Digital · housing

UbiSlate £30 tablet – the game changer?

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In 2012, a company called Datawind in India announced that they were going to produce a cheap tablet for the mass market.

Like many people, I assumed that cheap would either mean:

  • Really cheap (and subsequently next to useless);
  • Not so cheap (so probably of some use).

When the tablets were available to buy from the UK they cost just £30 to buy the basic model. For this you get:

  • 7’ TFT touch screen tablet;
  • Andriod 4.2.2 operating system;
  • Wifi enabled;
  • 1 year warranty;
  • Memory card slot.

Initial reports were quite encouraging – here’s a great blog post from Ed Bullock/Nick Atkin at Halton Housing Trust on the test they carried out at Halton Housing Trust.

Although obviously for the price they are not going to rival a top end tablet like the iPad in quality, power or usability, overall feedback has been encouraging.

Fast forward several months, and as part of our drive towards being a digital first organisation and to help tackle digital inclusion, I thought I’d order a UbiSlate through work to see just how good they are. So here’s the story so far.

I ordered the UbiSlate 7ci through their website on the 6th May 2014. It was a standard (if anything rather easy) ordering system. The cost of the tablet was £30, but postage and packaging was a further £9.95, making the grand total of £39.95. I received the Emails back by return saying the order had been received.

On the 12th May 2014 I Emailed their customer services to find out when I could expect delivery. They replied with ’due to high demand we are fulfilling orders on a first-come-first-serve basis. We anticipate your order to be fulfilled from our next delivery of products due in week commencing the 12th of May.’

I dutifully checked their website a few times a week to be told that the order was ‘pending’ and to check back regularly.

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Then, out of the blue on the 27th May (the day after a bank holiday) I received my UbiSlate through the post. What was interesting was that I had checked that morning on their website and had been given their standard order ‘pending’ message, so it really was a nice surprise.

So, to the UbiSlate. I carefully ripped open the packing (I was very excited) to find the box inside.

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The Tablet

On opening the box, I found very little packaging. The UbiSlate had a thin protective plastic sheet on the front and back, along with the charger and an instruction booklet.

On getting the UbiSlate out of the box, I managed to accidentally turn it on. Then I proceeded to try and read the instructions quickly to check whether I needed to charge it first. The instructions said it needed 6-8 hours charging before use. I quickly plugged the charger in! It seems that the UbiSlate was already nearly charged, which was a nice surprise. I’ve no idea whether this is standard practice though.

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The tablet itself looks really nice. It doesn’t weigh too much, but feels sturdier than I expected. Not expensive feeling, but certainly not dirt cheap feeling either. I’ve had it sat on my desk for most of the last week and I’ve taken the opportunity to ask a few staff what they think. They seem to agree that it looks pretty good.

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Upon turning it on and it loading up with the Datawind logo (10 seconds or so), I was faced with a screen showing the time, along with a small lock image. With my finger I just moved the lock outside the circle and you are in. The initial screen looks a lot like the Samsung Galaxy tablet main screen. You’ve got the main 5 app icons along the bottom, one of which shows you the 46 apps already on the UbiSlate. Some of these you would just uninstall (as the UbiSlate was primarily made for Indian school age children, you probably won’t find a use for ‘Talking English’) and you can obviously add any apps you want as well.

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The tablet comes with two web browsers installed – the one at the bottom of the main screen just didn’t work for me, so I used the generic android browser. The first website I went on was google.com (had to be, didn’t it?) and I found that the google search box was just off the page. Turning the UbiSlate to portrait seemed to fix that. I’m sure more tekkie minded people would know instantly how to fix this, but I didn’t.

The £30 tablet connects through Wifi and the experience of connecting to the internet was fine. No problems at all to report.

I used the SlideMe to download a few apps. After putting in some basic logging details, it was pretty easy to find the apps and download them. I went for LinkedIn and Twitter, to give them a good test. Both worked well, downloaded quickly and although they looked different to what I’m used to, they were more than useable and easy to navigate.

The tablet comes with a front facing camera, meaning you can take those all important #selfies. But it’s fair to say that the picture quality isn’t great. I read elsewhere that the picture quality reminded them of the quality you used to get on the first webcams that came on the market. Spot on description. That said, its better having the camera than not. It also potentially makes apps like Skype useable through the UbiSlate, although I haven’t tested that out as yet.

As with a lot of lower end tablets, if you don’t turn the tablet off (just holding the top right button until it turns off), then it will drain itself of power over a few days. Thankfully it doesn’t take long to charge up from 0% to 100% – about 2½ hours. For 100% power use, you get anything from around 2 ½ hours to 3 hours battery life which if not bad at all. I’ve seen laptops with less.

So, overall I’m pretty impressed by the UbiSlate 7ci. It’s not too heavy, fits in your hand nicely and really is pretty easy to use. It’s certainly a useable tablet which opens up some interesting options.

Future Uses

One option is to give this to tenants who could easily save the £30+ cost on savings they gain through buying things through the internet or from the savings we as a landlord would get for a tenant contacting us digitally rather than by telephone or face-to-face. The other option is to give this for staff to use for some basic work functions. Both of these would obviously require some additional field research, but certainly seem worth exploring further. Of course, this would also require decent Wifi connectivity, or you’ll have to opt for the more expensive 7C+ version at £69.99.

My initial thoughts are that you would want to take most of the pre-loaded apps off and put some specific ones on that tenants could use to contact the organisation, or ones to save them money. There is no reason why the content can’t be more targeted according to the audience. Also, let’s not forget the cost. This is really cheap for a tablet. People spend more than this on a lot of smartphones today and they are seen as an essential item for a lot of people.

They would also make great options for digital inclusion training sessions for tenants, as they are so cheap. You could buy 10 or so of them and (as long as you have decent Wifi) get them used to using a tablet and surfing the web. Other options I’ve read elsewhere is to use them for showing video clips (for example on a reception desk) or as digital signboard outside meeting rooms. There certainly seems to be lots of possible options for the UbiSlate in the future.

I’ll continue testing the UbiSlate through work and I think it’s highly likely we’ll look at getting some more of them to conduct some specific tests and projects.

Watch this space for more details!

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Digital · housing

Bridging the Digital Divide

ImageI consider myself quite a tech savvy person and I can certainly see the benefits to #ukhousing staff and customers of being digital included, but with digital inclusion being one of my areas of responsibility, tackling this area has been no walk in the park.

I’ve been drafting a digital inclusion strategy for several months now. It’s not that I can’t write the strategy, it’s that technology is changing so fast.

So let’s go back to the start of my journey. When researching the digital inclusion strategy, two quotes jumped out at me:

  • Research has shown that getting someone online can save them an average of £560 a year and has benefits for education, employment and retirement.
  • The introduction of Universal Credit will also mean that going online is the only way to apply for and manage Universal Credit applications for the majority of those in receipt of benefits.

These certainly set the scene well and are very hard to argue against.

Then there’s the added complication of the methods that customers are accessing the internet. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was talking to our IT department about a PC Loan scheme. Now this seems like a crazy, outdated idea. Once upon a time tablets were really expensive and out of reach for most people, now there is a £30 tablet you can buy (watch this blog for a review on this tablet soon). The same used to apply to smartphones, but these are now commonplace and ‘standard issue’. The pace of change within technology is amazing.

Once upon a time, broadband was seen as the panacea for social housing tenants, opening up a world of opportunities, cheaper deals and jobs. To some extent this is still the case, but the rise of cheap smartphones has opened up a whole other avenue for tenants to be digitally active. Just read this article on the Guardian website – Housing Providers Need to Think Mobile.

There are also lots of articles being regularly published challenging some of our most closely held ideas about digital inclusion and internet use. For example, this article highlights that ‘there is no difference between consumers aged 30 to more than 70 when it comes to general attitudes to online shopping’.

Couple these with the governments push towards Universal Credit being accessed online and it paints a clear picture that organisations need a major shift in focus to offer services digitally and not just to those customers in receipt of benefit.

Recently I was lucky enough to give a talk with Nick Atkin on ‘Housing Goes Digital’ at the Welsh Housing Conference in March of this year. I was able to follow this up with a workshop on the same subject at our staff conference. The results really astounded me.

After the conference talk I was amazed at just how much positive feedback I received from Housing organisations about what we were talking about. Essentially it was about the need for organisations to consider and adapt to the changing digital landscape. This was followed up by my staff conference workshop.

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t sure how our staff would take what I would be talking about during the workshop; essentially that we need to change our future offer to tenants to offer more services ‘digitally’, giving examples of some organisations like Halton Housing Trust and Bromford Group who are already making great strides forwards in this area. Although I know I put a good business case together (and a good Prezi! – for anyone interested, here’s a link to it), I was still amazed at how positive and engaged most staff were. There was a real buzz about the workshop that I naively hadn’t expected. I even got some volunteers to be on our digital first project during the workshops and I hadn’t asked for any!

Following the success of the workshops, I tweeted out pictures of the flipcharts that we’d produced:

ImageImageImageImageWithin minutes I’d received a tweet back from one of our current tenants providing real time feedback on some of the ideas we’d come up with and after a quick twitter conversation, the tenant offered to be involved in the project to give the tenants perspective. What a result!

What this has shown me is that there are ways to bridge the digital divide. One such way is to get as many staff and customers involved as possible. It’s certainly something I’m hoping to build on further and although I know we are still only at the start of this, our digital journey continues………….