Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Introduction and design

Update: Apple has offered up iOS 8.3 for the iPad Air 2, bringing with it performance improvements, new emojis and faster performance of things like the Control Center and Wi-Fi signal connection. We’re currently putting the new software through our battery of tests, and will update the review imminently with the results!

It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.

And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as “too thin” but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!

Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.

The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.

There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$619) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,019) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.

iPad Air 2 review

But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.

Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.

I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.

Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.

Design

At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.

Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.

Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.

I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.

iPad Air 2 review

The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.

iPad Air 2 review

The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.

iPad Air 2 review

The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.

Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.

Key features

Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I’d have been hard pressed to predict Apple’s improvements.

I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) – but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.

But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I’d ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.

Pencil lasers

Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it’s worth reiterating here as it’s a really key feature of this tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we’re talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.

But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.

On top of that, it’s closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet’s elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It’s a way to add a passcode without really noticing it’s happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.

iPad Air 2 review

I’m not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don’t feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don’t worry about security on it as much.

It’s still a great feature – I was confused when Apple didn’t include it on the original iPad Air – but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it’s not vital here.

It’s a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do – it’s more convenient to only have the key things locked down).

It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I’m already considering turning it off, as it’s more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.

Apple Pay has now launched in both the US and UK. You can use it on the iPad Air 2 but only on purchases within the App Store itself: don’t go lugging it out of the house and try to buy your shopping with it.

A8X chip

The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I’ve been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.

It’s hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.

iPad Air 2 review

And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we’re still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.

The big change here appears to be to the battery life – it’s no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.

There’s also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively – the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.

That’s not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.

All new screen

The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there’s no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.

The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity – combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn’t impossible.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.

Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that’s not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it’s a satisfying step forward on the screen front.

New camera

I’ll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I’m still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.

However, if you’re one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn’t mean you should use it, though.

Interface and performance

The interface on the iPad Air 2 is something that will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Apple product in the past. It’s the first device (along with the iPad mini 3) to run iOS 8.1 right out of the box, and as such you’d expect it to be stable and easy to use.

Early testing showed crashes were kept to a minimum, something that sadly couldn’t be said for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which don’t play nicely with Google Chrome or the inbuilt Mail app.

Since launch Apple has applied some minor updates its iOS platform to improve stability (and engage Apple Pay) and the iPad Air 2 now sports the leaner, meaner iOS 8.3, which both improves the slate’s performance and adds a bunch of new emojis.

The larger 9.7-inch screen of the iPad Air 2 is great for navigating around the grid of icons, but not so much if you’re looking to use this device one-handed.

iPad Air 2 review

Although if you are, you’ve probably not understood basic ergonomics. And possibly physics, as this is a two handed device and as such the lower weight makes it easy to tap and swipe around.

I won’t run through the impressive tweaks that run through iOS 8, as they’re ably covered in my colleague Matt Swider’s iOS 8 review, but suffice to say that everything is much slicker on the iPad. Got an iMessage? The notification from the top of the screen lets you answer it without having to exit the app.

Want to switch the Air 2 on silent? (This one is important as the hardware switch allowing you to do just that has disappeared) Then it’s a quick trip into the Control Center, found at the bottom of any screen on the tablet – although it can be something of a nightmare trying to pull it up when swiping skywards from the home button.

But anyway – you can look at the rest of that yourselves in the dedicated review – and iOS 8 works superbly on the iPad Air 2. What I want to talk about is the improved touchscreen responsiveness: it’s brilliant.

Clearly a response to Google’s constant refinement to its Android software (which began with Project Butter in Jelly Bean and really made a difference to touching the front glass of Android devices) the iPad Air 2 features a much more responsive touch panel which makes it much simpler to register swipes through.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until it comes, as I never really thought the Air lagged previously. But the slick Samsung Galaxy Tab S showed that it could be so much better on a tablet, and Apple has stepped up here with the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 review

And talking of stepping up – it’s done something magical to that A8X chipset at the heart of the tablet. It’s nearly 40% faster than the competition, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and all the other top smartphones. In the GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 averaged 4,500, compared to around 2,800 for any big handset you can think of.

Apple promised big upgrades, but this is so huge that I have to wonder if there’s some kind of optimization here – although the faster speed under the finger and smooth graphics (Zen Garden, for instance, runs much more smoothly on the Air 2 than the iPhone 6 Plus) show the improvements are evident in normal use too.

Battery

Apple decided to go for design over battery life with the iPad Air 2, and while this is a bugbear of mine when it comes smartphones I don’t mind it here, it’s less of a hindrance in a tablet.

The battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or watching video has been ported over to the new iPad Air from the original, but given that had a thicker chassis it’s really impressive that the power has been preserved, which is largely down to that improved A8X chip chugging along at the heart of things.

iPad Air 2 review

The screen is still as hungry as ever before, as the battery test was pretty power-sucking compared to its rivals. The iPad mini 2 only took down 16% in the looped video test last year (a Full HD 90 minute video from 100% at full brightness), where the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%.

It’s not a terrible result though – while you’ll lose about 20% watching streamed video at full brightness over 80 minutes’ use, the general power consumption when out and about is bordering on negligible.

I’ve left the tablet in a bag for a quite a few hours and come back to only find 2% gone, so Apple’s really worked on making sure apps don’t chew down power without you looking.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s a slightly different scenario when it comes to gaming, as the longer sessions really take it out of the power pack, especially with the higher-power titles.

It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the iPad Air 2 on a long haul flight if I was thinking of playing Real Racing 3 for three hours. Mostly because I would have played too much of one game, but also because my battery would be in danger of running out.

iPad Air 2 review

While I’ve yet to find out the official numbers of how big the battery is in the iPad Air 2, for most people the battery on the new tablet, even if browsing the web or using the tablet as a laptop replacement, is pretty good indeed.

I don’t think battery life is that much of a worry for most tablet users given than you’ll have to be pretty forgetful to not plug it into power once in a while before it runs completely dry.

Camera

iPad Air 2 review

I wish I could somehow type the long sigh I emit whenever I begin to talk about the camera on any tablet – and Apple’s only gone and made the camera better here, which makes things worse for people like me trying to hold off the barbarians.

Like the selfie phenomenon, the idea of bringing a tablet as main camera to important events suddenly seems to be acceptable. I’ve seen people taking pictures of a bride walking down the aisle with an iPad mini, and missed a big goal at a football match because someone thought it the right time to try and take a picture of themselves on a tablet.

The problem is, companies like Apple are extolling the virtues of using the large screen as a more ample viewfinder.

No. Use a phone screen if you must, or even get a proper camera. But don’t use a tablet. While you’ll get acceptable shots with the iPad Air 2, and the resolution gives a clearer picture, it’s still not a great experience – and you break a basic law of civilization in the process.

But if you must use the camera, at least Apple has imbued the iPad Air 2 with some of the higher-power tricks. Slow motion video is included this time around (although only to 120 frames per second (fps), not the super smooth 240 fps that comes with both the new iPhones).

iPad Air 2 review

There’s time lapse mode, burst mode (front and back cameras) and a larger panorama mode making it easy to take wider pictures of over 40MP using the tablet screen.

I don’t mind the idea of using this for time lapse, as the larger screen and longer battery are actually pretty handy for setting up a shot – but why you’d have a tablet at a beautiful landscape which might require a panorama is beyond me. Group shots, maybe.

The other win here is the built in editing suite in the Photos app – it’s good on the iPhone, but with the larger screen it’s great for touching up photos.

The new iCloud shared photo stream is also a really handy way of sharing photos between an iPhone and an iPad – simply have both devices logged into the same iCloud account, favorite something on one and it will instantly appear on the other.

The overall camera prowess of the iPad Air 2 isn’t that bad, but it’s nothing special. In side by side comparisons with the iPad Air, the photos have very little difference bar sharpness, and the low light capabilities are nothing to write home about, and certainly not in the iPhone 6’s league.

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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Media

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for consuming media on – although there is an interesting talking point here.

I think it’s great that Apple is now offering a 128GB option for all its iOS devices now – but why are the increments 16GB, 64GB and 128GB?

I like that Apple has doubled the middle storage option, bringing the 64GB model in at the same price as last year’s 32GB – so why does the 16GB still exist? Make that 32GB, Apple, and solve this problem.

I make this point as it’s a real issue: if you’re downloading all the free apps from Apple, like Pages and iMovie, you’ll have eaten up a good portion of the inbuilt space already. And thanks to the move to a 64-bit architecture from Apple last year, the iPad Air 2 games and apps take up even more space for not that much extra in terms of performance.

iPad Air 2 review

So if you’re going for the 16GB option, you’ll need to watch how many movies you store, how high the quality of your Spotify music library is, and make sure you don’t save too many home movies on there either.

Of course, there’s every chance you won’t do a lot of this with your new iPad – apart from music and the odd movie, most people won’t be taking photos (fingers crossed) meaning you’ll be able to pick and choose your apps.

But if you’re not using the iPad Air 2 for movies or TV shows, then you’re really missing out. It’s a great device for a marathon movie session thanks to being light with a less reflective screen and improved color and contrast ratios.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s actually even visible in daylight (just) and while it’s not in the same league as the Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to visibility, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablet screens on the market – bested possibly only by the Galaxy Tab S, which has brilliant color reproduction and black levels.

iPad Air 2 review

The single speaker is impressively powerful too – I wouldn’t have thought with the thickness shaved, the mono speaker would be any good, but it’s rich, strong and really pumps out the bass on the new iPad.

It’s really good for showing off movies or video clips to friends, although if it were front facing then it would be a much better experience.

And through the headphones, the experience follows Apple’s established prowess in music, with rich and punchy sound coming through even lower end cans.

Gaming on the iPad Air 2 is something to behold. Its rich, immersive screen is perfect for either the point-and-prod gaming on the go (it’s no surprise to see popular TV game show app companions as high sellers on the App Store) or a speedier car game.

iPad Air 2 review

Both of these are easy to play, the choice is fairly vast and while the selection isn’t particularly strong (there surely have to be more game titles coming soon that take advantage of the sheer number of sensors, GPU performance and Metal, which allows a stronger and slicker game play performance on the iPad) it will only get better – plus there are plenty of kids’ games to pass off to your children if you’re brave enough with your new tablet.

The essentials

Sure it’s a fancy tablet when you’re using all those clever apps, but how does the iPad Air 2 handle the basics?

Handoff

The best thing about the iPad Air 2 is that it not only does the basics really well, it now allows more functionality thanks to the Handoff features from iOS 8.

Admittedly, this is a limited feature that’s only enabled for those who have an iPhone running the latest software, but many will. If both are linked into the same iCloud account, even if your phone isn’t in arm’s reach you can still make and receive calls on the tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

You can either use the inbuilt speaker and microphone, or pair it with a headset. Whichever you choose, it’s a nice way to de-clutter the desk if you’re one to keep things neat. The other party is able to hear you fine over the speakerphone, so in essence Handoff turns your tablet into a smartphone when you need it.

You can even make calls from your contacts list too – it’s not the best as Apple’s contacts app is still, well, poor thanks to confusing social integration and a very uninspiring design (this is an area where Android phones really excel) but it works.

The only thing that stops the iPad Air 2 from being a brilliant smartphone replacement is the fact it can’t send or receive text messages. It can do iMessage happily, and a Mac running Yosemite can handle those missives, but annoyingly, the iPad won’t get any SMS.

That aside I was really, really impressed by the functionality. It’s not new and it’s not vital, but it works without needing any input from the user. That’s the best way things should be.

Messaging

The messaging side of things on the iPad Air 2 is pretty good outside of the text message problem, but then again it always has on the iPad. The large and expansive keyboard allows you to rattle out messages rather quickly in landscape view when placed on the knees, and as such can be more of a laptop replacement than you’d expect.

This is doubly true given last year’s move from Apple to bring its office software into the mix for free. Now you can edit documents and spreadsheets from the iPad without needing to pay extra.

iPad Air 2 review

And the Mail app, which does share the same boring view as the contacts app, is still a powerful tool and improved again with iOS 8. You can see important emails on the lockscreen and then choose to archive or mark as read without needing to unlock the phone.

The same thing happens with the notification window at the top of the phone when you’re in another app. This kind of integration is really useful, and more than that, it brings a feeling of satisfying unity to using the iPad.

Internet browser

The other thing to note is the internet browsing on the new iPad Air. Thanks to that A8X chip, combined with faster Wi-Fi and improved 4G bands, using the internet wherever you are is really slick, with instant tapping and loading in some cases.

iPad Air 2 review

Apple would prefer you to use Safari for everything, and it’s probably the slightly speedier browser here, but Chrome is equally impressive and useful if you’ve linked everything together on other machines.

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for the things you need to do with a tablet on a day to day basis – and that’s before we even get into the fact it’s got, by far, the best app ecosystem.

The competition

The good news for you tablet fans out there is that even if you’re not a fan of the iPad Air 2, or want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money, there are plenty of other decent options.

In fact, the last 12 months have seen arguably the greatest jump in quality from the competition yet – so take a look at these pretenders to the iThrone:

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s been making reasonable tablets for a while now. It’s been a curious situation actually: while the tablets were always powerful, they were simultaneously cheap-feeling and expensive.

The Tab S is still pricey, but no more than the iPad Air 2, and in some cases actually a little cheaper. However, it’s got the same low weight, a comparable thickness (although a tiny bit deeper) and trumps the Apple tablet when it comes to screen quality, with that Super AMOLED screen sharper, brighter and bigger.

However, while it’s put together in a rigid and premium way, it lacks the cohesive design language Apple has created in the Air 2. However, the Tab S is one of the best Android tablets on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The new Nexus slate is a really great device and warrants a mention here, as it too goes for a 4:3 screen aspect ratio meaning a more expansive display, although not as good for watching movies on.

The rubberized back might not please everyone, but it’s every comfortable to hold and light too – plus the metal rim adds to the character of the design.

On top of that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air 2, has a comparable UI with the new Android Lollipop 5.0 OS and is generally the tablet of choice if you want naked Android.

It doesn’t quite have the impressive feature set of the Air 2, but it is one of very few that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above much of the current smartphone range, and as such is a good consideration for day to day browsing and the like.

  • All you need to know about the Nexus 9

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia Z4 Tablet

If there’s any tablet that makes as strong a first impression as the iPad Air 2 it’s the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. At 6.1mm thick it’s just as thin and at 392g it’s even lighter.

The polycarbonate build of the slate isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad Air 2’s aluminium unibody, but the Xperia Z4 Tablet is perhaps more durable with water and dust resistance added into the mix.

There’s a whole lot of power here too and a gorgeous 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 display, which beats the iPad Air 2 for pixel density. Yet despite all this tech it’s still got a heft battery life.

It’s got a premium price tag and Sony’s UI isn’t the best we’ve come across, but the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is still easily one of the best iPad alternatives around.

iPad Air

IPad air

Of course there’s always the option from the previous year to check out – and the Air is staying around at the lower price point.

What you get for your smaller spend is a less vibrant screen, a heavier device and a slower chipset at the heart, without the benefit of Touch ID.

It’s quite a lot to lose as Apple has touched up and tinkered with nearly every element to make the Air 2 a real step forward, but for the cash you’re still getting a brilliant tablet that’s now playing at a more palatable budget level.

It’s got all the same iOS 8.1 upgrades too, so while you don’t get slow motion video, a lot of other treats will appear. A slightly older but my no means unworthy tablet.

Hands on gallery

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

Verdict

Some summaries are easy to write. 2013’s iPad Air, for example: a stunning tablet, with an obvious case for winning the first 5 star review I’d given to such a device. It was a sign that the market had evolved to the point of delivering a truly useful tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

But I remember wondering how that could be topped, whether Apple would just give it a tiny push and call it all-new (like it’s done with the iPad mini 3, lest we forget).

The challenge is even greater this year, as not only does Apple have to top its own lofty goal, but also beat off the much-improved competition from Samsung, Google/HTC and Sony. So how has the iPad Air 2 fared?

We liked

When I saw this getting unveiled onstage, I was nonplussed. Better screen? A bit thinner? I needed to be convinced. Then I held it, and I really was.

It’s not just lighter, it’s perceptibly lighter. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time, but I think there’s no way tablets can get any thinner, without some genius move in engineering. It feels like there should be a danger that this tablet is too fragile, although it hasn’t seemed to be in testing.

I really like the improved screen, and there will probably be a few smug faces over in South Korea looking at the fact colors seem more vibrant on the new iPad Air 2, rather than focusing on natural hues.

The battery life is impressive, the power under the hood unprecedented and generally, everything on this tablet really just works.

And in comparison to the competition, it’s not even that expensive, although spending up to US$829, (£659, AU$1019) on the Wi-Fi and 4G 128GB version is a little on the pricey side, especially when Macbooks aren’t a lot more and general laptops can be had for less.

We disliked

The 16GB option is still too small for Retina HD apps, as they’ll munch through your capacity in no time at all.

Add to that the increased space a 64-bit app will take and if you’re thinking of nabbing a load of high-power apps (which you should want to, given the new grunt from the A8X chip) then you’re going to quickly run into problems with storage.

And as we know, there’s no room for expansion on Apple tablets. Given the brand has been “generous” enough to double the 32GB option to 64GB for no extra money, it seems odd it wouldn’t do the same for the entry-level model.

The rest of the dislikes are beyond nitpicking: the slow motion video is capped at 120fps (although that is irritating as 240fps on the iPhone 6, a less powerful device, is actually awesome) and you can’t get text messages, only iMessages, on the tablet.

If that’s all I can find wrong with the Air 2, that has to bode well.

Verdict

Apple has improved on perfection with the iPad Air 2, making something that anyone using a tablet from 2012 or earlier should be thinking very strongly about upgrading to.

The combination of power, better screen, improved design and upgraded OS make this a very, very compelling device – and that’s before getting into the fact the app ecosystem is so much stronger than on Android.

It’s even better now iOS 8 is capable of scaling apps so seamlessly – the days of low-res iPhone apps are gone. It’s another hammer blow to the Google tablet market, although I’m fully confident that’s going to catch up in quality soon.

It’s no good just saying that a tablet has good design, power or specifications. The ultimate success or failure of any device depends on how it’s packaged and whether it comes in at the right price. Apple has drawn on all its strengths to make a tablet that seems to have no flaws, and it will be the best tablet in the market throughout the next year.

The only problem the brand will have is how to make it better in 12 months time. I’m glad that’s not a problem I have to solve.

If you’re thinking about which tablet to buy, don’t. Just pick up the iPad Air 2 and you won’t want to make another choice.

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Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Introduction and design

Update: Apple has offered up iOS 8.3 for the iPad Air 2, bringing with it performance improvements, new emojis and faster performance of things like the Control Center and Wi-Fi signal connection. We’re currently putting the new software through our battery of tests, and will update the review imminently with the results!

It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.

And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as “too thin” but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!

Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.

The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.

There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$619) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,019) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.

iPad Air 2 review

But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.

Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.

I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.

Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.

Design

At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.

Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.

Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.

I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.

iPad Air 2 review

The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.

iPad Air 2 review

The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.

iPad Air 2 review

The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.

Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.

Key features

Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I’d have been hard pressed to predict Apple’s improvements.

I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) – but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.

But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I’d ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.

Pencil lasers

Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it’s worth reiterating here as it’s a really key feature of this tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we’re talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.

But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.

On top of that, it’s closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet’s elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It’s a way to add a passcode without really noticing it’s happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.

iPad Air 2 review

I’m not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don’t feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don’t worry about security on it as much.

It’s still a great feature – I was confused when Apple didn’t include it on the original iPad Air – but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it’s not vital here.

It’s a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do – it’s more convenient to only have the key things locked down).

It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I’m already considering turning it off, as it’s more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.

Apple Pay has now launched in both the US and UK. You can use it on the iPad Air 2 but only on purchases within the App Store itself: don’t go lugging it out of the house and try to buy your shopping with it.

A8X chip

The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I’ve been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.

It’s hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.

iPad Air 2 review

And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we’re still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.

The big change here appears to be to the battery life – it’s no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.

There’s also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively – the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.

That’s not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.

All new screen

The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there’s no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.

The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity – combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn’t impossible.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.

Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that’s not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it’s a satisfying step forward on the screen front.

New camera

I’ll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I’m still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.

However, if you’re one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn’t mean you should use it, though.

Interface and performance

The interface on the iPad Air 2 is something that will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Apple product in the past. It’s the first device (along with the iPad mini 3) to run iOS 8.1 right out of the box, and as such you’d expect it to be stable and easy to use.

Early testing showed crashes were kept to a minimum, something that sadly couldn’t be said for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which don’t play nicely with Google Chrome or the inbuilt Mail app.

Since launch Apple has applied some minor updates its iOS platform to improve stability (and engage Apple Pay) and the iPad Air 2 now sports the leaner, meaner iOS 8.3, which both improves the slate’s performance and adds a bunch of new emojis.

The larger 9.7-inch screen of the iPad Air 2 is great for navigating around the grid of icons, but not so much if you’re looking to use this device one-handed.

iPad Air 2 review

Although if you are, you’ve probably not understood basic ergonomics. And possibly physics, as this is a two handed device and as such the lower weight makes it easy to tap and swipe around.

I won’t run through the impressive tweaks that run through iOS 8, as they’re ably covered in my colleague Matt Swider’s iOS 8 review, but suffice to say that everything is much slicker on the iPad. Got an iMessage? The notification from the top of the screen lets you answer it without having to exit the app.

Want to switch the Air 2 on silent? (This one is important as the hardware switch allowing you to do just that has disappeared) Then it’s a quick trip into the Control Center, found at the bottom of any screen on the tablet – although it can be something of a nightmare trying to pull it up when swiping skywards from the home button.

But anyway – you can look at the rest of that yourselves in the dedicated review – and iOS 8 works superbly on the iPad Air 2. What I want to talk about is the improved touchscreen responsiveness: it’s brilliant.

Clearly a response to Google’s constant refinement to its Android software (which began with Project Butter in Jelly Bean and really made a difference to touching the front glass of Android devices) the iPad Air 2 features a much more responsive touch panel which makes it much simpler to register swipes through.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until it comes, as I never really thought the Air lagged previously. But the slick Samsung Galaxy Tab S showed that it could be so much better on a tablet, and Apple has stepped up here with the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 review

And talking of stepping up – it’s done something magical to that A8X chipset at the heart of the tablet. It’s nearly 40% faster than the competition, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and all the other top smartphones. In the GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 averaged 4,500, compared to around 2,800 for any big handset you can think of.

Apple promised big upgrades, but this is so huge that I have to wonder if there’s some kind of optimization here – although the faster speed under the finger and smooth graphics (Zen Garden, for instance, runs much more smoothly on the Air 2 than the iPhone 6 Plus) show the improvements are evident in normal use too.

Battery

Apple decided to go for design over battery life with the iPad Air 2, and while this is a bugbear of mine when it comes smartphones I don’t mind it here, it’s less of a hindrance in a tablet.

The battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or watching video has been ported over to the new iPad Air from the original, but given that had a thicker chassis it’s really impressive that the power has been preserved, which is largely down to that improved A8X chip chugging along at the heart of things.

iPad Air 2 review

The screen is still as hungry as ever before, as the battery test was pretty power-sucking compared to its rivals. The iPad mini 2 only took down 16% in the looped video test last year (a Full HD 90 minute video from 100% at full brightness), where the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%.

It’s not a terrible result though – while you’ll lose about 20% watching streamed video at full brightness over 80 minutes’ use, the general power consumption when out and about is bordering on negligible.

I’ve left the tablet in a bag for a quite a few hours and come back to only find 2% gone, so Apple’s really worked on making sure apps don’t chew down power without you looking.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s a slightly different scenario when it comes to gaming, as the longer sessions really take it out of the power pack, especially with the higher-power titles.

It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the iPad Air 2 on a long haul flight if I was thinking of playing Real Racing 3 for three hours. Mostly because I would have played too much of one game, but also because my battery would be in danger of running out.

iPad Air 2 review

While I’ve yet to find out the official numbers of how big the battery is in the iPad Air 2, for most people the battery on the new tablet, even if browsing the web or using the tablet as a laptop replacement, is pretty good indeed.

I don’t think battery life is that much of a worry for most tablet users given than you’ll have to be pretty forgetful to not plug it into power once in a while before it runs completely dry.

Camera

iPad Air 2 review

I wish I could somehow type the long sigh I emit whenever I begin to talk about the camera on any tablet – and Apple’s only gone and made the camera better here, which makes things worse for people like me trying to hold off the barbarians.

Like the selfie phenomenon, the idea of bringing a tablet as main camera to important events suddenly seems to be acceptable. I’ve seen people taking pictures of a bride walking down the aisle with an iPad mini, and missed a big goal at a football match because someone thought it the right time to try and take a picture of themselves on a tablet.

The problem is, companies like Apple are extolling the virtues of using the large screen as a more ample viewfinder.

No. Use a phone screen if you must, or even get a proper camera. But don’t use a tablet. While you’ll get acceptable shots with the iPad Air 2, and the resolution gives a clearer picture, it’s still not a great experience – and you break a basic law of civilization in the process.

But if you must use the camera, at least Apple has imbued the iPad Air 2 with some of the higher-power tricks. Slow motion video is included this time around (although only to 120 frames per second (fps), not the super smooth 240 fps that comes with both the new iPhones).

iPad Air 2 review

There’s time lapse mode, burst mode (front and back cameras) and a larger panorama mode making it easy to take wider pictures of over 40MP using the tablet screen.

I don’t mind the idea of using this for time lapse, as the larger screen and longer battery are actually pretty handy for setting up a shot – but why you’d have a tablet at a beautiful landscape which might require a panorama is beyond me. Group shots, maybe.

The other win here is the built in editing suite in the Photos app – it’s good on the iPhone, but with the larger screen it’s great for touching up photos.

The new iCloud shared photo stream is also a really handy way of sharing photos between an iPhone and an iPad – simply have both devices logged into the same iCloud account, favorite something on one and it will instantly appear on the other.

The overall camera prowess of the iPad Air 2 isn’t that bad, but it’s nothing special. In side by side comparisons with the iPad Air, the photos have very little difference bar sharpness, and the low light capabilities are nothing to write home about, and certainly not in the iPhone 6’s league.

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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Media

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for consuming media on – although there is an interesting talking point here.

I think it’s great that Apple is now offering a 128GB option for all its iOS devices now – but why are the increments 16GB, 64GB and 128GB?

I like that Apple has doubled the middle storage option, bringing the 64GB model in at the same price as last year’s 32GB – so why does the 16GB still exist? Make that 32GB, Apple, and solve this problem.

I make this point as it’s a real issue: if you’re downloading all the free apps from Apple, like Pages and iMovie, you’ll have eaten up a good portion of the inbuilt space already. And thanks to the move to a 64-bit architecture from Apple last year, the iPad Air 2 games and apps take up even more space for not that much extra in terms of performance.

iPad Air 2 review

So if you’re going for the 16GB option, you’ll need to watch how many movies you store, how high the quality of your Spotify music library is, and make sure you don’t save too many home movies on there either.

Of course, there’s every chance you won’t do a lot of this with your new iPad – apart from music and the odd movie, most people won’t be taking photos (fingers crossed) meaning you’ll be able to pick and choose your apps.

But if you’re not using the iPad Air 2 for movies or TV shows, then you’re really missing out. It’s a great device for a marathon movie session thanks to being light with a less reflective screen and improved color and contrast ratios.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s actually even visible in daylight (just) and while it’s not in the same league as the Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to visibility, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablet screens on the market – bested possibly only by the Galaxy Tab S, which has brilliant color reproduction and black levels.

iPad Air 2 review

The single speaker is impressively powerful too – I wouldn’t have thought with the thickness shaved, the mono speaker would be any good, but it’s rich, strong and really pumps out the bass on the new iPad.

It’s really good for showing off movies or video clips to friends, although if it were front facing then it would be a much better experience.

And through the headphones, the experience follows Apple’s established prowess in music, with rich and punchy sound coming through even lower end cans.

Gaming on the iPad Air 2 is something to behold. Its rich, immersive screen is perfect for either the point-and-prod gaming on the go (it’s no surprise to see popular TV game show app companions as high sellers on the App Store) or a speedier car game.

iPad Air 2 review

Both of these are easy to play, the choice is fairly vast and while the selection isn’t particularly strong (there surely have to be more game titles coming soon that take advantage of the sheer number of sensors, GPU performance and Metal, which allows a stronger and slicker game play performance on the iPad) it will only get better – plus there are plenty of kids’ games to pass off to your children if you’re brave enough with your new tablet.

The essentials

Sure it’s a fancy tablet when you’re using all those clever apps, but how does the iPad Air 2 handle the basics?

Handoff

The best thing about the iPad Air 2 is that it not only does the basics really well, it now allows more functionality thanks to the Handoff features from iOS 8.

Admittedly, this is a limited feature that’s only enabled for those who have an iPhone running the latest software, but many will. If both are linked into the same iCloud account, even if your phone isn’t in arm’s reach you can still make and receive calls on the tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

You can either use the inbuilt speaker and microphone, or pair it with a headset. Whichever you choose, it’s a nice way to de-clutter the desk if you’re one to keep things neat. The other party is able to hear you fine over the speakerphone, so in essence Handoff turns your tablet into a smartphone when you need it.

You can even make calls from your contacts list too – it’s not the best as Apple’s contacts app is still, well, poor thanks to confusing social integration and a very uninspiring design (this is an area where Android phones really excel) but it works.

The only thing that stops the iPad Air 2 from being a brilliant smartphone replacement is the fact it can’t send or receive text messages. It can do iMessage happily, and a Mac running Yosemite can handle those missives, but annoyingly, the iPad won’t get any SMS.

That aside I was really, really impressed by the functionality. It’s not new and it’s not vital, but it works without needing any input from the user. That’s the best way things should be.

Messaging

The messaging side of things on the iPad Air 2 is pretty good outside of the text message problem, but then again it always has on the iPad. The large and expansive keyboard allows you to rattle out messages rather quickly in landscape view when placed on the knees, and as such can be more of a laptop replacement than you’d expect.

This is doubly true given last year’s move from Apple to bring its office software into the mix for free. Now you can edit documents and spreadsheets from the iPad without needing to pay extra.

iPad Air 2 review

And the Mail app, which does share the same boring view as the contacts app, is still a powerful tool and improved again with iOS 8. You can see important emails on the lockscreen and then choose to archive or mark as read without needing to unlock the phone.

The same thing happens with the notification window at the top of the phone when you’re in another app. This kind of integration is really useful, and more than that, it brings a feeling of satisfying unity to using the iPad.

Internet browser

The other thing to note is the internet browsing on the new iPad Air. Thanks to that A8X chip, combined with faster Wi-Fi and improved 4G bands, using the internet wherever you are is really slick, with instant tapping and loading in some cases.

iPad Air 2 review

Apple would prefer you to use Safari for everything, and it’s probably the slightly speedier browser here, but Chrome is equally impressive and useful if you’ve linked everything together on other machines.

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for the things you need to do with a tablet on a day to day basis – and that’s before we even get into the fact it’s got, by far, the best app ecosystem.

The competition

The good news for you tablet fans out there is that even if you’re not a fan of the iPad Air 2, or want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money, there are plenty of other decent options.

In fact, the last 12 months have seen arguably the greatest jump in quality from the competition yet – so take a look at these pretenders to the iThrone:

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s been making reasonable tablets for a while now. It’s been a curious situation actually: while the tablets were always powerful, they were simultaneously cheap-feeling and expensive.

The Tab S is still pricey, but no more than the iPad Air 2, and in some cases actually a little cheaper. However, it’s got the same low weight, a comparable thickness (although a tiny bit deeper) and trumps the Apple tablet when it comes to screen quality, with that Super AMOLED screen sharper, brighter and bigger.

However, while it’s put together in a rigid and premium way, it lacks the cohesive design language Apple has created in the Air 2. However, the Tab S is one of the best Android tablets on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The new Nexus slate is a really great device and warrants a mention here, as it too goes for a 4:3 screen aspect ratio meaning a more expansive display, although not as good for watching movies on.

The rubberized back might not please everyone, but it’s every comfortable to hold and light too – plus the metal rim adds to the character of the design.

On top of that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air 2, has a comparable UI with the new Android Lollipop 5.0 OS and is generally the tablet of choice if you want naked Android.

It doesn’t quite have the impressive feature set of the Air 2, but it is one of very few that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above much of the current smartphone range, and as such is a good consideration for day to day browsing and the like.

  • All you need to know about the Nexus 9

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia Z4 Tablet

If there’s any tablet that makes as strong a first impression as the iPad Air 2 it’s the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. At 6.1mm thick it’s just as thin and at 392g it’s even lighter.

The polycarbonate build of the slate isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad Air 2’s aluminium unibody, but the Xperia Z4 Tablet is perhaps more durable with water and dust resistance added into the mix.

There’s a whole lot of power here too and a gorgeous 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 display, which beats the iPad Air 2 for pixel density. Yet despite all this tech it’s still got a heft battery life.

It’s got a premium price tag and Sony’s UI isn’t the best we’ve come across, but the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is still easily one of the best iPad alternatives around.

iPad Air

IPad air

Of course there’s always the option from the previous year to check out – and the Air is staying around at the lower price point.

What you get for your smaller spend is a less vibrant screen, a heavier device and a slower chipset at the heart, without the benefit of Touch ID.

It’s quite a lot to lose as Apple has touched up and tinkered with nearly every element to make the Air 2 a real step forward, but for the cash you’re still getting a brilliant tablet that’s now playing at a more palatable budget level.

It’s got all the same iOS 8.1 upgrades too, so while you don’t get slow motion video, a lot of other treats will appear. A slightly older but my no means unworthy tablet.

Hands on gallery

iPad Air 2 review

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Verdict

Some summaries are easy to write. 2013’s iPad Air, for example: a stunning tablet, with an obvious case for winning the first 5 star review I’d given to such a device. It was a sign that the market had evolved to the point of delivering a truly useful tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

But I remember wondering how that could be topped, whether Apple would just give it a tiny push and call it all-new (like it’s done with the iPad mini 3, lest we forget).

The challenge is even greater this year, as not only does Apple have to top its own lofty goal, but also beat off the much-improved competition from Samsung, Google/HTC and Sony. So how has the iPad Air 2 fared?

We liked

When I saw this getting unveiled onstage, I was nonplussed. Better screen? A bit thinner? I needed to be convinced. Then I held it, and I really was.

It’s not just lighter, it’s perceptibly lighter. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time, but I think there’s no way tablets can get any thinner, without some genius move in engineering. It feels like there should be a danger that this tablet is too fragile, although it hasn’t seemed to be in testing.

I really like the improved screen, and there will probably be a few smug faces over in South Korea looking at the fact colors seem more vibrant on the new iPad Air 2, rather than focusing on natural hues.

The battery life is impressive, the power under the hood unprecedented and generally, everything on this tablet really just works.

And in comparison to the competition, it’s not even that expensive, although spending up to US$829, (£659, AU$1019) on the Wi-Fi and 4G 128GB version is a little on the pricey side, especially when Macbooks aren’t a lot more and general laptops can be had for less.

We disliked

The 16GB option is still too small for Retina HD apps, as they’ll munch through your capacity in no time at all.

Add to that the increased space a 64-bit app will take and if you’re thinking of nabbing a load of high-power apps (which you should want to, given the new grunt from the A8X chip) then you’re going to quickly run into problems with storage.

And as we know, there’s no room for expansion on Apple tablets. Given the brand has been “generous” enough to double the 32GB option to 64GB for no extra money, it seems odd it wouldn’t do the same for the entry-level model.

The rest of the dislikes are beyond nitpicking: the slow motion video is capped at 120fps (although that is irritating as 240fps on the iPhone 6, a less powerful device, is actually awesome) and you can’t get text messages, only iMessages, on the tablet.

If that’s all I can find wrong with the Air 2, that has to bode well.

Verdict

Apple has improved on perfection with the iPad Air 2, making something that anyone using a tablet from 2012 or earlier should be thinking very strongly about upgrading to.

The combination of power, better screen, improved design and upgraded OS make this a very, very compelling device – and that’s before getting into the fact the app ecosystem is so much stronger than on Android.

It’s even better now iOS 8 is capable of scaling apps so seamlessly – the days of low-res iPhone apps are gone. It’s another hammer blow to the Google tablet market, although I’m fully confident that’s going to catch up in quality soon.

It’s no good just saying that a tablet has good design, power or specifications. The ultimate success or failure of any device depends on how it’s packaged and whether it comes in at the right price. Apple has drawn on all its strengths to make a tablet that seems to have no flaws, and it will be the best tablet in the market throughout the next year.

The only problem the brand will have is how to make it better in 12 months time. I’m glad that’s not a problem I have to solve.

If you’re thinking about which tablet to buy, don’t. Just pick up the iPad Air 2 and you won’t want to make another choice.

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Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Introduction, design and display

From the Nexus 9 to the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, there are have been many attempts to create a productivity-minded Android device. You can’t blame manufacturers for trying. After all, the promise of a device that can be both your mobile movie screen and your on-the-go office is enticing.

The Venue 10 7000 is one such productivity- and play-minded device from Dell. As part of Dell’s premium 7000 line, this 10.5-inch slate is a cut above from your typical Android tablet, with a 2,560 x 1,600 OLED display. What’s more, a quad-core, 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 processor gives this slate an extra leg up as a work machine.

Starting at $499 (about £320, AU$676) or asking for $629 (about £403, AU$853) with a keyboard – $679 (about £437, AU$913) for the configuration as reviewed – the Dell Venue 10 7000 is riding on the coat tails of some budget Windows laptops while being better equipped than most Chromebooks. At the same time, it’s showing up the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 with better-sounding speakers and an actual keyboard you’ll want to work with.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Design

It’s hard to look at the Dell Venue 10 7000 and not immediately think that it’s riffing a bit too much off of Lenovo’s Yoga tablets. Between the thin screen and barrel hinge, the likeness between Lenovo and Dell’s respective tablets is obvious.

That’s not to say Dell’s device is completely identical. Dell has added plenty of its own design touches – mostly from the Dell Venue 8 7000.

Like its smaller, 8-inch brother, the Venue 10 7000 is made with a thin aluminum frame. A cylindrical hinge also protrudes from both sides of the tablet, whereas the Yoga Tablet 2 features a completely flat face with a curvy backside and a flip-out kickstand built into its hinge.

Measuring in at 6.2mm (0.24 inches), the Venue 10 isn’t quite as thin as the 6mm (0.24-inch) Venue 8 7000 or the 6.1mm (0.24-inch) iPad Air 2, but it’s thinner than the 7.2mm (0.28-inch) Lenovo Yoga Tablet.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Despite how thin this 10.5-inch tablet is, it’s still on the heavy side at 1.37 pounds (597g) that you’ll definitely feel when carrying the laptop around and holding it up. Other tablets, like the iPad Air 2, are much lighter, weighing in at 0.96 pounds (437g). The Nexus 9 is also lighter, weighing only 0.93 pounds (425g), and by a small margin, the 1.36 pound (616g) Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2.

Thankfully, that ergonomic, bar-shaped spine makes holding onto the tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation a cinch. This barrel-edge, as Dell calls it, also contains two massive speakers and the tablet’s battery.

Unfortunately, Dell’s 10.5-inch tablet does not come with a kickstand. Instead, the device all but requires an optional Venue Bluetooth keyboard accessory to prop it up before you can use it in any of the additional modes. The keyboard goes for $159 (£101, AU$215) if not picked up in the available bundle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

A keyboard to die for

Dell may have a keyboard accessory just like Lenovo’s Yoga tablet line, but Dell has gone with a much stronger and more reliable locking system. Upon closer inspection of the barrel hinge, the tablet has a unique latching system that incorporates a deep channel lined with tiny metal, magnetic rods.

The Bluetooth keyboard in turn has corresponding metal clips that fit perfectly inside the barrel edge’s channels while clipping into the mysterious metal rods. It’s an intricate system you won’t really pay any mind too, but it does an excellent job of keeping the keyboard attached snugly to the tablet.

In fact, the connection is so tight, you can give the slate a good shake while holding it up by the keyboard without worrying about the two ends splitting apart and flying away in disparate directions.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

You also shouldn’t expect to use the the Bluetooth keyboard when it isn’t attached to the tablet, as it has no actual power supply of its own. Instead, it siphons power from the tablet through two tiny, gold-coated prongs built into the docking connectors. This begs the question: why is this a “wireless accessory” when it requires a physical connection to work?

Regardless of what connection technology the Venue keyboard uses, it offers up a surprisingly satisfying typing experience. Keys depress with a decent amount of travel and feel as punchy as any scissor switch you would find on a real laptop keyboard – and it even comes fully backlit.

While the keyboard has been shrunken to better fit the tablet’s 10.5-inch form factor, the sacrifices haven’t been too grave, save for an enter and backspace key that are a bit too short. I can easily type out a full-length article, including this review, on the Venue 10 7000.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Trackpad issues

Unfortunately, I don’t have the same love for the trackpad, which constantly recognizes movement from the lower end of my palms as deliberate mouse movements. Android palm rejection software built into it but there’s no way to dial the setting up, compared to Windows and Mac OS machines, and there aren’t any Synaptics or other driver software to save the day.

The problem became so commonplace that I disabled the trackpad outright and stuck with prodding the touchscreen.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Pixel love

By far, one of the Venue 10’s most lovely features is its OLED display. The 2,560 x 1,600 resolution makes everything look better from digital comics and websites to movies and YouTube videos.

In the resolution battle, the Dell’s tablet packs 288 pixels per inch (ppi), easily out-sharpening the iPad Air 2 and its 264 ppi display. Dell’s 10.5-inch slate also matches the pixel density of other flagship Android tablets, including the Nexus 9 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S. The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, meanwhile, lags behind, severely limited by its Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display running at only 224 ppi.

More importantly, this slate simply looks better because it produces stunningly vibrant colors without any of the oversaturation that typically plagues OLED screens. At the same time, this organic display produces truer blacks than any LCD, which came in handy when bringing all the dark scenes in Game of Thrones to life.

Software and performance

Dell’s usual game is computers and laptops, so it’s not too surprising to see the company decided to stick with Intel to supply its tablets with brains. The Venue 10 7000 shares the same Intel Atom Z3580 processor as its smaller, 8-inch brother.

Given the two tablets also share the same WQXGA resolution, it’s also not surprising to see the benchmark scores are inline with one another. The Venue 10 completed the Geekbench 3 multi-core benchmark test with 2,915 points, which is nearly identical to the Venue 8’s 2,913-point result.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

While Intel is king on the PC circuit, it just can’t keep up with other players in the mobile space. The iPad Air 2, powered by Apple’s custom (ARM-based) A8 processor, was able to achieve a much more impressive multi-core score of 4,507 points. The Nvidia K1 processor inside the Nexus 9 also crushes the Venue 10’s Intel chipset with 3,492 points.

Despite these comparatively disappointing benchmark scores, this 10.5-inch tablet is a snappy little device. Apps run flawlessly whether I’m tabbing between 12 different websites in Chrome, reading the latest issue of Batman in the Kindle app or flicking through stories saved on Instapaper.

The onboard Imagination PowerVR G6430 graphics chip also helps the Venue 10 handle graphically intensive tasks, such as streaming a 4K video or playing a heated round of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Mediocre!

Unfortunately, an insufficient 2GB of memory on tap kills multitasking on this tablet.

At any given time, roughly half of the tablet’s RAM is eaten up by Android services running behind the scenes, including a preloaded copy of McAfee antivirus. Opening too many apps, like Google Docs and Chrome, at once quickly brings the tablet to its knees.

The cache on the Venue 10 (and most other Android tablets) feels almost non-existent, as the tablet hardly saves the state of the applications when switching from one to another. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal on a mobile device where you can really only do one thing at a time. In this way, Samsung has been much better adding the ability to have two app windows open at the same time on devices as small as the Galaxy Note 4.

Trying to write this review while constantly shifting back to Chrome to research our reviews of its competitors was frustrating to the point of being impossible. Alt- tabbing to Chrome with other apps open would consistently cause the browser to reload the entire website. Likewise, Google Docs would also refresh and bring me to the top of the document without fail.

Using Microsoft Word on Android proved to be an even more annoying experience, as the app would constantly crash, leaving me with three separate recovery versions of the same document within an hour. All the while, Google Music would also quit on its own in the background – just another hassle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Luckily, the McAfee tools include a memory cleaner you can just tap to reclaim a portion of the used-up memory as well as exiting any long-unused apps. However, this is a small band-aid that does not fix the underlying problem that prevents the Venue 10 from being a reliable productivity machine.

Without a large cache to save the state of your documents or web browser, you could be left high and dry on a trip where Wi-Fi and hotspot connections are sparse. Just 2GB of RAM also seems like a paltry amount of memory, considering some tablets are starting to come with an additional gigabyte, and some recent smartphones, like the Asus ZenFone 2, come with 4GB of RAM.

Interface and Apps

The Dell Venue 10 7000 comes with a fairly unadulterated version of Android Lollipop 5.0.2. Here you won’t find any tacky icons or skins messing with the app drawer and notifications tray. In fact, it looks almost completely standard save for a few preloaded apps and a little tag to access the McAfee tools located on the right side of the screen.

Of what comes preloaded on the Venue 10, you’ll most likely gravitate toward the Dell Gallery app. It works just as fast as Android’s built in Gallery and Photos app, and it will even pull images from your Facebook and other social media accounts.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

More importantly, though, it’s the only app that lets you fully utilize the tablet’s Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera. Rather than a single snapper in the back, the Venue 10 comes with three cameras. These take multiple shots of the same frame, so you can go back and change the focusing point of the final image as well as measure the distance between two points in photos.

There’s also a Dell MyCast app, which is a handy screen sharing tool that projects the tablet screen onto a TV or monitor. The only caveat is it requires a Dell Cast dongle that’s sold separately for a cool $80 (£70, AU$149).

Unfortunately, I did not have the optional accessory on hand for my review, but I’m confident it would have worked just as seamlessly as it did in our Dell Venue 8 7000 review. With the Venue keyboard attached, I can easily see how this 10.5-inch tablet would be a fine device to control while blowing up your presentation onto a conference room display.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Movies and music

Stuck with a 16:10 aspect ratio, the Venue 10 doesn’t lend itself well to movie watching. Widescreen movies produce noticeable-enough black bars along the top and bottom of the screen, and films formatted in 21:9 look downright tiny.

The good news? The colorful screen makes any media look great no matter how badly the aspect ratios match up.

In case the picture weren’t impressive enough, the Venue 10’s barrel hinge hides an impressively booming set of speakers. Every explosion in Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow rang true with plenty of bass and impact.

Sadly, the Venue 10 does not come with any free media already preloaded on the machine or in the form of a digital voucher. But opening up the Google Play app should give you a digital copy of All Creatures Big and Small for free.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Games

Though Dell is calling the Venue 10 a productivity tablet, there’s nothing hindering this slate from playing games. Hearthstone ran flawlessly without any of the jittery animations you would expect on a lower-end slate.

Once again, the gorgeous display proves to be a boon by helping colorful games, like Crossy Road, really pop off the screen.

Camera

For an enthusiast photographer who spends at least an hour a day shooting, I’ve never felt more self conscious about snapping images than taking out the Venue 10 out for a quick picture. Despite having two more sensors and fancy depth sensing technology, the quality of the photos this tablet takes isn’t anything amazing.

Because the onboard Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera is actually split between an 8MP sensor and two adjacent 720p shooters, the Venue 10 can take 3D photos. When I say 3D images, I don’t mean you need funny glasses to see them. Rather, the cameras work together to create an image that contains depth data for every pixel, which then allows you to refocus after the fact.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Shoot first and recompose later might sound like it takes some of the pressure off getting the shot right the first time. But, in reality, you’re just picking an area to stay in focus and overlaying the rest of the image with a bad blurring effect. Images look particularly poor when the tablet blurs out the image in odd patterns, thinking two or more spots in the frame are on the same plane.

Measuring objects is another hat trick that Intel’s Realsense camera can pull off and it works surprisingly well. You can shoot and object and get an accurate reading on its dimensions. I wouldn’t rely on it for a home improvement project, but it comes in handy whenever you don’t have your tape measure with you.

Camera samples

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Battery life

Dell rates the battery life on the Venue 10 7000 to last just 7 hours, but in an extremely rare case, I was able to actually squeeze out an even longer runtime of 8 hours and 19 minutes. I wasn’t taking it easy on the tablet, either.

All in one go, I put the Venue 10 though a heavy workload consisting of writing in Google Docs while having 10 Chrome tabs opened at a time, Google Music streaming in the background, watching a full length film downloaded on the Play Movies app on top of an hour of streaming Netflix, editing all the images you see in this review in Lightroom and a match of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

The Venue 10 only dropped by 15% from a full charge after running TechRadar’s standardized battery test, which plays a variation of the Nyan Cat video at full screen brightness for 90 minutes.

By comparison, the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%, while the Nexus 9 went through an 18% drop while completing the same test. The 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S fared better, holding steady at 10%, partially thanks to its larger 7,900mAh battery. Still, all of these results are an impressive testament to the Dell’s energy efficiency and 6,000mAh battery.

Verdict

The Dell Venue 10 7000 is an excellent Android tablet for everything from media consumption to light office work. But if you’re considering a tablet for your end all, be all productivity, you should keep looking for something more reliable.

The shortage on memory hampers the Venue 10’s ability to multitask, let alone reliably switch between two apps. Despite my frustrations, this is still an excellent device in many ways with a solid build quality, superb display, great sound and excellent keyboard.

We liked

It’s easy to see the similarities between the Venue 10 7000 and the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, but it’s clearly much more than just a rote reimagining. Between the metal frame and unique barrel hinge, Dell’s tablet even feels and looks a bit more stylish and sturdy.

Good looks aside, the tablet’s screen is gorgeous with a sharp pixel count, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. Even more impressively, the booming sound that emits from the Venue 10 beats the pants off larger laptops, despite the device’s small size. The Venue keyboard also offers a great typing experience, even if the touchpad is so finicky that you’ll want to just disable it.

We disliked

Trying to multitask on the Venue 10 is largely an exercise in futility. You’ll often find yourself reloading every app when switching between them, and that’s simply not acceptable for a mobile work machine.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance most users will encounter is the near-requirement for the Venue keyboard to type and prop the screen up. At the same time, this bothersome accessory that gets in the way every time you take our your tablet to just look at it or take a photo.

Final verdict

Priced at $679 (about £437, AU$913), the Dell Venue 10 7000 is dangerously close to the price point of excellent laptops, like the Dell XPS 13. And it’s well past the premium I’d be comfortable with shelling out for a Chromebook.

That said, the Venue 10 is still more affordable than the $479 (£399, AU$589) Nexus 9 with an accompanying Keyboard Folio Case for $129 (£110, AU$197). An iPad Air 2 with 64GB of storage might be more affordable at $599 (£479, AU$739), but that’s not counting in the price of a separate Bluetooth keyboard.

By far, the best features of the Venue 10 7000 over its competitors is a better sound system and longer battery life, plus a screen that can project a gorgeous picture with the best of them. That said, this tablet is better left to regular usage – like watching movies and browsing the web – than a demanding daily work load. But wasn’t productivity the point?

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Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Introduction, design and display

From the Nexus 9 to the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, there are have been many attempts to create a productivity-minded Android device. You can’t blame manufacturers for trying. After all, the promise of a device that can be both your mobile movie screen and your on-the-go office is enticing.

The Venue 10 7000 is one such productivity- and play-minded device from Dell. As part of Dell’s premium 7000 line, this 10.5-inch slate is a cut above from your typical Android tablet, with a 2,560 x 1,600 OLED display. What’s more, a quad-core, 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 processor gives this slate an extra leg up as a work machine.

Starting at $499 (about £320, AU$676) or asking for $629 (about £403, AU$853) with a keyboard – $679 (about £437, AU$913) for the configuration as reviewed – the Dell Venue 10 7000 is riding on the coat tails of some budget Windows laptops while being better equipped than most Chromebooks. At the same time, it’s showing up the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 with better-sounding speakers and an actual keyboard you’ll want to work with.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Design

It’s hard to look at the Dell Venue 10 7000 and not immediately think that it’s riffing a bit too much off of Lenovo’s Yoga tablets. Between the thin screen and barrel hinge, the likeness between Lenovo and Dell’s respective tablets is obvious.

That’s not to say Dell’s device is completely identical. Dell has added plenty of its own design touches – mostly from the Dell Venue 8 7000.

Like its smaller, 8-inch brother, the Venue 10 7000 is made with a thin aluminum frame. A cylindrical hinge also protrudes from both sides of the tablet, whereas the Yoga Tablet 2 features a completely flat face with a curvy backside and a flip-out kickstand built into its hinge.

Measuring in at 6.2mm (0.24 inches), the Venue 10 isn’t quite as thin as the 6mm (0.24-inch) Venue 8 7000 or the 6.1mm (0.24-inch) iPad Air 2, but it’s thinner than the 7.2mm (0.28-inch) Lenovo Yoga Tablet.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Despite how thin this 10.5-inch tablet is, it’s still on the heavy side at 1.37 pounds (597g) that you’ll definitely feel when carrying the laptop around and holding it up. Other tablets, like the iPad Air 2, are much lighter, weighing in at 0.96 pounds (437g). The Nexus 9 is also lighter, weighing only 0.93 pounds (425g), and by a small margin, the 1.36 pound (616g) Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2.

Thankfully, that ergonomic, bar-shaped spine makes holding onto the tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation a cinch. This barrel-edge, as Dell calls it, also contains two massive speakers and the tablet’s battery.

Unfortunately, Dell’s 10.5-inch tablet does not come with a kickstand. Instead, the device all but requires an optional Venue Bluetooth keyboard accessory to prop it up before you can use it in any of the additional modes. The keyboard goes for $159 (£101, AU$215) if not picked up in the available bundle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

A keyboard to die for

Dell may have a keyboard accessory just like Lenovo’s Yoga tablet line, but Dell has gone with a much stronger and more reliable locking system. Upon closer inspection of the barrel hinge, the tablet has a unique latching system that incorporates a deep channel lined with tiny metal, magnetic rods.

The Bluetooth keyboard in turn has corresponding metal clips that fit perfectly inside the barrel edge’s channels while clipping into the mysterious metal rods. It’s an intricate system you won’t really pay any mind too, but it does an excellent job of keeping the keyboard attached snugly to the tablet.

In fact, the connection is so tight, you can give the slate a good shake while holding it up by the keyboard without worrying about the two ends splitting apart and flying away in disparate directions.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

You also shouldn’t expect to use the the Bluetooth keyboard when it isn’t attached to the tablet, as it has no actual power supply of its own. Instead, it siphons power from the tablet through two tiny, gold-coated prongs built into the docking connectors. This begs the question: why is this a “wireless accessory” when it requires a physical connection to work?

Regardless of what connection technology the Venue keyboard uses, it offers up a surprisingly satisfying typing experience. Keys depress with a decent amount of travel and feel as punchy as any scissor switch you would find on a real laptop keyboard – and it even comes fully backlit.

While the keyboard has been shrunken to better fit the tablet’s 10.5-inch form factor, the sacrifices haven’t been too grave, save for an enter and backspace key that are a bit too short. I can easily type out a full-length article, including this review, on the Venue 10 7000.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Trackpad issues

Unfortunately, I don’t have the same love for the trackpad, which constantly recognizes movement from the lower end of my palms as deliberate mouse movements. Android palm rejection software built into it but there’s no way to dial the setting up, compared to Windows and Mac OS machines, and there aren’t any Synaptics or other driver software to save the day.

The problem became so commonplace that I disabled the trackpad outright and stuck with prodding the touchscreen.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Pixel love

By far, one of the Venue 10’s most lovely features is its OLED display. The 2,560 x 1,600 resolution makes everything look better from digital comics and websites to movies and YouTube videos.

In the resolution battle, the Dell’s tablet packs 288 pixels per inch (ppi), easily out-sharpening the iPad Air 2 and its 264 ppi display. Dell’s 10.5-inch slate also matches the pixel density of other flagship Android tablets, including the Nexus 9 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S. The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, meanwhile, lags behind, severely limited by its Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display running at only 224 ppi.

More importantly, this slate simply looks better because it produces stunningly vibrant colors without any of the oversaturation that typically plagues OLED screens. At the same time, this organic display produces truer blacks than any LCD, which came in handy when bringing all the dark scenes in Game of Thrones to life.

Software and performance

Dell’s usual game is computers and laptops, so it’s not too surprising to see the company decided to stick with Intel to supply its tablets with brains. The Venue 10 7000 shares the same Intel Atom Z3580 processor as its smaller, 8-inch brother.

Given the two tablets also share the same WQXGA resolution, it’s also not surprising to see the benchmark scores are inline with one another. The Venue 10 completed the Geekbench 3 multi-core benchmark test with 2,915 points, which is nearly identical to the Venue 8’s 2,913-point result.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

While Intel is king on the PC circuit, it just can’t keep up with other players in the mobile space. The iPad Air 2, powered by Apple’s custom (ARM-based) A8 processor, was able to achieve a much more impressive multi-core score of 4,507 points. The Nvidia K1 processor inside the Nexus 9 also crushes the Venue 10’s Intel chipset with 3,492 points.

Despite these comparatively disappointing benchmark scores, this 10.5-inch tablet is a snappy little device. Apps run flawlessly whether I’m tabbing between 12 different websites in Chrome, reading the latest issue of Batman in the Kindle app or flicking through stories saved on Instapaper.

The onboard Imagination PowerVR G6430 graphics chip also helps the Venue 10 handle graphically intensive tasks, such as streaming a 4K video or playing a heated round of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Mediocre!

Unfortunately, an insufficient 2GB of memory on tap kills multitasking on this tablet.

At any given time, roughly half of the tablet’s RAM is eaten up by Android services running behind the scenes, including a preloaded copy of McAfee antivirus. Opening too many apps, like Google Docs and Chrome, at once quickly brings the tablet to its knees.

The cache on the Venue 10 (and most other Android tablets) feels almost non-existent, as the tablet hardly saves the state of the applications when switching from one to another. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal on a mobile device where you can really only do one thing at a time. In this way, Samsung has been much better adding the ability to have two app windows open at the same time on devices as small as the Galaxy Note 4.

Trying to write this review while constantly shifting back to Chrome to research our reviews of its competitors was frustrating to the point of being impossible. Alt- tabbing to Chrome with other apps open would consistently cause the browser to reload the entire website. Likewise, Google Docs would also refresh and bring me to the top of the document without fail.

Using Microsoft Word on Android proved to be an even more annoying experience, as the app would constantly crash, leaving me with three separate recovery versions of the same document within an hour. All the while, Google Music would also quit on its own in the background – just another hassle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Luckily, the McAfee tools include a memory cleaner you can just tap to reclaim a portion of the used-up memory as well as exiting any long-unused apps. However, this is a small band-aid that does not fix the underlying problem that prevents the Venue 10 from being a reliable productivity machine.

Without a large cache to save the state of your documents or web browser, you could be left high and dry on a trip where Wi-Fi and hotspot connections are sparse. Just 2GB of RAM also seems like a paltry amount of memory, considering some tablets are starting to come with an additional gigabyte, and some recent smartphones, like the Asus ZenFone 2, come with 4GB of RAM.

Interface and Apps

The Dell Venue 10 7000 comes with a fairly unadulterated version of Android Lollipop 5.0.2. Here you won’t find any tacky icons or skins messing with the app drawer and notifications tray. In fact, it looks almost completely standard save for a few preloaded apps and a little tag to access the McAfee tools located on the right side of the screen.

Of what comes preloaded on the Venue 10, you’ll most likely gravitate toward the Dell Gallery app. It works just as fast as Android’s built in Gallery and Photos app, and it will even pull images from your Facebook and other social media accounts.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

More importantly, though, it’s the only app that lets you fully utilize the tablet’s Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera. Rather than a single snapper in the back, the Venue 10 comes with three cameras. These take multiple shots of the same frame, so you can go back and change the focusing point of the final image as well as measure the distance between two points in photos.

There’s also a Dell MyCast app, which is a handy screen sharing tool that projects the tablet screen onto a TV or monitor. The only caveat is it requires a Dell Cast dongle that’s sold separately for a cool $80 (£70, AU$149).

Unfortunately, I did not have the optional accessory on hand for my review, but I’m confident it would have worked just as seamlessly as it did in our Dell Venue 8 7000 review. With the Venue keyboard attached, I can easily see how this 10.5-inch tablet would be a fine device to control while blowing up your presentation onto a conference room display.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Movies and music

Stuck with a 16:10 aspect ratio, the Venue 10 doesn’t lend itself well to movie watching. Widescreen movies produce noticeable-enough black bars along the top and bottom of the screen, and films formatted in 21:9 look downright tiny.

The good news? The colorful screen makes any media look great no matter how badly the aspect ratios match up.

In case the picture weren’t impressive enough, the Venue 10’s barrel hinge hides an impressively booming set of speakers. Every explosion in Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow rang true with plenty of bass and impact.

Sadly, the Venue 10 does not come with any free media already preloaded on the machine or in the form of a digital voucher. But opening up the Google Play app should give you a digital copy of All Creatures Big and Small for free.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Games

Though Dell is calling the Venue 10 a productivity tablet, there’s nothing hindering this slate from playing games. Hearthstone ran flawlessly without any of the jittery animations you would expect on a lower-end slate.

Once again, the gorgeous display proves to be a boon by helping colorful games, like Crossy Road, really pop off the screen.

Camera

For an enthusiast photographer who spends at least an hour a day shooting, I’ve never felt more self conscious about snapping images than taking out the Venue 10 out for a quick picture. Despite having two more sensors and fancy depth sensing technology, the quality of the photos this tablet takes isn’t anything amazing.

Because the onboard Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera is actually split between an 8MP sensor and two adjacent 720p shooters, the Venue 10 can take 3D photos. When I say 3D images, I don’t mean you need funny glasses to see them. Rather, the cameras work together to create an image that contains depth data for every pixel, which then allows you to refocus after the fact.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Shoot first and recompose later might sound like it takes some of the pressure off getting the shot right the first time. But, in reality, you’re just picking an area to stay in focus and overlaying the rest of the image with a bad blurring effect. Images look particularly poor when the tablet blurs out the image in odd patterns, thinking two or more spots in the frame are on the same plane.

Measuring objects is another hat trick that Intel’s Realsense camera can pull off and it works surprisingly well. You can shoot and object and get an accurate reading on its dimensions. I wouldn’t rely on it for a home improvement project, but it comes in handy whenever you don’t have your tape measure with you.

Camera samples

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Battery life

Dell rates the battery life on the Venue 10 7000 to last just 7 hours, but in an extremely rare case, I was able to actually squeeze out an even longer runtime of 8 hours and 19 minutes. I wasn’t taking it easy on the tablet, either.

All in one go, I put the Venue 10 though a heavy workload consisting of writing in Google Docs while having 10 Chrome tabs opened at a time, Google Music streaming in the background, watching a full length film downloaded on the Play Movies app on top of an hour of streaming Netflix, editing all the images you see in this review in Lightroom and a match of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

The Venue 10 only dropped by 15% from a full charge after running TechRadar’s standardized battery test, which plays a variation of the Nyan Cat video at full screen brightness for 90 minutes.

By comparison, the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%, while the Nexus 9 went through an 18% drop while completing the same test. The 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S fared better, holding steady at 10%, partially thanks to its larger 7,900mAh battery. Still, all of these results are an impressive testament to the Dell’s energy efficiency and 6,000mAh battery.

Verdict

The Dell Venue 10 7000 is an excellent Android tablet for everything from media consumption to light office work. But if you’re considering a tablet for your end all, be all productivity, you should keep looking for something more reliable.

The shortage on memory hampers the Venue 10’s ability to multitask, let alone reliably switch between two apps. Despite my frustrations, this is still an excellent device in many ways with a solid build quality, superb display, great sound and excellent keyboard.

We liked

It’s easy to see the similarities between the Venue 10 7000 and the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, but it’s clearly much more than just a rote reimagining. Between the metal frame and unique barrel hinge, Dell’s tablet even feels and looks a bit more stylish and sturdy.

Good looks aside, the tablet’s screen is gorgeous with a sharp pixel count, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. Even more impressively, the booming sound that emits from the Venue 10 beats the pants off larger laptops, despite the device’s small size. The Venue keyboard also offers a great typing experience, even if the touchpad is so finicky that you’ll want to just disable it.

We disliked

Trying to multitask on the Venue 10 is largely an exercise in futility. You’ll often find yourself reloading every app when switching between them, and that’s simply not acceptable for a mobile work machine.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance most users will encounter is the near-requirement for the Venue keyboard to type and prop the screen up. At the same time, this bothersome accessory that gets in the way every time you take our your tablet to just look at it or take a photo.

Final verdict

Priced at $679 (about £437, AU$913), the Dell Venue 10 7000 is dangerously close to the price point of excellent laptops, like the Dell XPS 13. And it’s well past the premium I’d be comfortable with shelling out for a Chromebook.

That said, the Venue 10 is still more affordable than the $479 (£399, AU$589) Nexus 9 with an accompanying Keyboard Folio Case for $129 (£110, AU$197). An iPad Air 2 with 64GB of storage might be more affordable at $599 (£479, AU$739), but that’s not counting in the price of a separate Bluetooth keyboard.

By far, the best features of the Venue 10 7000 over its competitors is a better sound system and longer battery life, plus a screen that can project a gorgeous picture with the best of them. That said, this tablet is better left to regular usage – like watching movies and browsing the web – than a demanding daily work load. But wasn’t productivity the point?

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Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Review: Dell Venue 10 7000

Introduction, design and display

From the Nexus 9 to the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, there are have been many attempts to create a productivity-minded Android device. You can’t blame manufacturers for trying. After all, the promise of a device that can be both your mobile movie screen and your on-the-go office is enticing.

The Venue 10 7000 is one such productivity- and play-minded device from Dell. As part of Dell’s premium 7000 line, this 10.5-inch slate is a cut above from your typical Android tablet, with a 2,560 x 1,600 OLED display. What’s more, a quad-core, 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 processor gives this slate an extra leg up as a work machine.

Starting at $499 (about £320, AU$676) or asking for $629 (about £403, AU$853) with a keyboard – $679 (about £437, AU$913) for the configuration as reviewed – the Dell Venue 10 7000 is riding on the coat tails of some budget Windows laptops while being better equipped than most Chromebooks. At the same time, it’s showing up the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 with better-sounding speakers and an actual keyboard you’ll want to work with.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Design

It’s hard to look at the Dell Venue 10 7000 and not immediately think that it’s riffing a bit too much off of Lenovo’s Yoga tablets. Between the thin screen and barrel hinge, the likeness between Lenovo and Dell’s respective tablets is obvious.

That’s not to say Dell’s device is completely identical. Dell has added plenty of its own design touches – mostly from the Dell Venue 8 7000.

Like its smaller, 8-inch brother, the Venue 10 7000 is made with a thin aluminum frame. A cylindrical hinge also protrudes from both sides of the tablet, whereas the Yoga Tablet 2 features a completely flat face with a curvy backside and a flip-out kickstand built into its hinge.

Measuring in at 6.2mm (0.24 inches), the Venue 10 isn’t quite as thin as the 6mm (0.24-inch) Venue 8 7000 or the 6.1mm (0.24-inch) iPad Air 2, but it’s thinner than the 7.2mm (0.28-inch) Lenovo Yoga Tablet.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Despite how thin this 10.5-inch tablet is, it’s still on the heavy side at 1.37 pounds (597g) that you’ll definitely feel when carrying the laptop around and holding it up. Other tablets, like the iPad Air 2, are much lighter, weighing in at 0.96 pounds (437g). The Nexus 9 is also lighter, weighing only 0.93 pounds (425g), and by a small margin, the 1.36 pound (616g) Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2.

Thankfully, that ergonomic, bar-shaped spine makes holding onto the tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation a cinch. This barrel-edge, as Dell calls it, also contains two massive speakers and the tablet’s battery.

Unfortunately, Dell’s 10.5-inch tablet does not come with a kickstand. Instead, the device all but requires an optional Venue Bluetooth keyboard accessory to prop it up before you can use it in any of the additional modes. The keyboard goes for $159 (£101, AU$215) if not picked up in the available bundle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

A keyboard to die for

Dell may have a keyboard accessory just like Lenovo’s Yoga tablet line, but Dell has gone with a much stronger and more reliable locking system. Upon closer inspection of the barrel hinge, the tablet has a unique latching system that incorporates a deep channel lined with tiny metal, magnetic rods.

The Bluetooth keyboard in turn has corresponding metal clips that fit perfectly inside the barrel edge’s channels while clipping into the mysterious metal rods. It’s an intricate system you won’t really pay any mind too, but it does an excellent job of keeping the keyboard attached snugly to the tablet.

In fact, the connection is so tight, you can give the slate a good shake while holding it up by the keyboard without worrying about the two ends splitting apart and flying away in disparate directions.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

You also shouldn’t expect to use the the Bluetooth keyboard when it isn’t attached to the tablet, as it has no actual power supply of its own. Instead, it siphons power from the tablet through two tiny, gold-coated prongs built into the docking connectors. This begs the question: why is this a “wireless accessory” when it requires a physical connection to work?

Regardless of what connection technology the Venue keyboard uses, it offers up a surprisingly satisfying typing experience. Keys depress with a decent amount of travel and feel as punchy as any scissor switch you would find on a real laptop keyboard – and it even comes fully backlit.

While the keyboard has been shrunken to better fit the tablet’s 10.5-inch form factor, the sacrifices haven’t been too grave, save for an enter and backspace key that are a bit too short. I can easily type out a full-length article, including this review, on the Venue 10 7000.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Trackpad issues

Unfortunately, I don’t have the same love for the trackpad, which constantly recognizes movement from the lower end of my palms as deliberate mouse movements. Android palm rejection software built into it but there’s no way to dial the setting up, compared to Windows and Mac OS machines, and there aren’t any Synaptics or other driver software to save the day.

The problem became so commonplace that I disabled the trackpad outright and stuck with prodding the touchscreen.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Pixel love

By far, one of the Venue 10’s most lovely features is its OLED display. The 2,560 x 1,600 resolution makes everything look better from digital comics and websites to movies and YouTube videos.

In the resolution battle, the Dell’s tablet packs 288 pixels per inch (ppi), easily out-sharpening the iPad Air 2 and its 264 ppi display. Dell’s 10.5-inch slate also matches the pixel density of other flagship Android tablets, including the Nexus 9 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S. The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, meanwhile, lags behind, severely limited by its Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display running at only 224 ppi.

More importantly, this slate simply looks better because it produces stunningly vibrant colors without any of the oversaturation that typically plagues OLED screens. At the same time, this organic display produces truer blacks than any LCD, which came in handy when bringing all the dark scenes in Game of Thrones to life.

Software and performance

Dell’s usual game is computers and laptops, so it’s not too surprising to see the company decided to stick with Intel to supply its tablets with brains. The Venue 10 7000 shares the same Intel Atom Z3580 processor as its smaller, 8-inch brother.

Given the two tablets also share the same WQXGA resolution, it’s also not surprising to see the benchmark scores are inline with one another. The Venue 10 completed the Geekbench 3 multi-core benchmark test with 2,915 points, which is nearly identical to the Venue 8’s 2,913-point result.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

While Intel is king on the PC circuit, it just can’t keep up with other players in the mobile space. The iPad Air 2, powered by Apple’s custom (ARM-based) A8 processor, was able to achieve a much more impressive multi-core score of 4,507 points. The Nvidia K1 processor inside the Nexus 9 also crushes the Venue 10’s Intel chipset with 3,492 points.

Despite these comparatively disappointing benchmark scores, this 10.5-inch tablet is a snappy little device. Apps run flawlessly whether I’m tabbing between 12 different websites in Chrome, reading the latest issue of Batman in the Kindle app or flicking through stories saved on Instapaper.

The onboard Imagination PowerVR G6430 graphics chip also helps the Venue 10 handle graphically intensive tasks, such as streaming a 4K video or playing a heated round of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Mediocre!

Unfortunately, an insufficient 2GB of memory on tap kills multitasking on this tablet.

At any given time, roughly half of the tablet’s RAM is eaten up by Android services running behind the scenes, including a preloaded copy of McAfee antivirus. Opening too many apps, like Google Docs and Chrome, at once quickly brings the tablet to its knees.

The cache on the Venue 10 (and most other Android tablets) feels almost non-existent, as the tablet hardly saves the state of the applications when switching from one to another. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal on a mobile device where you can really only do one thing at a time. In this way, Samsung has been much better adding the ability to have two app windows open at the same time on devices as small as the Galaxy Note 4.

Trying to write this review while constantly shifting back to Chrome to research our reviews of its competitors was frustrating to the point of being impossible. Alt- tabbing to Chrome with other apps open would consistently cause the browser to reload the entire website. Likewise, Google Docs would also refresh and bring me to the top of the document without fail.

Using Microsoft Word on Android proved to be an even more annoying experience, as the app would constantly crash, leaving me with three separate recovery versions of the same document within an hour. All the while, Google Music would also quit on its own in the background – just another hassle.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Luckily, the McAfee tools include a memory cleaner you can just tap to reclaim a portion of the used-up memory as well as exiting any long-unused apps. However, this is a small band-aid that does not fix the underlying problem that prevents the Venue 10 from being a reliable productivity machine.

Without a large cache to save the state of your documents or web browser, you could be left high and dry on a trip where Wi-Fi and hotspot connections are sparse. Just 2GB of RAM also seems like a paltry amount of memory, considering some tablets are starting to come with an additional gigabyte, and some recent smartphones, like the Asus ZenFone 2, come with 4GB of RAM.

Interface and Apps

The Dell Venue 10 7000 comes with a fairly unadulterated version of Android Lollipop 5.0.2. Here you won’t find any tacky icons or skins messing with the app drawer and notifications tray. In fact, it looks almost completely standard save for a few preloaded apps and a little tag to access the McAfee tools located on the right side of the screen.

Of what comes preloaded on the Venue 10, you’ll most likely gravitate toward the Dell Gallery app. It works just as fast as Android’s built in Gallery and Photos app, and it will even pull images from your Facebook and other social media accounts.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

More importantly, though, it’s the only app that lets you fully utilize the tablet’s Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera. Rather than a single snapper in the back, the Venue 10 comes with three cameras. These take multiple shots of the same frame, so you can go back and change the focusing point of the final image as well as measure the distance between two points in photos.

There’s also a Dell MyCast app, which is a handy screen sharing tool that projects the tablet screen onto a TV or monitor. The only caveat is it requires a Dell Cast dongle that’s sold separately for a cool $80 (£70, AU$149).

Unfortunately, I did not have the optional accessory on hand for my review, but I’m confident it would have worked just as seamlessly as it did in our Dell Venue 8 7000 review. With the Venue keyboard attached, I can easily see how this 10.5-inch tablet would be a fine device to control while blowing up your presentation onto a conference room display.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Movies and music

Stuck with a 16:10 aspect ratio, the Venue 10 doesn’t lend itself well to movie watching. Widescreen movies produce noticeable-enough black bars along the top and bottom of the screen, and films formatted in 21:9 look downright tiny.

The good news? The colorful screen makes any media look great no matter how badly the aspect ratios match up.

In case the picture weren’t impressive enough, the Venue 10’s barrel hinge hides an impressively booming set of speakers. Every explosion in Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow rang true with plenty of bass and impact.

Sadly, the Venue 10 does not come with any free media already preloaded on the machine or in the form of a digital voucher. But opening up the Google Play app should give you a digital copy of All Creatures Big and Small for free.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Games

Though Dell is calling the Venue 10 a productivity tablet, there’s nothing hindering this slate from playing games. Hearthstone ran flawlessly without any of the jittery animations you would expect on a lower-end slate.

Once again, the gorgeous display proves to be a boon by helping colorful games, like Crossy Road, really pop off the screen.

Camera

For an enthusiast photographer who spends at least an hour a day shooting, I’ve never felt more self conscious about snapping images than taking out the Venue 10 out for a quick picture. Despite having two more sensors and fancy depth sensing technology, the quality of the photos this tablet takes isn’t anything amazing.

Because the onboard Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth camera is actually split between an 8MP sensor and two adjacent 720p shooters, the Venue 10 can take 3D photos. When I say 3D images, I don’t mean you need funny glasses to see them. Rather, the cameras work together to create an image that contains depth data for every pixel, which then allows you to refocus after the fact.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Shoot first and recompose later might sound like it takes some of the pressure off getting the shot right the first time. But, in reality, you’re just picking an area to stay in focus and overlaying the rest of the image with a bad blurring effect. Images look particularly poor when the tablet blurs out the image in odd patterns, thinking two or more spots in the frame are on the same plane.

Measuring objects is another hat trick that Intel’s Realsense camera can pull off and it works surprisingly well. You can shoot and object and get an accurate reading on its dimensions. I wouldn’t rely on it for a home improvement project, but it comes in handy whenever you don’t have your tape measure with you.

Camera samples

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

Battery life

Dell rates the battery life on the Venue 10 7000 to last just 7 hours, but in an extremely rare case, I was able to actually squeeze out an even longer runtime of 8 hours and 19 minutes. I wasn’t taking it easy on the tablet, either.

All in one go, I put the Venue 10 though a heavy workload consisting of writing in Google Docs while having 10 Chrome tabs opened at a time, Google Music streaming in the background, watching a full length film downloaded on the Play Movies app on top of an hour of streaming Netflix, editing all the images you see in this review in Lightroom and a match of Hearthstone.

Dell Venue 10 7000 review

The Venue 10 only dropped by 15% from a full charge after running TechRadar’s standardized battery test, which plays a variation of the Nyan Cat video at full screen brightness for 90 minutes.

By comparison, the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%, while the Nexus 9 went through an 18% drop while completing the same test. The 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S fared better, holding steady at 10%, partially thanks to its larger 7,900mAh battery. Still, all of these results are an impressive testament to the Dell’s energy efficiency and 6,000mAh battery.

Verdict

The Dell Venue 10 7000 is an excellent Android tablet for everything from media consumption to light office work. But if you’re considering a tablet for your end all, be all productivity, you should keep looking for something more reliable.

The shortage on memory hampers the Venue 10’s ability to multitask, let alone reliably switch between two apps. Despite my frustrations, this is still an excellent device in many ways with a solid build quality, superb display, great sound and excellent keyboard.

We liked

It’s easy to see the similarities between the Venue 10 7000 and the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, but it’s clearly much more than just a rote reimagining. Between the metal frame and unique barrel hinge, Dell’s tablet even feels and looks a bit more stylish and sturdy.

Good looks aside, the tablet’s screen is gorgeous with a sharp pixel count, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. Even more impressively, the booming sound that emits from the Venue 10 beats the pants off larger laptops, despite the device’s small size. The Venue keyboard also offers a great typing experience, even if the touchpad is so finicky that you’ll want to just disable it.

We disliked

Trying to multitask on the Venue 10 is largely an exercise in futility. You’ll often find yourself reloading every app when switching between them, and that’s simply not acceptable for a mobile work machine.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance most users will encounter is the near-requirement for the Venue keyboard to type and prop the screen up. At the same time, this bothersome accessory that gets in the way every time you take our your tablet to just look at it or take a photo.

Final verdict

Priced at $679 (about £437, AU$913), the Dell Venue 10 7000 is dangerously close to the price point of excellent laptops, like the Dell XPS 13. And it’s well past the premium I’d be comfortable with shelling out for a Chromebook.

That said, the Venue 10 is still more affordable than the $479 (£399, AU$589) Nexus 9 with an accompanying Keyboard Folio Case for $129 (£110, AU$197). An iPad Air 2 with 64GB of storage might be more affordable at $599 (£479, AU$739), but that’s not counting in the price of a separate Bluetooth keyboard.

By far, the best features of the Venue 10 7000 over its competitors is a better sound system and longer battery life, plus a screen that can project a gorgeous picture with the best of them. That said, this tablet is better left to regular usage – like watching movies and browsing the web – than a demanding daily work load. But wasn’t productivity the point?

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Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Introduction and design

It doesn’t take a huge wad of cash to secure an Android tablet nowadays, but the experience at the budget end of the market can be frustratingly bad. It was only a matter time before someone aside from Google managed to produce a halfway decent, budget tablet, offering the full Android experience, but who knew it would be Tesco?

Step aside Google, out of the way Amazon, it takes a British supermarket to show you how to make a jaw-droppingly cheap tablet that’s actually desirable. If you’re looking for a tablet for the kids, something cheap to use around the house, or an affordable option for the tablet-virgin in your life, the Tesco Hudl 2 is going be downright impossible to ignore.

This is an accessible device with an HD display, solid build quality, and almost unadulterated Android 4.4 KitKat – although it looks highly unlikely that this tablet will be getting Android Lollipop anytime soon.

You won’t be shocked to find that the Hudl 2 costs less than half the price of the iPad mini 3, but it’s also much cheaper than the Nexus 7 – which also isn’t getting the latest Android update, although it did get a taste of Lollipop. Every little helps indeed.

The Kindle Fire HDX, another competitor, has had a price drop down to £149, giving the Hudl 2 a fierce run for its money.

Building on the success of the original (and now discontinued) Hudl, Tesco’s Hudl 2 is bigger and better in almost every way. There’s a larger 8.3-inch HD screen, a quad-core processor that Tesco claims is three times faster, double the RAM at 2GB, and a slightly improved 5MP camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I did not expect to be charmed by the Hudl 2. It now only costs £99 (it launched at £129), it has a stupid name, and it’s part of Tesco’s bizarre plan to make and do everything. It was with some reluctance, reticence, and even regret that I put my Nexus 7 (2013) aside and took up my new tablet. Hudl round and allow me to explain how Tesco’s tablet won me over.

Google’s first Nexus 7 tablet made the smaller tablet form factor fashionable, but just as smartphone displays are growing consistently larger, so are tablets.

When Apple decided to enter the smaller tablet market it chose to make the first iPad mini’s display 7.9 inches. Tesco takes the trend slightly further with an 8.3-inch display in the Hudl 2.

That display is the first thing you’re going to notice taking the Hudl 2 out of the box and it makes a great first impression. The resolution has been significantly boosted to 1920 x 1200 pixels. That’s a full high definition screen that matches the Nexus 7 (2013) resolution.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Colours are rich and vibrant, text is sharp and easy to read, and you can happily watch movies, game, or read on it for hours.

It feels like quite a big tablet if you’re coming from the older Hudl or a Nexus 7. The Hudl 2 measures 224 x 128 x 9mm. If you hold it in landscape then it’s much wider and slightly slimmer than its predecessor, but exactly the same height. It’s also pretty heavy at around 410g, compared to 370g for the original Hudl, and just 290g for the Nexus 7 (2013).

I can hold the tablet one-handed for short periods, but if you’re reading or watching a movie you’ll want to prop it or your arm is going to get tired. Two hands are obviously a necessity for navigation.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It does feel nicely balanced and it’s satisfyingly slim. The soft touch coating on the back wraps around the sides adding grip and making it very comfortable to hold.

It feels most natural to hold it in landscape and the larger bezels at either end make this easy to do without obscuring the screen.

Flip around to the back and you’ll find a metallic embossed Hudl logo in the centre. Two fairly large speaker grills dominate either end and the camera lens sits above the right speaker grill at the top corner.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Still holding it in landscape, the left edge of the Hudl 2 plays host to a standard 3.5mm headphone port. The right has the micro USB port for file transfer and charging.

Up top there’s a volume rocker with a power button just beneath it. The buttons are plastic and they have a decent amount of travel. It’s not hard to find and use them in the dark.

The bottom edge includes an open microSD card slot for storage expansion with cards up to 32GB in size. It looks a little odd that the port is open and you can expect a bit of dust collection if you don’t use it, but it’s fairly unobtrusive.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Further along towards the middle of the bottom edge there’s a surprise micro-HDMI out connection so that you can plug your Hudl 2 directly into your TV. This is a rarity on tablets nowadays and it’s one that some people will appreciate because it makes it very easy to play content from your tablet on the big screen.

The Hudl 2 feels surprisingly premium and it looks good too. I had the black model for review, but you can add some colour if you prefer as it’s available in blue, turquoise, orange, pink, purple, red, or white.

Based on the design alone I would never have guessed that this tablet was so cheap.

Key features

There’s little doubt that Tesco will shift truckloads of these over the holiday season and the key reason for that is the price.

The Hudl 2 now costs just £99. You can also use Clubcard points to get money off. In fact Tesco’s Clubcard boost can turn every £5 of Clubcard vouchers you have into £10 towards the Hudl 2. For regular shoppers looking for something to spend their vouchers on, this is a seriously tempting tablet.

As an extra incentive you’ll find some freebies in the box to help you explore Tesco’s ecosystem. There are vouchers for £10 off movies, £10 off ebooks, and another £10 voucher for a month’s free music trial, all through Blinkbox.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There are rumblings about the future of Blinkbox amid Tesco’s financial difficulties, but they are just rumours. What I do know right now is it’s a decent library of content and it’s very easy to use.

You’ll find a large selection of the latest movies and TV shows on offer. I think £3.49 for a rental or £9.99 to buy a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire is too expensive, and so is £1.79 per episode or £16.99 for a series of Game of Thrones. But you can rent older movies for as little as 99p and there are some discounted TV shows as well.

While they can’t match Blinkbox’s newer content, it’s worth remembering that you can get access to unlimited streaming from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video starting at £5.99 per month.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

On the music front, Blinkbox offers more than 12 million tracks, which puts it in contention with Spotify, Deezer, and the rest of the music streaming gang. There’s a free ad-supported version of Blinkbox Music, but there’s also a £1 a week option that gets rid of ads and allows you to create playlists (up to 100 songs). It looks very competitive for the budget conscious.

Put all of this together and the Hudl 2 is a really great prospect for Tesco shoppers.

Another key feature that sets the Hudl 2 apart from the crowd is the deliberate family feel. This is a mass market device that could be used by anyone.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s a Get Started app that explains how to use the tablet in terms that your Luddite grandfather will understand. There’s also a Top Apps selection highlighting Tesco’s suggested picks. Naturally Blinkbox is front and centre, but refreshingly they do actually suggest some other competing services that are worth a look.

Best of all there’s a Child safety app that allows you to set up profiles for your youngsters and manage exactly which apps and websites they can access.

It automatically configures based on your child’s age, but they can request access to certain websites and you can tweak categories or make exceptions. Whenever you install a new app it will ask you which profiles should have access to it.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It also enables you to set time limits for usage. You can choose specific times or allocate a number of minutes. There are other apps out there that handle this kind of thing, but Tesco’s offering is really nicely laid out and extremely simple. It compares well.

If you’re feeling a bit of Tesco overload by now, it’s important to remember that none of this precludes you from using whatever you want from the wonderful world of Android.

All of Google’s apps are present and correct on the Hudl 2 and you can snag whatever you like from the Play Store.

Interface and performance

The Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4.2 and it’s basically stock Android, just like Google’s Nexus tablets. Remember, it’s very unlikely that Tesco will update this tablet to Lollipop, let alone the future version, Android M.

All Tesco has done is load its own smattering of apps and the My Tesco launcher, so perhaps you won’t miss the update too much. The launcher has some Tesco widgets pointing you at Tesco content and a basic app drawer.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can’t uninstall the apps, but you can disable them. You can also download a new launcher, such as the Nova Launcher and make it the default instead of My Tesco launcher.

For many people the Hudl 2 will be their first Android tablet and it is clear that Tesco has acknowledged this with a bright and welcoming interface that greets Hudl 2 owners when it is first turned on.

The bright and cheery welcome you get promises to help take you through the process of setting up the Hudl 2, including connecting to Wi-Fi and setting up a Tesco account.

It’s a nice touch for people who have never set up an Android device before, although it’s a shame that some of the steps you’re taken through revert back to the standard Android interface, leading to a bit of inconsistent experience.

Once set up you’re brought back to the bright and cheery Hudl interface, and a short animated introduction to the features of the Hudl 2 are shown.

The main interface is essentially stock Android. You have three home screens to begin with, but you can add a couple of extras by dragging app icons or widgets to the edge for a total of five home screens.

The app drawer is bottom centre in the permanent dock where you can configure three app shortcuts either side. The app drawer is slightly different in that it’s just a big list of your apps, there’s no widget tab in there.

You long press on the screen to add widgets, or to change your wallpaper. Tesco includes a large selection of wallpapers featuring happy people huddling together.

Pull down from the top left of the screen and you’ll get your notifications. Pull down from the top right and you can access settings. Stock Android is a breeze to use and it’s very easy to get to grips with.

I found the My Tesco launcher a little bit laggy. The animation when you swipe isn’t always very smooth and the widget can take a while to populate. When I switched to the Nova launcher navigation felt that little bit snappier.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Taking a look inside the Hudl 2 you’ll find an Intel Atom quad-core processor clocked at 1.83GHz. It’s backed up by 2GB of RAM. That’s a major boost over the original Tesco Hudl and it does feel fast and responsive. For the most part apps and games are quick to load and you can skip back to the home screen with a tap.

Geekbench 3 gave the Hudl 2 a single-core score of 792, but we’re really interested in the 2147 multi-core score. I ran Geekbench 3 on my Nexus 7 (2013) and it scored 576 and 1896 respectively. When we tested the, much more expensive, Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 earlier this summer it scored 2722.

What we can conclude from all this is that the Hudl 2 is fast and performs well. I ran some high-end games like Asphalt 8 and there was nary a stutter. It gets pretty hot around the back near the camera when you play graphically intensive games for any length of time, but so does my Xperia Z2 and my Nexus 7.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It hasn’t all been rosy, there were a couple of moments when the Hudl 2 seemed to freeze coming out of an app. I suspect that the My Tesco launcher is the culprit there.

It also completely refused to turn on at one point. I was watching Netflix, using the Hudl 2 to select content and streaming it to my Chromecast. I watched a couple of episodes of Suits and when I went to stop it, the Hudl 2 simply didn’t respond to the power button.

I tried holding it down for ten seconds, nothing. I tried holding down the power button and the volume down button for ten seconds, still nothing. The battery hadn’t been low, but I tried plugging the Hudl 2 into the charger for a while anyway and the screen seemed to come on, but it was blank and dull.

I read the booklet, but it has no information and the current technical support on Tesco’s website still refers to the original Hudl.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

After half an hour of charging I unplugged it and tried again, but it still wouldn’t turn on. Finally I just sat holding down the power button and the volume down button and eventually the Hudl 2 vibrated and powered completely off.

When it started up again it went through the boot cycle and worked as normal. I used the Hudl 2 with Netflix and the Chromecast again several times, but it never happened again. This happens with many phones and tablets from time to time, so it’s not a huge worry – but I’d have preferred not to see it.

Battery life and the essentials

Battery life

Tesco prefers to state “up to 8 hours battery life” rather than provide us with a capacity in mAh. I suspect that the battery isn’t all that big, and that’s a shame, because the Hudl 2 really needs a big battery.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I found that the battery drained very quickly out of the box, but it’s not unusual for batteries to take a while to bed in and you tend to use new devices more than you realise in the first few days. There’s also an additional drain from downloading and installing all your regular apps.

After fully charging the Hudl 2, I gave it a lazy Sunday test. I surfed the web for a couple of hours, played Clash of Clans for ten minutes, watched two movies, and then the kids watched an episode of Spongebob. By the end of that it was dropping down to the 10 percent mark. Not too impressive.

In an average week day with light usage you probably aren’t going to have any problems, and you might squeeze a couple of days of use out of it between charges. Medium and heavy users are going to have to get used to charging it daily at least.

Playing a relatively simple game like Duet for ten minutes drained the battery by 4%. Playing Asphalt 8 for ten minutes drained it by 6%.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Running our 90 minute battery test video at full brightness on a fully charged Hudl 2 reduced the battery to just 63%. That’s a worryingly large drain of 37 percent.

The original Hudl only lost 21%, the Nexus 7 dropped 20%, and even the relatively poor LG G Pad 8.3 only dropped 30% during the same test.

The drop was so large I ran the same test again a month later. Sure enough, the battery dropped to just 64%, proving that our initial tests were no fluke; the Hudl 2 really is that bad at losing battery.

If you want a tablet to take out and about on your travels, then you had better look elsewhere. The Hudl 2’s weak battery shouldn’t be such a big issue when you’re at home with a plug socket at hand, but I’m still disappointed at its lack of stamina.

The essentials

Since the Hudl 2 is essentially using stock Android the basic essentials are solid. The keyboard is accurate and easy to type on. The stock Android calendar, email, contacts, and camera apps are straightforward.

You’ll find the same redundancy you get on many Android devices with Google’s Gmail app and an email app, as well as a Gallery app and Google’s Photos app. It’s not an especially big deal, but it’s going to confuse some people.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

In addition to Tesco’s Blinkbox content offerings you’ll find apps for ordering food, banking, clothes, managing your Clubcard, and Tesco’s photo store. Some of them aren’t apps at all; they’re just shortcuts to the website. All are useless and eminently ignorable if you don’t use Tesco.

All of Google’s content apps are there and you’ll also find Google Maps. I tested it a couple of times and the Hudl 2 GPS was quick to get an accurate fix. You’re not likely to use it for navigating, especially with the limited battery, but you could if you wanted to.

You’ll find Google’s Chrome browser as the default web browser on the Hudl 2, but there is a slight oddity related to the parental controls for your children’s profiles.

If you set up a child’s profile and limit web access then they use a special browser labelled Internet which keeps them from browsing anywhere you don’t want them to. It works, but it’s not as slick or fast as Chrome.

Camera

Why do they put cameras on tablets? The Tesco Hudl 2 has no answer.

Tesco has beefed up the main camera to 5MP, compared to the 3.2MP in the original Hudl, but the front-facing camera has gone the other way from 2MP down to 1.2MP. Megapixels aren’t everything, but it would be challenging to argue that there’s anything impressive about either camera in the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It’s a little strange that the front-facing camera has been hobbled when it’s probably the more likely to get used, whether for apps or for making Internet calls on apps like Hangouts and Skype.

The app is the stock Android camera app and it’s very basic. You can switch on grid lines to help you line up shots, or you can swivel to the front-facing camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s also a timer option. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen you’ll reveal the menu where you can switch to video or try out the Lens Blur, Panorama, or Photo Sphere effects.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can tap on screen to tell the camera to focus on a specific area or subject. It’s pretty slow to actually take a shot and the quality is generally poor. Google’s camera effects are a bit gimmicky and can be very frustrating to actually pull off, with repeated errors about moving too fast when you try to pan.

The photos I took with the Hudl 2 were all bad. They lack detail, contrast is bad, and the camera can’t deal with low light at all. There’s no flash, so this is strictly a camera for well-lit situations.

The video camera is equally terrible, struggling to adjust to changing light, blurring if you move it, and introducing loads of noise unless you’re in a very well lit area.

Camera samples

Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Media

Thankfully when it comes to the important things the Tesco Hudl 2 does the business. This is a tablet that’s well-suited to watching movies and it’s a pleasure to game on.

The 8.3-inch display looks good and high definition content is available in all its glory. It is quite reflective and I found it was much more pleasant to watch movies or play games when I cranked the brightness up (which no doubt contributed to the battery running out fast).

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I have to mention that the Hudl 2 has an Intel processor and apparently there could be some incompatibility problems with certain Android games.

Intel is trying to break into mobile hardware and catch up with ARM and the two have been arguing about how big an issue the compatibility is in recent months. Every game I tested on the tablet worked fine, but it might be something to consider.

The Hudl 2 also has stereo speakers featuring “Dolby optimised sound”. If you’re sitting holding it in the landscape position, as you will for the majority of movies or games, the speakers work great and you get a real stereo effect.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

The problem is that they are both on the back, so if you rest the Hudl 2 on anything then it’s going to muffle the speakers. It actually works best of all if you have it in your lap and cup your hands round the speaker grills to redirect the sound towards you.

If they were front-facing that would be really ideal, but they are still better than you can reasonably expect to find in a tablet this price.

The Hudl 2 can also serve up music in a pinch. I found that the speakers distorted quite easily when I was listening to music, so headphones or an external speaker are advised for music.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re a big reader you’ll be glad to know that the Hudl 2 can definitely double up as a device for ebooks. The Blinkbox app seems to have a very big collection.

It had everything I searched for from Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. You can always install the Kindle app or another reader if you prefer.

As I mentioned before, the Hudl 2 is quite heavy so you’ll probably want to prop it up if you’re reading for a long time, but it’s a comfortable tablet to hold.

Storage is definitely an issue. This is a 16GB tablet, but you only get 9.12GB free out of the box. It will fill up fast, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card. The Hudl 2 will take microSD cards up to 32GB in size, so you can boost the storage up to around 40GB, which should be enough for most people.

If you use streaming services like Netflix and Blinkbox Music then you possibly won’t need a great deal of space on the tablet. However, if you like to play games you could run out of space fast. Asphalt 8 is 1.6GB on its own.

You can also boost your storage with a wide variety of cloud storage options including 15GB with Google Drive, which is installed out of the box.

Competition

Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Google Nexus 7

Google has had the smaller Android tablet market sewn up for a long time now, perhaps that’s why we’re still awaiting a new Nexus 7, or possibly a Nexus 9.

The Nexus 7 (2013) has been on the market for well over a year. Despite a tidal wave of budget competitors and a serious challenge from Amazon, ask any tech writer “what’s the best small Android tablet?” and they’ll still tell you to buy the Nexus 7.

Tesco’s Hudl 2 is serious competition. It has a larger screen, stereo speakers, and it is significantly cheaper. Given the option between a £99 Hudl 2 right now and a Nexus 7 from Google at £199 I would definitely advise you to buy the Hudl 2. If you want something for the whole family to use around the house then the Nexus 7 is not worth the extra cash.

The two tablets have exactly the same 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Look at them side by side, and because the Nexus 7 is smaller, it looks a bit sharper. Its screen is also a bit more vibrant, and if you angle yourself to the side it has slightly better viewing angles, but it’s not enough to make a major difference, the Hudl 2 screen still looks great.

Get rid of the My Tesco launcher and you’ve essentially got a stock Android tablet with newer hardware and an 8.3-inch screen at a lower price. The biggest compromise you have to make with the Hudl 2 is battery life.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

The basic Kindle Fire HDX is now £149 and it has a smaller 7-inch display with the same 1920 x 1200 resolution. The processor is clocked at 2.2GHz compared to 1.83GHz for the Hudl 2. The Kindle Fire HDX also has better battery life.

Both are aimed at the family market. The Kindle Fire HDX has a range of user-friendly features like Mayday for instant technical help and easy screen mirroring.

The big difference is that the Kindle Fire HDX locks you into Amazon’s eco-system. You don’t get Google’s great range of apps and services. You don’t get full access to the Play Store. Not only is there a smaller subset of apps available in the Amazon App Store, but some of them are older versions.

Amazon provides its own set of apps, but they aren’t as good. The Hudl 2 is more attractive because Tesco doesn’t lock you down at all. The Hudl 2 also had a price advantage.

iPad mini 2

iPad Mini 2

At the premium end of the small tablet market we have Apple’s offering. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display starts at £239. It’s not really fair to compare the Hudl 2 at £99. As you would expect, the iPad mini 2 is faster, slicker, and all-round better, but at well over double the price it had better be.

It has a 7.9-inch display at 2048 x 1536 pixels. It also has 16GB of storage, a 5MP main camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera. I’m not going to argue the merits of Android vs iOS here, but on paper Apple’s diminutive tablet does not look particularly special next to the Hudl 2’s specs. In reality Apple optimizes its hardware and software to run harmoniously together and gets real world results that exceed expectations for the specs.

A fairer comparison might be the original iPad mini, but you’re still looking at paying £249. If you’re invested in the Apple eco-system and addicted to that premium design maybe you’ll see that added value, but is it £140 better than the Hudl 2?

Tesco Hudl 2 vs iPad mini (original)

With so many models on the market there’s never been a better time to invest in a tablet and even budget buyers have a strong selection to choose from.

The Tesco Hudl 2 and the iPad mini are two of the best affordable options available right now and both are great choices for first-time buyers or anyone who can’t justify splashing out hundreds of pounds. As you can see above, there are better iPad minis on offer, but they’re a lot more expensive.

Either the Tesco or Apple option would make for a memorable Christmas present, but while they’re both good and both relatively affordable we can see that not everyone would take to both equally; so to make deciding between them easier, here’s how they compare!

Screen

The Tesco Hudl 2 has an 8.3-inch screen while the iPad mini is 7.9 inches. So Tesco’s slate is slightly bigger but not enough to make a significant difference in use. They’re both on the small side as tablets go, but that makes them more portable than larger slates and they’re still big enough to comfortably web browse or get engrossed in a video.

Both screens also use IPS LCD technology, which gives them better viewing angles than a standard LCD display would be capable of and we noted rich and vibrant colours on the Tesco Hudl 2, while the iPad mini has impressive contrast.

iPad mini

There’s a big difference in their resolutions though. The Hudl 2 comes in at 1200 x 1920 for a pixel density of 273 pixels per inch, while the iPad mini is 768 x 1024, giving it a far lower pixel density (screen sharpness) of 162 pixels per inch, despite its smaller size.

That makes text and images far less clear than on its supermarket rival and while you might not realise what you’re missing if this is your first tablet, anyone who has used a high-end smartphone or slate won’t be impressed.

Design and build

The Tesco Hudl 2 isn’t the most stylish tablet around but nor is it ugly. It has a colourful plastic shell with a soft-touch feel, making it comfortable to hold and easy to grip, while at 224 x 128 x 9mm it’s fairly slim, though it’s quite heavy at 410g.

iPad mini

The iPad mini leaves it in the dust though, with a premium aluminium shell, a super-slim 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm build and it’s substantially lighter too at 308g. Looks aren’t everything but they’re a good start and the iPad mini definitely comes out on top in that area.

Processor and RAM

Neither of these tablets are packing top flight processors, but nor do they feel particularly underpowered. The Tesco Hudl 2 has a 1.83Ghz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735D processor and 2GB of RAM, while the iPad mini has a 1.0GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor and 512MB of RAM.

Hudl 2

On paper then the Tesco Hudl 2 should be far more powerful than its fruity foe, but in practice performance is fairly snappy on both. Neither of these slates is quite as fast as a top end tablet like the iPad Air 2, but in general operation both perform well and we even found that the Tesco Hudl 2 could comfortably cope with graphically intensive games.

If there’s one black mark against the Hudl 2’s performance it’s that the ‘My Tesco’ launcher which it ships with can lag a bit, but as it’s an Android tablet you can easily swap it for a different bit of software to speed things up.

OS

The operating system that each of these tablets run is arguably the biggest difference between them, as while the Tesco Hudl 2 is an Android slate the iPad mini runs iOS.

More specifically the Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat while the iPad mini runs iOS 8.1. This makes a big difference: Android is incredibly customisable with widgets and tools that can make the tablet your own, which is good because, as mentioned previously, the overlay Tesco has put on it is a bit laggy, so you may want to replace it.

iPad mini

However while Android is powerful it’s still not quite as intuitive as iOS and while both stores have a large number of apps available there are loads more tablet-optimised apps on Apple’s store and more games too.

On the other hand it’s unlikely that the iPad mini will be updated to iOS 9 as it’s getting on a bit, but the relatively new Tesco Hudl 2 may well receive an update to the new Android Lollipop, so is slightly more future-proofed.

It’s worth giving a shout-out to the Hudl 2’s parental controls as well. These allow you to set up kid’s profiles, limiting which apps they can access and even setting time limits for use. The iPad mini has similar controls but doesn’t allow for multiple profiles or time limits.

Storage

While the iPad mini used to be available in a range of sizes the 16GB version is the only one that’s still being sold. The Tesco Hudl 2 also only comes with 16GB of storage, but there’s one key difference: the Hudl 2 also supports microSD cards of up to 32GB while the iPad mini has no microSD card slot.

That means the iPad mini only gives you 16GB to play with, which can easily fill up with media and games, while the Hudl 2 can potentially provide up to 48GB if you buy a card and even more if you don’t mind swapping microSD cards on the fly.

Hudl 2

If you’re not planning to store much content locally then 16GB should suffice, but it’s nice to know that with the Hudl 2 there’s the option to expand.

Battery

Tesco hasn’t revealed the size of the Hudl 2’s battery, instead just saying that it provides up to 8 hours of life, while the iPad mini has a 4490mAh juice pack, which Apple promises will keep it going for up to 10 hours.

iPad mini

In practice the iPad mini definitely has better battery life and should last around a day with heavy use or two to three days with more mixed use, while the Tesco Hudl 2 is unlikely to see you through a transatlantic flight, but could still feasibly stretch to a couple of days with light use.

The upshot is that either device should see you through a daily commute and as use isn’t likely to be as heavy as on a phone you’ll probably be able to get through more than a day with both slates, but if you do have a whole lot of time to kill and only a tablet for company the iPad mini is a better bet.

Price and verdict

While both these slates are at the more affordable end of the market there is still quite a difference in their prices. The Tesco Hudl 2 is just £99, while the iPad mini is a pricier £199, or £299 if you want mobile data, which isn’t an option on the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2

So you’re paying at least £70 extra, which is quite a chunk of change when the difference between the two isn’t huge in day to day use.

Whether the iPad mini is worth the extra is debatable. Sure, it has better battery life and a superior build quality, but it loses out in some ways too, with less storage potential and a lower resolution screen.

It’s arguably the more desirable slate, with a high-end build and brand name appeal, but it’s not necessarily better and with its colourful design and parental controls the Hudl 2 is probably a better buy for children.

Tesco Hudl 2 accessories

After purchasing your cut price Tesco Hudl 2 you’ll probably have a bit of cash left over, so why not accessorise your new tablet with some handy additional products.

Tesco Hudl 2 soft touch case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive case to provide a little extra protection for your new investment then the £20 soft touch case fits the bill nicely.

The soft rubber finish provides useful additional grip and the screen cover means the display is protected when not in use – perfect when it comes to sliding the Hudl 2 into a bag.

This case also doubles as a stand, allowing you to enjoy hands free video sessions, especially handy when on the train or in bed.

Tesco Hudl 2 protective bumper

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Planning on handing the Hudl 2 over to the kids? Then you might want to wrap it in this protective bumper – it’s even got some funky stars on the back and it’s available in blue and pink.

It’s a touch cheaper than the soft case at £15, but you don’t get the screen cover/stand combo and it’s not as subtle in the design department.

It will, however, protect your Hudl 2 from various knocks and bumps and that’s worth the price tag in itself.

Tesco Hudl 2 keyboard case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Turn your Tesco Hudl 2 into a mini laptop with the keyboard case. This case with integrated Bluetooth keyboard makes text input a doddle.

The battery inside the keyboard is good for 90 hours on a single charge, so you won’t need to remember to pack a second charging cable if you go out and about.

It’s only available in black and at £40 it’s one of the more expensive accessory options, but well worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of typing.

Hudl stylus

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Compatible with the original Hudl as well as the Hudl 2, this simple stylus is available in five different colours and costs just £5.

It doubles as a pen too, with a ball point pen at one end and a stylus tip at the other. Plus it works on other touchscreen phones and tablets, giving you real bang for your buck.

Hudl kid’s headphones

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Is the noise from that game the children insist on playing at full volume on the Hudl 2 starting to really test your nerves? Get them a pair of headphones!

Tesco offers up these highly affordable, Hudl branded pair for just £12, and sound is limited to 80 decibels to protect their tiny eardrums. Bless.

Hands on gallery

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Verdict

The Tesco Hudl 2 is now getting on in age, but with an asking price of just £99 it’s still a real bargain and if you have Clubcard vouchers the boost could make it irresistibly cheap. For Tesco shoppers and Blinkbox users the vouchers in the box with the Hudl 2 are another added incentive.

However, and this is something worth thinking about, the lack of update to Android Lollipop hints of a device that’s not going to get lots of support in the near future.

We liked

The 8.3-inch HD display is excellent. The 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution is enough to ensure that reading is pleasurable and the Hudl 2 is a really nice size for kicking back with a movie or a blast of gaming.

It’s great to see stereo speakers and they really enhance movie watching and gaming. If they were front-facing I’d be even happier, but they’re still a definite plus point.

The introductory Tesco apps are good and I can see them being genuinely helpful for tablet newbies, but the parental controls are the star of the pre-installed show. They’re simple, effective, and well-thought out.

The Hudl 2 is amazing value for money and Tesco’s additional voucher incentives really make it a steal.

We disliked

The battery life is undoubtedly the Tesco Hudl 2’s Achilles heel. Graphically intensive games and streaming HD movies drain that battery far too quickly. It’s going to be a definite sore point for some people.

That slight laggy feel at times is a concern, but ditch the My Tesco launcher and you should find it’s much less noticeable.

Hopefully the incident when it failed to turn on is a one-off freak occurrence. There’s always an element of pot luck with electronics and bugs. It hasn’t happened again, but I had to mention it, and it’s the sort of thing that could really distress a tablet novice.

Storage is not adequate at just 9GB free out of the box, so you’ll have to invest in a microSD card. You’ll pay around £10-£15 for a 32GB card, but that will give you a decent storage limit of over 40GB.

Verdict

If you’re shopping for a family tablet that you can share with the kids, this is it. If you want to gift a tablet to someone who has never tried one before, this is it. If you want a cheap tablet for casual use around the house, this is it. While the upgraded software, or lack thereof, is a worry, for many it won’t be an issue – but remember this is only a ‘throw around the house’ tablet, not something that’s your main device.

The Tesco Hudl 2 is not the best tablet on the market. It’s not the fastest or the prettiest. It doesn’t have cutting edge specs. What it does offer is a solid all-round experience at an unbeatable price.

Pound for pound you will not be able to find anything better, at least until Google refreshes the Nexus line. If you want the best value stock Android tablet on the market, this is it.

First reviewed: October 2014

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Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Introduction and design

It doesn’t take a huge wad of cash to secure an Android tablet nowadays, but the experience at the budget end of the market can be frustratingly bad. It was only a matter time before someone aside from Google managed to produce a halfway decent, budget tablet, offering the full Android experience, but who knew it would be Tesco?

Step aside Google, out of the way Amazon, it takes a British supermarket to show you how to make a jaw-droppingly cheap tablet that’s actually desirable. If you’re looking for a tablet for the kids, something cheap to use around the house, or an affordable option for the tablet-virgin in your life, the Tesco Hudl 2 is going be downright impossible to ignore.

This is an accessible device with an HD display, solid build quality, and almost unadulterated Android 4.4 KitKat – although it looks highly unlikely that this tablet will be getting Android Lollipop anytime soon.

You won’t be shocked to find that the Hudl 2 costs less than half the price of the iPad mini 3, but it’s also much cheaper than the Nexus 7 – which also isn’t getting the latest Android update, although it did get a taste of Lollipop. Every little helps indeed.

The Kindle Fire HDX, another competitor, has had a price drop down to £149, giving the Hudl 2 a fierce run for its money.

Building on the success of the original (and now discontinued) Hudl, Tesco’s Hudl 2 is bigger and better in almost every way. There’s a larger 8.3-inch HD screen, a quad-core processor that Tesco claims is three times faster, double the RAM at 2GB, and a slightly improved 5MP camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I did not expect to be charmed by the Hudl 2. It now only costs £99 (it launched at £129), it has a stupid name, and it’s part of Tesco’s bizarre plan to make and do everything. It was with some reluctance, reticence, and even regret that I put my Nexus 7 (2013) aside and took up my new tablet. Hudl round and allow me to explain how Tesco’s tablet won me over.

Google’s first Nexus 7 tablet made the smaller tablet form factor fashionable, but just as smartphone displays are growing consistently larger, so are tablets.

When Apple decided to enter the smaller tablet market it chose to make the first iPad mini’s display 7.9 inches. Tesco takes the trend slightly further with an 8.3-inch display in the Hudl 2.

That display is the first thing you’re going to notice taking the Hudl 2 out of the box and it makes a great first impression. The resolution has been significantly boosted to 1920 x 1200 pixels. That’s a full high definition screen that matches the Nexus 7 (2013) resolution.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Colours are rich and vibrant, text is sharp and easy to read, and you can happily watch movies, game, or read on it for hours.

It feels like quite a big tablet if you’re coming from the older Hudl or a Nexus 7. The Hudl 2 measures 224 x 128 x 9mm. If you hold it in landscape then it’s much wider and slightly slimmer than its predecessor, but exactly the same height. It’s also pretty heavy at around 410g, compared to 370g for the original Hudl, and just 290g for the Nexus 7 (2013).

I can hold the tablet one-handed for short periods, but if you’re reading or watching a movie you’ll want to prop it or your arm is going to get tired. Two hands are obviously a necessity for navigation.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It does feel nicely balanced and it’s satisfyingly slim. The soft touch coating on the back wraps around the sides adding grip and making it very comfortable to hold.

It feels most natural to hold it in landscape and the larger bezels at either end make this easy to do without obscuring the screen.

Flip around to the back and you’ll find a metallic embossed Hudl logo in the centre. Two fairly large speaker grills dominate either end and the camera lens sits above the right speaker grill at the top corner.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Still holding it in landscape, the left edge of the Hudl 2 plays host to a standard 3.5mm headphone port. The right has the micro USB port for file transfer and charging.

Up top there’s a volume rocker with a power button just beneath it. The buttons are plastic and they have a decent amount of travel. It’s not hard to find and use them in the dark.

The bottom edge includes an open microSD card slot for storage expansion with cards up to 32GB in size. It looks a little odd that the port is open and you can expect a bit of dust collection if you don’t use it, but it’s fairly unobtrusive.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Further along towards the middle of the bottom edge there’s a surprise micro-HDMI out connection so that you can plug your Hudl 2 directly into your TV. This is a rarity on tablets nowadays and it’s one that some people will appreciate because it makes it very easy to play content from your tablet on the big screen.

The Hudl 2 feels surprisingly premium and it looks good too. I had the black model for review, but you can add some colour if you prefer as it’s available in blue, turquoise, orange, pink, purple, red, or white.

Based on the design alone I would never have guessed that this tablet was so cheap.

Key features

There’s little doubt that Tesco will shift truckloads of these over the holiday season and the key reason for that is the price.

The Hudl 2 now costs just £99. You can also use Clubcard points to get money off. In fact Tesco’s Clubcard boost can turn every £5 of Clubcard vouchers you have into £10 towards the Hudl 2. For regular shoppers looking for something to spend their vouchers on, this is a seriously tempting tablet.

As an extra incentive you’ll find some freebies in the box to help you explore Tesco’s ecosystem. There are vouchers for £10 off movies, £10 off ebooks, and another £10 voucher for a month’s free music trial, all through Blinkbox.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There are rumblings about the future of Blinkbox amid Tesco’s financial difficulties, but they are just rumours. What I do know right now is it’s a decent library of content and it’s very easy to use.

You’ll find a large selection of the latest movies and TV shows on offer. I think £3.49 for a rental or £9.99 to buy a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire is too expensive, and so is £1.79 per episode or £16.99 for a series of Game of Thrones. But you can rent older movies for as little as 99p and there are some discounted TV shows as well.

While they can’t match Blinkbox’s newer content, it’s worth remembering that you can get access to unlimited streaming from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video starting at £5.99 per month.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

On the music front, Blinkbox offers more than 12 million tracks, which puts it in contention with Spotify, Deezer, and the rest of the music streaming gang. There’s a free ad-supported version of Blinkbox Music, but there’s also a £1 a week option that gets rid of ads and allows you to create playlists (up to 100 songs). It looks very competitive for the budget conscious.

Put all of this together and the Hudl 2 is a really great prospect for Tesco shoppers.

Another key feature that sets the Hudl 2 apart from the crowd is the deliberate family feel. This is a mass market device that could be used by anyone.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s a Get Started app that explains how to use the tablet in terms that your Luddite grandfather will understand. There’s also a Top Apps selection highlighting Tesco’s suggested picks. Naturally Blinkbox is front and centre, but refreshingly they do actually suggest some other competing services that are worth a look.

Best of all there’s a Child safety app that allows you to set up profiles for your youngsters and manage exactly which apps and websites they can access.

It automatically configures based on your child’s age, but they can request access to certain websites and you can tweak categories or make exceptions. Whenever you install a new app it will ask you which profiles should have access to it.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It also enables you to set time limits for usage. You can choose specific times or allocate a number of minutes. There are other apps out there that handle this kind of thing, but Tesco’s offering is really nicely laid out and extremely simple. It compares well.

If you’re feeling a bit of Tesco overload by now, it’s important to remember that none of this precludes you from using whatever you want from the wonderful world of Android.

All of Google’s apps are present and correct on the Hudl 2 and you can snag whatever you like from the Play Store.

Interface and performance

The Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4.2 and it’s basically stock Android, just like Google’s Nexus tablets. Remember, it’s very unlikely that Tesco will update this tablet to Lollipop, let alone the future version, Android M.

All Tesco has done is load its own smattering of apps and the My Tesco launcher, so perhaps you won’t miss the update too much. The launcher has some Tesco widgets pointing you at Tesco content and a basic app drawer.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can’t uninstall the apps, but you can disable them. You can also download a new launcher, such as the Nova Launcher and make it the default instead of My Tesco launcher.

For many people the Hudl 2 will be their first Android tablet and it is clear that Tesco has acknowledged this with a bright and welcoming interface that greets Hudl 2 owners when it is first turned on.

The bright and cheery welcome you get promises to help take you through the process of setting up the Hudl 2, including connecting to Wi-Fi and setting up a Tesco account.

It’s a nice touch for people who have never set up an Android device before, although it’s a shame that some of the steps you’re taken through revert back to the standard Android interface, leading to a bit of inconsistent experience.

Once set up you’re brought back to the bright and cheery Hudl interface, and a short animated introduction to the features of the Hudl 2 are shown.

The main interface is essentially stock Android. You have three home screens to begin with, but you can add a couple of extras by dragging app icons or widgets to the edge for a total of five home screens.

The app drawer is bottom centre in the permanent dock where you can configure three app shortcuts either side. The app drawer is slightly different in that it’s just a big list of your apps, there’s no widget tab in there.

You long press on the screen to add widgets, or to change your wallpaper. Tesco includes a large selection of wallpapers featuring happy people huddling together.

Pull down from the top left of the screen and you’ll get your notifications. Pull down from the top right and you can access settings. Stock Android is a breeze to use and it’s very easy to get to grips with.

I found the My Tesco launcher a little bit laggy. The animation when you swipe isn’t always very smooth and the widget can take a while to populate. When I switched to the Nova launcher navigation felt that little bit snappier.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Taking a look inside the Hudl 2 you’ll find an Intel Atom quad-core processor clocked at 1.83GHz. It’s backed up by 2GB of RAM. That’s a major boost over the original Tesco Hudl and it does feel fast and responsive. For the most part apps and games are quick to load and you can skip back to the home screen with a tap.

Geekbench 3 gave the Hudl 2 a single-core score of 792, but we’re really interested in the 2147 multi-core score. I ran Geekbench 3 on my Nexus 7 (2013) and it scored 576 and 1896 respectively. When we tested the, much more expensive, Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 earlier this summer it scored 2722.

What we can conclude from all this is that the Hudl 2 is fast and performs well. I ran some high-end games like Asphalt 8 and there was nary a stutter. It gets pretty hot around the back near the camera when you play graphically intensive games for any length of time, but so does my Xperia Z2 and my Nexus 7.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It hasn’t all been rosy, there were a couple of moments when the Hudl 2 seemed to freeze coming out of an app. I suspect that the My Tesco launcher is the culprit there.

It also completely refused to turn on at one point. I was watching Netflix, using the Hudl 2 to select content and streaming it to my Chromecast. I watched a couple of episodes of Suits and when I went to stop it, the Hudl 2 simply didn’t respond to the power button.

I tried holding it down for ten seconds, nothing. I tried holding down the power button and the volume down button for ten seconds, still nothing. The battery hadn’t been low, but I tried plugging the Hudl 2 into the charger for a while anyway and the screen seemed to come on, but it was blank and dull.

I read the booklet, but it has no information and the current technical support on Tesco’s website still refers to the original Hudl.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

After half an hour of charging I unplugged it and tried again, but it still wouldn’t turn on. Finally I just sat holding down the power button and the volume down button and eventually the Hudl 2 vibrated and powered completely off.

When it started up again it went through the boot cycle and worked as normal. I used the Hudl 2 with Netflix and the Chromecast again several times, but it never happened again. This happens with many phones and tablets from time to time, so it’s not a huge worry – but I’d have preferred not to see it.

Battery life and the essentials

Battery life

Tesco prefers to state “up to 8 hours battery life” rather than provide us with a capacity in mAh. I suspect that the battery isn’t all that big, and that’s a shame, because the Hudl 2 really needs a big battery.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I found that the battery drained very quickly out of the box, but it’s not unusual for batteries to take a while to bed in and you tend to use new devices more than you realise in the first few days. There’s also an additional drain from downloading and installing all your regular apps.

After fully charging the Hudl 2, I gave it a lazy Sunday test. I surfed the web for a couple of hours, played Clash of Clans for ten minutes, watched two movies, and then the kids watched an episode of Spongebob. By the end of that it was dropping down to the 10 percent mark. Not too impressive.

In an average week day with light usage you probably aren’t going to have any problems, and you might squeeze a couple of days of use out of it between charges. Medium and heavy users are going to have to get used to charging it daily at least.

Playing a relatively simple game like Duet for ten minutes drained the battery by 4%. Playing Asphalt 8 for ten minutes drained it by 6%.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Running our 90 minute battery test video at full brightness on a fully charged Hudl 2 reduced the battery to just 63%. That’s a worryingly large drain of 37 percent.

The original Hudl only lost 21%, the Nexus 7 dropped 20%, and even the relatively poor LG G Pad 8.3 only dropped 30% during the same test.

The drop was so large I ran the same test again a month later. Sure enough, the battery dropped to just 64%, proving that our initial tests were no fluke; the Hudl 2 really is that bad at losing battery.

If you want a tablet to take out and about on your travels, then you had better look elsewhere. The Hudl 2’s weak battery shouldn’t be such a big issue when you’re at home with a plug socket at hand, but I’m still disappointed at its lack of stamina.

The essentials

Since the Hudl 2 is essentially using stock Android the basic essentials are solid. The keyboard is accurate and easy to type on. The stock Android calendar, email, contacts, and camera apps are straightforward.

You’ll find the same redundancy you get on many Android devices with Google’s Gmail app and an email app, as well as a Gallery app and Google’s Photos app. It’s not an especially big deal, but it’s going to confuse some people.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

In addition to Tesco’s Blinkbox content offerings you’ll find apps for ordering food, banking, clothes, managing your Clubcard, and Tesco’s photo store. Some of them aren’t apps at all; they’re just shortcuts to the website. All are useless and eminently ignorable if you don’t use Tesco.

All of Google’s content apps are there and you’ll also find Google Maps. I tested it a couple of times and the Hudl 2 GPS was quick to get an accurate fix. You’re not likely to use it for navigating, especially with the limited battery, but you could if you wanted to.

You’ll find Google’s Chrome browser as the default web browser on the Hudl 2, but there is a slight oddity related to the parental controls for your children’s profiles.

If you set up a child’s profile and limit web access then they use a special browser labelled Internet which keeps them from browsing anywhere you don’t want them to. It works, but it’s not as slick or fast as Chrome.

Camera

Why do they put cameras on tablets? The Tesco Hudl 2 has no answer.

Tesco has beefed up the main camera to 5MP, compared to the 3.2MP in the original Hudl, but the front-facing camera has gone the other way from 2MP down to 1.2MP. Megapixels aren’t everything, but it would be challenging to argue that there’s anything impressive about either camera in the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It’s a little strange that the front-facing camera has been hobbled when it’s probably the more likely to get used, whether for apps or for making Internet calls on apps like Hangouts and Skype.

The app is the stock Android camera app and it’s very basic. You can switch on grid lines to help you line up shots, or you can swivel to the front-facing camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s also a timer option. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen you’ll reveal the menu where you can switch to video or try out the Lens Blur, Panorama, or Photo Sphere effects.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can tap on screen to tell the camera to focus on a specific area or subject. It’s pretty slow to actually take a shot and the quality is generally poor. Google’s camera effects are a bit gimmicky and can be very frustrating to actually pull off, with repeated errors about moving too fast when you try to pan.

The photos I took with the Hudl 2 were all bad. They lack detail, contrast is bad, and the camera can’t deal with low light at all. There’s no flash, so this is strictly a camera for well-lit situations.

The video camera is equally terrible, struggling to adjust to changing light, blurring if you move it, and introducing loads of noise unless you’re in a very well lit area.

Camera samples

Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Media

Thankfully when it comes to the important things the Tesco Hudl 2 does the business. This is a tablet that’s well-suited to watching movies and it’s a pleasure to game on.

The 8.3-inch display looks good and high definition content is available in all its glory. It is quite reflective and I found it was much more pleasant to watch movies or play games when I cranked the brightness up (which no doubt contributed to the battery running out fast).

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I have to mention that the Hudl 2 has an Intel processor and apparently there could be some incompatibility problems with certain Android games.

Intel is trying to break into mobile hardware and catch up with ARM and the two have been arguing about how big an issue the compatibility is in recent months. Every game I tested on the tablet worked fine, but it might be something to consider.

The Hudl 2 also has stereo speakers featuring “Dolby optimised sound”. If you’re sitting holding it in the landscape position, as you will for the majority of movies or games, the speakers work great and you get a real stereo effect.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

The problem is that they are both on the back, so if you rest the Hudl 2 on anything then it’s going to muffle the speakers. It actually works best of all if you have it in your lap and cup your hands round the speaker grills to redirect the sound towards you.

If they were front-facing that would be really ideal, but they are still better than you can reasonably expect to find in a tablet this price.

The Hudl 2 can also serve up music in a pinch. I found that the speakers distorted quite easily when I was listening to music, so headphones or an external speaker are advised for music.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re a big reader you’ll be glad to know that the Hudl 2 can definitely double up as a device for ebooks. The Blinkbox app seems to have a very big collection.

It had everything I searched for from Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. You can always install the Kindle app or another reader if you prefer.

As I mentioned before, the Hudl 2 is quite heavy so you’ll probably want to prop it up if you’re reading for a long time, but it’s a comfortable tablet to hold.

Storage is definitely an issue. This is a 16GB tablet, but you only get 9.12GB free out of the box. It will fill up fast, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card. The Hudl 2 will take microSD cards up to 32GB in size, so you can boost the storage up to around 40GB, which should be enough for most people.

If you use streaming services like Netflix and Blinkbox Music then you possibly won’t need a great deal of space on the tablet. However, if you like to play games you could run out of space fast. Asphalt 8 is 1.6GB on its own.

You can also boost your storage with a wide variety of cloud storage options including 15GB with Google Drive, which is installed out of the box.

Competition

Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Google Nexus 7

Google has had the smaller Android tablet market sewn up for a long time now, perhaps that’s why we’re still awaiting a new Nexus 7, or possibly a Nexus 9.

The Nexus 7 (2013) has been on the market for well over a year. Despite a tidal wave of budget competitors and a serious challenge from Amazon, ask any tech writer “what’s the best small Android tablet?” and they’ll still tell you to buy the Nexus 7.

Tesco’s Hudl 2 is serious competition. It has a larger screen, stereo speakers, and it is significantly cheaper. Given the option between a £99 Hudl 2 right now and a Nexus 7 from Google at £199 I would definitely advise you to buy the Hudl 2. If you want something for the whole family to use around the house then the Nexus 7 is not worth the extra cash.

The two tablets have exactly the same 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Look at them side by side, and because the Nexus 7 is smaller, it looks a bit sharper. Its screen is also a bit more vibrant, and if you angle yourself to the side it has slightly better viewing angles, but it’s not enough to make a major difference, the Hudl 2 screen still looks great.

Get rid of the My Tesco launcher and you’ve essentially got a stock Android tablet with newer hardware and an 8.3-inch screen at a lower price. The biggest compromise you have to make with the Hudl 2 is battery life.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

The basic Kindle Fire HDX is now £149 and it has a smaller 7-inch display with the same 1920 x 1200 resolution. The processor is clocked at 2.2GHz compared to 1.83GHz for the Hudl 2. The Kindle Fire HDX also has better battery life.

Both are aimed at the family market. The Kindle Fire HDX has a range of user-friendly features like Mayday for instant technical help and easy screen mirroring.

The big difference is that the Kindle Fire HDX locks you into Amazon’s eco-system. You don’t get Google’s great range of apps and services. You don’t get full access to the Play Store. Not only is there a smaller subset of apps available in the Amazon App Store, but some of them are older versions.

Amazon provides its own set of apps, but they aren’t as good. The Hudl 2 is more attractive because Tesco doesn’t lock you down at all. The Hudl 2 also had a price advantage.

iPad mini 2

iPad Mini 2

At the premium end of the small tablet market we have Apple’s offering. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display starts at £239. It’s not really fair to compare the Hudl 2 at £99. As you would expect, the iPad mini 2 is faster, slicker, and all-round better, but at well over double the price it had better be.

It has a 7.9-inch display at 2048 x 1536 pixels. It also has 16GB of storage, a 5MP main camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera. I’m not going to argue the merits of Android vs iOS here, but on paper Apple’s diminutive tablet does not look particularly special next to the Hudl 2’s specs. In reality Apple optimizes its hardware and software to run harmoniously together and gets real world results that exceed expectations for the specs.

A fairer comparison might be the original iPad mini, but you’re still looking at paying £249. If you’re invested in the Apple eco-system and addicted to that premium design maybe you’ll see that added value, but is it £140 better than the Hudl 2?

Tesco Hudl 2 vs iPad mini (original)

With so many models on the market there’s never been a better time to invest in a tablet and even budget buyers have a strong selection to choose from.

The Tesco Hudl 2 and the iPad mini are two of the best affordable options available right now and both are great choices for first-time buyers or anyone who can’t justify splashing out hundreds of pounds. As you can see above, there are better iPad minis on offer, but they’re a lot more expensive.

Either the Tesco or Apple option would make for a memorable Christmas present, but while they’re both good and both relatively affordable we can see that not everyone would take to both equally; so to make deciding between them easier, here’s how they compare!

Screen

The Tesco Hudl 2 has an 8.3-inch screen while the iPad mini is 7.9 inches. So Tesco’s slate is slightly bigger but not enough to make a significant difference in use. They’re both on the small side as tablets go, but that makes them more portable than larger slates and they’re still big enough to comfortably web browse or get engrossed in a video.

Both screens also use IPS LCD technology, which gives them better viewing angles than a standard LCD display would be capable of and we noted rich and vibrant colours on the Tesco Hudl 2, while the iPad mini has impressive contrast.

iPad mini

There’s a big difference in their resolutions though. The Hudl 2 comes in at 1200 x 1920 for a pixel density of 273 pixels per inch, while the iPad mini is 768 x 1024, giving it a far lower pixel density (screen sharpness) of 162 pixels per inch, despite its smaller size.

That makes text and images far less clear than on its supermarket rival and while you might not realise what you’re missing if this is your first tablet, anyone who has used a high-end smartphone or slate won’t be impressed.

Design and build

The Tesco Hudl 2 isn’t the most stylish tablet around but nor is it ugly. It has a colourful plastic shell with a soft-touch feel, making it comfortable to hold and easy to grip, while at 224 x 128 x 9mm it’s fairly slim, though it’s quite heavy at 410g.

iPad mini

The iPad mini leaves it in the dust though, with a premium aluminium shell, a super-slim 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm build and it’s substantially lighter too at 308g. Looks aren’t everything but they’re a good start and the iPad mini definitely comes out on top in that area.

Processor and RAM

Neither of these tablets are packing top flight processors, but nor do they feel particularly underpowered. The Tesco Hudl 2 has a 1.83Ghz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735D processor and 2GB of RAM, while the iPad mini has a 1.0GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor and 512MB of RAM.

Hudl 2

On paper then the Tesco Hudl 2 should be far more powerful than its fruity foe, but in practice performance is fairly snappy on both. Neither of these slates is quite as fast as a top end tablet like the iPad Air 2, but in general operation both perform well and we even found that the Tesco Hudl 2 could comfortably cope with graphically intensive games.

If there’s one black mark against the Hudl 2’s performance it’s that the ‘My Tesco’ launcher which it ships with can lag a bit, but as it’s an Android tablet you can easily swap it for a different bit of software to speed things up.

OS

The operating system that each of these tablets run is arguably the biggest difference between them, as while the Tesco Hudl 2 is an Android slate the iPad mini runs iOS.

More specifically the Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat while the iPad mini runs iOS 8.1. This makes a big difference: Android is incredibly customisable with widgets and tools that can make the tablet your own, which is good because, as mentioned previously, the overlay Tesco has put on it is a bit laggy, so you may want to replace it.

iPad mini

However while Android is powerful it’s still not quite as intuitive as iOS and while both stores have a large number of apps available there are loads more tablet-optimised apps on Apple’s store and more games too.

On the other hand it’s unlikely that the iPad mini will be updated to iOS 9 as it’s getting on a bit, but the relatively new Tesco Hudl 2 may well receive an update to the new Android Lollipop, so is slightly more future-proofed.

It’s worth giving a shout-out to the Hudl 2’s parental controls as well. These allow you to set up kid’s profiles, limiting which apps they can access and even setting time limits for use. The iPad mini has similar controls but doesn’t allow for multiple profiles or time limits.

Storage

While the iPad mini used to be available in a range of sizes the 16GB version is the only one that’s still being sold. The Tesco Hudl 2 also only comes with 16GB of storage, but there’s one key difference: the Hudl 2 also supports microSD cards of up to 32GB while the iPad mini has no microSD card slot.

That means the iPad mini only gives you 16GB to play with, which can easily fill up with media and games, while the Hudl 2 can potentially provide up to 48GB if you buy a card and even more if you don’t mind swapping microSD cards on the fly.

Hudl 2

If you’re not planning to store much content locally then 16GB should suffice, but it’s nice to know that with the Hudl 2 there’s the option to expand.

Battery

Tesco hasn’t revealed the size of the Hudl 2’s battery, instead just saying that it provides up to 8 hours of life, while the iPad mini has a 4490mAh juice pack, which Apple promises will keep it going for up to 10 hours.

iPad mini

In practice the iPad mini definitely has better battery life and should last around a day with heavy use or two to three days with more mixed use, while the Tesco Hudl 2 is unlikely to see you through a transatlantic flight, but could still feasibly stretch to a couple of days with light use.

The upshot is that either device should see you through a daily commute and as use isn’t likely to be as heavy as on a phone you’ll probably be able to get through more than a day with both slates, but if you do have a whole lot of time to kill and only a tablet for company the iPad mini is a better bet.

Price and verdict

While both these slates are at the more affordable end of the market there is still quite a difference in their prices. The Tesco Hudl 2 is just £99, while the iPad mini is a pricier £199, or £299 if you want mobile data, which isn’t an option on the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2

So you’re paying at least £70 extra, which is quite a chunk of change when the difference between the two isn’t huge in day to day use.

Whether the iPad mini is worth the extra is debatable. Sure, it has better battery life and a superior build quality, but it loses out in some ways too, with less storage potential and a lower resolution screen.

It’s arguably the more desirable slate, with a high-end build and brand name appeal, but it’s not necessarily better and with its colourful design and parental controls the Hudl 2 is probably a better buy for children.

Tesco Hudl 2 accessories

After purchasing your cut price Tesco Hudl 2 you’ll probably have a bit of cash left over, so why not accessorise your new tablet with some handy additional products.

Tesco Hudl 2 soft touch case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive case to provide a little extra protection for your new investment then the £20 soft touch case fits the bill nicely.

The soft rubber finish provides useful additional grip and the screen cover means the display is protected when not in use – perfect when it comes to sliding the Hudl 2 into a bag.

This case also doubles as a stand, allowing you to enjoy hands free video sessions, especially handy when on the train or in bed.

Tesco Hudl 2 protective bumper

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Planning on handing the Hudl 2 over to the kids? Then you might want to wrap it in this protective bumper – it’s even got some funky stars on the back and it’s available in blue and pink.

It’s a touch cheaper than the soft case at £15, but you don’t get the screen cover/stand combo and it’s not as subtle in the design department.

It will, however, protect your Hudl 2 from various knocks and bumps and that’s worth the price tag in itself.

Tesco Hudl 2 keyboard case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Turn your Tesco Hudl 2 into a mini laptop with the keyboard case. This case with integrated Bluetooth keyboard makes text input a doddle.

The battery inside the keyboard is good for 90 hours on a single charge, so you won’t need to remember to pack a second charging cable if you go out and about.

It’s only available in black and at £40 it’s one of the more expensive accessory options, but well worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of typing.

Hudl stylus

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Compatible with the original Hudl as well as the Hudl 2, this simple stylus is available in five different colours and costs just £5.

It doubles as a pen too, with a ball point pen at one end and a stylus tip at the other. Plus it works on other touchscreen phones and tablets, giving you real bang for your buck.

Hudl kid’s headphones

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Is the noise from that game the children insist on playing at full volume on the Hudl 2 starting to really test your nerves? Get them a pair of headphones!

Tesco offers up these highly affordable, Hudl branded pair for just £12, and sound is limited to 80 decibels to protect their tiny eardrums. Bless.

Hands on gallery

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Verdict

The Tesco Hudl 2 is now getting on in age, but with an asking price of just £99 it’s still a real bargain and if you have Clubcard vouchers the boost could make it irresistibly cheap. For Tesco shoppers and Blinkbox users the vouchers in the box with the Hudl 2 are another added incentive.

However, and this is something worth thinking about, the lack of update to Android Lollipop hints of a device that’s not going to get lots of support in the near future.

We liked

The 8.3-inch HD display is excellent. The 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution is enough to ensure that reading is pleasurable and the Hudl 2 is a really nice size for kicking back with a movie or a blast of gaming.

It’s great to see stereo speakers and they really enhance movie watching and gaming. If they were front-facing I’d be even happier, but they’re still a definite plus point.

The introductory Tesco apps are good and I can see them being genuinely helpful for tablet newbies, but the parental controls are the star of the pre-installed show. They’re simple, effective, and well-thought out.

The Hudl 2 is amazing value for money and Tesco’s additional voucher incentives really make it a steal.

We disliked

The battery life is undoubtedly the Tesco Hudl 2’s Achilles heel. Graphically intensive games and streaming HD movies drain that battery far too quickly. It’s going to be a definite sore point for some people.

That slight laggy feel at times is a concern, but ditch the My Tesco launcher and you should find it’s much less noticeable.

Hopefully the incident when it failed to turn on is a one-off freak occurrence. There’s always an element of pot luck with electronics and bugs. It hasn’t happened again, but I had to mention it, and it’s the sort of thing that could really distress a tablet novice.

Storage is not adequate at just 9GB free out of the box, so you’ll have to invest in a microSD card. You’ll pay around £10-£15 for a 32GB card, but that will give you a decent storage limit of over 40GB.

Verdict

If you’re shopping for a family tablet that you can share with the kids, this is it. If you want to gift a tablet to someone who has never tried one before, this is it. If you want a cheap tablet for casual use around the house, this is it. While the upgraded software, or lack thereof, is a worry, for many it won’t be an issue – but remember this is only a ‘throw around the house’ tablet, not something that’s your main device.

The Tesco Hudl 2 is not the best tablet on the market. It’s not the fastest or the prettiest. It doesn’t have cutting edge specs. What it does offer is a solid all-round experience at an unbeatable price.

Pound for pound you will not be able to find anything better, at least until Google refreshes the Nexus line. If you want the best value stock Android tablet on the market, this is it.

First reviewed: October 2014

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Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Introduction and design

It doesn’t take a huge wad of cash to secure an Android tablet nowadays, but the experience at the budget end of the market can be frustratingly bad. It was only a matter time before someone aside from Google managed to produce a halfway decent, budget tablet, offering the full Android experience, but who knew it would be Tesco?

Step aside Google, out of the way Amazon, it takes a British supermarket to show you how to make a jaw-droppingly cheap tablet that’s actually desirable. If you’re looking for a tablet for the kids, something cheap to use around the house, or an affordable option for the tablet-virgin in your life, the Tesco Hudl 2 is going be downright impossible to ignore.

This is an accessible device with an HD display, solid build quality, and almost unadulterated Android 4.4 KitKat – although it looks highly unlikely that this tablet will be getting Android Lollipop anytime soon.

You won’t be shocked to find that the Hudl 2 costs less than half the price of the iPad mini 3, but it’s also much cheaper than the Nexus 7 – which also isn’t getting the latest Android update, although it did get a taste of Lollipop. Every little helps indeed.

The Kindle Fire HDX, another competitor, has had a price drop down to £149, giving the Hudl 2 a fierce run for its money.

Building on the success of the original (and now discontinued) Hudl, Tesco’s Hudl 2 is bigger and better in almost every way. There’s a larger 8.3-inch HD screen, a quad-core processor that Tesco claims is three times faster, double the RAM at 2GB, and a slightly improved 5MP camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I did not expect to be charmed by the Hudl 2. It now only costs £99 (it launched at £129), it has a stupid name, and it’s part of Tesco’s bizarre plan to make and do everything. It was with some reluctance, reticence, and even regret that I put my Nexus 7 (2013) aside and took up my new tablet. Hudl round and allow me to explain how Tesco’s tablet won me over.

Google’s first Nexus 7 tablet made the smaller tablet form factor fashionable, but just as smartphone displays are growing consistently larger, so are tablets.

When Apple decided to enter the smaller tablet market it chose to make the first iPad mini’s display 7.9 inches. Tesco takes the trend slightly further with an 8.3-inch display in the Hudl 2.

That display is the first thing you’re going to notice taking the Hudl 2 out of the box and it makes a great first impression. The resolution has been significantly boosted to 1920 x 1200 pixels. That’s a full high definition screen that matches the Nexus 7 (2013) resolution.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Colours are rich and vibrant, text is sharp and easy to read, and you can happily watch movies, game, or read on it for hours.

It feels like quite a big tablet if you’re coming from the older Hudl or a Nexus 7. The Hudl 2 measures 224 x 128 x 9mm. If you hold it in landscape then it’s much wider and slightly slimmer than its predecessor, but exactly the same height. It’s also pretty heavy at around 410g, compared to 370g for the original Hudl, and just 290g for the Nexus 7 (2013).

I can hold the tablet one-handed for short periods, but if you’re reading or watching a movie you’ll want to prop it or your arm is going to get tired. Two hands are obviously a necessity for navigation.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It does feel nicely balanced and it’s satisfyingly slim. The soft touch coating on the back wraps around the sides adding grip and making it very comfortable to hold.

It feels most natural to hold it in landscape and the larger bezels at either end make this easy to do without obscuring the screen.

Flip around to the back and you’ll find a metallic embossed Hudl logo in the centre. Two fairly large speaker grills dominate either end and the camera lens sits above the right speaker grill at the top corner.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Still holding it in landscape, the left edge of the Hudl 2 plays host to a standard 3.5mm headphone port. The right has the micro USB port for file transfer and charging.

Up top there’s a volume rocker with a power button just beneath it. The buttons are plastic and they have a decent amount of travel. It’s not hard to find and use them in the dark.

The bottom edge includes an open microSD card slot for storage expansion with cards up to 32GB in size. It looks a little odd that the port is open and you can expect a bit of dust collection if you don’t use it, but it’s fairly unobtrusive.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Further along towards the middle of the bottom edge there’s a surprise micro-HDMI out connection so that you can plug your Hudl 2 directly into your TV. This is a rarity on tablets nowadays and it’s one that some people will appreciate because it makes it very easy to play content from your tablet on the big screen.

The Hudl 2 feels surprisingly premium and it looks good too. I had the black model for review, but you can add some colour if you prefer as it’s available in blue, turquoise, orange, pink, purple, red, or white.

Based on the design alone I would never have guessed that this tablet was so cheap.

Key features

There’s little doubt that Tesco will shift truckloads of these over the holiday season and the key reason for that is the price.

The Hudl 2 now costs just £99. You can also use Clubcard points to get money off. In fact Tesco’s Clubcard boost can turn every £5 of Clubcard vouchers you have into £10 towards the Hudl 2. For regular shoppers looking for something to spend their vouchers on, this is a seriously tempting tablet.

As an extra incentive you’ll find some freebies in the box to help you explore Tesco’s ecosystem. There are vouchers for £10 off movies, £10 off ebooks, and another £10 voucher for a month’s free music trial, all through Blinkbox.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There are rumblings about the future of Blinkbox amid Tesco’s financial difficulties, but they are just rumours. What I do know right now is it’s a decent library of content and it’s very easy to use.

You’ll find a large selection of the latest movies and TV shows on offer. I think £3.49 for a rental or £9.99 to buy a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire is too expensive, and so is £1.79 per episode or £16.99 for a series of Game of Thrones. But you can rent older movies for as little as 99p and there are some discounted TV shows as well.

While they can’t match Blinkbox’s newer content, it’s worth remembering that you can get access to unlimited streaming from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video starting at £5.99 per month.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

On the music front, Blinkbox offers more than 12 million tracks, which puts it in contention with Spotify, Deezer, and the rest of the music streaming gang. There’s a free ad-supported version of Blinkbox Music, but there’s also a £1 a week option that gets rid of ads and allows you to create playlists (up to 100 songs). It looks very competitive for the budget conscious.

Put all of this together and the Hudl 2 is a really great prospect for Tesco shoppers.

Another key feature that sets the Hudl 2 apart from the crowd is the deliberate family feel. This is a mass market device that could be used by anyone.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s a Get Started app that explains how to use the tablet in terms that your Luddite grandfather will understand. There’s also a Top Apps selection highlighting Tesco’s suggested picks. Naturally Blinkbox is front and centre, but refreshingly they do actually suggest some other competing services that are worth a look.

Best of all there’s a Child safety app that allows you to set up profiles for your youngsters and manage exactly which apps and websites they can access.

It automatically configures based on your child’s age, but they can request access to certain websites and you can tweak categories or make exceptions. Whenever you install a new app it will ask you which profiles should have access to it.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It also enables you to set time limits for usage. You can choose specific times or allocate a number of minutes. There are other apps out there that handle this kind of thing, but Tesco’s offering is really nicely laid out and extremely simple. It compares well.

If you’re feeling a bit of Tesco overload by now, it’s important to remember that none of this precludes you from using whatever you want from the wonderful world of Android.

All of Google’s apps are present and correct on the Hudl 2 and you can snag whatever you like from the Play Store.

Interface and performance

The Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4.2 and it’s basically stock Android, just like Google’s Nexus tablets. Remember, it’s very unlikely that Tesco will update this tablet to Lollipop, let alone the future version, Android M.

All Tesco has done is load its own smattering of apps and the My Tesco launcher, so perhaps you won’t miss the update too much. The launcher has some Tesco widgets pointing you at Tesco content and a basic app drawer.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can’t uninstall the apps, but you can disable them. You can also download a new launcher, such as the Nova Launcher and make it the default instead of My Tesco launcher.

For many people the Hudl 2 will be their first Android tablet and it is clear that Tesco has acknowledged this with a bright and welcoming interface that greets Hudl 2 owners when it is first turned on.

The bright and cheery welcome you get promises to help take you through the process of setting up the Hudl 2, including connecting to Wi-Fi and setting up a Tesco account.

It’s a nice touch for people who have never set up an Android device before, although it’s a shame that some of the steps you’re taken through revert back to the standard Android interface, leading to a bit of inconsistent experience.

Once set up you’re brought back to the bright and cheery Hudl interface, and a short animated introduction to the features of the Hudl 2 are shown.

The main interface is essentially stock Android. You have three home screens to begin with, but you can add a couple of extras by dragging app icons or widgets to the edge for a total of five home screens.

The app drawer is bottom centre in the permanent dock where you can configure three app shortcuts either side. The app drawer is slightly different in that it’s just a big list of your apps, there’s no widget tab in there.

You long press on the screen to add widgets, or to change your wallpaper. Tesco includes a large selection of wallpapers featuring happy people huddling together.

Pull down from the top left of the screen and you’ll get your notifications. Pull down from the top right and you can access settings. Stock Android is a breeze to use and it’s very easy to get to grips with.

I found the My Tesco launcher a little bit laggy. The animation when you swipe isn’t always very smooth and the widget can take a while to populate. When I switched to the Nova launcher navigation felt that little bit snappier.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Taking a look inside the Hudl 2 you’ll find an Intel Atom quad-core processor clocked at 1.83GHz. It’s backed up by 2GB of RAM. That’s a major boost over the original Tesco Hudl and it does feel fast and responsive. For the most part apps and games are quick to load and you can skip back to the home screen with a tap.

Geekbench 3 gave the Hudl 2 a single-core score of 792, but we’re really interested in the 2147 multi-core score. I ran Geekbench 3 on my Nexus 7 (2013) and it scored 576 and 1896 respectively. When we tested the, much more expensive, Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 earlier this summer it scored 2722.

What we can conclude from all this is that the Hudl 2 is fast and performs well. I ran some high-end games like Asphalt 8 and there was nary a stutter. It gets pretty hot around the back near the camera when you play graphically intensive games for any length of time, but so does my Xperia Z2 and my Nexus 7.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It hasn’t all been rosy, there were a couple of moments when the Hudl 2 seemed to freeze coming out of an app. I suspect that the My Tesco launcher is the culprit there.

It also completely refused to turn on at one point. I was watching Netflix, using the Hudl 2 to select content and streaming it to my Chromecast. I watched a couple of episodes of Suits and when I went to stop it, the Hudl 2 simply didn’t respond to the power button.

I tried holding it down for ten seconds, nothing. I tried holding down the power button and the volume down button for ten seconds, still nothing. The battery hadn’t been low, but I tried plugging the Hudl 2 into the charger for a while anyway and the screen seemed to come on, but it was blank and dull.

I read the booklet, but it has no information and the current technical support on Tesco’s website still refers to the original Hudl.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

After half an hour of charging I unplugged it and tried again, but it still wouldn’t turn on. Finally I just sat holding down the power button and the volume down button and eventually the Hudl 2 vibrated and powered completely off.

When it started up again it went through the boot cycle and worked as normal. I used the Hudl 2 with Netflix and the Chromecast again several times, but it never happened again. This happens with many phones and tablets from time to time, so it’s not a huge worry – but I’d have preferred not to see it.

Battery life and the essentials

Battery life

Tesco prefers to state “up to 8 hours battery life” rather than provide us with a capacity in mAh. I suspect that the battery isn’t all that big, and that’s a shame, because the Hudl 2 really needs a big battery.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I found that the battery drained very quickly out of the box, but it’s not unusual for batteries to take a while to bed in and you tend to use new devices more than you realise in the first few days. There’s also an additional drain from downloading and installing all your regular apps.

After fully charging the Hudl 2, I gave it a lazy Sunday test. I surfed the web for a couple of hours, played Clash of Clans for ten minutes, watched two movies, and then the kids watched an episode of Spongebob. By the end of that it was dropping down to the 10 percent mark. Not too impressive.

In an average week day with light usage you probably aren’t going to have any problems, and you might squeeze a couple of days of use out of it between charges. Medium and heavy users are going to have to get used to charging it daily at least.

Playing a relatively simple game like Duet for ten minutes drained the battery by 4%. Playing Asphalt 8 for ten minutes drained it by 6%.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Running our 90 minute battery test video at full brightness on a fully charged Hudl 2 reduced the battery to just 63%. That’s a worryingly large drain of 37 percent.

The original Hudl only lost 21%, the Nexus 7 dropped 20%, and even the relatively poor LG G Pad 8.3 only dropped 30% during the same test.

The drop was so large I ran the same test again a month later. Sure enough, the battery dropped to just 64%, proving that our initial tests were no fluke; the Hudl 2 really is that bad at losing battery.

If you want a tablet to take out and about on your travels, then you had better look elsewhere. The Hudl 2’s weak battery shouldn’t be such a big issue when you’re at home with a plug socket at hand, but I’m still disappointed at its lack of stamina.

The essentials

Since the Hudl 2 is essentially using stock Android the basic essentials are solid. The keyboard is accurate and easy to type on. The stock Android calendar, email, contacts, and camera apps are straightforward.

You’ll find the same redundancy you get on many Android devices with Google’s Gmail app and an email app, as well as a Gallery app and Google’s Photos app. It’s not an especially big deal, but it’s going to confuse some people.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

In addition to Tesco’s Blinkbox content offerings you’ll find apps for ordering food, banking, clothes, managing your Clubcard, and Tesco’s photo store. Some of them aren’t apps at all; they’re just shortcuts to the website. All are useless and eminently ignorable if you don’t use Tesco.

All of Google’s content apps are there and you’ll also find Google Maps. I tested it a couple of times and the Hudl 2 GPS was quick to get an accurate fix. You’re not likely to use it for navigating, especially with the limited battery, but you could if you wanted to.

You’ll find Google’s Chrome browser as the default web browser on the Hudl 2, but there is a slight oddity related to the parental controls for your children’s profiles.

If you set up a child’s profile and limit web access then they use a special browser labelled Internet which keeps them from browsing anywhere you don’t want them to. It works, but it’s not as slick or fast as Chrome.

Camera

Why do they put cameras on tablets? The Tesco Hudl 2 has no answer.

Tesco has beefed up the main camera to 5MP, compared to the 3.2MP in the original Hudl, but the front-facing camera has gone the other way from 2MP down to 1.2MP. Megapixels aren’t everything, but it would be challenging to argue that there’s anything impressive about either camera in the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It’s a little strange that the front-facing camera has been hobbled when it’s probably the more likely to get used, whether for apps or for making Internet calls on apps like Hangouts and Skype.

The app is the stock Android camera app and it’s very basic. You can switch on grid lines to help you line up shots, or you can swivel to the front-facing camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s also a timer option. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen you’ll reveal the menu where you can switch to video or try out the Lens Blur, Panorama, or Photo Sphere effects.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can tap on screen to tell the camera to focus on a specific area or subject. It’s pretty slow to actually take a shot and the quality is generally poor. Google’s camera effects are a bit gimmicky and can be very frustrating to actually pull off, with repeated errors about moving too fast when you try to pan.

The photos I took with the Hudl 2 were all bad. They lack detail, contrast is bad, and the camera can’t deal with low light at all. There’s no flash, so this is strictly a camera for well-lit situations.

The video camera is equally terrible, struggling to adjust to changing light, blurring if you move it, and introducing loads of noise unless you’re in a very well lit area.

Camera samples

Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Media

Thankfully when it comes to the important things the Tesco Hudl 2 does the business. This is a tablet that’s well-suited to watching movies and it’s a pleasure to game on.

The 8.3-inch display looks good and high definition content is available in all its glory. It is quite reflective and I found it was much more pleasant to watch movies or play games when I cranked the brightness up (which no doubt contributed to the battery running out fast).

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I have to mention that the Hudl 2 has an Intel processor and apparently there could be some incompatibility problems with certain Android games.

Intel is trying to break into mobile hardware and catch up with ARM and the two have been arguing about how big an issue the compatibility is in recent months. Every game I tested on the tablet worked fine, but it might be something to consider.

The Hudl 2 also has stereo speakers featuring “Dolby optimised sound”. If you’re sitting holding it in the landscape position, as you will for the majority of movies or games, the speakers work great and you get a real stereo effect.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

The problem is that they are both on the back, so if you rest the Hudl 2 on anything then it’s going to muffle the speakers. It actually works best of all if you have it in your lap and cup your hands round the speaker grills to redirect the sound towards you.

If they were front-facing that would be really ideal, but they are still better than you can reasonably expect to find in a tablet this price.

The Hudl 2 can also serve up music in a pinch. I found that the speakers distorted quite easily when I was listening to music, so headphones or an external speaker are advised for music.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re a big reader you’ll be glad to know that the Hudl 2 can definitely double up as a device for ebooks. The Blinkbox app seems to have a very big collection.

It had everything I searched for from Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. You can always install the Kindle app or another reader if you prefer.

As I mentioned before, the Hudl 2 is quite heavy so you’ll probably want to prop it up if you’re reading for a long time, but it’s a comfortable tablet to hold.

Storage is definitely an issue. This is a 16GB tablet, but you only get 9.12GB free out of the box. It will fill up fast, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card. The Hudl 2 will take microSD cards up to 32GB in size, so you can boost the storage up to around 40GB, which should be enough for most people.

If you use streaming services like Netflix and Blinkbox Music then you possibly won’t need a great deal of space on the tablet. However, if you like to play games you could run out of space fast. Asphalt 8 is 1.6GB on its own.

You can also boost your storage with a wide variety of cloud storage options including 15GB with Google Drive, which is installed out of the box.

Competition

Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Google Nexus 7

Google has had the smaller Android tablet market sewn up for a long time now, perhaps that’s why we’re still awaiting a new Nexus 7, or possibly a Nexus 9.

The Nexus 7 (2013) has been on the market for well over a year. Despite a tidal wave of budget competitors and a serious challenge from Amazon, ask any tech writer “what’s the best small Android tablet?” and they’ll still tell you to buy the Nexus 7.

Tesco’s Hudl 2 is serious competition. It has a larger screen, stereo speakers, and it is significantly cheaper. Given the option between a £99 Hudl 2 right now and a Nexus 7 from Google at £199 I would definitely advise you to buy the Hudl 2. If you want something for the whole family to use around the house then the Nexus 7 is not worth the extra cash.

The two tablets have exactly the same 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Look at them side by side, and because the Nexus 7 is smaller, it looks a bit sharper. Its screen is also a bit more vibrant, and if you angle yourself to the side it has slightly better viewing angles, but it’s not enough to make a major difference, the Hudl 2 screen still looks great.

Get rid of the My Tesco launcher and you’ve essentially got a stock Android tablet with newer hardware and an 8.3-inch screen at a lower price. The biggest compromise you have to make with the Hudl 2 is battery life.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

The basic Kindle Fire HDX is now £149 and it has a smaller 7-inch display with the same 1920 x 1200 resolution. The processor is clocked at 2.2GHz compared to 1.83GHz for the Hudl 2. The Kindle Fire HDX also has better battery life.

Both are aimed at the family market. The Kindle Fire HDX has a range of user-friendly features like Mayday for instant technical help and easy screen mirroring.

The big difference is that the Kindle Fire HDX locks you into Amazon’s eco-system. You don’t get Google’s great range of apps and services. You don’t get full access to the Play Store. Not only is there a smaller subset of apps available in the Amazon App Store, but some of them are older versions.

Amazon provides its own set of apps, but they aren’t as good. The Hudl 2 is more attractive because Tesco doesn’t lock you down at all. The Hudl 2 also had a price advantage.

iPad mini 2

iPad Mini 2

At the premium end of the small tablet market we have Apple’s offering. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display starts at £239. It’s not really fair to compare the Hudl 2 at £99. As you would expect, the iPad mini 2 is faster, slicker, and all-round better, but at well over double the price it had better be.

It has a 7.9-inch display at 2048 x 1536 pixels. It also has 16GB of storage, a 5MP main camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera. I’m not going to argue the merits of Android vs iOS here, but on paper Apple’s diminutive tablet does not look particularly special next to the Hudl 2’s specs. In reality Apple optimizes its hardware and software to run harmoniously together and gets real world results that exceed expectations for the specs.

A fairer comparison might be the original iPad mini, but you’re still looking at paying £249. If you’re invested in the Apple eco-system and addicted to that premium design maybe you’ll see that added value, but is it £140 better than the Hudl 2?

Tesco Hudl 2 vs iPad mini (original)

With so many models on the market there’s never been a better time to invest in a tablet and even budget buyers have a strong selection to choose from.

The Tesco Hudl 2 and the iPad mini are two of the best affordable options available right now and both are great choices for first-time buyers or anyone who can’t justify splashing out hundreds of pounds. As you can see above, there are better iPad minis on offer, but they’re a lot more expensive.

Either the Tesco or Apple option would make for a memorable Christmas present, but while they’re both good and both relatively affordable we can see that not everyone would take to both equally; so to make deciding between them easier, here’s how they compare!

Screen

The Tesco Hudl 2 has an 8.3-inch screen while the iPad mini is 7.9 inches. So Tesco’s slate is slightly bigger but not enough to make a significant difference in use. They’re both on the small side as tablets go, but that makes them more portable than larger slates and they’re still big enough to comfortably web browse or get engrossed in a video.

Both screens also use IPS LCD technology, which gives them better viewing angles than a standard LCD display would be capable of and we noted rich and vibrant colours on the Tesco Hudl 2, while the iPad mini has impressive contrast.

iPad mini

There’s a big difference in their resolutions though. The Hudl 2 comes in at 1200 x 1920 for a pixel density of 273 pixels per inch, while the iPad mini is 768 x 1024, giving it a far lower pixel density (screen sharpness) of 162 pixels per inch, despite its smaller size.

That makes text and images far less clear than on its supermarket rival and while you might not realise what you’re missing if this is your first tablet, anyone who has used a high-end smartphone or slate won’t be impressed.

Design and build

The Tesco Hudl 2 isn’t the most stylish tablet around but nor is it ugly. It has a colourful plastic shell with a soft-touch feel, making it comfortable to hold and easy to grip, while at 224 x 128 x 9mm it’s fairly slim, though it’s quite heavy at 410g.

iPad mini

The iPad mini leaves it in the dust though, with a premium aluminium shell, a super-slim 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm build and it’s substantially lighter too at 308g. Looks aren’t everything but they’re a good start and the iPad mini definitely comes out on top in that area.

Processor and RAM

Neither of these tablets are packing top flight processors, but nor do they feel particularly underpowered. The Tesco Hudl 2 has a 1.83Ghz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735D processor and 2GB of RAM, while the iPad mini has a 1.0GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor and 512MB of RAM.

Hudl 2

On paper then the Tesco Hudl 2 should be far more powerful than its fruity foe, but in practice performance is fairly snappy on both. Neither of these slates is quite as fast as a top end tablet like the iPad Air 2, but in general operation both perform well and we even found that the Tesco Hudl 2 could comfortably cope with graphically intensive games.

If there’s one black mark against the Hudl 2’s performance it’s that the ‘My Tesco’ launcher which it ships with can lag a bit, but as it’s an Android tablet you can easily swap it for a different bit of software to speed things up.

OS

The operating system that each of these tablets run is arguably the biggest difference between them, as while the Tesco Hudl 2 is an Android slate the iPad mini runs iOS.

More specifically the Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat while the iPad mini runs iOS 8.1. This makes a big difference: Android is incredibly customisable with widgets and tools that can make the tablet your own, which is good because, as mentioned previously, the overlay Tesco has put on it is a bit laggy, so you may want to replace it.

iPad mini

However while Android is powerful it’s still not quite as intuitive as iOS and while both stores have a large number of apps available there are loads more tablet-optimised apps on Apple’s store and more games too.

On the other hand it’s unlikely that the iPad mini will be updated to iOS 9 as it’s getting on a bit, but the relatively new Tesco Hudl 2 may well receive an update to the new Android Lollipop, so is slightly more future-proofed.

It’s worth giving a shout-out to the Hudl 2’s parental controls as well. These allow you to set up kid’s profiles, limiting which apps they can access and even setting time limits for use. The iPad mini has similar controls but doesn’t allow for multiple profiles or time limits.

Storage

While the iPad mini used to be available in a range of sizes the 16GB version is the only one that’s still being sold. The Tesco Hudl 2 also only comes with 16GB of storage, but there’s one key difference: the Hudl 2 also supports microSD cards of up to 32GB while the iPad mini has no microSD card slot.

That means the iPad mini only gives you 16GB to play with, which can easily fill up with media and games, while the Hudl 2 can potentially provide up to 48GB if you buy a card and even more if you don’t mind swapping microSD cards on the fly.

Hudl 2

If you’re not planning to store much content locally then 16GB should suffice, but it’s nice to know that with the Hudl 2 there’s the option to expand.

Battery

Tesco hasn’t revealed the size of the Hudl 2’s battery, instead just saying that it provides up to 8 hours of life, while the iPad mini has a 4490mAh juice pack, which Apple promises will keep it going for up to 10 hours.

iPad mini

In practice the iPad mini definitely has better battery life and should last around a day with heavy use or two to three days with more mixed use, while the Tesco Hudl 2 is unlikely to see you through a transatlantic flight, but could still feasibly stretch to a couple of days with light use.

The upshot is that either device should see you through a daily commute and as use isn’t likely to be as heavy as on a phone you’ll probably be able to get through more than a day with both slates, but if you do have a whole lot of time to kill and only a tablet for company the iPad mini is a better bet.

Price and verdict

While both these slates are at the more affordable end of the market there is still quite a difference in their prices. The Tesco Hudl 2 is just £99, while the iPad mini is a pricier £199, or £299 if you want mobile data, which isn’t an option on the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2

So you’re paying at least £70 extra, which is quite a chunk of change when the difference between the two isn’t huge in day to day use.

Whether the iPad mini is worth the extra is debatable. Sure, it has better battery life and a superior build quality, but it loses out in some ways too, with less storage potential and a lower resolution screen.

It’s arguably the more desirable slate, with a high-end build and brand name appeal, but it’s not necessarily better and with its colourful design and parental controls the Hudl 2 is probably a better buy for children.

Tesco Hudl 2 accessories

After purchasing your cut price Tesco Hudl 2 you’ll probably have a bit of cash left over, so why not accessorise your new tablet with some handy additional products.

Tesco Hudl 2 soft touch case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive case to provide a little extra protection for your new investment then the £20 soft touch case fits the bill nicely.

The soft rubber finish provides useful additional grip and the screen cover means the display is protected when not in use – perfect when it comes to sliding the Hudl 2 into a bag.

This case also doubles as a stand, allowing you to enjoy hands free video sessions, especially handy when on the train or in bed.

Tesco Hudl 2 protective bumper

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Planning on handing the Hudl 2 over to the kids? Then you might want to wrap it in this protective bumper – it’s even got some funky stars on the back and it’s available in blue and pink.

It’s a touch cheaper than the soft case at £15, but you don’t get the screen cover/stand combo and it’s not as subtle in the design department.

It will, however, protect your Hudl 2 from various knocks and bumps and that’s worth the price tag in itself.

Tesco Hudl 2 keyboard case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Turn your Tesco Hudl 2 into a mini laptop with the keyboard case. This case with integrated Bluetooth keyboard makes text input a doddle.

The battery inside the keyboard is good for 90 hours on a single charge, so you won’t need to remember to pack a second charging cable if you go out and about.

It’s only available in black and at £40 it’s one of the more expensive accessory options, but well worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of typing.

Hudl stylus

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Compatible with the original Hudl as well as the Hudl 2, this simple stylus is available in five different colours and costs just £5.

It doubles as a pen too, with a ball point pen at one end and a stylus tip at the other. Plus it works on other touchscreen phones and tablets, giving you real bang for your buck.

Hudl kid’s headphones

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Is the noise from that game the children insist on playing at full volume on the Hudl 2 starting to really test your nerves? Get them a pair of headphones!

Tesco offers up these highly affordable, Hudl branded pair for just £12, and sound is limited to 80 decibels to protect their tiny eardrums. Bless.

Hands on gallery

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Verdict

The Tesco Hudl 2 is now getting on in age, but with an asking price of just £99 it’s still a real bargain and if you have Clubcard vouchers the boost could make it irresistibly cheap. For Tesco shoppers and Blinkbox users the vouchers in the box with the Hudl 2 are another added incentive.

However, and this is something worth thinking about, the lack of update to Android Lollipop hints of a device that’s not going to get lots of support in the near future.

We liked

The 8.3-inch HD display is excellent. The 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution is enough to ensure that reading is pleasurable and the Hudl 2 is a really nice size for kicking back with a movie or a blast of gaming.

It’s great to see stereo speakers and they really enhance movie watching and gaming. If they were front-facing I’d be even happier, but they’re still a definite plus point.

The introductory Tesco apps are good and I can see them being genuinely helpful for tablet newbies, but the parental controls are the star of the pre-installed show. They’re simple, effective, and well-thought out.

The Hudl 2 is amazing value for money and Tesco’s additional voucher incentives really make it a steal.

We disliked

The battery life is undoubtedly the Tesco Hudl 2’s Achilles heel. Graphically intensive games and streaming HD movies drain that battery far too quickly. It’s going to be a definite sore point for some people.

That slight laggy feel at times is a concern, but ditch the My Tesco launcher and you should find it’s much less noticeable.

Hopefully the incident when it failed to turn on is a one-off freak occurrence. There’s always an element of pot luck with electronics and bugs. It hasn’t happened again, but I had to mention it, and it’s the sort of thing that could really distress a tablet novice.

Storage is not adequate at just 9GB free out of the box, so you’ll have to invest in a microSD card. You’ll pay around £10-£15 for a 32GB card, but that will give you a decent storage limit of over 40GB.

Verdict

If you’re shopping for a family tablet that you can share with the kids, this is it. If you want to gift a tablet to someone who has never tried one before, this is it. If you want a cheap tablet for casual use around the house, this is it. While the upgraded software, or lack thereof, is a worry, for many it won’t be an issue – but remember this is only a ‘throw around the house’ tablet, not something that’s your main device.

The Tesco Hudl 2 is not the best tablet on the market. It’s not the fastest or the prettiest. It doesn’t have cutting edge specs. What it does offer is a solid all-round experience at an unbeatable price.

Pound for pound you will not be able to find anything better, at least until Google refreshes the Nexus line. If you want the best value stock Android tablet on the market, this is it.

First reviewed: October 2014

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Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Review: Updated: Tesco Hudl 2

Introduction and design

It doesn’t take a huge wad of cash to secure an Android tablet nowadays, but the experience at the budget end of the market can be frustratingly bad. It was only a matter time before someone aside from Google managed to produce a halfway decent, budget tablet, offering the full Android experience, but who knew it would be Tesco?

Step aside Google, out of the way Amazon, it takes a British supermarket to show you how to make a jaw-droppingly cheap tablet that’s actually desirable. If you’re looking for a tablet for the kids, something cheap to use around the house, or an affordable option for the tablet-virgin in your life, the Tesco Hudl 2 is going be downright impossible to ignore.

This is an accessible device with an HD display, solid build quality, and almost unadulterated Android 4.4 KitKat – although it looks highly unlikely that this tablet will be getting Android Lollipop anytime soon.

You won’t be shocked to find that the Hudl 2 costs less than half the price of the iPad mini 3, but it’s also much cheaper than the Nexus 7 – which also isn’t getting the latest Android update, although it did get a taste of Lollipop. Every little helps indeed.

The Kindle Fire HDX, another competitor, has had a price drop down to £149, giving the Hudl 2 a fierce run for its money.

Building on the success of the original (and now discontinued) Hudl, Tesco’s Hudl 2 is bigger and better in almost every way. There’s a larger 8.3-inch HD screen, a quad-core processor that Tesco claims is three times faster, double the RAM at 2GB, and a slightly improved 5MP camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I did not expect to be charmed by the Hudl 2. It now only costs £99 (it launched at £129), it has a stupid name, and it’s part of Tesco’s bizarre plan to make and do everything. It was with some reluctance, reticence, and even regret that I put my Nexus 7 (2013) aside and took up my new tablet. Hudl round and allow me to explain how Tesco’s tablet won me over.

Google’s first Nexus 7 tablet made the smaller tablet form factor fashionable, but just as smartphone displays are growing consistently larger, so are tablets.

When Apple decided to enter the smaller tablet market it chose to make the first iPad mini’s display 7.9 inches. Tesco takes the trend slightly further with an 8.3-inch display in the Hudl 2.

That display is the first thing you’re going to notice taking the Hudl 2 out of the box and it makes a great first impression. The resolution has been significantly boosted to 1920 x 1200 pixels. That’s a full high definition screen that matches the Nexus 7 (2013) resolution.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Colours are rich and vibrant, text is sharp and easy to read, and you can happily watch movies, game, or read on it for hours.

It feels like quite a big tablet if you’re coming from the older Hudl or a Nexus 7. The Hudl 2 measures 224 x 128 x 9mm. If you hold it in landscape then it’s much wider and slightly slimmer than its predecessor, but exactly the same height. It’s also pretty heavy at around 410g, compared to 370g for the original Hudl, and just 290g for the Nexus 7 (2013).

I can hold the tablet one-handed for short periods, but if you’re reading or watching a movie you’ll want to prop it or your arm is going to get tired. Two hands are obviously a necessity for navigation.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It does feel nicely balanced and it’s satisfyingly slim. The soft touch coating on the back wraps around the sides adding grip and making it very comfortable to hold.

It feels most natural to hold it in landscape and the larger bezels at either end make this easy to do without obscuring the screen.

Flip around to the back and you’ll find a metallic embossed Hudl logo in the centre. Two fairly large speaker grills dominate either end and the camera lens sits above the right speaker grill at the top corner.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Still holding it in landscape, the left edge of the Hudl 2 plays host to a standard 3.5mm headphone port. The right has the micro USB port for file transfer and charging.

Up top there’s a volume rocker with a power button just beneath it. The buttons are plastic and they have a decent amount of travel. It’s not hard to find and use them in the dark.

The bottom edge includes an open microSD card slot for storage expansion with cards up to 32GB in size. It looks a little odd that the port is open and you can expect a bit of dust collection if you don’t use it, but it’s fairly unobtrusive.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Further along towards the middle of the bottom edge there’s a surprise micro-HDMI out connection so that you can plug your Hudl 2 directly into your TV. This is a rarity on tablets nowadays and it’s one that some people will appreciate because it makes it very easy to play content from your tablet on the big screen.

The Hudl 2 feels surprisingly premium and it looks good too. I had the black model for review, but you can add some colour if you prefer as it’s available in blue, turquoise, orange, pink, purple, red, or white.

Based on the design alone I would never have guessed that this tablet was so cheap.

Key features

There’s little doubt that Tesco will shift truckloads of these over the holiday season and the key reason for that is the price.

The Hudl 2 now costs just £99. You can also use Clubcard points to get money off. In fact Tesco’s Clubcard boost can turn every £5 of Clubcard vouchers you have into £10 towards the Hudl 2. For regular shoppers looking for something to spend their vouchers on, this is a seriously tempting tablet.

As an extra incentive you’ll find some freebies in the box to help you explore Tesco’s ecosystem. There are vouchers for £10 off movies, £10 off ebooks, and another £10 voucher for a month’s free music trial, all through Blinkbox.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There are rumblings about the future of Blinkbox amid Tesco’s financial difficulties, but they are just rumours. What I do know right now is it’s a decent library of content and it’s very easy to use.

You’ll find a large selection of the latest movies and TV shows on offer. I think £3.49 for a rental or £9.99 to buy a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire is too expensive, and so is £1.79 per episode or £16.99 for a series of Game of Thrones. But you can rent older movies for as little as 99p and there are some discounted TV shows as well.

While they can’t match Blinkbox’s newer content, it’s worth remembering that you can get access to unlimited streaming from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video starting at £5.99 per month.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

On the music front, Blinkbox offers more than 12 million tracks, which puts it in contention with Spotify, Deezer, and the rest of the music streaming gang. There’s a free ad-supported version of Blinkbox Music, but there’s also a £1 a week option that gets rid of ads and allows you to create playlists (up to 100 songs). It looks very competitive for the budget conscious.

You’ll also find a smattering of Tesco apps with money off Tesco Direct, the F&F clothing range, and Tesco Photo when you spend a certain amount.

Put all of this together and the Hudl 2 is a really great prospect for Tesco shoppers.

Another key feature that sets the Hudl 2 apart from the crowd is the deliberate family feel. This is a mass market device that could be used by anyone.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s a Get Started app that explains how to use the tablet in terms that your Luddite grandfather will understand. There’s also a Top Apps selection highlighting Tesco’s suggested picks. Naturally Blinkbox is front and centre, but refreshingly they do actually suggest some other competing services that are worth a look.

Best of all there’s a Child safety app that allows you to set up profiles for your youngsters and manage exactly which apps and websites they can access.

It automatically configures based on your child’s age, but they can request access to certain websites and you can tweak categories or make exceptions. Whenever you install a new app it will ask you which profiles should have access to it.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It also enables you to set time limits for usage. You can choose specific times or allocate a number of minutes. There are other apps out there that handle this kind of thing, but Tesco’s offering is really nicely laid out and extremely simple. It compares well.

If you’re feeling a bit of Tesco overload by now, it’s important to remember that none of this precludes you from using whatever you want from the wonderful world of Android.

All of Google’s apps are present and correct on the Hudl 2 and you can snag whatever you like from the Play Store.

Interface and performance

The Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4.2 and it’s basically stock Android, just like Google’s Nexus tablets. Remember, it’s very unlikely that Tesco will update this tablet to Lollipop, let alone the future version, Android M.

All Tesco has done is load its own smattering of apps and the My Tesco launcher, so perhaps you won’t miss the update too much. The launcher has some Tesco widgets pointing you at Tesco content and a basic app drawer.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can’t uninstall the apps, but you can disable them. You can also download a new launcher, such as the Nova Launcher and make it the default instead of My Tesco launcher.

For many people the Hudl 2 will be their first Android tablet and it is clear that Tesco has acknowledged this with a bright and welcoming interface that greets Hudl 2 owners when it is first turned on.

The bright and cheery welcome you get promises to help take you through the process of setting up the Hudl 2, including connecting to Wi-Fi and setting up a Tesco account.

It’s a nice touch for people who have never set up an Android device before, although it’s a shame that some of the steps you’re taken through revert back to the standard Android interface, leading to a bit of inconsistent experience.

Once set up you’re brought back to the bright and cheery Hudl interface, and a short animated introduction to the features of the Hudl 2 are shown.

The main interface is essentially stock Android. You have three home screens to begin with, but you can add a couple of extras by dragging app icons or widgets to the edge for a total of five home screens.

The app drawer is bottom centre in the permanent dock where you can configure three app shortcuts either side. The app drawer is slightly different in that it’s just a big list of your apps, there’s no widget tab in there.

You long press on the screen to add widgets, or to change your wallpaper. Tesco includes a large selection of wallpapers featuring happy people huddling together.

Pull down from the top left of the screen and you’ll get your notifications. Pull down from the top right and you can access settings. Stock Android is a breeze to use and it’s very easy to get to grips with.

I found the My Tesco launcher a little bit laggy. The animation when you swipe isn’t always very smooth and the widget can take a while to populate. When I switched to the Nova launcher navigation felt that little bit snappier.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Taking a look inside the Hudl 2 you’ll find an Intel Atom quad-core processor clocked at 1.83GHz. It’s backed up by 2GB of RAM. That’s a major boost over the original Tesco Hudl and it does feel fast and responsive. For the most part apps and games are quick to load and you can skip back to the home screen with a tap.

Geekbench 3 gave the Hudl 2 a single-core score of 792, but we’re really interested in the 2147 multi-core score. I ran Geekbench 3 on my Nexus 7 (2013) and it scored 576 and 1896 respectively. When we tested the, much more expensive, Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 earlier this summer it scored 2722.

What we can conclude from all this is that the Hudl 2 is fast and performs well. I ran some high-end games like Asphalt 8 and there was nary a stutter. It gets pretty hot around the back near the camera when you play graphically intensive games for any length of time, but so does my Xperia Z2 and my Nexus 7.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It hasn’t all been rosy, there were a couple of moments when the Hudl 2 seemed to freeze coming out of an app. I suspect that the My Tesco launcher is the culprit there.

It also completely refused to turn on at one point. I was watching Netflix, using the Hudl 2 to select content and streaming it to my Chromecast. I watched a couple of episodes of Suits and when I went to stop it, the Hudl 2 simply didn’t respond to the power button.

I tried holding it down for ten seconds, nothing. I tried holding down the power button and the volume down button for ten seconds, still nothing. The battery hadn’t been low, but I tried plugging the Hudl 2 into the charger for a while anyway and the screen seemed to come on, but it was blank and dull.

I read the booklet, but it has no information and the current technical support on Tesco’s website still refers to the original Hudl.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

After half an hour of charging I unplugged it and tried again, but it still wouldn’t turn on. Finally I just sat holding down the power button and the volume down button and eventually the Hudl 2 vibrated and powered completely off.

When it started up again it went through the boot cycle and worked as normal. I used the Hudl 2 with Netflix and the Chromecast again several times, but it never happened again. This happens with many phones and tablets from time to time, so it’s not a huge worry – but I’d have preferred not to see it.

Battery life and the essentials

Battery life

Tesco prefers to state "up to 8 hours battery life" rather than provide us with a capacity in mAh. I suspect that the battery isn’t all that big, and that’s a shame, because the Hudl 2 really needs a big battery.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I found that the battery drained very quickly out of the box, but it’s not unusual for batteries to take a while to bed in and you tend to use new devices more than you realise in the first few days. There’s also an additional drain from downloading and installing all your regular apps.

After fully charging the Hudl 2, I gave it a lazy Sunday test. I surfed the web for a couple of hours, played Clash of Clans for ten minutes, watched two movies, and then the kids watched an episode of Spongebob. By the end of that it was dropping down to the 10 percent mark. Not too impressive.

In an average week day with light usage you probably aren’t going to have any problems, and you might squeeze a couple of days of use out of it between charges. Medium and heavy users are going to have to get used to charging it daily at least.

Playing a relatively simple game like Duet for ten minutes drained the battery by 4%. Playing Asphalt 8 for ten minutes drained it by 6%.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Running our 90 minute battery test video at full brightness on a fully charged Hudl 2 reduced the battery to just 63%. That’s a worryingly large drain of 37 percent.

The original Hudl only lost 21%, the Nexus 7 dropped 20%, and even the relatively poor LG G Pad 8.3 only dropped 30% during the same test.

The drop was so large I ran the same test again a month later. Sure enough, the battery dropped to just 64%, proving that our initial tests were no fluke; the Hudl 2 really is that bad at losing battery.

If you want a tablet to take out and about on your travels, then you had better look elsewhere. The Hudl 2’s weak battery shouldn’t be such a big issue when you’re at home with a plug socket at hand, but I’m still disappointed at its lack of stamina.

The essentials

Since the Hudl 2 is essentially using stock Android the basic essentials are solid. The keyboard is accurate and easy to type on. The stock Android calendar, email, contacts, and camera apps are straightforward.

You’ll find the same redundancy you get on many Android devices with Google’s Gmail app and an email app, as well as a Gallery app and Google’s Photos app. It’s not an especially big deal, but it’s going to confuse some people.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

In addition to Tesco’s Blinkbox content offerings you’ll find apps for ordering food, banking, clothes, managing your Clubcard, and Tesco’s photo store. Some of them aren’t apps at all; they’re just shortcuts to the website. All are useless and eminently ignorable if you don’t use Tesco.

All of Google’s content apps are there and you’ll also find Google Maps. I tested it a couple of times and the Hudl 2 GPS was quick to get an accurate fix. You’re not likely to use it for navigating, especially with the limited battery, but you could if you wanted to.

You’ll find Google’s Chrome browser as the default web browser on the Hudl 2, but there is a slight oddity related to the parental controls for your children’s profiles.

If you set up a child’s profile and limit web access then they use a special browser labelled Internet which keeps them from browsing anywhere you don’t want them to. It works, but it’s not as slick or fast as Chrome.

Camera

Why do they put cameras on tablets? The Tesco Hudl 2 has no answer.

Tesco has beefed up the main camera to 5MP, compared to the 3.2MP in the original Hudl, but the front-facing camera has gone the other way from 2MP down to 1.2MP. Megapixels aren’t everything, but it would be challenging to argue that there’s anything impressive about either camera in the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

It’s a little strange that the front-facing camera has been hobbled when it’s probably the more likely to get used, whether for apps or for making Internet calls on apps like Hangouts and Skype.

The app is the stock Android camera app and it’s very basic. You can switch on grid lines to help you line up shots, or you can swivel to the front-facing camera.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

There’s also a timer option. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen you’ll reveal the menu where you can switch to video or try out the Lens Blur, Panorama, or Photo Sphere effects.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

You can tap on screen to tell the camera to focus on a specific area or subject. It’s pretty slow to actually take a shot and the quality is generally poor. Google’s camera effects are a bit gimmicky and can be very frustrating to actually pull off, with repeated errors about moving too fast when you try to pan.

The photos I took with the Hudl 2 were all bad. They lack detail, contrast is bad, and the camera can’t deal with low light at all. There’s no flash, so this is strictly a camera for well-lit situations.

The video camera is equally terrible, struggling to adjust to changing light, blurring if you move it, and introducing loads of noise unless you’re in a very well lit area.

Camera samples

Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Tesco Hudl 2 review

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Media

Thankfully when it comes to the important things the Tesco Hudl 2 does the business. This is a tablet that’s well-suited to watching movies and it’s a pleasure to game on.

The 8.3-inch display looks good and high definition content is available in all its glory. It is quite reflective and I found it was much more pleasant to watch movies or play games when I cranked the brightness up (which no doubt contributed to the battery running out fast).

Tesco Hudl 2 review

I have to mention that the Hudl 2 has an Intel processor and apparently there could be some incompatibility problems with certain Android games.

Intel is trying to break into mobile hardware and catch up with ARM and the two have been arguing about how big an issue the compatibility is in recent months. Every game I tested on the tablet worked fine, but it might be something to consider.

The Hudl 2 also has stereo speakers featuring "Dolby optimised sound". If you’re sitting holding it in the landscape position, as you will for the majority of movies or games, the speakers work great and you get a real stereo effect.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

The problem is that they are both on the back, so if you rest the Hudl 2 on anything then it’s going to muffle the speakers. It actually works best of all if you have it in your lap and cup your hands round the speaker grills to redirect the sound towards you.

If they were front-facing that would be really ideal, but they are still better than you can reasonably expect to find in a tablet this price.

The Hudl 2 can also serve up music in a pinch. I found that the speakers distorted quite easily when I was listening to music, so headphones or an external speaker are advised for music.

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re a big reader you’ll be glad to know that the Hudl 2 can definitely double up as a device for ebooks. The Blinkbox app seems to have a very big collection.

It had everything I searched for from Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. You can always install the Kindle app or another reader if you prefer.

As I mentioned before, the Hudl 2 is quite heavy so you’ll probably want to prop it up if you’re reading for a long time, but it’s a comfortable tablet to hold.

Storage is definitely an issue. This is a 16GB tablet, but you only get 9.12GB free out of the box. It will fill up fast, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card. The Hudl 2 will take microSD cards up to 32GB in size, so you can boost the storage up to around 40GB, which should be enough for most people.

If you use streaming services like Netflix and Blinkbox Music then you possibly won’t need a great deal of space on the tablet. However, if you like to play games you could run out of space fast. Asphalt 8 is 1.6GB on its own.

You can also boost your storage with a wide variety of cloud storage options including 15GB with Google Drive, which is installed out of the box.

Competition

Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Google Nexus 7

Google has had the smaller Android tablet market sewn up for a long time now, perhaps that’s why we’re still awaiting a new Nexus 7, or possibly a Nexus 9.

The Nexus 7 (2013) has been on the market for well over a year. Despite a tidal wave of budget competitors and a serious challenge from Amazon, ask any tech writer "what’s the best small Android tablet?" and they’ll still tell you to buy the Nexus 7.

Tesco’s Hudl 2 is serious competition. It has a larger screen, stereo speakers, and it is significantly cheaper. Given the option between a £99 Hudl 2 right now and a Nexus 7 from Google at £199 I would definitely advise you to buy the Hudl 2. If you want something for the whole family to use around the house then the Nexus 7 is not worth the extra cash.

The two tablets have exactly the same 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Look at them side by side, and because the Nexus 7 is smaller, it looks a bit sharper. Its screen is also a bit more vibrant, and if you angle yourself to the side it has slightly better viewing angles, but it’s not enough to make a major difference, the Hudl 2 screen still looks great.

Get rid of the My Tesco launcher and you’ve essentially got a stock Android tablet with newer hardware and an 8.3-inch screen at a lower price. The biggest compromise you have to make with the Hudl 2 is battery life.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

The basic Kindle Fire HDX is now £149 and it has a smaller 7-inch display with the same 1920 x 1200 resolution. The processor is clocked at 2.2GHz compared to 1.83GHz for the Hudl 2. The Kindle Fire HDX also has better battery life.

Both are aimed at the family market. The Kindle Fire HDX has a range of user-friendly features like Mayday for instant technical help and easy screen mirroring.

The big difference is that the Kindle Fire HDX locks you into Amazon’s eco-system. You don’t get Google’s great range of apps and services. You don’t get full access to the Play Store. Not only is there a smaller subset of apps available in the Amazon App Store, but some of them are older versions.

Amazon provides its own set of apps, but they aren’t as good. The Hudl 2 is more attractive because Tesco doesn’t lock you down at all. The Hudl 2 also had a price advantage.

iPad mini 2

iPad Mini 2

At the premium end of the small tablet market we have Apple’s offering. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display starts at £239. It’s not really fair to compare the Hudl 2 at £99. As you would expect, the iPad mini 2 is faster, slicker, and all-round better, but at well over double the price it had better be.

It has a 7.9-inch display at 2048 x 1536 pixels. It also has 16GB of storage, a 5MP main camera and a 1.2MP front-facing camera. I’m not going to argue the merits of Android vs iOS here, but on paper Apple’s diminutive tablet does not look particularly special next to the Hudl 2’s specs. In reality Apple optimizes its hardware and software to run harmoniously together and gets real world results that exceed expectations for the specs.

A fairer comparison might be the original iPad mini, but you’re still looking at paying £249. If you’re invested in the Apple eco-system and addicted to that premium design maybe you’ll see that added value, but is it £140 better than the Hudl 2?

Tesco Hudl 2 vs iPad mini (original)

With so many models on the market there’s never been a better time to invest in a tablet and even budget buyers have a strong selection to choose from.

The Tesco Hudl 2 and the iPad mini are two of the best affordable options available right now and both are great choices for first-time buyers or anyone who can’t justify splashing out hundreds of pounds. As you can see above, there are better iPad minis on offer, but they’re a lot more expensive.

Either the Tesco or Apple option would make for a memorable Christmas present, but while they’re both good and both relatively affordable we can see that not everyone would take to both equally; so to make deciding between them easier, here’s how they compare!

Screen

The Tesco Hudl 2 has an 8.3-inch screen while the iPad mini is 7.9 inches. So Tesco’s slate is slightly bigger but not enough to make a significant difference in use. They’re both on the small side as tablets go, but that makes them more portable than larger slates and they’re still big enough to comfortably web browse or get engrossed in a video.

Both screens also use IPS LCD technology, which gives them better viewing angles than a standard LCD display would be capable of and we noted rich and vibrant colours on the Tesco Hudl 2, while the iPad mini has impressive contrast.

iPad mini

There’s a big difference in their resolutions though. The Hudl 2 comes in at 1200 x 1920 for a pixel density of 273 pixels per inch, while the iPad mini is 768 x 1024, giving it a far lower pixel density (screen sharpness) of 162 pixels per inch, despite its smaller size.

That makes text and images far less clear than on its supermarket rival and while you might not realise what you’re missing if this is your first tablet, anyone who has used a high-end smartphone or slate won’t be impressed.

Design and build

The Tesco Hudl 2 isn’t the most stylish tablet around but nor is it ugly. It has a colourful plastic shell with a soft-touch feel, making it comfortable to hold and easy to grip, while at 224 x 128 x 9mm it’s fairly slim, though it’s quite heavy at 410g.

iPad mini

The iPad mini leaves it in the dust though, with a premium aluminium shell, a super-slim 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm build and it’s substantially lighter too at 308g. Looks aren’t everything but they’re a good start and the iPad mini definitely comes out on top in that area.

Processor and RAM

Neither of these tablets are packing top flight processors, but nor do they feel particularly underpowered. The Tesco Hudl 2 has a 1.83Ghz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735D processor and 2GB of RAM, while the iPad mini has a 1.0GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor and 512MB of RAM.

Hudl 2

On paper then the Tesco Hudl 2 should be far more powerful than its fruity foe, but in practice performance is fairly snappy on both. Neither of these slates is quite as fast as a top end tablet like the iPad Air 2, but in general operation both perform well and we even found that the Tesco Hudl 2 could comfortably cope with graphically intensive games.

If there’s one black mark against the Hudl 2’s performance it’s that the ‘My Tesco’ launcher which it ships with can lag a bit, but as it’s an Android tablet you can easily swap it for a different bit of software to speed things up.

OS

The operating system that each of these tablets run is arguably the biggest difference between them, as while the Tesco Hudl 2 is an Android slate the iPad mini runs iOS.

More specifically the Tesco Hudl 2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat while the iPad mini runs iOS 8.1. This makes a big difference: Android is incredibly customisable with widgets and tools that can make the tablet your own, which is good because, as mentioned previously, the overlay Tesco has put on it is a bit laggy, so you may want to replace it.

iPad mini

However while Android is powerful it’s still not quite as intuitive as iOS and while both stores have a large number of apps available there are loads more tablet-optimised apps on Apple’s store and more games too.

On the other hand it’s unlikely that the iPad mini will be updated to iOS 9 as it’s getting on a bit, but the relatively new Tesco Hudl 2 may well receive an update to the new Android Lollipop, so is slightly more future-proofed.

It’s worth giving a shout-out to the Hudl 2’s parental controls as well. These allow you to set up kid’s profiles, limiting which apps they can access and even setting time limits for use. The iPad mini has similar controls but doesn’t allow for multiple profiles or time limits.

Storage

While the iPad mini used to be available in a range of sizes the 16GB version is the only one that’s still being sold. The Tesco Hudl 2 also only comes with 16GB of storage, but there’s one key difference: the Hudl 2 also supports microSD cards of up to 32GB while the iPad mini has no microSD card slot.

That means the iPad mini only gives you 16GB to play with, which can easily fill up with media and games, while the Hudl 2 can potentially provide up to 48GB if you buy a card and even more if you don’t mind swapping microSD cards on the fly.

Hudl 2

If you’re not planning to store much content locally then 16GB should suffice, but it’s nice to know that with the Hudl 2 there’s the option to expand.

Battery

Tesco hasn’t revealed the size of the Hudl 2’s battery, instead just saying that it provides up to 8 hours of life, while the iPad mini has a 4490mAh juice pack, which Apple promises will keep it going for up to 10 hours.

iPad mini

In practice the iPad mini definitely has better battery life and should last around a day with heavy use or two to three days with more mixed use, while the Tesco Hudl 2 is unlikely to see you through a transatlantic flight, but could still feasibly stretch to a couple of days with light use.

The upshot is that either device should see you through a daily commute and as use isn’t likely to be as heavy as on a phone you’ll probably be able to get through more than a day with both slates, but if you do have a whole lot of time to kill and only a tablet for company the iPad mini is a better bet.

Price and verdict

While both these slates are at the more affordable end of the market there is still quite a difference in their prices. The Tesco Hudl 2 is just £99, while the iPad mini is a pricier £199, or £299 if you want mobile data, which isn’t an option on the Hudl 2.

Tesco Hudl 2

So you’re paying at least £70 extra, which is quite a chunk of change when the difference between the two isn’t huge in day to day use.

Whether the iPad mini is worth the extra is debatable. Sure, it has better battery life and a superior build quality, but it loses out in some ways too, with less storage potential and a lower resolution screen.

It’s arguably the more desirable slate, with a high-end build and brand name appeal, but it’s not necessarily better and with its colourful design and parental controls the Hudl 2 is probably a better buy for children.

Tesco Hudl 2 accessories

After purchasing your cut price Tesco Hudl 2 you’ll probably have a bit of cash left over, so why not accessorise your new tablet with some handy additional products.

Tesco Hudl 2 soft touch case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive case to provide a little extra protection for your new investment then the £20 soft touch case fits the bill nicely.

The soft rubber finish provides useful additional grip and the screen cover means the display is protected when not in use – perfect when it comes to sliding the Hudl 2 into a bag.

This case also doubles as a stand, allowing you to enjoy hands free video sessions, especially handy when on the train or in bed.

Tesco Hudl 2 protective bumper

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Planning on handing the Hudl 2 over to the kids? Then you might want to wrap it in this protective bumper – it’s even got some funky stars on the back and it’s available in blue and pink.

It’s a touch cheaper than the soft case at £15, but you don’t get the screen cover/stand combo and it’s not as subtle in the design department.

It will, however, protect your Hudl 2 from various knocks and bumps and that’s worth the price tag in itself.

Tesco Hudl 2 keyboard case

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Turn your Tesco Hudl 2 into a mini laptop with the keyboard case. This case with integrated Bluetooth keyboard makes text input a doddle.

The battery inside the keyboard is good for 90 hours on a single charge, so you won’t need to remember to pack a second charging cable if you go out and about.

It’s only available in black and at £40 it’s one of the more expensive accessory options, but well worth it if you’ll be doing a lot of typing.

Hudl stylus

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Compatible with the original Hudl as well as the Hudl 2, this simple stylus is available in five different colours and costs just £5.

It doubles as a pen too, with a ball point pen at one end and a stylus tip at the other. Plus it works on other touchscreen phones and tablets, giving you real bang for your buck.

Hudl kid’s headphones

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Is the noise from that game the children insist on playing at full volume on the Hudl 2 starting to really test your nerves? Get them a pair of headphones!

Tesco offers up these highly affordable, Hudl branded pair for just £12, and sound is limited to 80 decibels to protect their tiny eardrums. Bless.

Hands on gallery

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Tesco Hudl 2 review

Verdict

The Tesco Hudl 2 is now getting on in age, but with an asking price of just £99 it’s still a real bargain and if you have Clubcard vouchers the boost could make it irresistibly cheap. For Tesco shoppers and Blinkbox users the vouchers in the box with the Hudl 2 are another added incentive.

However, and this is something worth thinking about, the lack of update to Android Lollipop hints of a device that’s not going to get lots of support in the near future.

We liked

The 8.3-inch HD display is excellent. The 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution is enough to ensure that reading is pleasurable and the Hudl 2 is a really nice size for kicking back with a movie or a blast of gaming.

It’s great to see stereo speakers and they really enhance movie watching and gaming. If they were front-facing I’d be even happier, but they’re still a definite plus point.

The introductory Tesco apps are good and I can see them being genuinely helpful for tablet newbies, but the parental controls are the star of the pre-installed show. They’re simple, effective, and well-thought out.

The Hudl 2 is amazing value for money and Tesco’s additional voucher incentives really make it a steal.

We disliked

The battery life is undoubtedly the Tesco Hudl 2’s Achilles heel. Graphically intensive games and streaming HD movies drain that battery far too quickly. It’s going to be a definite sore point for some people.

That slight laggy feel at times is a concern, but ditch the My Tesco launcher and you should find it’s much less noticeable.

Hopefully the incident when it failed to turn on is a one-off freak occurrence. There’s always an element of pot luck with electronics and bugs. It hasn’t happened again, but I had to mention it, and it’s the sort of thing that could really distress a tablet novice.

Storage is not adequate at just 9GB free out of the box, so you’ll have to invest in a microSD card. You’ll pay around £10-£15 for a 32GB card, but that will give you a decent storage limit of over 40GB.

Verdict

If you’re shopping for a family tablet that you can share with the kids, this is it. If you want to gift a tablet to someone who has never tried one before, this is it. If you want a cheap tablet for casual use around the house, this is it. While the upgraded software, or lack thereof, is a worry, for many it won’t be an issue – but remember this is only a ‘throw around the house’ tablet, not something that’s your main device.

The Tesco Hudl 2 is not the best tablet on the market. It’s not the fastest or the prettiest. It doesn’t have cutting edge specs. What it does offer is a solid all-round experience at an unbeatable price.

Pound for pound you will not be able to find anything better, at least until Google refreshes the Nexus line. If you want the best value stock Android tablet on the market, this is it.

First reviewed: October 2014

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Review: HP Pro Slate 12

Review: HP Pro Slate 12

Introduction

If you’re in the market for a large format, professional tablet that looks great, performs well and won’t break the bank, the HP Pro Slate 12 ($529, £349, or AUS$646) is a solid option.

Competing against other business tablets, like the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 ($700, £437, AU$800) and the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 ($699, £436, AU$800), the Pro Slate 12 offers better battery life and excellent note-taking capabilities.

Although it offers less stellar specs and performance than the Dell and Samsung alternatives, the Pro Slate 12 is a superb, but flawed device that illustrators, administrative assistants and anyone who takes handwritten notes will enjoy.

Design

HP Pro Slate 12

You’ll love looking at this 12.3-inch device: the Pro Slate 12 is built on a gorgeous silver and black bezel with speakers that line the top and bottom edges of the slate. This impressively large tablet only weighs 1.87 pounds (840g) and is only 0.31 inches thick (7.8mm).

By comparison, the Venue 11 weighs a much more manageable 1.6 pounds (720g), but it’s noticeably thicker at 0.42 inches (10.7mm). Similarly, the Note Pro weighs only 1.65 pounds (750g), but it is as slim as the Pro Slate at only 0.31 inches thick (7.8mm). So, if portability is your main concern, and you definitely want a large tablet, the Samsung device provides you with the best of what HP and Dell’s devices offer.

Unfortunately, the screen features only a 1,600 x 1,200 resolution Corning Gorilla Glass display. The overall design is pretty slick, but I hate how much real estate surrounds the screen. Not only do you have about a half-inch of speaker at the top and bottom of the tablet, but there is about three-quarters of an inch of border surrounding all four sides of the active display.

HP Pro Slate 12

The screen is prone to severe glare, so don’t expect to watch Netflix with the sun at your back. When the room is dark, the images are spectacular, but if there is any light in the background, your image will be affected.

This screen pales in comparison to the Note Pro, which packs a delightful 2,560 x 1,600 pixel display onto the same size frame. The Venue 11, which is an 11-inch device, comes with a 1,920 x 1,080 display. So, the Pro Slate isn’t exactly ideal for anyone who requires image precision, like designers or photographers.

Speaking of shutterbugs, the Pro Slate 12 features an 8 megapixel (MP) front-facing camera and a 2MP rear camera. However, I doubt you’ll want to take many photos on this mammoth device. You’re better off using your phone for quick snaps.

Specifications and performance

Although you are probably more familiar with Windows and iOS, I suggest you give yourself a week or two with the Pro Slate’s – albeit dated – Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) operating system. I prefer iOS, but the Android system is just as good for simple navigation and basic data entry.

Native Android applications, such as Photos and News & Weather, aren’t as robust as Apple’s, and having to register everything with Google is a bit of an annoyance, but the difference between Android, iOS and Windows won’t be a hindrance for the novice or intermediate user.

HP Pro Slate 12

Here is the HP Pro Slate 12 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (quad-core Krait 400 CPU)
  • Graphics: Adreno 330 GPU
  • RAM: 2GB LPDDR3 (800 MHz)
  • Screen: 12.3-inch, 1,600 x 1,200 CT-40 FIT Glass
  • Storage: 32GB eMMC
  • Ports: 1 x micro USB 2.0; 1 x 3.5mm stereo headset/headphone/microphone jack; 1 x ZIF connector with pogo pins
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac with antenna diversity (Miracast-enabled); Bluetooth 4.0 + LE; NFC supporting Android Beam
  • Camera: 8MP rear-facing; 2MP front-facing
  • Weight: 1.87 pounds
  • Size: 11.82 x 0.31 x 8.73 inches (W x D x H)

The HP Pro Slate 12 can house up to 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM (it starts at 16GB and 2GB of RAM), so don’t expect this tablet to be your primary device. If you’re leaning toward using it for everyday data entry and immediate storage, you’ll want to purchase extra capacity in the cloud, or an external drive.

You’ll absolutely love the Pro Slate’s breezy and quiet quad-core Snapdragon processor. I was able to flip between applications and tasks without any lag time whatsoever, and when I ran more energy-draining tasks, like playing Empires and Allies at full screen brightness and volume, I didn’t notice any lull whatsoever.

Benchmarks

  • Geekbench 3 CPU – Single Core: 908; Multi-Core: 2,794

The Pro Slate’s multi-core score is slightly below average. Comparable tablets, like the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000, performed better, with the Note Pro 12.2 narrowly edging out the Slate with a score of 2,797.

However, the Dell tablet, which features an Intel Core M processor, wallops the Android tablets with an average score of about 5,000 on third party tests. For reference, other notable tablets on the market also trounce the Pro Slate.

The Surface 3, which also features a Core M processor, scored in the 3,300 range, and its bigger brother, the Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 scored in the magnificent range of 5,500. Just for reference, the iPad Air 2 scores about 4,500.

So, if what you’re after is a device that can multitask and run data heavy tasks, such as spreadsheeting and video editing, you’re probably better off going with another tablet that benchmarks higher. However, if you’re simply after intuitive data entry and long battery life, the Pro Slate 12 might be right for you.

Battery life and The Duet Pen

HP claims the Pro Slate’s battery can last up to 12 hours. As is typically the case, the manufacturer’s claim did not live up to our testing. However, I was able to crank out about 10 hours and 9 minutes of video playback with the screen brightness and volume set to 50%. This is solid output for a tablet, the best of which last up to 13 hours.

Compared to the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000, which only lasted five hours, the Pro Slate is a monster. However, it performed in line with the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, which ran for about 9 hours and 30 minutes on similar video trials. Don’t forget – the Galaxy Note’s screen is much sharper and more vibrant, so you should really consider this head-to-head a wash.

With the Pro Slate, you’re not getting best-in-class battery life, but it will last for more than a standard day of work if you don’t push it to its max – not bad for a giant tablet.

HP Pro Slate 12

The Duet Pen

The thing you need to know about the HP Pro Slate 12 – and its little brother, the Pro Slate 8 – is that both devices can turn physical pen-to-paper drawings into digital files. The Pro Slate works along with HP’s Duet Pen, which features built-in ultrasonic microphones that mimic the movements you’re making when you write on a piece of paper, in order to translate images into digital files.

The Duet Pen is a rechargeable stylus that works with the HP Notes and Corel Painter Mobile apps. It also features an ink pen tip that enables you to write notes and drawings in ink on paper, which are then digitized and made accessible on the Slate.

The transition from physical to digital is simultaneous. During my testing, I witnessed no lag time and no missed spots. The written image was identical in color quality and texture to the digital copy.

What you won’t love is the interference that may occur when trying to digitize notes off of slanted surfaces. Notes must be taken on a table or desk in order to be copied correctly onto the Slate. If you’re taking notes standing up or on your lap, you’ll likely not get an exact replica on the device.

Unfortunately, pairing the device with the appropriate app was more difficult than it should have been. The Pro Slate read the Duet Pen instantly. However, getting the application to work with the Pen was a bit more complex.

What you’re expected to do is choose between "Capture" and "Notebook" modes, which is the difference between writing on a physical paper or writing a digital image directly onto the tablet. Unfortunately, the process to choose between the two requires multiple steps, none of which are spelled out in intuitive terms that speak directly to you.

For example: instead of calling them Capture and Notebook, why not prompt the user by asking them to choose between Ink and Digital? This choice is a no-brainer, whereas the terms Capture and Notebook are HP-invented, stand-in terms that you’ll need to remember the first few times you open the application.

Verdict

The HP Pro Slate 12 isn’t a perfect device. It doesn’t have much storage or RAM, it doesn’t have the sharpest screen and its processor isn’t going to outperform similarly-priced devices. However, it’s a beautiful tablet with a fabulous battery life that is excellent for note-taking.

We liked

The Pro Slate is a great tablet if you’re looking for a bit of style and substance. Its silver and black bezel is among the nicest on the tablet market, and it’s light and thin enough to fall just short of best-in-class in terms of build quality.

If you take notes all day and you need a way to keep track of your data, the Pro Slate is perfect for you. Its Duet Pen produces perfect digital replicas of your ink-written content. Although the app is a bit unintuitive, once you start writing, you’ll forget about how hard it was to get started.

We disliked

I wish the Pro Slate had more going for it under the hood. With only 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, the Slate won’t be your primary device. You’ll need to purchase additional storage to fit all of those apps, photos and other data throughout the life of the device. And even if you keep the tablet free of clutter, its processor isn’t fast or powerful enough to compete with similarly-priced devices.

Additionally, the low resolution display isn’t ideal for viewing content, especially if your job requires you to pay specific attention to detail.

Final verdict

The HP Pro Slate 12 is a wonderful device for a niche audience. Employees who are focused on data entry, and note-taking and illustrators who need digital copies of their doodles will love the Slate and its accompanying Duet Pen.

However, if your job is a bit more labor intensive, and you need more power to help get you through the day, the HP Pro Slate 12 is not the right device for you.

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