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Hisense Sero 7 LT review: Cheap, but still not worth it

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The Good The Hisense Sero 7 LT has a Mini-HDMI port, expandable storage, and a competitive $99 price tag.

The Bad The Sero 7 LT has a low-resolution and inconsistently responsive touch screen and low internal storage capacity, lacks Bluetooth and GPS capabilities, and restarts unexpectedly.

The Bottom Line The Hisense Sero 7 LT isn't worth your money -- skip it and go for its more robust counterpart, the Pro, instead.

5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

When I first heard that the Hisense Sero 7 LT was only $99, I was pretty excited. As the stripped-down version of the already decent Sero 7 Pro, the LT, or "Lite," had the potential to be an even more affordable, but still reliable, device.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

See, I'm fine with the Lite stripping down a lot of the Pro's hardware specs to reach its low price point. But when performance starts taking a nosedive along with the price, I have a problem. Not only did it randomly restart and have a slow-to-respond screen, it also simply couldn't download a game (more on that later).

Rather than purchasing the Lite, it makes more sense (ha! see what I did there?) to fork over an extra $50 and get the Pro.

Design
At 0.41 inch thick and weighing 0.78 pound, the Hisense Sero 7 LT is notably slimmer and lighter than the Pro. And, because it opts for a smooth plastic backing instead of the Pro's dimpled, rubberlike texture, its build quality feels less durable and sturdy. In fact, after just a few days of usage, the tablet had already accumulated some scratches and scuffs on its rear panel.

Hisense Sero 7 LT (back)
Priced lower than the Pro, the Sero 7 LT looks and feels cheaper, too. Josh Miller/CNET

The top edge houses all of the ports, which are (from left) a Micro-USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Mini-HDMI port, and an exposed microSD card slot (up to 32GB expandable memory). On the left edge, you'll get a small sleep/power button and a volume rocker.

Above the display in the top-left corner is a 0.3-megapixel camera. There is no rear-facing camera. However, you will find a narrow slit on the bottom of the back panel for the audio speaker.

Hisense Sero 7 LT Hisense Sero 7 Pro HP Slate 7
Weight in pounds 0.78 0.82 0.8
Width in inches (landscape) 7.87 7.87 7.7
Height in inches 4.8 4.95 4.6
Depth in inches 0.41 0.43 0.42
Side bezel width in inches (landscape/portrait) 0.87/0.63 0.93/0.63 0.87/0.56

All in all, this device ultimately feels like it's worth $100. Though being thinner and lighter usually scores high marks for design, the Lite just feels cheap and almost toylike. It takes the already ho-hum aesthetic of the Pro and turns it down even lower. In the end, while it gets points for being reliable and staying in one piece throughout usage, its looks are definitely not worth writing home about.

Software features
Unlike the Pro, which ships with Android 4.2.1 out of the box, this tablet runs the skinless version of Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean. That means you won't automatically get things like lock screen widgets and gesture typing like you do on the Pro. In addition, the UI is slightly dated. Hot keys for home, back, and recent apps are at the bottom left of the display, instead of the center. The app launcher has also been moved from the center to the top-right corner. And you must swipe up from the bottom-right corner to access your notifications and setting shortcuts. As an Android device, it comes with all your standard Google apps, such as Chrome, Gmail, Messenger, Google Play, and YouTube.

A few extra goodies include two retail apps for Walmart and Sam's Club; music-streaming and radio app Pandora; Kingsoft Office, a mobile suite and productivity app; and TV Remote, which transforms your tablet into a remote when linked to a TV.

Hisense Sero 7 LT (general usage)
The Sero 7 LT runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, whereas its Pro brother launches with Android 4.2 out of the box. Josh Miller/CNET

Lastly, you'll get an app called Vudu Movies and TV. With Vudu, you can rent HD movies, watch TV shows, and view trailers without a monthly subscription fee.

Hardware features
Powering the Hisense Sero 7 LT are a 1.3GHz dual-core processor and a 3,400mAh battery. You also get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and 1GB of RAM, and the listed amount of internal storage is 4GB of ROM.

Now, I know that the operating system will always take up some space, and unless your device is completely blank, you won't get the full amount of space as advertised. Indeed, the Pro has "8GB" of internal memory, but our unit really gave us just 4.84GB of available space. The amount of available space in the Lite, however, is a meager 565MB right out of the box, plus 1.36GB of built-in NAND flash memory. That wasn't even enough for me to install N.O.V.A. 3, which was only the first problem I'd encounter with the tablet and that game (more on that later).

And while it doesn't have GPS capabilities and NFC like the Pro, it's also important to note that the Sero 7 LT doesn't have Bluetooth, either, which is usually included with even the simplest of gadgets.

Performance
The device's display has a 1,024x600-pixel resolution. As such, you're not going to see the crispest and smoothest images, and hi-res images look grainy. The screen also has a narrow viewing angle; it would appear black just because it was tilted at a slight angle, and looking at it outdoors in sunlight was difficult. You'll also see plenty of color banding when it comes to images that contain color gradients, like some of the default wallpaper photo images.

While I can accept the lower quality of the aforementioned viewing experiences because of the lower price, it bugged me how inaccurate or unresponsive the touch screen could be at times. Taps that required more precision (like selecting in-line text) took longer because the screen wouldn't register my touch accurately. Other times, my taps weren't even registered at all, and it would take several attempts just to launch an app or toggle off a switch.

Tested spec Hisense Sero 7 LT Hisense Sero 7 Pro HP Slate 7
Maximum brightness 242 cd/m2 320 cd/m2 373 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.22 cd/m2 0.27 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,100:01 1,185:01 793:01

For the most part, the 1.6GHz dual-core processor could execute simple tasks easily (like launching the app drawer, returning to the home pages, opening a generic app). But I could feel the lag. Switching between portrait and landscape mode took a hair longer than I'd like, and elements on the home screen, like widgets and apps, wouldn't finish disappearing in time before the app drawer opened, resulting in a layering effect.

On a related note, when the Sero 7 LT was in landscape mode, I wasn't able to read all of my notifications because it would cut off at the top, and scrolling wasn't an option, either.

Hisense Sero 7 LT (landscape)
Huh, well, that's annoying. In landscape mode, you won't be able to see all your notifications. Lynn La/CNET

There would also be times when the screen would completely black out for a few seconds, only to turn back on again. And twice, the tablet stalled and then restarted, for no reason. Unfortunately, we were unable to record how long it would take for the Lite to load the first level of N.O.V.A. 3, a usual CNET benchmark for tablets.

For one thing, the game is large, and the device didn't have enough internal space to house the 1.87GB app. However, even when I inserted a 4GB microSD card, the game would never download. Instead, its progress bar in the Play store was always stuck in a perpetual "Downloading..." phase, and the notifications bar would read "Additional file for: N.O.V.A. 3" with the same nonprogressing loading bar. Afterwards, "downloading" would stop altogether and a dialog window would pop up saying I didn't have enough external memory, which was not true.

Hisense Sero 7 LT (screenshots)
The layering effect of the home page and the app drawer (left) and the error message I'd get attempting to download N.O.V.A. 3. Lynn La/CNET

As for its 3DMark scores, the device performed averagely. While it performed well for the Graphics Test 2, and higher than the HP Slate 7 in overall score and in the physics test, it scored the lowest in the benchmark's Graphics Test 1. Click here for more details about how 3DMark works.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Hisense Sero 7 LT 1.6GHz dual-core Rockchip RK3066 Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 1GB Android 4.1.1
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 1.3GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 ULP GeForce (12-core) 1GB Android 4.2.1
HP Slate 7 1.6GHz dual-core Rockchip RK3066 Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 1GB Android 4.1.1

3DMark (Normal, 720p)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
3DMark (Normal, 720p)  
HP Slate 7
2,892 
Hisense Sero 7 LT
2,911 

Graphics Test 1, 720p (GPU, in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 1, 720p (GPU, in frames per second)  
Hisense Sero 7 LT
7.8 
HP Slate 7
7.9 

Graphics Test 2, 720p (GPU, in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 2, 720p (GPU, in frames per second)  
HP Slate 7
20.6 
Hisense Sero 7 LT
21.2 

Physics Test, 720p (CPU in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Physics Test, 720p (CPU in frames per second)  
HP Slate 7
14.5 
Hisense Sero 7 LT
15.4 

As you'd expect, the tablet's 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera is mediocre. Though it operated smoothly, objects in photos would be out of focus with blurred outlines, colors were washed out and muted, and you could see a notable amount of digital noise in photos taken in both ample and dim lighting.

Given that the Sero 7 has only one rear speaker instead of two like the Pro, audio quality was diminished. There was little to no bass, sounds were hollow and tinny, and maximum volume was quite low.

The Lite's 3,400mAh battery yielded 6.2 hours during our battery drain test. Anecdotally, it would not last a full day without at least one charge. Furthermore, there would be times when the battery icon with the lightning symbol (which indicates that it's charging) didn't appear. Instead, the regular battery symbol would remain, despite the fact that the device was indeed plugged in and charging.

Conclusion
Nabbing a bargain is great -- except when it's not. For someone on a budget, I understand there's an expectation of sacrifice. You don't need the latest version of Android? Fine. You don't need your movies to look so crisp it hurts? That's OK, too. You don't need a great camera in a tablet? Fantastic because that doesn't exist anyway.

But money is still money, and you still need the thing to work decently. Unfortunately, the Hisense Sero 7 LT just doesn't cut it. Though the Sero 7 Pro is a bit more expensive and it isn't the best tablet on the market, it performs more smoothly, more reliably, and faster than the Lite.

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