What you need to know about the zedupad
11 OCT 2014
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 girls to learn English and about Zambia but also to play and leave the other "top of the range" family tablet alone.
So far so good, wife gets back to Europe, the girls like the tablet and the educational material in it, but the screen brightness was maxed out and it was painful to look at. So I dived in to find an android system (which was expected), I went to the settings, adjusted the brightness and all was good. Next time the tablet was turned on, the brightness was back to maximum, I changed it again but this setting appears to not be saved between on/off sessions. As time passes by, the girls 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 then decided it was time to add some other apps in an attempt to make it more appealing. I went looking for Google Play and it was not there, 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, in their infinite wisdom, 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. This device was bought on the assumption that if the girls don’t like the school material, at least we are left with a tablet we can use for other educational apps. Not so. They even tried to disguise the real manufacturer of the hardware by replacing the back cover and changing the internal IDs, I'm not sure why, but I 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. The real hardware manufacturer in China, ships the tablets to Lusaka in Zambia where a team then sets on doing their evil deeds, disabling functionality that would otherwise be very useful to whoever buys the device.
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. In essence it's like having a large map with only one street visible. 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 the money.
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. This is not YUANDAO’s fault I think (the real hardware manufacturer) they just supply the hardware, but then came someone else and that’s where the problem started. I bet an ordinary Zambian entrepreneur would not go as low as doing something like this out of his own initiative. I wonder whose idea it was, who thought that giving ordinary Zambians, teachers and pupils a fully functional tablet was too much? iSchool's Managing Director Mark Bennett said this in a statement; "after teachers purchase the ZEduPad, my team of experts go into schools and provide tutorials for staff so that they can maximize the tablets functions" -- HELLO??? How can you first cut down the functionality of the tablet, and then later try to maximise it? Mark please, if you really want to help, give people a device they can afford and can fully utilise. Forget about cutting down, removing and disabling on your next endeavours, please.
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 the image 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 higher price. Mark c'mon, give me a call next time you embark on hardware procurement. Seriously, please call, I can really 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 for years to come and all you need is the primary school curriculum, then by all means, buy it, it's very good at that. On the other hand; if like many others, you need a multi-purpose tablet device to also run other apps, something the whole family can benefit from, then don’t buy it. Buy three (3) unlocked N70S for the price of one (1) locked ZEduPad.
The future for my ZEduPad
The future 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 fully utilise the ZEduPad beyond their limited content offer.
There must be a way to still fully utilise this 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. Shame on you iSchool.
If anyone knows how to root a ZEduPad or open a VIDO/YUANDAO N70S tablet without damaging it, I would love to talk to you. I found this page with some information on the inner workings of the ZEduPad (check the attached file), maybe someone can help me install a fully functioning android system on this tablet. It will be most appreciated.
Update (Feb 2015)
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. This just gets better and better. It turns out that without all the tablet and OS changes anyone would just simply be able to copy their app and pass it along. 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, all this does not solve my problem; I still have a dead brick on the box.
Update (Mar 2015)
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. It just goes to show how low some people are willing to go. I'm now investigating the micro SD card and hope that was disabled through software which would be much easier to re-enable.
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NOTE: For complex or long technical questions email me directly.
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