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.
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 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.
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.