Editors' note: On October 31, 2011, Velocity Micro provided a firmware update for the Cruz T408 and T410 tablets as an optional download on its Web site. The following review reflects this update.
The tablet wars of 2011 were waged on two fronts. You had the well-funded heavyweights assaulting the iPad with equally ambitious and expensive creations. At the same time, you had budget-minded manufacturers trying desperately to create a viable, cheap tablet alternative.
The Velocity Micro Cruz T408 is the result of the latter battle. In 2011, Velocity Micro launched no fewer than six low-priced tablets, running the gamut from $119 resistive-screen clunkers like the Cruz R100 all the way up to the $299 10-inch Cruz T410.
Whether marketed as e-book reader or Android tablet, the recipe for any of these Velocity Micro Cruz tablets can be boiled down to inexpensive hardware matched with a heavily customized version of Android software devoid of the official Google niceties, such as the Android Market, Gmail, and Google Books, Maps, and Navigation.
To fill the software gap, Velocity Micro preinstalls an alternative app storefront (in this case Amazon Appstore for Android) and a handful of games and other apps, such as Angry Birds, Amazon Kindle, and Quickoffice. It's a bit of a kludge, requiring multiple account configurations instead of the one-stop sign-in of a Kindle Fire, iPad, or full-fledged Android tablet. The end result, though, is a device with more customization options and hardware features than low-cost competitors, at a substantially lower price than a high-end tablet.
So what's the catch? Well, I could point out the paltry 4GB of storage (2.5GB of it usable), the thick, heavy design, or the unimpressive battery life, but it's the screen quality that makes this tablet difficult to recommend to any user. No software update or Android rooting can change the fact that the T408's 800x600-pixel-resolution screen looks like a bad joke compared with the IPS screen of a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet. Its viewing angles are poor, the pixel density is low to the point of appearing blurry, and the backlight's maximum brightness is barely adequate.