Hisense Sero 7 Pro review: a newcomer tries its hand at Android tablets

Hisense, a company best known for its home theater equipment, isn't exactly a name synonymous with mobile devices. But with its new, Walmart-exclusive line of Android tablets -- the Sero 7 LT and Sero 7 Pro -- the Chinese manufacturer is dipping its toe into an increasingly crowded pool. Both tablets occupy the budget end of the spectrum, with the higher-end of the two, the Sero 7 Pro, going for a reasonable $150. For the price, the specs are decent: the Sero comes with a 1,280 x 800 display, a quad-core Tegra 3 processor and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. We dove headfirst into this bargain buy to see how it fares against similarly priced 7-inch tablets. Want to find out if Hisense has the chops to compete? Read on, friends.

Gallery | 28 Photos

Hisense Sero 7 Pro review

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Hisense

Sero 7 Pro

Pros

  • Nice design for the price
  • Inexpensive
  • Decent display

Cons

  • Doesn't play nice with all headphones
  • Unclear when or if a software update is coming
Summary

Hisense's first Android tablet almost pulls even with the competition, thanks to a stellar display and decent specs, but it's not without flaws.

Hardware

Shopping for budget tablets is an exercise in managing one's expectations.

Shopping for budget tablets is an exercise in managing one's expectations. With the Sero 7 Pro, Hisense seems to have strategically carved out its budget, using modest materials for the hardware. With dimensions of 7.87 x 4.95 x 0.43 inches, the Sero 7 is a comfortably sized tablet that feels fairly sturdy in-hand. And at 12.7 ounces, it's not the lightest Android tablet on the block either, but the slight heft does add to that feeling of durability. Design-wise, the plastic backing is textured to to provide a decent grip, and the coppery hue looks more expensive than it is, especially in sunlight. Hisense seemed determined to prove that inexpensive materials don't necessarily correlate with an inexpensive aesthetic; the Sero 7's clean lines make for a nice-looking budget device.

Continuing our tour, the power button is located near the top of the device on the right-hand side, right above the volume rocker. Both are made from black plastic that feels a bit flimsy, especially compared to that textured backing. Along the top you'll find mini-HDMI and micro-USB ports, a covered microSD slot (which can handle up to 32GB), a 3.5mm headphone jack and a pinhole microphone. The HDMI-out is a nice touch, and it worked adequately when we paired it with a Sony HDTV to watch a few high-quality YouTube videos (included, we're not proud to admit, the "Sad Cat Diary" more than once). Should you decide to add the Sero 7 Pro to your gadget collection, you'll be happy to know that USB on-the-go is enabled, allowing you to use it with a flash drive, keyboard or mouse.

Out of the box, you'll find a sticker near the bottom of the device's backing, marking off the area where the NFC sensor lives. Right beneath that are two small stereo speakers (more on those later). An embossed Hisense logo sits in the middle, while a 5MP rear facing camera and its accompanying light sensor sit near the uppermost edge. Also included are GPS, Bluetooth and 5GHz 802.11n. Lastly, the tablet comes with 8GB of internal storage space, so that microSD port will almost surely come in handy.

Display and sound

While the Sero 7's hardware might lack a certain pizzazz, the same can't be said about the 1,280 x 800 display. This is one area where Hisense decided to splurge. Colors appear vivid, with dimension and depth. Blacks, which so often turn gray on mobile devices, look deep and dark here, and the screen gets bright enough to sear your eyeballs (a useful quality in direct sunlight). Additionally, the 7-inch screen offers great viewing angles without losing much color vibrancy when looked at from the side with the device laying flat.

From the rainbow-hued landscape of Candy Crush Saga to the eye-popping bubblegum pinks of Nicki Minaj music videos (played in HD, of course), the Sero 7's display served up rich, vibrant colors. Similarly, videos played back smoothly and beautifully. Text, in Play Books and Chrome, was as crisp as you'd want it to be. For a budget tablet, the display was nothing to shake a stick at, and we were left considerably impressed with its quality.

Unfortunately, the quality wasn't as consistent when we got to the Sero 7's sound. It's not that the audio coming from the device's dual speakers was bad. Not at all. Mobile speakers are what they are -- we weren't blown away by the Sero 7's audio capabilities, but they performed adequately, even at maximum volume. Tablet users are no strangers to the tinny effect that often accompanies their devices' audio, but it was less noticeable here than it was on a similarly priced tablet, the HP Slate 7. Dialogue and background music in movie previews played well, with the slight tinny echo more evident in songs that called for more bass than the Sero 7 could provide.

Our disappointment heightened when we tested the tablet with some headsets we had lying around. We discovered that the Sero 7 has pretty severe compatibility issues with more than its fair share of brands. When paired with Sony, Apple and Jabra earbuds, the Sero 7 didn't register that a headset had been inserted into the 3.5 mm jack, and the audio came out of the device's speakers as if our earbuds weren't even there. We had better luck with a pair of over-the-ear Panasonic headphones and Tylt Tunz earbuds. When the Sero 7 actually recognized that the headphone jack was in use, we were sufficiently pleased with the quality, which was rich and true on the songs we tested despite the lack of an EQ setting in the tablet's main menu. However, the compatibility issue might be problematic if you find yourself needed to run out to purchase brand new headphones to use with your device. No one wants to be bothered with that.

Software

The Sero 7 comes Android 4.2.1, which means it's lacking some of the most recent Jelly Bean features we've come to know and love. Beyond that, the tablet is running an almost stock version of Android, with minimal skinning. There are a few apps preloaded to the device, some of which you might never use, but some which might actually prove beneficial to you. Because this is a Walmart exclusive, the Sero 7 is, of course, packing Walmart's own app, along with one for Sam's Club. If you're a Walmart shopper, that might be of use to you, but we simply shrugged and went on our merry way. If they're really bother you, you can always uninstall them. Also loaded on the device are the VUDU Movies and TV app and Kingsoft, a Microsoft Office clone that lets you create and edit .doc, .xls and .txt files.

In addition to Chrome, Gmail, YouTube and other standard issue Google apps, the Sero 7 also includes TegraZone, an app store for NVIDIA optimized games (which, like VUDU, cannot be uninstalled since they're system apps). It's not a bad addition, considering the device's NVIDIA quad-core Tegra 3 processor, but again, how useful it is is entirely up to you. For Flash support, the regular ol' Android browser is available for when Chrome doesn't suit your needs. Curiously enough, there's also a TV remote app, though without an IR sensor, it has limited usability. Your TV needs to be hooked up the same WiFi network as your tablet.

Applications aside, there have been a few tweaks to the standard Android 4.2.1 package. On the bottom navigation bar, Hisense has added a screen capture icon to the three we're used to (recent, menu and back). If you're accustomed to Android devices, you'll probably find yourself taking a ton of accidental screenshots as you instinctively aim for the recently used apps icon (as we did), but it's actually a pretty neat feature. Some may see it as an unnecessary addition, but it's much easier than pressing the power and volume buttons down simultaneously to make screen grabs.

Camera

DNP Hisense Sero 7 Pro review

There's a reason tablet cameras have a bad rap: they tend to be downright awful. The Sero 7's rear-facing 5-megapixel camera isn't likely to change anyone's mind on that issue, but it does perform admirably considering our low expectations. There's a decent LED flash for low-light situations (so long as you're close to your target), along with a handful of customizable settings and filters that come with Android 4.2, like Photo Sphere and panoramic shooting. The auto-focus works well, so shaky hands won't ruin your photos as they would on something like the HP Slate 7's disappointing camera.

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Hisense Sero 7 Pro sample shots

Outdoors, the camera fares pretty well. Indoors, so long as the lighting was good, the picture were adequate, if unimpressive. In low-light settings, you'll be hard-pressed to get a decent photo, though the flash does help some. The 2-megapixel front facing camera isn't terrible either, though admittedly, the bar is set absurdly low in that arena. Our sample photos weren't too grainy, and the webcam should do in a pinch for video chatting too.

The most disappointing aspect of the rear camera is its tendency to take forever to finish shots. Well, not forever, but long enough that more than a few photos resulted in blurred images due to moving the tablet before the camera had snapped the shot. The camera's activity is timed up with the snapshot animation, standard on Android devices, of the photo minimizing and sliding off to the side. To get the picture you want to take, you have to hold the tablet for the space of another heartbeat to make sure it took. When it comes to photos, the Sero 7 might not be the fastest draw in the West, but the quality does suffice for a budget tablet.

Performance and battery life

Hisense Sero 7 Pro HP Slate 7 Google Nexus 7 (2012) Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0
Quadrant 4,251 N/A 3,460 2,840
Vellamo 1,692 1,426 1,383 978
AnTuTu 12,883 11,698 11,579 N/A
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,868 1,848 1,528 2,239
GFXBench 2.5 Egypt Offscreen (fps) 11 12 9.7 N/A
CF-Bench 11,322 6,790 11,650 N/A
SunSpider: lower scores are better

The Sero 7 Pro's 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor, a mainstay in last year's tablets, still performs reasonably well. According to our benchmark tests, the Sero measures up decently against competing 7-inch tablets, besting the much beloved Nexus 7 on the likes of Quadrant Advanced and AnTuTu while breaking almost even on CFBench. It does, however, display a few behavioral tics common to Android devices. Every now and then, we experienced some minor stuttering and delays, particularly when scrolling through our recently used applications.

Occasionally, it took more than one press of the power button to wake the tablet up from sleep (cut to a pint-sized Sero whining, "But Mom, just five more minutes!"). The biggest delay we noticed while using the device for day to day activities was the lag in adjusting the its orientation. The accelerometer took a beat longer than we would have liked to register the tilt and switch from landscape to portrait (or vice versa) accordingly.

DNP Hisense Sero 7 Pro review Hisense tries its hand at a budget Android tablet

When browsing in Chrome, we ran into very few problems. Pages loaded relatively quickly, and zooming in and out caused minimal to no tiling. On websites that had a lot going on (large photos, animated gifs, et cetera), there was the occasional lag in scrolling, but it wasn't enough of a problem to be too off-putting. On an extremely gif-heavy Tumblr, we encountered very little latency in terms of zooming, loading and scrolling.

Games of varying complexity all ran without a problem on the Sero 7, which is hardly surprising considering the quality we've come to expect from Tegra 3 Android tablets. Temple Run 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 both showed off the Sero's responsiveness and smooth gameplay abilities. With the spiffy display, they both looked great as well. When shopping for the aforementioned games in the Play Store, we did run into some delays when it came to touchscreen typing and browsing, but those issues weren't widespread across the device's other applications.

Tablet Battery Life
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 8:28
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Google Nexus 7 9:49
Microsoft Surface for Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700 9:25
Pantech Element 9:00
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 8:40
HP TouchPad 8:33
Sony Xperia Tablet S 8:31
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Acer Iconia Tab A200 8:16
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Galaxy Note 10.1 8:00
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
HP Slate 7 7:36
Google Nexus 10 7:26
Archos 101 7:20
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01

Hisense promises seven hours of continuous video playback, so we were pleasantly surprised when our test exceeded the company's estimate. With the brightness set at 50 percent, we looped a video at a resolution of 1,270 x 720, and the Sero chugged along for eight hours and 28 minutes before the battery called it a day. That number places it in the middle of the pack, as you can see in the table above. So, it's not overly impressive, but when compared to similar budget Android tablets, it's not too shabby either. During somewhat more quotidian usage, the Sero 7 (in balanced mode) happily survived an entire day of browsing, gaming, Facebooking and tweeting.

DNP Hisense Sero 7 Pro review Hisense tries its hand at a budget Android tablet

While the Sero 7's 4,000mAh battery can't quite catch up the Nexus 7's herculean ten hours on a charge, Hisense's offering does have a reason to toot its horn. Three reasons, to be exact. The Sero 7's power saving modes offer three distinct tiers: Performance priority, balanced and power saving modes, which can all be switched on and off from the settings menu. With power saving mode enabled, the Sero 7 Pro should get you through an entire workday. Our only complaint in terms of power management was the tablet's tendency to overheat. While it's pretty common for devices to warm up while charging, the Sero overheated when plugged in to the point where it was too hot to touch barehanded.

The competition

Hisense is entering the wonderful world of Android tablets at an interesting time. Devices like the Nexus 7, now a year old, set the bar high for budget offerings, and everyone else has seemingly been entrenched in an elaborate game of catch-up with Google. The Sero 7 Pro has its flaws, but it does measure up pretty nicely against the Nexus 7 -- which is to say it's decent compared to a soon-to-be-outdated device. It blows the low-specced HP Slate 7 out of the water, but considering how disappointed we were with that device, the odds were never in HP's favor to begin with.

The Sero 7 Pro manages to put up a good fight.

At the top of the list is the upcoming Nexus 7 refresh. Set to debut on July 30th with a price tag of $230 for a 16GB WiFi edition, the new and improved model will launch with Android 4.3, a quad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and a 1,920 x 1,200, 323-ppi display, making it one of the most pixel-rich tablets on the market. There's also the ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7, which could also give the Sero 7 a run for its money. With the 16GB version of the MeMo Pad retailing for $150, the same price as the Sero, the argument can be made for holding out for a newer, more up-to-date device. With twice the internal storage for the same price, along with a 1,280 x 800 IPS display, the MeMo Pad looks to be the better buy, at least on paper. (Stay tuned for our full review if you're on the fence!)

Also on the market is Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab 3, which just hit stores with a starting price of $200 and somewhat underwhelming specs compared to the Sero 7 Pro and the MeMo Pad 7. Boasting a modest 1,024 x 600 display and eight gigs of storage, the price doesn't seem to justify the specs when you consider all the available options. Likewise, Acer's Iconia A1 tablet packs a quad-core 1.2GHz MediaTek processor and 7.9-inch 1,024 x 768 IPS display with a lower pixel count, but decent viewing angles.

Wrap-up

DNP Hisense Sero 7 Pro review Hisense tries its hand at a budget Android tablet

As we said towards the top of this review, buying a budget tablet is frequently an exercise in managing one's expectations. Hisense hasn't established itself in the Android tablet market, and it's likely that won't happen for some time. All things considered, the Sero 7 Pro is a decent outing for a company without a proven track record in mobile devices, and at $150, it's not a bad buy. With a gorgeous, color-rich display and a simple, sophisticated design, you could do a lot worse.

That being said, we were less than impressed with some of the device's audio playback issues, and we're not sure when or if we can expect an upgrade to Android 4.2.1. Otherwise, we were generally pleased with its performance, aside from the mild hiccups we've noted in other Tegra 3 devices running Android. One can argue that it might be wiser to go with a company with a proven record when it comes to Android tablets, like ASUS, but the Sero 7 Pro still manages to put up a good fight in a crowded arena.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.

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