For all who don't know what this is, the ZEduPad is a 7" screen tablet from iSchool.zm with lessons and materials for Zambia's primary school curriculum and it's available in several local languages. It's a noble idea. So when my wife was in Zambia last year she bought one at Manda Hill. It cost 1.2 thousand Zambian Kwacha (£120/€150/$200) and the idea was to support the initiative (which we think it's great) and have a tablet for the kids to learn about Zambia, but also to play and leave the other more expensive family tablets alone.
So far so good, wife gets back home in Europe and the kids like the tablet with the educational material in it, but the screen brightness was maxed out and it was painful to look at. So I dived in and found an android system (which was expected), I went to the settings, adjusted the brightness and all was good. However, the next time the tablet was turned on, the brightness was back to maximum, I changed it again but this setting appears to not stick between on/off sessions. As time passes by, the kids were using it less and less, the content was just not engaging enough for them to play with all the time.
The school software material appears to be flash based and running on top of a modified version of opera browser and in full screen so you don't have access to the browser's normal functions. The implementation is a bit buggy and error prone and a much better option would have been to run the whole thing as a native android app or a group of apps.
I decided it was time to add some other apps in an attempt to make the device more appealing. I went looking for Google Play and couldn't find it, strange I thought, then went looking for a browser to install Google Play and that too was missing, even more strange -- what kind of android tablet is this that has missing two of its most basic and fundamental applications? Being who I am, and since the device has support for a micro SD card, I loaded the card with the Google Play app and inserted it into the tablet. It did not recognise the card at all, then I tried a USB cable, that doesn't even charge the tablet when connected to a computer. I called iSchool and it turns out they disabled the micro SD card and USB connectivity (tablet can be charged through dedicated charging port). Why would anyone want to do that is beyond my comprehension. The device was bought on the assumption that if the kids don't like the school material, at least are left with a tablet they can use for other apps. Not so. Someone even tried to disguise the real manufacturer of the tablet by replacing the back cover and changing the internal IDs, I'm not sure why. I eventually found out the tablet is a VIDO/YUANDAO N70S (RK3066 chip) and it would cost around £40 fully unlocked. So we paid £80 more for the primary school content and for the privilege of being locked out of our own property.
It's a car with two wheels only
This is extremely disappointing and I urge everybody considering buying the ZEduPad to understand from the beginning that this tablet can only be used with the provided content. I suspect many people in Zambia buy it, assuming it's a tablet they can use for other things, and that is the reason I decided to write this article, to let any potential buyer know what they are going to actually buy and then decide if it's worth it.
They call it an "educational tablet", well, educational or not, it is a tablet first and foremost with plenty of capabilities. I feel sorry for all those schools, teachers, pupils and other people that could be enjoying a fully unlocked tablet to run whatever else they need + the school curriculum content that comes with it, and now have a tablet that can only be used for as long as the manufacturer keeps updating it. If that one day stops (and it usually does), you are left with an expensive dead brick.
One other problem is the choice of hardware. The N70S has a major weakness, the screen is not very good, it has a very poor viewing angle. Now imagine a group of pupils all gathered around a tablet and only the one positioned immediately in front of it can see whats on the screen! The N70 (without the 'S') would have been a much better option as it has an IPS screen and for not much more money. iSchool, give me a call next time you embark on hardware procurement. Seriously, please call, I can help and I'm always free for good causes.
So, should you buy a ZEduPad?
It depends; if you understand the limitations imposed on the device and believe iSchool will continue to update it and all you need is the primary school curriculum, then, by all means buy it, it's good at that. On the other hand; if you need a multi-purpose tablet device to also run other apps in parallel, something the whole family can benefit from, then don't buy it. Buy three (3) unlocked N70S instead for the price of one (1) locked ZEduPad.
The future of my ZEduPad
The future for my device is uncertain as I'm still trying to unlock the tablet in order to use it. My first port of call was to do a factory reset in the hope that would bring up a plain vanilla android system with access to Google Play, but all that did was reset the system to what appears to be a cut down/custom version of CyanogenMod android without Google Play or browser. I also tried to hold down 'power + volUp' buttons and 'power + volDn' in an attempt to get it into recovery, but once again these combinations have been disabled, clearly indicating they didn't want anyone to do anything else with the device.
There must still be a way to fully utilise the tablet and I will try to get the thing into recovery mode, also will try to open it to see if the micro SD and USB have been physically disconnected (which at this point, I would not be surprised) other than that, I have a dead brick and it all started with a good idea.
If anyone knows how to root a ZEduPad or open a VIDO/YUANDAO N70S tablet without damaging it, I would love to hear from you. I found this page with some information on the inner workings of the ZEduPad (check the attached file), maybe someone can help in installing a fully functioning android system on this tablet. It will be most appreciated.
Been recently to Zambia and had a chance to go into the Manda Hill mall where they sell the ZEduPad and also the headquarters in Kalundu and was told a very interesting story as to why the hardware was locked in such a manner. It was in fact to protect the school curriculum app. So as opposed of creating a secure app, they lock the whole tablet instead. It turns out that without all the tablet and OS changes anyone would just simply be able to copy their app. What they should have done in the first place was to develop a secure app, something that would run on any tablet after purchasing it. Either way, it does not solve my problem; I still have a dead brick in the box.
Managed to get the tablet open and found out the USB connecting board is missing, so the USB cable would never work, can't even bridge the connections. I'm now investigating the micro SD card and hope that was disabled through software which would be much easier to re-enable.