The Hudl2's camera app is extremely basic. You've only got still, video, panorama, photo sphere and lens blur modes, the latter of which can be used to inject bokeh into macro shots. The only things you can do from within the viewfinder are add a framing grid and set a countdown timer, but even in the deeper settings menu, you can only adjust the resolution and quality of images each lens spits out. Head to the "advanced" section of this menu, and you'll find an option to add a manual exposure setting to the viewfinder -- everything else is taken care of automatically. I don't consider this a negative, though, because who really wants to faff around with white balance and scene-selection settings when you're simply trying to grab an opportunistic shot on your tablet?
Camera performance on the first Hudl was thoroughly disappointing, but the Hudl2 demonstrates some notable improvements. Firstly, image quality is better by default thanks to the higher resolution. Beyond that, though, colours are way more vibrant and realistic in scenarios where natural light is on your side. Shutter speed and response times are pretty good, too. Some photos still come out a little overexposed and washed out, and the auto-white balance setting isn't always accurate (especially when shooting landscapes), but more often than not, you'll be happy with the output. The main camera doesn't fare so well with artificial lighting. Images tend to be either extremely washed out, or take on the general hue of whatever bulb's illuminating the scene. In twilight, the camera simply jacks the exposure setting up to its maximum, resulting in horribly pale images. In much darker situations, however, you get a more realistic image even if it is on the grainy side. At this light level, though, the shutter speed has dropped so low you need to hold the tablet steady for well over a second to achieve anything but a blurry mess.
I don't have a great deal of positive things to say about the Hudl2's 1.2MP front-facing camera. On a bright, sunny day, it'll take a perfectly good selfie, but stray from those ideal conditions and image noise starts to become a real issue. This is particularly true in low-light situations, where banding noise turns photos into streaky mosaics. The front-facing shooter is capable of recording 720p video, while the main camera can capture clips at 1080p. Don't let the resolutions fool you, though, as they're not particularly handy in this department. The front-facer has the same problems with video as it does with stills, and the primary camera doesn't do a markedly better job. While the frame rate of video is fine, noticeable pixelation and fidgety autofocus/exposure settings mean you won't want to use the Hudl2 to capture any meaningful moments. The quality of recorded audio is quite simply terrible, with ill-defined sound all but hidden under the loud hiss of static.
(Full-resolution camera sample images can be found here.)
Performance and battery life
A more sophisticated design and a bigger, better display aren't the only enhancements Tesco's bestowed upon its second-generation tablet. The Hudl2 also has a faster quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor (with turbo boost up to 1.83GHz), this time paired with 2GB of RAM, double the amount of memory its predecessor offered. It also has the same 16GB of internal storage as the first Hudl, with a microSD card slot allowing you to add more. Tesco says the slate is compatible with cards as large as 32GB, but then again, it said the same about the original Hudl, yet that handled a 64GB card without issue. Sadly, I don't have anything of that size on hand to test whether the Hudl2 is capable of the same overachievement.
The Hudl2 has all the processing power it needs to deal with typical tablet use cases effortlessly. I'm talking about cycling through the app drawer, jumping into Gmail, browsing YouTube -- that sort of thing. It's generally a slick and responsive affair, though I did notice a few infrequent hiccups. Occasionally, the on-screen keyboard would take a split second longer to appear than normal, for example, or the tablet would hang briefly when switching from the lockscreen to the home screen. These minor indiscretions have practically no impact on the general user experience, though. On a related note, the transition from the normal home screen to the immovable "My Tesco" pane isn't a particularly smooth one. It stutters across to fill the screen, but I'm certain this is down to poor optimisation on Tesco's part, rather than any fault of the hardware.
Browsing the web on the Hudl2 is a great experience, making it a perfect couch-surfing companion. Sites load quickly on the device (using the Chrome browser), and I haven't noticed any scroll lag, tiling or other performance issues of that nature. I wasn't sure the Intel Atom chip would deal with processor-intensive tasks as well, but my reservations were unfounded. The 3D games Real Racing 3 and Shadowgun: Deadzone run fantastically, and Asphalt 8: Airborne only starts dropping frames when pushed to the highest graphics setting (it's fine on the recommended medium setting). When running power-hungry apps, the tablet does have a tendency to heat up around the primary camera lens, so prepare for your left palm to get sweaty during extended gaming sessions. Aside from this observation, I'd be lying if I said I expected Tesco's £129 tablet to perform as well as it does in all areas.
The Hudl2's connectivity options aren't exhaustive, but it's got everything a regular punter will need: dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS/GLONASS (it's a WiFi-only tablet, remember, so it isn't exactly an ideal satnav replacement). The tablet also has a HDMI Micro-out port, so you can mirror its screen on your living room TV with the right cable.
For whatever reason, Tesco doesn't specify the actual capacity of the batteries in either of its tablets. The Hudl2 is said to be good for up to eight hours of use, but in the standard Engadget video-looping test, it only managed six and a half before giving up the ghost. The original Hudl (which Tesco claimed had a nine-hour battery life) didn't do too much better, clocking in a time of just over seven hours. (Neither result is particularly impressive, but several, admittedly older, Android tablets have put in comparable performances.) Under normal usage conditions at medium screen brightness, you can expect to get roughly six hours of Hudl2 time before needing to recharge. Run a lot of processor-intensive apps and games, however, and you're looking at more like four hours. The Hudl2's battery life is definitely one of its weakest points, and you wouldn't want the tablet as your sole source of entertainment on a long-haul flight. That being said, if it's going to spend most of its life on the living room coffee table, I doubt you'll find plugging it in every other evening a huge inconvenience.
These days, if you're in the market for a decent tablet that retails for under £200, you're practically spoilt for choice. If it's something a little more affordable you're after, however, then your options start to become more limited. At £129, the Hudl2 is one of only a few truly wallet-friendly slates available in the UK right now. Currently, its closest competition is Amazon's Fire HD 7, which starts at £119 for the 8GB model. The extra tenner you pay for the Hudl2 is certainly worth it, though, as Tesco's tablet is simply better in every respect -- barring, perhaps, battery life. It has a bigger, higher-resolution display, better cameras and a faster processor, not to mention it has a more open Android OS built with access to the Google Play store.
A couple of UK carriers have recently added new, low-cost tablets to their device repertoires. Vodafone's started selling its own-brand Smart Tab 4G for £125 on pay-as-you-go, while EE now offers the Alcatel OneTouch Pop 7S for £100 all-in. Obviously, these slates have LTE connectivity, which isn't something you can say about the Hudl2. Tesco's tab trumps both when it comes to raw specs, though, making it the more sensible purchase if having internet access on the move isn't your top priority.
If you're not much of a tablet gamer, and simply want a device to do the basics on, like web browsing and the odd email, then picking up a first-generation Hudl might be the way to go. Following the launch of the Hudl2, Tesco's discounted its first-gen tablet to the bargain price of £79 while it still has leftover stock to shift. Amazon's newer Fire HD 6 tablet (8GB model) retails for the same price, though, and may be the preferred option if you'd be content with Fire OS and want a slate with long battery life.
Both of the supermarket's tablets are eligible for "Clubcard Boost," which means your loyalty points are worth double their normal amount when put toward a purchase of either slate. A first-gen Hudl is therefore only £40 when bought with Clubcard points, but if you've managed to amass £65, I'd suggest the newer, better Hudl2. At £129 in real money, the Hudl2 is already the best value tablet around. If you do happen to have £65 in points lying dormant in your Clubcard account, though, then the Hudl2 is an absolute steal.
Tesco's in a rather unique position -- it's a brand trusted for providing millions of Brits with the everyday essentials, meaning it has a huge captive audience to sell the Hudl2 and its digital services to. The supermarket's been clever to make its second-gen slate as technophobe-friendly as its first, while also improving child-safety measures to appeal to families that plan to share a single device. With both of these selling points, and a target market that may not be au fait with all the other tablet options out there, Tesco isn't under the same level of pressure to compete in the spec wars as other manufacturers are. And yet, it's crafted a product that's not only attractive to regular consumers looking for an affordable tablet, but also to the type of person, like me, who's interested in pixel density and processor speeds.
The truth is, you get a hell of a lot for your money. A gorgeous 8.3-inch display makes the Hudl2 a fantastic tablet to consume media on, complemented by superb audio quality when you've got headphones plugged in. The tablet might be made from relatively cheap materials, but it's well-designed with robust build quality. It's no slouch under the hood either, with all the processing power it needs to handle casual browsing and 3D gaming alike. Yes, Tesco bloatware is hiding in every nook and cranny, but you can simply ignore anything you don't want to use and enjoy the full stock Android experience. Now, the Hudl2's battery life is nothing to write home about, and its stereo speakers could be better. But, all things considered, the Hudl2 is hands-down the best value tablet you can buy in the UK right now.