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OnePlus Pad proves that with a bit of thought, Android tabs can be made usable

Even after years of trying, Android tablets have been miserable at creating an entertainment hub or a mobile computing device, one that could perhaps be a viable alternative to the Apple iPad and Windows PCs. Some brands have tried harder than the others, but the one common factor across all attempts – Google’s lack of intent on making an Android device that’s made specifically for the tablet use cases. Hence, none has worked in entirety. With that as the backdrop, OnePlus’ job becomes even more difficult.

OnePlus has done what they could for Android tablets, now Google must pick up the pace. (HT Photo)
OnePlus has done what they could for Android tablets, now Google must pick up the pace. (HT Photo)

The OnePlus Pad is the company’s first attempt at a tablet. This, after years of doing well in the smartphone space consistently as bestsellers in the premium Android phone space. The OnePlus Pad in the 8GB RAM and 128GB storage configuration is priced at 37,999, while the 12GB + 256GB variant costs 39,999. We would certainly recommend the latter, the better specs helping with the longevity aspect.

On the pricing front, this sits very close to the 10th generation iPad, albeit still retains a price advantage (the iPad range starts around 44,900). Within the Android tablet space, OnePlus Pad does obliterate Samsung’s perceived dominance – last year’s Galaxy Tab S8 prices start around 58,999 and the cost gets significantly higher once you get into the Tab S8+ range, with cellular data connectivity adding to the cost.

Now you can get a genuinely powerful (and therefore future proof) Android tablet for well under 50,000, complete with the keyboard, without having to pay the sort of premium Samsung’s tabs demand. There’s a second part to that comparative chapter.

If you intend to complete the laptop replacement bit, OnePlus has the keyboard cover for 7,999. Samsung’s keyboard accessories for the Tab S8+ costs around 12,499 while the one for the Tab S8 Ultra is priced around 22,999. At the time of writing this (and indeed long before that too), the keyboard accessory for the Tab S8 has been marked as out of stock.

First things first, if you’ve bought a new OnePlus Pad, we’d recommend you immediately check for a software update (that’s the EX01) which brings in certain system and stability improvements – the 4.9GB size should give you a fair idea of how important this is.

But even then, and we’ll stick with this point for a moment, there are still tweaks needed to iron out the rougher edges. For instance, the ability to wake up the screen and subsequently unlock it from the keyboard, sometimes works and often doesn’t. In case of the latter, you’ll have to swipe on the display. Another example is the three fingers swipe up gesture, which is erratic with some apps.

That’s before you get to the good bits, of which there are many. The OnePlus Pad runs Android 13, which brings the optimisations for tablet display real estate. Most of Google’s own apps look better on tablets now, and OnePlus’ take on multi-tasking is very much a utility, leaving apps open side by side. Or even as a floating window, in case of some apps. A calculator, for instance, floating above docs and web browser apps, as you wrap your head around some numbers.

The good thing is, multitasking with two apps sharing the same screen space, one floating around over them and a few apps open in the background, the performance is extremely fluid and smooth. The OnePlus Pad doesn’t stutter when you strain it with apps, and there is no hint of hiding that discomfort as the back also remains cool.

There is the sense that previous tweaks to the Android tablet experience to make them more productive leaned a bit too much towards replicating the traditional desktop or laptop interface. Samsung’s DeX, for all its inarguable utility, tries too hard to make Android behave like Windows 10 or Windows 11 would, on a laptop. In this case, OnePlus has taken Android’s strengths (and admittedly some inspiration from Apple’s iPadOS; that is absolutely not a bad thing) and given it their own twist.

In a nutshell, this is an Android tablet which is very usable as a laptop replacement, as you may be out and about for meetings or travel.

Since remote work is still very much the flavour of the season, you’ll likely need to do some amount of video meetings and calls from the OnePlus Pad. There are two important elements in the fray here, which you must know. The front facing camera, which is 8-megapixels, sits on the longer bezel on one side of the display. This means that as you hold the tablet in landscape mode (which you’ll likely do for video calls), the camera is placed in the middle of the OnePlus Pad’s dimensions. Not on one side, like the iPad and the Galaxy Tab family.

Secondly, OnePlus has not missed an auto-center feature for video calls, which keeps you in the middle of the frame during video calls, as you may move around a little bit. It’s not always perfect, but gets the job done nonetheless (No one ends up looking at a close-up of your ear as you drop half out of the call window). This currently works with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. There might be more, but we can safely say it works seamlessly on these apps.

The keyboard gets the job done with a layout that’s spaced and a touchpad that’s about adequate for gestures that also need more than one finger. That said, the magnetic connection with the tablet means there is little flexibility about managing the screen’s viewing angles. And for this to really work, you should be keeping this on a flat surface, such as a table. We noticed that the magnetic hinges aren’t strong enough and can detach from the tablet easily – there is the real risk of the tab hurtling to the cold, hard ground.

Peculiar to the tablet experience is the fact that the OnePlus Pad has preloaded apps for Messages, Phone and Google Pay. All three apps trying to use hardware that isn’t present in the tablet. Such as a SIM card slot, or NFC, for example. This is an illustration of Google’s famed agreements that require pre-loading of Google’s own apps.

Secondly, Google needs to prioritise working with developers to get Android tablets to scale properly on tablet screens. Twitter is one example of how bad things are. Instagram is another. That is just the start.

That said, and whenever the major feature addition happens (an update is expected sometime later this summer), the OnePlus Pad will get cellular connectivity in a rather unique way. Since there is no SIM slot, it’ll use proximity with a OnePlus phone to share the mobile data (4G or 5G, all will work) from it. OnePlus says the tablet and the OnePlus phone should be kept at a distance of 5 meters or lesser for this to work. Theoretically, the lack of a cellular modem in the phone should mean better battery stamina when sharing the phone’s mobile data.

But we’ll only know when we actually experience this.

If you don’t have a OnePlus phone, then you’ll essentially be able to use the OnePlus Pad as a Wi-Fi only device. That, to be honest, is an unfair limitation. At least the e-SIM functionality should have been an option, for a wider demographic.

That also is the beginning of OnePlus’ ecosystem play. There an OTP sharing feature in the works, as is an Auto Connect feature that will share the phone (likely to be limited to OnePlus phones for now) functionality to the tablet too – notifications, clipboard etc. But most of that is yet to come.

There’s a lot to like about the 11.61-inch display. This has a square(ish) 7:5 aspect ratio with 2800 x 2000 pixels and up to 144Hz refresh rate. This screen size is close to the perfect balance for portability (keeps the weight down too). It is fairly bright when there is the need for it, and auto-brightness changes seem to have been further refined for smoothness (and not sudden, jarring changes). When turned down, it can be really dim – and that’s great!

Also Read:OnePlus upgrades camera and fast-charge features with Nord CE 3 Lite 5G

In our experience, battery life improved and stabilised significantly after the first major software update. But you must be careful when weighing whether to carry the charger or not. The discharge is a sip at a time if you’re mostly using the web browser or working on documents. But it’s a bit of a chug at a time if there are video calls or a bit of Netflix streaming thrown in, for a while.

For perspective, a 15 minute Google Meet call drains 4% battery. After a 30-minute web browsing or reading session, the battery level drops up to 2%.

For some reason, I was never entirely comfortable with the idea of the OnePlus Pad lasting an entire day at work on a single charge, as I am with the Apple iPad Pro. Some of that observation rests at the doorstep of Google, and how Android is shaping up for tablets. OnePlus, on its part, bundles the tablet with a 67-watt charger. That’s more than what this tablet seems to utilise, because a fully discharged OnePlus Pad took an hour and 20 minutes to get to 100% again.

For a first attempt at a tablet, the OnePlus Pad seems to be getting a lot right. The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 returns the sort of performance that you’d expect from a flagship Android device. The 12GB RAM option has enough headroom for even the most careless (or intent) multitaskers. It’s built well, and the Halo Green colour lends it a personality other tablets cannot match.

That said, a few things are registered on the missing or unfinished list. There’s no fingerprint sensor, and the pin or face recognition are really your only way in. Apple has integrated biometrics in the iPad Air’s power key. Secondly, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack, but you may not miss it all that much. But for me, the OnePlus Pad at this time is more about potential, at least till the ecosystem features roll out and that turns into purpose.

All things considered, the OnePlus Pad is more than a step in the right direction. Android needed a tablet like this, particularly one that doesn’t cost as much as some of its elder rivals do. Yet, it is too soon to effectively peg this as an alternative to the iPad or the iPad Air, particularly for productivity use cases.

OnePlus has done what they could for Android tablets, now Google must pick up the pace.

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Chief Editor Authorisation Crime News India Sagar Anna Khandare


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