[Review] D2Pad D2-711


Feb 21, 2013
The D2-711 from D2pad made a minor splash on YouTube during the latter part of 2012, thanks to it appearing at places like BigLots, the popular US discount/overstock retail chain. Intrigued and curious about this device (and also wanting to play with a cheap Android tablet for a while), I was even more curious when I realized that more than a few electronics stores in my area were selling them – and a friend had just happened to buy one. As an iPad mini-toting iOS and Mac OS X veteran, I wanted to dip in and see what all of the fuss was about, and whether or not it could actually be useful for me. I've briefly demoed Android tablets before, like the Kobo Arc (which I'll be referring to a lot in this review), and I've used a couple of Android smartphones, but up until now I'd never spent any serious amount of time with an Android 4.0 tablet. Now was as good at time as any...

Overall User Experience
The first thing that jumped out at me during the unboxing process was the clear warning to not take up any problems with this unit with the retailer, marked with a large "STOP" sign. Instead, users are encouraged to actually go back to D2 (whose parent company is Diablotek, from what I gather). While I've heard that D2's actual customer support is nearly non-existent, I do get some reassurance that this tablet actually came from somewhere, as opposed to being seemingly out of thin air (as is the case with a lot of other budget tablets). D2's pack-ins are downright generous when compared with those seen in the the Kobo Arc, another tablet I've unboxed; not only do you get a manual and user's guide, but you also get a charger (which uses a very narrow 5V cylindrical plug, of a size I haven't seen before), a USB OTG cable, and a Micro USB to full USB cable. Thanks, guys. At least Kobo could have had the decency to include a Micro USB cable; what a bunch of cheapskates...

The D2-711 comes with a whole host of apps that make it somewhat clear who and what this tablet is aimed for; games, eBooks and other such accoutrements are kid-themed, but aside from that the general tablet experience is bog-standard Android 4.0 ICS. For the bigger kids, D2 was kind enough to include actually useful apps like Dropbox. One of the biggest software deficiencies of the D2-711 is its lack of native Google Play support. Instead, you get some of the other, lesser-known alternatives that are commonly seen on tablets of this class; the 1Mobile Market, and the Amazon App Store. The former seems to be a passable clone of the Google Play store, with layouts and overal visual structure very similar to Google's app store; the difference of course is that app download counts and user ratings are much lower than would be expected on Google Play, and comments left on apps are odd, bewildering jumbles of letters in English, Chinese, or Cyrillic. For what it says it's supposed to do, though, it works, which I suppose is better than the alternative.

According to what I've heard, you can sideload Google Play, but it doesn't seem to work very well. Thankfully, most of the major apps that come highly recommended on Google Play are on 1Mobile Market. Worth noting though are the high amount of scam apps, trojans/malware, and fake apps on the 1Mobile Market catalogue. Caveat Emptor. As for the Amazon App Store, it was a non-starter. Since I'm a non-US resident, all it could do was taunt me by saying that I didn't live within Amazon's little bubble, and therefore couldn't download any apps from it. Ugh. It's thanks to Amazon's restrictions that the Kindle Fire HD didn't kick the crap out of the Kobo Arc in the Canadian and UK markets, where the Arc has enjoyed some level of success.

Expandability comes from a Micros SD card slot with up to 32 GB Micro SD HC card support; something which seems to have eluded even more mainstream tablets like the Arc. There's no rear camera or Bluetooth, but USB OTG is supported, and there is a front-facing camera, at the laughable resolution of 0.3 MP. It works, but the question I am left with is, "Would I even want it to?". The capacitive touch screen works as advertised, though it is a little laggy at times.

There isn't much to say about the battery on the D2-711, except that it's awful. Then again, what would you expect for a sub-$100 tablet, right? A typical usage pattern for my tablet experience would involve occasional on-again/off-again use, for tasks like listening to music/podcasts, reading books/cached RSS feeds, and some light web usage; under those conditions the D2-711's paltry 3000 mAh battery lasted me for most of a day, but for anything more than that, the battery life plummeted. Curiously enough, charging is apparently intended to be done through the aforementioned 5V adapter, though it can charge over USB from a powered connection; on a powered 5-port USB 2.0 hub, the D2-711 charged just as it did over its wall adaptor.

Build Quality
The D2-711's exterior shell appears to be a singular plastic piece that runs right up to the front of the display bezel (with the exception of the bottom surface where the ports are; there are no obvious, extraneous seams on the sides, like on some tablets such as the Kobo Arc. It appears to be made up of hard ABS plastic, and it can withstand a surprising amount of torsional flex; giving the unit a mild amount of flex doesn't cause any creaking of plastic, as was common on older budget tablets. The shell itself has been given a mild rubberized plastic coating that feels pleasant to the touch. It's just the right amount of grippiness that's neither too aggressive nor too slippery. It feels just right, and it contributes to the sensation that this is the kind of device you want to come back to again and again. When taken together with the bright pink, blue, and while color options that that are featured in in the 711, it also, in a way, makes the device feel somewhat toy-like (again, a further connection to this tablet being clearly aimed at families). This leads to an interesting paradoxical feeling, in that the 711's heft and solidity can lead one to believe that this is tablet intended for "adult" use, while at the same time screaming out "give me to a little kid" with its bright colors and rubberized finish. It makes me actually wonder if this thing has a bunch of weights put into it to artificially boost its percieved heftiness. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I've seen that happen.

The coloration is also surprising as well. I haven't seen the black, white, or pink units, but the blue finish on this particular unit appears to look actually quite warm and vivid to my eyes, reminding me of a lighter shade of indigo. I'd have expected that the colour would look nothing like the color on the box, or in YouTube review videos, being either wildly off, or an anemic, washed out ghost of someone's drunken imagining of "blue". If you do decide to purchase one, I'd recommend getting a blue unit, as it's very unique compared to most other Chinese budget Android tablets on the market.

The speaker port is in the back, as is the Micro SD card slot, sunken into a recessed cavity on the bottom surface. There actually is a small plastic seam just in front of the card slot that can make inserting and removing Micro SD cards a little fiddly; bear that in mind when you decide to replace or swap out a card.

The 1 Ghz single-core Allwinner A13 (which has been quoted on some websites as being a 1.2 Ghz CPU) has been criticized for its lacklustre performance, with performance deficiencies most apparent when multitasking, and I'm inclined to agree. Out of the box, the D2-711 was decently responsive and worked somewhat well for the most part...but I soon found the D2-711 highly laggy and stutter-filled after attempting to load it up with apps that would have made it immediately useful to me, like Google Maps. It was then that I realized that this was because while I was trying to load up my webpages and do my email, the system had a glut of apps running processes in the background, sucking up valuable RAM and battery life. I eventually ameliorated these problems by trying to switch to as many slimmed down apps as I could, using replacements like Lightning Launcher and MultiLing Keyboard to cut down as much as I could on memory usage. With some careful and judicious management of my app usage patterns, I brought up responsiveness to a decent level, but the tablet still chugs horribly when going through tasks such as installing apps, or rendering complicated web pages with animated gifs and large background graphics. Switching to Boat Browser and Dolphin Browser helped, but software tweaks can only go so far to overcome hardware limitations. It's difficult for me to say just where along the chain the blame lies for the performance issues I've encountered; is it the level of software optimization in ICS? Is it the A13 itself? Or is it the paltry 512 MB of onboard memory?

Thanks to some time spent researching lightweight apps for tasks like podcasts, music, web browsing and launching apps (and some time spent disabling things like UI animations), the D2-711 has actually become that I could envision as being a potentially useful device for me. For light web usage and email, or for people who wouldn't see themselves juggling multiple apps at a time, this tablet would be adequate (and I stress the word "adequate"), but for anything beyond that, I'd warn anyone to watch out for abrupt hangs and severe speed drops. At the end of the day, the D2-711's AnTuTu score of 3293 (slower than the two-year old Samsung Galaxy S) speaks for itself. By comparison, the Kobo Arc, which has a dual-core TI OMAP 4470 at 1.5 Ghz, scored well over 15,000.

Overall, for the price, the D2-711 isn't a bad tablet. If you purchase one being fully aware of its limitations, then it could make for a passable web tablet or multifunction eReader (Aldiko, Amazon's and Kobo's ereader apps are available on the 1Mobile Market store). For smaller kids, it's actually a pleasant alternative to the scary possibilities that could result from handing a child a $500 iPad or $400 iPad mini.

Beyond that, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Android 4 is a far superior OS to the aging Froyo installations that were once commonplace on budget tablets, and the market has seen a proliferation of faster and more modern ARM CPUs coming out of Chinese companies like Allwinner, Rockchip, Amlogic, Actions, and Mediatek. Already it seems like Jelly Bean and dual-core chips are starting to spread; according to Amazon, D2 has apparently started shipping two successors to the D2-711; the D2-712 – which is identical in specs to the D2-711 save for Jelly Bean – and the D2-721, which has both Jelly Bean, 1 GB of RAM, and a Rockchip dual-core CPU. Despite these achievements, poor battery life and disappointing performance are still an issue. And that's not ignoring the potential issues with the lifespans of these units. How long will they live until the battery breathes its last, or the motherboard components die off? (Already I've noticed some unreliability in this unit's WiFi.) But in the end, we're still talking about units that are a fraction of a fraction of the cost of the mainstream big players. With the D2-711, one local retailer in my area has slashed prices down to an unprecedented $69 (as of this writing), a price even lower than online retailers. At these prices, it's almost unreasonable to expect anything out of this product beyond a glowing screen that turns on and displays web pages and email. However, it's also unreasonable to make excuses for objectively lacklustre hardware.

If all you really need is a bargain-basement device for light web use, or a device that you wouldn't mind getting beat on by a small, tech-ready child, the D2-711 is a decent choice. It's even a good choice for people like myself who are new to the modern Android experience and would like something to tinker, and play with. Beyond that though, all bets are off.
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So thanks to a disgruntled friend who wanted a better tablet, I found myself in possession of the successor of the D2-711, D2pad's D2-712. As the model number might lead you to believe, not much has changed. It's the same set of colours. It's the same borderline-anemic 1Ghz Allwinner A13 with 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage, and the same low-res 800 x 480 display that's liable to give you eyestrain if you ratchet the brightness down too much (as I did with Screen Adjuster, to save on battery). The only thing that's at first glance different is that it packs Android Jelly Bean 4.1.1 as standard. The D2-712 scores 3597 on AnTuTu, which is roughly a measily 9% performance delta over the D2-711, which is to be expected since the 712's innards are identical to those of the 711. I'll likely try doing a more rigorous analysis later to get a better feel for how this benchmarks.

The much hyped Project Butter made its debut with Jelly Bean, so I was wondering if there was any noticeable difference in overall UI performance and responsiveness; noting that this is highly subjective, I'll step on a limb and say that the UI feels a little more snapper and responsive than it did on the 711; menus, icons and transitions seemed to be noticeably faster and smoother than they did on the 711 (again, I can't say if the difference is really significant). For hackers and tinkerers, the 712 is sadly not rooted out of the box, unlike its predecessor. I haven't seen any ROMs for the 712 (or 711 units made in 2013, for that matter), so I don't know how easy or likely it will be that people can do things like sideload Google Play or install custom ROMs on it.

Overall, my general thoughts and (guarded) recommendations for this device haven't changed that much. I've seen the D2-711 offered at prices either equal to or up to $30 less in my area, and if the price is right, I'd recommend going with the 711 as it comes rooted out of the box making things like potentially sideloading Google Play much easier.

Depending on where you live, however, you may be able to find tablets with far superior specs for almost the same price. The same store where I originally got my D2-711 (and later saw slashed it down to $69) is now selling the Avatar Sirius 7" for $80 – a 7" tablet with 1 GB RAM, 1024 x 600 resolution, a 1 Ghz Cortex A9-derived RK2928, and Jelly Bean, with HDMI out. Sure, it's not rooted out of the box, but that surely is a far better value than the D2-711 at $69.

This finally leads me to the most disappointing aspect of the D2-712; it's not the D2-721, which is another successor to the D2-711. Its specs are almost identical to the Avatar Sirius 7" (except that it doesn't have HDMI out). Apparently, D2pad has partnered up with Big Lots to be its exclusive launch partner for the D2-721, which is too bad, because with the 721, the 712 is unnecessary. Oh well.
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