Ultra high-resolution tablets with processors as fast as laptops might steal the headlines, but if you don't need a slate to replace your computer then there's no need to spend your life savings on high-end kit. If your tablet needs are more modest, take a look at the Hudl from Tesco.
Tesco might be better known for its two-for-one offers on orange juice, but it's wheeling its trolley into the electronics world with the Hudl. It's a 7-inch tablet, available in various colours, boasting a quad-core processor, Android Jelly Bean software and, better yet, a bargain basement £120 price.
Should I buy the Tesco Hudl?
That really depends on what you want from a tablet. If you're looking for a high performance slate to tackle work and let you stream high definition movies on a beautiful screen then no, this is not the tablet for you.
Its chunky plastic body makes it a good option for family use -- particularly for the kids. It's easy to use and won't shatter the first time it falls off the sofa. Its screen, processor performance and camera won't impress tech followers, but it'll tackle your kids' Angry Birds flinging. The cheap price means you can buy it to keep your little 'uns amused, and keep their hands off your more expensive iPad.
If you're looking for the biggest bang for your buck and only want the one slate for everyone in the household, check out the excellent Asus MemoPad HD 7. It's the same size, but its screen has more impressive colours, the interface is swifter to swipe around and its 5-megapixel camera produces better results -- all of which is worth the extra £10.
Design and build quality
With its chunky plastic body and various available colours, the Hudl is clearly aimed at families as a tablet that can be shared. It's thick, easy to hold and seems solid enough to take a few attacks from an over-excited toddler who's just flung his or her first Angry Bird.
It has a soft-touch back panel, with dual speakers on the left and right, and is reminiscent of Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire. If you're not keen on the royal-blue version pictured here, you can snap it up in black, purple or red.
It packs a 7-inch display, but it's quite thick due to the wide bezels. It measures 129mm high, 193mm wide and is a little under 10mm thick. On the upside, the extra space next to the display gives you a comfy place to rest your thumbs when watching a movie. It's easy to slide into a small bag, but at 370g you probably won't want it in a pocket.
Around the edges you'll find a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, volume and power buttons and a mini-HDMI port for hooking it up to a TV if you want to enjoy your movies on a larger display. There's also a microSD card slot to expand the 16GB of on-board storage. You're not able to store apps on the SD card though, so you'll have to make sure you pop all your media on the card to save room on the tablet.
The 7-inch display has a resolution of 1,440x900 pixels, which is perfectly adequate on such a budget tablet. While it doesn't have the same pin-sharp clarity you'd find on higher resolution tablets, it still manages to display icons and text well, and photos and videos are clear. For everyday tasks like emailing, social networking and playing basic games, it'll be fine.
Beyond that point however, the display really doesn't impress. Colours are poor, and black levels lack depth, resulting in a generally washed out screen. If you're looking for a tablet to enjoy Netflix movies or show off your photography at its best, this isn't going to suit. I highly recommend splashing extra cash on the Nexus 7 or going for the only slightly more expensive Asus MemoPad HD 7.
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
The Hudl runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which is a satisfyingly recent version of Google's mobile operating system for a budget slate. Most companies tend to heavily customise Android to give it their own mark, but Tesco hasn't done much to the overall interface.
The multiple homescreens are there for you to fill up with apps and widgets, while anything you don't want sat at the front can be found in a grid of apps. Up to six apps remain along the bottom (or the side, if you're holding it in landscape orientation) to give quick access to your favourite tools.
It hasn't changed the interface, but Tesco has chucked in a bunch of its own software. Much of it is aimed at teaching brand new Android converts not only how to use the tablet, but how to go about downloading apps, videos and music from the app store. It also gives tips and advice on how to keep your kids safe online and how to set up user accounts and parental locks. It doesn't actually do anything you can't do on other Android tablets, but its step-by-step guides will certainly come in handy to those of you who've never used a tablet or smart phone before.
Given that it's made by Tesco, it's unsurprising that Tesco's grocery and direct apps come preinstalled, as well as widgets that show your clubcard balance -- once you've registered your card with the tablet, anyway. Tesco's Blinkbox movie download service is on board too. It has some fairly recent titles available such as After Earth or Iron Man 3, but it's not cheap, with typical standard-definition rental costing £3.50 or to download for £11.
Processor and performance
The Hudl is powered by a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, backed up by 1GB of RAM. Those are decent specs for a budget slate, so I expected a pretty swift performance. Sadly though, the Hudl didn't deliver.
Swiping around the homescreens was pretty sluggish, with noticeable delays when opening menus and apps. Typing quickly on the keyboard is sometimes difficult too as the tablet has to catch up with what you're typing. While novice users simply using Twitter might not find this an issue, those who have spent any time with a slicker slate might become frustrated.
It's disappointing because the processor is clearly capable of providing a decent experience. It achieved a respectable score on the Geekbench benchmark test and it handled the glossy 3D water racer Riptide GP 2 with acceptably high frame-rates. High-definition video played back perfectly well and streaming video over YouTube and Netflix was fine.
The back of the tablet is home to a 3-megapixel camera, which you can find even on budget smart phones. You're not likely to take the thing out on a photography expedition though, so as long as it can snap some pictures around the house it'll be fine.
That really is its limit though. On my test shot, it didn't expose very well, with portions of the scene falling into shadow, while the bright window on the back was totally blown out. Colours too are very poor and the low resolution results in a lack of clarity.
It'll probably keep the kids happy -- they can snap some pictures in the garden in the summer -- but the Asus MemoPad HD 7's 5-megapixel camera gave much better results.
Tesco doesn't say what sized battery is powering the Hudl, but it does reckon you can get around 9 hours of video playback from a single charge. While that's hardly an outstanding claim, it's not exactly awful either.
I'd say it's pretty close to the mark too, based on my own use. Like all smart phones and tablets though, battery life totally depends on what you get up to with it. If you spend your whole time streaming video over YouTube with the screen brightness ramped up to the max then you won't get a good time.
If you're careful about what you do, making sure to only play demanding games when you're in dashing distance of a plug then you shouldn't need to worry too much. Make sure to give it a full charge before setting out on a long drive though -- or splash out on a car charger for £20.
With its rock-bottom price, chunky plastic body and beginner-friendly software additions, the Hudl is a safe option to consider as a general-use tablet to be shared around the family. It's let down by its unimpressive screen and sluggish operation, but it's perfectly usable and your kids probably aren't going to moan much about colour depth.