could you imagine this replacing your car stereo, provided a decent front-end can be developed? Which brings me to another question, I realize Android Market can’t be accessed on this device however does that also mean Android apps I have personally developed for 1.6 also can’t be installed? Not having Android market is somewhat of a deal breaker however not being able to develop apps on it is the straw that broke the droids back.

  7. Hi Adam,

    I honestly don’t think I’d really recommend it for a car. The viewing angle isn’t great and the touchscreen (at least mine) misses presses and mispresses occasionally, so I think it’d wind up being more of a frustration than a useful addition, depending on how often you were interacting with it.

    You can install apps though, anything in a .apk package (that you either download or install) should be able to go on there.

    Hth.

    – Angus

  8. Yea..reading the reviews and watching some videos I got a feeling the touch screen is not very responsive.

    Thanks again for the response!

  9. I have a EKEN M001, which will not unlock the screen by pressing MENU.

    I have tried reseting the EKEN M001 by pressing the Reset button on the back ofthe MID, but te screen stays unlocked.

    The top of the screen says: “Demo Version” when the GUI appears, does this need a Operating System update. If so, hpw can this be done.

    Derek

  10. Hallo all,
    Since you guys seem to be much more involved than I will ever be with the M001, and since Slatedroid is suspended maybe you can help me.
    I have a faulty touchscreen after a reset by me through the standard software. Only the small house at the left top of the (horizontal) display lights up yellow, regardless of where I touch the screen. To give you a clue to my abilities, I could solder the RS232 port to J17 if neccesery. If it is too much of topic you are of course free to remove this post entirely.
    Hoping to get some help, with kind regards Gerrit Volgers

  11. Hi Gerrit,

    The symptoms you describe mean the touchscreen hasn’t calibrated correctly, as per the /etc/touchcal file that the custom Android loads calibration data from at startup.

    I’m assuming you reset using software that matches your hardware, in which case I’m not sure why this would happen. If you try removing the touchcal file then it may regenerate it when it restarts, I think…

    Slatedroid is back up so they might have a better answer.

    Cheers,

    Angus

    PS FWIW, the serial port @J17 isn’t actually RS232, it’s LVTTL (3.3v) serial.

  12. Hallo Angus,

    I reset with the original software, it seems to me also a callibration problem. If I go to slatedroid.com it stil says: This account has be suspended, has it moved somewhere else?

    Thanks
    Gerrit

  13. That’s odd, slatedroid.com is working for me. If you can, maybe try deleting (or, to be safe, renaming) /etc/touchcal and restarting your tablet – see if it regenerates a correct configuration.

  14. Hey guys

    I may sound a bit dim, but …. how do I get my tablet to connect to my PC and would I need any drivers for this?

    Cheers

  15. I think if you plug in an iPhone sync cable then you can access it as a USB mass storage device, no drivers necessary, but I’ve never actually tried.

    Probably best off asking on slatedroid.com for a definite answer.

  16. I was quite happy ith my M001, that I consider a good and cheap device for internet browser and e-book reader.
    Unfortunately I was having some problems with the files manager and decide to restore the factory settings. After that I loose most part of the apps installed but the worth is that I believe the touch screen loose its calibration and I can´t do anything now. All screen touches are registered by the device in the left upeer corner of the screen. As it doesn’t have any other button to select the commands and ask for a touchscreen calibration, for example, I can´t do anything.
    Any idea of what should I do? Please help me…

  17. my unit starts up and when at the home screen, it is frozen and only says” the application BootReceiever (process com.wmt.BootRrceiver) has stopped unexpectedly. please try ahain.” can anyone help please…..

  18. Not really a comment on the article but a question for you experts. How do you connect to a USB plug? Mine, s/h, has a thin slot called U disk. Is there an adapter that fits into it? Thanks

  19. Hi, hoping you can help, got M-001 and have had no problems, maybe a little tooo sensitive on ‘scrolling’ but managable. Started it up and it has frozen on the main startup screen – little man with details in bottom right corner but ‘loading strip’ doesn’t appear, tried force closing and resetting but will not go past this when turn back on, have to force close now as can’t do anything else with it – can anyone suggest something or should I just bin it!? Cheers x

  20. THANK YOU! I’ve looked all over, tryin to find out if this thing had a capacitive screen or not! I’ve alredy bought it, but I only need it to be able to handle email, facebook, web, etc, around the house, so sounds like it’ll do.

  21. I bought one last year. The touch screen is hard to use. The adapter plug did not work and was replaced. It is slow. Now less than a year later, the whole thing won’t charge at all so I can’t use it; can’t even turn it on My last comment is it cheap Chinese rubbish and at even less than $100, it still represents poor value.

  22. To get the OEM software just goto eken’s homepage. They have support and downloads. I was abled to get my M001 Model 2 up and running with the software provided there.

    As far as usb I understand that an ipod cable will work (30 pin to usb) but haven’t tried it yet.

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