Detailed Review
  RCA 7" Android Internet Music System

February 2014
04 March 2014 -- Edit: Spelling

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RCA Android Internet Music System
RCA Internet Music System
 Model RCS13101E
(Photo: RCA)


It doesn't sound like too much to ask: A self-setting clock that I can read from anywhere in the room,  a "humane" wake mode, where the audio gradually fades in, and I don't want to "sign up" for a proprietary streaming service. I want to wake to Shoutcast, or any open stream on the internet.

Obviously, there are Android apps for about every streaming service out there - open or proprietary. It's also pretty easy to connect an Android phone or tablet to a bookshelf stereo - either with a good old fashioned wire, or bluetooth.  But the honest truth is that almost nobody actually does that on a daily basis.  Bluetooth doesn't solve the charging issue, and even a really convenient dock, or Bluetooth and a wireless charging pad, doesn't solve the problem of leaving your phone downstairs, or in the car, or...

For true, convenient living room or bedroom multi-media entertainment, a separate, dedicated device is needed.

That's the idea of the RCA Android Internet Music Device. While the Tablet portion of the device does easily lift out, using it as a general purpose tablet not only does not work very well, as we will see, but it also defeats the purpose of this device.

But what exactly is the purpose of this device?  Is it just the modern incarnation of the bookshelf stereo?  Is it a clock radio on steroids?  Is it a media controller for a larger screen TV? 

More simply, Does it work well enough to serve any purpose at all?

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RCA 7" Internet Music System
RCS13101E) Specifications

Tablet Specifications:
Display: 7 in. 800x480 Capacitive touch screen

CPU: Dual Core ARM Cortex-A9, 1.2GHz
Internal Storage: 4GB
Expansion Slots: Micro SD/MMC card slot
OS:  Android 4.2 (JellyBean)
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
Battery: Li-On Unknown Capacity
Front Camera:  None
Rear  Camera:  None
Bluetooth: 2.1 + EDR
3 Axis Accelerometers
No 3G
No Compass

Stereo System Specifications:
Audio Output:  20W x 2
Speakers:  2 Way, Ported

Physical Build and Sound Quality:
Looks can be deceiving. In this case, unfortunately, they are not.  It's as far from one of those expensive, high end, super-slim bookshelf systems as you can get. It's tall construction means it will not fit in a bookcase headboard or low shelf. The speakers and the unit itself is that particle wood that cheap radios were made out of years ago.

If you over-look the over-sized and under-quality construction, the rest of the features look and work fairly well. The blue backlit, touch-sensitive buttons at least make an attempt at looking worthy of your dollars.  The funky LCD dot matrix mini-display may make you think it's broken.  It's not,  it's just somebody's idea of "style".  It also conveys very little information.  It basically just shows 1 of 5 input sources, 1 of 4 preset equalizer modes, and a few other very basic stuff like FM radio frequency, and CD track and time. It's a $200 stereo, but it does not have FM RDS, or CD Song/Artist information.  No -- it doesn't display on the Android screen.  No -- It cannot play a DVD. No -- You cannot rip a CD to an MP3 on the Android side.  No -- you cannot wake to a music CD by setting the Alarm Clock in Android.  There is very little integration between the "Music" part, and the "Internet" part.  It's not really much of a "System".

Is there anything good I can say about the quality?  Well, Yes, there is -- It sounds pretty good.  Now, don't misunderstand me -- No one is going to mistake the sound for a Bose or Harmon Kardon system, but it's not bad.  The speakers have some true heft, and they are ported, 2-way systems with real, removable grills.  Frequency response is good, with no "holes" or missing ranges. Adequate bass is present if you crank it, but it's not overdone. As long as you separate the speakers a bit, there is very good stereo effect.

Another thing to mention is the included accessories.  There's a small remote control that in addition to controlling the Stereo, it gives some very basic control of the Android system.  It also includes a Micro USB OTG (on the go) adapter and a Mini HDMI to HDMI adapter.

Let's add it up.  The HDMI adapter alone can cost over $25 -- More if you have to buy it locally.  Here at, we cherish OTG cables. Not all devices include one, and even buying one online will set you back as much as $20, plus you have to wait for shipping.  Don't forget the 7" Dual Core Jelly Bean tablet, and a pair of fairly decent speakers.  I've just added up nearly $200 right there.  The Stereo unit itself isn't worth much, but you aren't paying much for it either.

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The "Android Internet" System:

Often, the best way to get top dollar for something is to market it as something that it is not.  Nobody would spend $200 for an off-brand Android Tablet, and a cheap bookshelf stereo stuffed in the same box, but that is exactly what you are getting here.  The top section simply lifts out to form -- Well, I don't know a nicer way to say it -- One of the worst 7" Android 4.2 tablets I have ever seen.  (Here at, we are experts at cheap Android Tablets. You can read reviews here, here, and here.)

The best way to explain it is to simply list out why this is such a poor Android tablet -- and then I will explain why it doesn't matter.

First, the screen resolution is only 800x480.  If this is a "retina display" to you, please do not drive behind me.  The Google Nexus 7" Android tablet (2013) has almost as many pixels in two square inches!  The resulting pixelation can easily be seen in small fonts. Low resolution is a halmark of a cheap screen, and another is poor viewing angle. More about this later.

When used separately from the dock, the sound is poor too.  There is a single, small speaker in the back.

It's as thick as  the chunky Fujitsu industrial tablets that got started back in the early 1990's.  Due to the thickness and odd shape, holding it, especially in portrait, is not convenient at all.  The touchscreen is true capacitive, and multitouch, but seems to, on occasion, register false touches.

While it can be taken with you and used as a stand-alone tablet, you will not have any way to charge it.  It does not charge through the Micro USB port, and no separate charger is included for the power connector on the bottom.  It also lacks 3G connectivity, any camera, GPS, a compass, and many other features expected on even cheap Chinese tablets.

Before I tell you why none of the above matters, I would like to say a few good things about this unit as a tablet: With a true dual-core, 1.2GHz processor, and a full Gigabyte of RAM, it is certainly acceptable as far as speed. The WiFi also seems pretty good.

So why does it not matter that I am getting a poor tablet for a premium price? Because this is not a tablet. For some of the problems, the reasoning is obvious.  It has no GPS, but your living room doesn't usually move around much (I am being sensitive here, and omitting the California jokes.) It has no camera, but do you really want more cameras in your bedroom?

Of all the complaints above, the only one that really bothers me is the poor screen viewing angle. If you select a screen saver clock with a black background, it's only black when your head is in the right place.  It spews light at other angles.  Now, the excuse may be that it is not intended to be a nighttime clock, but if it had a better screen, it would work fine as a clock (with a few other issues - see below.)

The poor screen also makes it almost unusable as a eBook reader.  But if this is not your only Android device, you may very well be laying in bed with a separate Android eBook reader, while listening to streaming music from the RCA Music System.  An Android phone may be laying next to you waiting for a call or text.  There may also be a connected TV in the same room (possibly running Android --You can read about Android TV sticks here.)  Each device is good at some things, and poor at others.

But what if you don't want to buy half a dozen Android devices?  Could it work as the sole device for a young person on a budget?  Could he/she take notes in class, do some gaming in between, and in the evening slip it back in the dock to charge while he/she chills with some streaming down-tempo? Well, the first thought is that the person in question needs a social life, but other than that, the answer depends on what the person is willing to put up with.  Technically, the tablet could do all those things, but it is going to be no where near the experience they would have with, for example, the new Nexus 7.

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Local Music Files and Streaming Media:

As mentioned, the Line-In, CD, and FM radio functions are completely separate from Android.  In fact, the "Intn", or "Internet" input is really just an additional Line-In connection. If you have MP3 files, or music in any one of a number of other common formats, on a Micro-SD card, they can be played from the Android side.  There's a semi-hot swappable micro SD card slot on the side of the Android Tablet.  I say it's semi hot swappable because you can get to it without powering off the tablet, but unless you remember to unmount it first, by going to Settings --> Storage, Android can get confused.  If you have songs on a full-sized SD card, you can connect a card reader to the included OTG cable, but you need to provide the card reader yourself.

Of course, there are dozens of Android music players available on the Android Play Store.  There's also dozens of visualization apps, lyrics apps, etc.  You can also buy music right from the machine. Google Play Music is included, but you can also install the Amazon MP3 App, or any store of your choosing as long as it is supported in Android.

The same goes for streaming media services.  You may be hooked on Pandora today, but remember what happened to MySpace? One day everybody just left and moved to Facebook.   The same could happen to streaming media services. That's the great thing about having Android.  You don't get the lock-in you would get from a proprietary Set-Top Box or Internet Radio appliance.

The same is true for video steaming. YouTube and Google Play Movies are included, but you can add any service that has an Android app -- even if it is a service that doesn't exist yet.

Here's another cool feature, and one of the few bits of integration between the Android tablet and the rest of the unit -- if you pull the tablet out of the unit while it is playing,  it can switch over to Bluetooth and keep playing.  Notice I said it can.  It's not paired from the factory; setting this up is left to the user.

Since it's Android, it's also customizable. Even if it's just a slide show, you can customize this Stereo like no other.

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The Little Screen with Big Screen Ambitions:
The makers of this device seem to make a big deal out of connecting this device to a larger screen.  The most obvious way is via the included Mini HDMI to HDMI adapter, and a customer-provided HDMI cable.  The device also includes support for Sharing the screen via WiFi (if your TV supports that).

But I don't recommend either of those.  Google's Chromecast is a far better solution.  It also serves as an example of a case where the deficiencies of the tablet can be overlooked:  If you use this system with Chromecast, the tablet basically becomes a smart touch screen remote.  The resolution of what you see will be determined by the quality of the TV, and your Internet connection.  With new features and services being added to Chromecast, this becomes a fantastic, fun, and convenient entertainment system.

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Other Apps and Possible Uses:
Having Android on your Stereo System also opens up lots of cool possibilities.  Android 4.2 includes Google Voice Search -- Google's answer to "Siri".  (Some people call the female Google voice "Majel").  As long as nobody removes the tablet, it's always there and always convenient. Just ask it anything you want. If you use Google Now, this device is great for checking on the commute to work, or the weather, or a few select stocks, or...

Here's another non-obvious use.  Since the tablet has a microphone, it can also act as a VoIP phone (or Skype phone if you still use that service).  Again, as long as you "hang up" the tablet back in the main unit, you won't have to hunt around for it when you need to make or answer a call.

But how about that use I mentioned at first?  A streaming media clock radio?  Well, in addition to the problem of light leaking from the display, there are several other problems.  First, Android Daydream does not work correctly.  When the tablet is docked in the Stereo unit, screen timeout is set to 'never sleep', and it is dimmed out and cannot be changed, so Daydream never activates.  If you turn the Stereo part off, the tablet's screen goes off too, and cannot be turned on.  The little LCD in the base unit cannot display the time.

Of course streaming music works fine, and many Android streaming apps have at least basic alarm clock functionality, but getting it to work the way I want is harder than it should be.

Bear with me as I get just a bit hypocritical.  Here at, we tend to frown upon manufacturers and wireless providers altering Android, usually with the intent of locking the customers into additional services and products. recommends Pure Google devices for that very reason. Having said that, I am now going to tell you that one of the problems with this device is that RCA (or Foxconn, or whoever really developed it) didn't customize Android enough.

No, it's not actually not hypocritical. It is just that this is a unique device, and the tablet and stereo functions need to be better integrated.  I don't want them to install bloatware, or even mess with Android itself, but there should at least be a custom app that allows you to set sleep and screensaver settings for when the unit is docked - with or without the main unit being on.

In fact, one of the biggest benefits is that the version of Android Jelly Bean is actually very close to a pure Android.  It's also Google Certified, meaning that Google Play, and all of the basic Google services, work without hacking, rooting, or being an Android developer.  If it doesn't do something you want it to do, there's probably something in Google Play that will do it, and it's probably free.

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If this would be your first and only Android device, I have to strongly recommend against it.  The poor quality screen and the lack if integration as a complete system would give you a very poor experience.  It's biggest benefit is for someone who has already thoroughly bought into the Google infrastructure.  Such a person could make the most of it, and would know quick solutions to some if it's quirks.  For such a person, this unit, combined with an HD TV, and a Google Chromecast make a great bedroom or spare room media masterpiece.  It's kind of like the
Android watch reviewed here -- It's not quite ready for Joe consumer, but it's a must-have for the true Android affectionado.

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