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Walka 7 A portable novelty

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After trying DStv Mobile’s Walka 7 for a few weeks, SEAN BACHER finds that although it is no replacement for a full-sized TV, the Walka 7 really adds value to a user’s life when on the move.

A few years ago DStv Mobile announced the Drifta, a mobile device that could pick up selected DStv channels and stream them to your smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop.

The device was certainly innovative, especially considering the slow speeds and high costs of data in South Africa.

However, the device disappointed. There were very few channels available for Drifta users and, although there were no subscription fees for DStv premium subscribers, those without DStv had to pay a monthly subscription. It almost felt as if MultiChoice were merely offering this product to South African premium subscribers as a way to offset their massive monthly subscription fees.

Since then, DStv Mobile has released the Drifta USB, with more channels, the device was limited to desktops or notebooks with USB, and had no Wi-Fi streaming functionality.

Now, DStv Mobile is offering South Africans the Walka 7, a 7‚” handheld device. It eliminates the need for a secondary device like a tablet or smartphone, as it lets users watch TV directly on the device. We put the Walka 7 through the Gadget Five Question User Test.

1. Ease of use (including setup)

The Walka 7 doesn’t need any drivers, nor does it need any kind of setup. However, you do have to phone the Multichoice call centre to have the signal to the device activated. Once the subscription is activated, though, it will work the moment the batteries are charged and the unit is switched on.

Operating it, on the other hand, is a little confusing. It looks and feels like a 7‚” tablet and I found myself tapping on the screen to access different functions much like you would on any tablet. But, in order to keep the price as low as possible, the Walka does not have a touch screen. Instead, all the controls are crammed into the top right corner of the device, making it nearly impossible to use without first turning it around to find out what button you need to press.

More usefully, the Walka 7 includes a stand that lets you adjust the tilt angle of the unit if you’re not holding it.

The Walka 7’s ease of use and seamless setup all count in its favour.

16/20

2. General performance

The built-in battery will run the Walka 7 for around six hours, depending on the signal strength. This is more than enough time to watch a full soccer, rugby or cricket game and is also great for keeping the kids entertained while on a drive on holiday. The battery will also take three to four hours to recharge fully, but it can be connected to a computer’s USB output for trickle charging.

The screen, which offers a maximum resolution of 800×480, is still not the greatest of quality, but is a vast improvement on the smaller Walka. It doesn’t offer a wide viewing area, so it won’t do well when a few people want to watch it at the same time. That said, the Walka 7 is great for personal viewing while on the go.

Also, the bigger screen means that you should be able to get a bigger picture by changing the aspect ratio much like you would do on your LED TV. Although the Walka 7 offers this feature, stretching the picture just distorts it as DStv Mobile uses the DVB-H broadcast standard, at a resolution of 320×480.

I found that watching at the default 320×480 resolution was not perfect, with much of the screen pixelating or updating at a slower rate than the rest of the screen.

The Walka 7 did however offer decent sound: it was clear and didn’t distort even when cranked up full-blast.

Once the Menu, Channel, Power, Aspect Ratio and Volume buttons situated on the top of the unit were worked out, navigating the various on-screen menus was easy. It is very well laid out with the menu items easily identifiable.

The great battery life counts in the favour of the Walka 7, but the substandard screen an area where DStv Mobile should have focused will sometimes make watching TV on the move more of a irritation than a pleasure.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Since the original Drifta I have always believed that DStv Mobile has aimed the device at the sports enthusiastic. Although there are now various mobile bouquets available for the Walka 7, including a variety of news and infotainment channels like Discovery, there are no dedicated movie channels.

At home, the Walka will feel like a novelty device, but it really begins to serve a purpose when on the move. I should add that my colleague Arthur Goldstuck swears by it as an ideal way of following breaking news when he is working at his desk. So it does depend on your priorities.

Score: 16/20

4. Is it innovative?

The Walka 7 follows in the footsteps of the Walka 3.5‚” device and, though it offers a bigger screen, the controls are very similar and there are no additional functions that could be labelled as innovative. However, the idea of using the popular 7‚” tablet format for a mobile TV device does score points.

The idea of being able to extend your DStv subscription to any part of the city or country where there is a DVB-H signal represents a compelling value proposition for existing premium subscribers and, while not new on this device, continues to surprise, since it works in most urban environments in South Africa.

Score: 15/20

5. Is it value for money?

As a device to use at home, the Walka 7 is not worth the R900 especially considering that you can watch high-definition channels on a much bigger screen.

It is however a different story for when you don’t have access to a TV. Being able to watch that important rugby match or keep up to date with late-breaking news definitely warrants the R900.

The additional R50 that non-premium subscribers need to pay each month is also value for money considering the additional channels that have been added.

Score: 16/20

In conclusion

Total score: 75/100

Since the original Drifta was launched, DStv Mobile has introduced a number of additional mobile channels. While this is a step in the right direction, the Walka 7 is not a great device for watching TV as your main entertainment option. Those using the Drifta and streaming to a tablet will get better sound and a better picture quality, as their device will usually offer better specifications than that of the Walka 7. However, it is a fun option for keeping up with sports and news while in the office or on holiday.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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