So far, the IFA tech trade show in Berlin has been awash with identikit phones, tablets and laptops, and if we’re honest, one brand is starting to merge into another. Which is why we were interested to see something genuinely different from Alcatel Onetouch – a MASSIVE tablet with a built-in kickstand, designed to be used by families. We spent some time backstage at the Alcatel Onetouch stand to see what it’s all about.
Called Xess, the 17.3-incher is bigger than most people’s laptops. It seems to sit halfway between a notebook and a TV, with dual 3-watt Harman speakers, a built-in stylus and a pop-up circular contraption on the back that houses both a slide-out handle and a stand. You can use it flat, or at three different angles depending on what you’re doing – it sits up at 75 degrees for watching films, for instance, 50 degrees for reading recipes while you’re standing up cooking, and 30 degrees for things like painting and editing photos. You can also use it flat for chess games and suchlike.
Alcatel Onetouch have made a giant tablet like this before, at a whopping 26 inches, and while there are a few other companies making similar products, Alcatel say they’re mostly all-in-one PCs rather than giant tablets. In fact, there isn’t even a product category for this kind of device, so they’re not entirely sure what to call it – its nickname at their HQ is ‘Big Pad’.
I think I’d call the Xess a TV tablet: it’s the size of a small television but works like a tablet, and you’ll use it for both functions. Like a tablet, it has a stylus and there’s a smart dock available, and like a TV, you can mount it on the wall.
The magnetic stylus handily attaches to the back of the Xess and is designed for use with the built-in SketchBook app, offering a much bigger creative canvas than other tablets.
This fits nicely with Alcatel Onetouch’s intention with this product: it’s all about relaxation. Dr Stan Hu (yes, Dr Hu), General Manager of the Big Pad business unit at Alcatel Onetouch’s parent company TCL, told us that they’ve been thinking a lot about family life and all its distractions. The Xess is designed to be a central family hub that allows all family members to interact together, rather than separately staring at their phones.
The Xess runs Android with some big customisations: the two main modes are Life Mode and Kitchen Mode. Life Mode is intended as the family’s central space. It pulls in all the content you’ve been watching recently so you can pick up where you left off, lets you leave messages for the rest of the family and even shows fitness tracking info from everyone’s wearables. It’s very customisable, so if you don’t fancy racing your children to 10,000 steps then you can turn that bit off – but I think gamifying family fitness is actually quite a cool idea.
Kitchen Mode is where the Xess really comes into its own, though. Pull out the handle and carry the Xess into the kitchen with you and you can use it as an interactive recipe book, with videos and instructions to help you cook. Any tablet can do that, of course, but the nice thing about the Xess is that it’s been designed with kitchens in mind. The built-in kickstand means you don’t have to buy a stand case, and the tablet has hands-free gestures for moving between videos, pausing and muting: ideal when you’ve got your hands full of dough or they’re covered in oil.
They’re beautifully thought-out gestures, too: swiping left and right in the air with your hand moves between screens or videos:
Putting your finger to your lips mutes the tablet (truly we are in the future) and – my favourite – scrunching up your hand pauses the video. Whiplash fans are going to love that.
One of the big points of difference on this tablet is the content partnerships Alcatel Onetouch are lining up. They intend to have high-quality local content ready at launch for each of the markets – the German edition has stunning cookery content from the local brand Kitchen Stories, for instance.
Food, as you can probably tell, is a very central part of the Xess. As Dr Hu put it, “Food is not only for eating. It’s for [nurturing] happiness and family relationships – it’s for taking care of people.” They’re putting a tonne of effort into finding local broadcast and user-generated brands to fill the tablet with, so that it offers more than your standard slate. Of course, since it’s Android, all your content apps are available too – Netflix, iPlayer, Spotify and so on – but Alcatel Onetouch are keen to offer exclusives too. In fact, they’re talking to some of the big content brands to see what they can offer outside their standard apps.
The Xess is also designed to be good for gaming: we imagine it’s pretty immersive playing Asphalt 8 on a screen that size. Dr Hu tells us that aiming your Angry Birds is much easier, too.
Alcatel Onetouch say there might be more versions of the Xess on the way: there’s definitely going to be a Pro version, which has a proximity sensor that recognises you and turns the screen on. It also dims the screen if kids sit too close to it – why don’t TVs do that?!
We might also see Xess tablets for business use (they’d be great for sales displays in shops) and education – but for now, Alcatel Onetouch are focusing on the family. “We don’t like to make devices for everybody. We don’t want to confuse users,” says Dr Hu.
Alcatel OneTouch Xess features and specifications
- Size: 416.5 x 266.5 x 9.15mm
- Screen: 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS panel with 10-point touch
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- Octa core 1.5GHz CPU
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB memory, expandable up to 64GB with microSD
- 10,000 mAh battery (2 hours of HD video playback, or 5-7 hours of standby)
- WiFi, Bluetooth, potentially 4G in future too
- Magnetic power cable
- Magnetic stylus
- 2 USB ports
- Audio in
Alcatel OneTouch Xess UK price and availability
At the moment, it’s not confirmed that the Xess is coming to the UK. It’s starting out in China, then should be coming to the US around January time (Alcatel Onetouch are planning to show it off at the big CES tech trade show in Las Vegas) – Europe’s next on the list after that. But it all depends if they get the content partnerships they’re looking for, and if demand proves strong.
We can’t confirm pricing yet either as Alcatel Onetouch are still working on it – but they’ve told us the Xess will cost more than a higher-end iPad, less than a 13-inch laptop. Take that how you will!