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EVGA Tegra Note 7 review: Solid stylus features at an affordable price

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MSRP: $199.00

The Good The EVGA Tegra Note 7 has great gaming performance, microSD storage expansion, and a comfortable stylus that delivers a smooth experience.

The Bad Unless you're using the cover, the embedded groove is useless and uncomfortable. The screen resolution isn't as sharp as some recent 7-inch tablets and the front-facing camera is terrible. The tablet sometimes gets stuck in horizontal screen orientation. There are few useful stylus apps included.

The Bottom Line Though its design and features can't compare with the Galaxy Note 8, the EVGA Tegra Note 7 delivers a solid stylus experience for almost half the price.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the EVGA Tegra Note 7 is your best bet. It costs only $200 -- compared to the Note 8's $380 price tag -- and is outfitted with enough features to satisfy those looking to save some cash, while still taking advantage of a stylus interface.

However, you won't have to look too closely to see where Nvidia cut some corners in design. The long, uncomfortable groove along the tablet's right edge -- a space which the screen cover/stand accessory slides into -- the uncovered microSD slot, and the plastic-y cheap feel of its body (despite a rather smooth back), all indicate that while EVGA and Nvidia offer a lot for $200, some sacrifices were made to get to that price.

And that's not to mention the unimpressive 1,280x800 resolution screen that randomly locks itself into a horizontal position, a crappy front camera, and dearth of useful stylus apps.

That said, Nvidia has shown with the Shield that it's quick to address software issues, so I expect some of the issues I've encountered to be cleared up by the time the Android 4.3 patch -- the tablet ships with 4.2.2 -- hits in December.

Though it has a few wrinkles to iron out, the Tegra Note 7 should satisfy most people's craving for an affordable Android Stylus solution.

Design
The EVGA Tegra Note 7 includes both a stylus and a small slot in its bottom right corner to pocket the stylus when its not in use. It's one of those small appreciated details that points to the thoughtfulness behind the tablet's design. However, there's one design detail -- which I'll get to later -- that made me question the company's decision making prowess.

Along the top edge you'll find a power/sleep button, headphone jack, Micro-HDMI port, and a Micro-USB port. On the right edge sits a microSD slot for expanding storage by up to 32GB and below it a volume rocker. On the back, tucked in the right corner is a 5-megapixel back camera and there's a VGA front camera in the middle of the top bezel on the front.

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From left to right: Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, headphone jack, power/sleep button, and above that a 5-megapixel camera. James Martin/CNET
Tested spec EVGA Tegra Note 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Weight in pounds 0.70 0.66 0.66 0.76
Width in inches (landscape) 7.8 7.3 7.8 8.2
Height in inches 4.7 5.0 4.5 5.3
Depth in inches 0.38 0.35 0.34 0.31
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.9 0.6 1.0 0.7

The Note 7 would likely have been a pretty small 7-inch tablet, but for the two front-facing speakers located on the far left and right bezel when holding it in landscape. There's also a subwoofer tucked beneath the right speaker on the tablet's edge. I'm a sucker for nice-feeling textured backsides on tablet, so the Note 7's soft, leathery back really does it for me in terms of comfort.

As I mentioned above, the design's not perfect and it's the tablet-long groove along its right side that really irks me. The groove acts as a space to insert the cover accessory and that's fine if you're always using the cover. However, if the cover's lost or broken, or you just don't want to use it, then there's no point in the groove being there. If it wasn't so blatantly noticeable, distracting, and uncomfortable when physically touching the tablet, it wouldn't be an issue.

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Not the thinnest tablet in the world, but not too thick either. James Martin/CNET

The back has also been magnetized so that the cover can actually stick to, and prop the tablet up. This leads, unfortunately, to the tablet sticking to metal surfaces if placed on them. It's not like it can't be removed with a little muscle, but it's an annoying flaw that frustrates.

Hardware and software features
The Note 7's stylus is longer and slightly heavier than Samsung's pen, but its weight feels balanced and comfortable in my hand. The point is angled in a way that allows you to write very fine, or with a much thicker impression. Also, the point can be screwed off and replaced with an even finer, or thicker, option.

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The Note 7 was obviously built with the stylus in mind. James Martin/CNET

There's a lasso shortcut option ever present on the tablet's software menu that once tapped, allows you to capture any image on the screen by circling it. Similar to the Galaxy Note 8's lasso feature, except the Note 8 takes fewer steps to complete the procedure. You can also enable stylus-only mode where the screen will ignore touches from your fingers. A thoughtful addition, but one that I found to be too easily enabled by accident, leading me to mistakenly thinking the screen was bugging out.

Tegra Draw is the lone stylus art app the tablet ships with. With it, you can draw pictures, as well as import and edit pictures from your gallery. The interface is simple, allowing you to quickly and easily change line thickness, color, and opacity.

The Tegra Note 7 houses a 1.8GHz quad-core Tegra 4 CPU and 1GB of RAM, and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz only) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, as well as a gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass.

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The Note 7's cover accessory doubles as a stand, and is very reminiscent of Apple's Smart Cover for iPads. James Martin/CNET

Performance
The Note 7 has an IPS screen with a resolution of 1,280x800. That's low by 2013 standards and -- not surprisingly -- it's not as sharp the 2013 Nexus 7's or the Kindle Fire HDX 7's screens. Viewing angles are wide and the screen can achieve a high brightness, but colors are a bit drab compared to the poppy competition.

The screen doesn't always respond to taps either from my fingers or the stylus and at times appears to be confused as to which it should take orders from, sometimes not accepting certain commands from either input.

Tested spec EVGA Tegra Note 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Maximum brightness 423 cd/m2 430 cd/m2 570 cd/m2 458 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.25 cd/m2 0.37 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1692:1 1162:1 1295:1 974:1

Apps load faster than most Android tablets, with N.O.V.A. 3 taking 26 seconds to start the first level. Granted, that's not as good as the iPad Mini (2012), but it comes closer than any of the other small Android tablets.

Speaking of games, the Tegra 4 inside the Note 7 delivers high frame rates in Riptide GP 2, and good performance in more taxing games like Asphalt 8. With only a 1,280x800 resolution, graphical detail isn't as sharp as the Kindle Fire HDX delivers however.

3DMark (Unlimited)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 1 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 2 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Physics Test (CPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
N.O.V.A. 3 Level 1 load time (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

The front-facing VGA camera is one of the grainiest I've seen in recent memory, and while the rear camera is a definite improvement, it's still only decent by typical tablet camera standards.

Battery life wasn't an issue while performing everyday tasks, but check back soon for our full battery test results.

Conclusion
As small stylus tablets go, you have only two viable options right now: the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the EVGA Tegra Note 7. The Note 8 overall offers a more fulfilling stylus experience, with more accurate palm detection, a higher quality screen, and an overall interface that feels better integrated into the OS. However, I still feel the Note 8 is about $50 to $75 overpriced, and that's where the Tegra Note 7 demonstrates its worth.

The Tegra Note 7 has a fast Tegra 4 CPU, Micro-HDMI, and a price that's nearly half the Galaxy's. If you're simply looking for something to take notes on in meetings, the Note 7 will meet your needs easily. Artists and those looking for a richer experience will want to choose the Note 8.

Removing the stylus from the equation, the Note 7 is still a viable tablet option that offers lots of value at a low price. However, with only a 1,280x800 resolution, both the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and the 2013 Nexus 7 -- which house 1,920x1,200 screens -- offer prettier and sharper experiences for about $30 more. So, if you're willing to pay a bit more -- or a lot, in the case of the Note 8 -- more fulfilling experiences are available from Samsung, Amazon, and Google.

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