MSI Primo 81 review

Tom Morgan
7 Dec 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

Looks similar to the iPad Mini and is well-priced, but it's underpowered and the battery life is poor



7.85 in 1,024x768 display, 330g, 1GHz Allwinner A31s, 1.00GB RAM, 16GB disk, Android 4.2

MSI’s latest Android tablet should look familiar to anyone that has ever picked up an iPad Mini. The Primo 81 is has a strikingly similar design, near identical dimensions and even the same LG-manufactured display.

MSI Primo 81

At 7.8mm thick, the Primo 81 is only 0.6mm thicker than the iPad Mini, but once you pick it up the differences become a little clearer. Build quality is by no means poor, but MSI’s choice of materials simply can’t match Apple for quality. The raw aluminium rear feels rougher and the display coating on the front picks up far more fingerprints.

Even so, from a glance you could easily mistake one for the other. From the outside, the only visible differences are the lack of a home button (like many Android tablets, the Primo 81 uses onscreen buttons rather than physical ones) and the selection of ports across the bottom edge. In this respect MSI actually comes out on top, as you get Micro USB with On-the-Go support to support flash drives, cameras and other external devices, mini HDMI and a microSD card reader as well as a 3.5mm audio jack.

MSI Primo 81

The rear-firing speaker is easily blocked when you grip the tablet, muffling the already basic audio. It sounds tinny at best, with absolutely no bass and a mid-range that’s often dominated by the sharp high-end. This is definitely one tablet where headphones are essential, not just recommended.

Things improved once we turned our attention to the screen. The 7.9in display uses the same 1,024x768 resolution panel as the iPad Mini, which we loved when Apple first revealed it. The 4:3 aspect ratio results in much more physical screen space than on competing Android tablets, even if the total number of pixels is less. Colour accuracy and image clarity were both on par with the iPad Mini, which is no mean feat for a budget tablet, and viewing angles were also very good. It didn’t blow us away like the Full HD Nexus 7 and you won’t be able to watch 720p video at its native resolution, but it’s still a step above most of the similarly-priced competition. MSI’s choice of screen coating also seems to attract a lot more fingerprints than the iPad.

The two-megapixel camera sensor on the rear of the tablet is basic at best. There’s no tap to focus, no built-in flash and it initially appeared that the focal length was much higher than in other budget tablets, meaning we had to stand about a foot further back to fit an entire subject in the frame. However, the photos themselves have a different focal length to the onscreen viewfinder, which is a little baffling. Quality is poor outdoors, with even a small amount of sunlight causing our test shots to appear blown out. There’s not a lot of detail and even bright scenes produced a lot of noise.

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