One may seem like a paragon of modernity compared to its 94-year-old rival, but the UK's two biggest retailers have a lot in common. For starters, both Amazon and Tesco succeeded far beyond their original missions (bookseller and greengrocer, respectively) to become retail giants. Both understand the value of consumer data and exploit that information mercilessly. Finally, both sell dirt-cheap Android tablets in the hopes of maintaining a foothold in our living rooms, hearts, minds and, most importantly, wallets.
In the UK, there are around 50 million people who don't own a tablet or any other mobile computing device. That's the group of people that Tesco is going after with the Hudl, an Android slate that tech snobs, obsessed with blistering benchmarks, would turn their noses up at. Priced at £119 ($191), but available for £60 ($91) if you redeem Clubcard vouchers, it's not a surprise that the company sold 35,000 units after launch. So, is it better than the Kindle Fire that it seeks to emulate? And when all is said and done, is this the device for which we'll be stuck doing technical support when the in-laws inevitably purchase it?
Gallery: Tesco Hudl Review | 82 Photos
Gallery: Tesco Hudl Review | 82 Photos
- Good build quality
- Surprisingly good audio
- Google Play access
- Dismal camera
- Mediocre performance
If you had any remaining illusions as to the Hudl's target market, opening the box should dispel them immediately. The protective sticker that covers the display offers up helpful labels that direct you toward the various ports and buttons as if this was "my first tablet." Peel that back, and you're left with a rectangle of glass with rounded-off corners, and a lid fashioned out of brightly hued plastic. Though our review unit came in royal blue, you can also snap it up in red, purple or classic black. Walk past it in a hurry, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for last year's Kindle Fire HD. We're not suggesting that the Hudl is a clone, but given the look, feel and placement of the speakers, there are plenty of commonalities between the two.
Delve further into the packaging and you'll find a 5-volt wall socket and a micro-USB cable, a few short instructional pamphlets and a voucher booklet offering you discounts when you use the Hudl to buy stuff. That includes free broadband for Tesco Homephone customers, 75 percent off your first five movie purchases and £15 off your first grocery shop of £60, among other offers.
Hardware-wise, there's a micro-HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone jack running along the top; a power button, volume rocker and microSD slot down on the right side; and the micro-USB port jutting out the bottom. While the spec sheet promises that only microSD cards of 32GB or less will work on the device, we had no issue using a 64GB card. Continuing our tour, the left-hand side of the tablet is blank, while on the back you'll find a pair of stereo speakers mounted two-thirds of the way down the side, along with a 3-megapixel camera jutting out of the top corner. There's also a front-facing camera, which sits at the center of the Hudl's front bezel -- and unlike orientation-agnostic tablets like the Nexus 7, this one's clearly designed to be held in landscape.
You can stick this between your hands and try to bend it, but you'll struggle to get as much as a creak out of this device. Despite its bargain-basement price, the company has clearly worked hard to keep the build quality high. That shouldn't be a surprise, considering it was developed in partnership with Archos (it's the Archos HT7S3, trivia hounds) and manufactured by Keen High, which also produces hardware for Microsoft and HP. Under the hood, you'll find 16GB of internal storage and not much else, if we're honest. There's a Rockchip system-on-chip paired with Mali 400 graphics, 1GB of RAM, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. So, let's move on.
|Dimensions||128.8 x 192.8 x 9.85mm (5.07 x 7.59 x 0.38 inches)|
|Weight||0.81 pound (370 grams)|
|Resolution||1,440 x 900 (242 ppi)|
|Screen type||IPS LCD|
|Battery||Up to 9 hours|
|External storage||microSD card (up to 32GB)|
|Rear camera||3-megapixel AF|
|Forward camera||2-megapixel fixed-focus|
|SoC||Quad-core Rockchip RK3188 w/ Mali 400 Graphics|
|Operating system||Android 4.2.2|
|Details correct as of October 2013|
Display and audio
When reviewing a low-end tablet with a mid-range display, you've got to give praise where it's due, knowing the price that this is on sale for. After all, this display actually deserves a good deal of praise, but not so much that we come off like we're fawning. The 7-inch, 1,440 x 900 IPS LCD panel has a perfectly acceptable backlight, a decent pixel density (242 ppi) and viewing angles that enable you to see the action from pretty much any position that physics allows.
One of our recurring gripes about most cheap Android tablets is that the speakers are badly placed, and often sound tinny and distorted at full volume. That is not the case here. While the overall volume is quieter than other slates we've used, the sound is crystal clear. To be fair, you won't be hosting any impromptu parties with this device, but given that so many pieces of hardware scrimp on this essential feature, we're pleased with what we've seen -- or rather, heard.
Performance and battery life
The Hudl's spec sheet makes for disappointing reading, filling our hearts with a sense of unmitigated dread. After all, it's rare that you'd be pleased to learn that your tablet has a Rockchip system-on-chip. No offense to the Chinese foundry, but its ultra-low-budget offerings will hardly give Qualcomm's and NVIDIA's CEOs night terrors. As you can see from the figures, this isn't a device that'll breeze through 3D titles, given that its GFXBench test was a paltry 4.1 fps. What is concerning, however, is that since you'd expect novice users to do plenty of browsing on this device, a SunSpider score of 1,403ms shows that little effort has been put into refining that experience (note: lower numbers are better on that test).
|Tesco Hudl (2013)||Nexus 7 (2013)|
|SunSpider 1.0.1 (ms)||1,403||602|
|GFXBench 2.7 HD Offscreen (fps)||4.1||40|
|*SunSpider: lower scores are better.|
Tesco promises that the Hudl can last around nine hours, but in our intensive rundown test, it lasted seven hours (seven hours and six minutes, to be precise). We don't want you to get the impression that's bad, however, as seven hours is actually a reasonable figure for a tablet of this size. While you shouldn't compare it to the Nexus 7 (which has a significantly brighter screen), this will be a useful companion while you couch surf in the evening. In fact, when work stopped, we would just keep this in our hands, tweeting, watching Netflix and generally making a nuisance of ourselves online -- and found that we got between five and six hours of run time before beating a retreat to the wall socket.
|Microsoft Surface 2||14:22|
|Apple iPad mini||12:43 (WiFi)|
|Apple iPad (late 2012)||11:08 (WiFi)|
|Amazon Kindle Fire HDX (7-inch)||10:41 (WiFi)|
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime||10:17|
|Apple iPad (2012)||9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)|
|Nexus 7 (2012)||9:49|
|Microsoft Surface for Windows RT||9:36|
|ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700||9:25|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1||8:56|
|Sony Xperia Tablet Z||8:40|
|Hisense Sero 7 Pro||8:28|
|Galaxy Tab 2 7.0||7:38|
|HP Slate 7||7:36|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0||7:18|
Nexus 7 (2013)
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
Software and services
In the same way that the Kindle Fire is basically a glorified in-store catalog, Tesco wants the Hudl to be your hook into its retail ecosystem. That means its home screen is full of widgets offering direct access to Tesco's grocery stores, Tesco Direct, Clubcard, blinkbox Movies and Music. These widgets can be easily dismissed, but we think the company's betting that once ordering groceries from your couch becomes a habit, you won't consider ditching them. The one thing you can't ditch is the "T" logo sitting in the bottom-left corner of the home bar. Here you'll also find shortcuts to Clubcard TV, Tesco Bank, Florence and Fred (Fashion), Tesco Wine and Tesco Phone Shop, as well as a store locator.
With the Hudl being very much a "family-friendly" device, designed to be left in close reach of the kids, the company needed to ensure that the Hudl could be tailored to be more child-friendly. The Getting Started app, which lives on the home screen, gives users a rundown on ways that they can do this. Unfortunately, unlike the Kindle Fire's Free Time, there's no automatic, one-stop shop for parental control. Instead, you get tutorials on which settings you need to change within the various apps, as well as Google Play shortcuts for apps like Famigo Kid Lock and Zoodle's Kid Mode. We're not sure if we like this approach, since, while it does offer parents very granular controls (Google Safe search, content filters, securing Google Play with a password, etc.), we imagine that some impatient adults would expect some more hand-holding.
It's tradition, or an old charter (or something) that every gadget reviewer must reheat the tired proclamation that people shouldn't use their tablets as cameras. Unfortunately for us, those arguments don't hold water when you see people showing up at tourist attractions carrying iPads. If we were to sum up the Hudl's imaging prowess in a single word, it'd be "dismal." With washed-out, pixelated images, we'd have honestly preferred it if Tesco (and Archos) beefed up the forward-facing camera and abandoned the rear shooter altogether.
Gallery: Tesco Hudl Sample Images | 44 Photos
Gallery: Tesco Hudl Sample Images | 44 Photos
Unsurprisingly, video recording doesn't fare much better. Our sample clips were blurry, shaky productions that failed to pick up clear sound. As you can see in the clip above, the quality here is terrible, and we wouldn't suggest you use this for anything but the most dire of emergencies -- and even then, the resulting clip probably wouldn't be admissible as evidence.
Our review unit came with a black soft-touch folding case/stand, but everyone else will have to buy it separately for £15. The accessory does its job well, with sturdy plastic clips that hook onto the four corners of the Hudl and a case that divides in three to offer a more vertical or more horizontal position. There's also a magnetic flap inside that promises to hold the whole shebang together. We were happy to use the stand and you can be sure it'll keep the slate protected should you take it out and about. But we did find that the felt-like lining was a magnet for fluff and lint. In addition, Tesco is also selling kids headphones (£12), earbuds (£15), a micro-HDMI-out cable (£15) and various charging sets (£15 to £20) -- which you can buy in-store or from within the Tesco Direct app.
Looking at the price, not to mention the target audience, we're going to have to come back to the Kindle Fire as the Hudl's primary competitor. In comparison to the £119/£60 Hudl, the base-model Kindle Fire will set you back £119 with 8GB of storage and Special Offers (read: built-in ads). For that, however, you'll get access to the Amazon App Store (as opposed to Google Play), Lovefilm, IMDb X-Ray and all of the other services that the company offers. Unfortunately, you'll be stuck with that meager eight gigs of storage, as the Fire HD doesn't have a microSD card slot. And while you can access other stores' websites via the browser, you'll also lose your chance at super-convenient grocery shopping. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire HDX with 16GB of storage will set you back £199 with Special Offers. It's clearly one whole price bracket higher than the Hudl, but for the extra cash you'll get a 323-ppi display, a Snapdragon 800 processor and Mayday live tech support.
As for other low-price 7-inch tablets? If you're not fussed at the idea of subscribing to one company's ecosystem, then you've got the £199, 16GB Nexus 7, which has a similarly pixel-dense display along with a superior 5-megapixel camera. And, given that it's a Nexus device, you'll be entitled to software updates direct from Google. In the same size bracket, there are also the other usual suspects. The 7-inch Galaxy Tab 3 will set you back £160; the first-generation iPad mini is available for £249; and the new model with a Retina display is priced at £319.
There are certain things that Britain does well, and some things that, when it tries to stand equal to its American cousins, it fails miserably. The traditional canvas plimsoll, for instance, doesn't really grab the eye when placed next to a pair of Chuck Taylors. While plucky Brits can get excited over a six-episode season of a sitcom, those across the pond can enjoy anything between 13 and 26 in half a year. In a way, Tesco's Hudl feels like a slightly weak reworking of Amazon's Kindle Fire, designed to appease more provincial tastes. From a technology standpoint, therefore, we should be disappointed that there's not been much innovation here. You see, it's hard not to defer to Amazon's second- or third-generation Kindle Fire tablets, purely because that hardware is significantly more refined than Tesco's debut effort. Some may say that's unfair, but having used the Hudl extensively, we can't help but notice that everything the Hudl does, the Amazon tablet already does too -- and it does it better.
But you knew that was going to be the case, didn't you? This is a tablet from Tesco, for pity's sake. Except, when you begin to use it, something strange begins to happen. Despite all of its failings, this meager slate became our go-to piece of hardware for responding to emails and browsing Twitter. We had it playing movies on Netflix while we worked, and we rocked out to a playlist while cooking dinner. While its original purpose was to coax technophobes into the future, the Hudl is easy to use and, dare we say it, charming enough, that it might win over even the most hardened of gadget snobs. If you're a Tesco shopper and you've got Clubcard points that'll let you purchase this for £60, then it's a no-brainer. Buy this device. Go home and enjoy it. If you have no choice but to pay the full £120 price, however, then the Kindle Fire HD becomes the more persuasive option.