A supermarket turned tablet maker doesn’t sound like the wisest of career progressions. Tesco’s not your average supermarket, though. When you consider the Tesco machine also operates video- and music-streaming services, an e-book store and an online emporium selling everything from garden furniture to jewelry, having a low-cost, own-brand tablet to publicise them on makes a considerable amount of sense. Amazon makes it work with a similar potpourri of digital properties, after all. Tesco first explored the idea with its £119 Hudl tablet, launched around this time last year. And, having shifted over three quarters of a million units during that period, it’s hoping to keep the ball rolling with the new Hudl2, which boasts a bigger display, upgraded hardware, a more refined look and a similarly wallet-friendly £129 price tag. Tesco’s still a fish in the tablet game, and yet, with the Hudl2, it’s managed to deliver not just another great value product, but also the best affordable slate on the market right now.
Tesco’s Hudl2 tablet is a vast improvement over its predecessor. It’s well-built, with a lovely 8.3-inch 1080p display
, and performs impeccably, whether you’re browsing the web or playing processor-intensive 3D games. First-time tablet buyers will appreciate its user-friendly approach, while parents will like its robust child-safety measures. Despite short battery life and mediocre cameras, at £129 the Hudl2 is currently the best value tablet available in the UK.
As Tesco did with the first Hudl, the company has kept the unboxing process as Luddite-friendly as possible. The tablet’s plastic screen guard explains the meaning of all ports and buttons, while separate labeled compartments in the box clarify the difference between a USB cable and a wall plug. Meanwhile, there’s a picture-driven manual on hand to walk you through the initial setup and basic features. Freephone numbers for the Hudl2 support line are also printed on the well of the packaging in case you need any assistance from the get-go.
Once unwrapped, the Hudl2 looks more like a distant cousin to its predecessor than a direct relation. Gone are the overgenerous bezels and soft curves, supplanted by a squarer, more distinguished appearance you may be less inclined to let sticky fingers run amuck on. Using the same building materials, Tesco’s nipped and tucked its way to creating a slate with all the visual appeal and finesse you might expect from a more experienced manufacturer. The shiny, embossed Hudl logo is pretty much the only familiar design element to have made the cut.
Most of the Hudl2 is clad in hard, durable plastic that has a slight rubbery texture to give your fingers some extra purchase. It covers the back, sides and spills over to the front to fill any space not covered by glass. My review unit’s cloaked in a modest, dark grey plastic, but there are also white and vibrant red, pink, orange, purple and blue models available for those who want something with a little more personality.
If you were in any doubt what orientation you’re supposed to hold the tablet in, the direction of the reflective Hudl logo on the back panel tells you it’s primarily intended for landscape use. Beneath that is a discreet, light grey “From Tesco” banner alongside small print like the model number, et cetera. The top-rear corners of the device are home to stereo speaker grilles, with one a tad smaller than the other to leave space for the main camera lens. Both grilles are made from several circular holes poked in the plastic shell, and could almost be considered ornate compared to the first Hudl’s simpler, slit pattern. They also sit higher on the back this time around, away from your hands.
The front of the device is dominated by the Hudl2′s 8.3-inch display, with the front-facing camera and a large charging notification LED off to the left. On the top edge, you’ll find the power key and volume rocker, while the opposite border hosts a HDMI Micro-out socket and microSD card slot. The headphone jack and micro-USB port for charging/data transfer are positioned on the left and right edges, respectively.
The Hudl2 might be an all-plastic affair, but there’s nothing cheap about its build quality. The seam that runs along the plastic perimeter of the device is consistently tight; the power button and volume rocker sit almost flush with the top edge and don’t wiggle around in their sockets; and every port hole is neatly cut. You have to expend a fair amount of energy to get any flex out of the device, and even then, it won’t creak or squeal in protest. Overall, it’s a very well put-together tablet, and the fact it’s also a relatively heavy tablet makes it feel extra sturdy.
With a weight of 410g, however, the Hudl2 is substantially heftier than its 370g predecessor. The increase isn’t totally unexpected given the larger screen, but Android tablets in the 7- to 8-inch range don’t tend to go above the 350g mark, making the Hudl2 one of the heavier members of its peer group. It’s something to keep in mind when clumsy tykes with delicate toes are in command, but grown-ups shouldn’t find its weight too much of a problem. Chances are it’ll be resting on your knees, a table or propped up in a case the majority of the time, but as long as you have somewhere to rest your elbows, you can easily clutch it with two hands for extended periods of use. One-handed operation is where things start to get a little uncomfortable, though. It’s simply too heavy to hold freely for any length of time, especially if you’re trying to tap out an extensive email. This is particularly true in landscape orientation, as the tablet’s wide enough that its centre of gravity is constantly working against your best efforts to keep it stable.
Despite its larger screen, Tesco’s newer tablet is ever so slightly shorter and thinner than the first-gen Hudl, but a good 30mm wider. The height saving is down to a leaner bezel above and below the display. The bezel to the left and right of the screen is much healthier, but it doesn’t look bloated or out of proportion. If anything, they’re parking spaces for your thumbs that keep them from obstructing the view.
If you feel Tesco deserves more than £129 for its latest tablet, you can always supplement that purchase with any of the various accessories the supermarket has to offer. You have your pick of black leather or colourful “soft touch” (polyurethane) folio cases, shells that look like a chaotic version of Apple’s iPhone 5c case and chunkier “bumper” covers for butterfingered kids. Hudl-branded styli and headphones are also available if you’re ready to fully commit to the Hudl brand.
Display and Audio
The most significant upgrade to the second iteration of Hudl hardware has to be its display. It’s not only bigger at 8.3 inches, but also sports a higher, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution (273 ppi). This means you’re always looking at a glorious, full HD (1080p) image, with those surplus pixels making room for the on-screen Android navigation keys. Numbers don’t always tell the full story, but the Hudl2′s panel is a good-quality one, too. Colours are realistic and well-saturated; whites are pure; and blacks are pretty much as good as they get where LCD technology is concerned. The display also has excellent viewing angles, so anyone huddled close to the screen (get it?!) will be getting more or less the same experience as the person directly in front of it. There’s not much else to say apart from it’s a great device to view media on.
Sunlight readability is really the only minor flaw here. The screen’s brightness setting goes high enough to cope with the artificial lighting in your home or local cafe, but it’s not so powerful that it can cut through the sun’s rays on a cloudless day. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still be able to frame that picture of you and your chums picnicking on your favourite London field, but glare will become a frustration if you want to polish off that e-book you’ve been reading on a park bench.
The quality of sound the Hudl2′s onboard stereo speakers are capable of producing is pretty underwhelming. For starters, they’re facing away from the screen, giving audio a distant, rather than immersive feel. What does get thrown out lacks clear definition and any semblance of deep bass. Higher-frequency tones, on the other hand, are overly edgy to the point of being raspy and abrasive. The speakers can kick out more volume than you’ll realistically ever need, but in terms of quality, they’re more suited to providing audio for funny YouTube clips than feature-length films or impromptu raves.
Plug a set of headphones into the “Dolby-optimised” Hudl2, however, and it becomes a completely different beast. Audio quality instantly goes from mediocre to superb. Sound is well-balanced and highly defined. And every subtle bass tone comes through perfectly, making the tablet a joy to watch a movie or listen to music on. You certainly won’t be left wanting in the volume department, either.
The Hudl2 runs, for the most part, a stock build of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. As much as Tesco wants you to buy its hardware, the supermarket is just as keen to tie you up in its software and services. Like the first Hudl, this means there’s a fair amount of Tesco-issued bloatware populating the device. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for first-time tablet users, though, as they can do a lot with the slate right out of the box. For true beginners, there’s a slick instructions app that explains how to customize the tablet, hop online, listen to music, take a picture and other basics. This is complemented by an app that lists some recommended games, streaming services, news outlets and the like to get you started.
Once you’re up and running, the hope is that you’ll start to explore Tesco’s Blinkbox video, music and e-book services. The e-book store is, well, exactly what it sounds like, and Blinkbox music lets you stream millions of tunes bound in artist- and theme-driven “stations.” It’s a free, ad-supported service, but sign up to the premium tier for £1 per week and you can create your own playlists, listen to specific albums and, of course, cut ads out of the equation. Blinkbox skips the subscription model when it comes to streaming video, instead offering movies and TV box sets for purchase or rental. Recently, Tesco also started letting you link UltraViolet libraries to Blinkbox accounts, allowing you to stream the digital copies of any supported DVDs and Blu-rays you own to the Hudl2 (and all other devices that have a Blinkbox app). To tempt you onto the hook, every Hudl2 purchase includes 25 quid’s worth of
bait credit to spend across the three services.
As well as offering content for you to consume on the Hudl2, Tesco runs a bank, photo-printing service and grocery/fashion/everything else stores that are all predictably easy to access on the tablet. Only a couple have dedicated apps, but a folder on the Hudl2′s home screen contains website shortcuts to anything that doesn’t. Not content with simply preinstalling its apps, Tesco’s also added a non-removable panel to the home screen carousel called “My Tesco.” It looks and functions a lot like Google Now, with a dynamic, card-based UI. These cards suggest content to stream, recipes to try, Hudl2 accessories to buy and highlight the top deals at Tesco’s various stores. It shows you what time your nearest supermarket closes, and if you can plug in your Blinkbox, Clubcard and Groceries account details, it’ll also tell you what time your online food order will be delivered, how many loyalty points you’ve racked up and other personalised info. A static menu you can get to from within the “My Tesco” pane again points you in the direction of every Tesco store and service available. Really, it just collates many of the apps and shortcuts found elsewhere and presents them in a more accessible way.
Tesco’s custom home screen panel is more or less a dedicated advertising space, though I can see it being useful to those fully entrenched in the supermarket’s retail and service ecosystem. But, if you’re not at that stage, “My Tesco” is easily ignored as long as you don’t touch the T button or swipe right on the home screen. The anchored home screen pane is pretty much the only visual customisation from Tesco that sits on top of stock Android. Other than that, there are a few prepositioned widgets you can easily remove, and an overly positive default wallpaper depicting a group of friends apparently on a surfing trip in the middle of a field.
Tesco’s latest tablet is pitched as a device for the whole family. The original Hudl was too, but its child-safety measures amounted to an on-device guide of what settings to change, and what apps parents could use to control what their little ones were able to access. This time around, Tesco’s built a more comprehensive solution that’s similar to Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime feature. You can create individual profiles for each child in the household, and then choose what types of websites they’re allowed to access from a list of categories. There’s also a whitelist for each profile, so you can allow specific sites that might come under a wider category of content you’d rather your kids avoid. You can also set weekday and weekend time limits on general usage, as well as specify what apps will show up on the device for each profile. Furthermore, there’s an advice section within the child-safety app that talks about everything you should consider when letting young’uns loose on the slate. Overall, the new measures are a big improvement over the first Hudl, and for parents, it could be considered more of a selling point than a simple app.
Taking pictures on tablets doesn’t do anything for your street cred, but we get it: Sometimes, the Hudl2 may be the only camera-equipped device to hand. Tesco’s bumped the main camera up to five megapixels, from 3MP on the first Hudl, but curiously, it’s done the opposite with the front-facing unit. What used to be a 2-megapixel shooter is now only 1.2MP, which is kind of strange given that you’re more likely to use a tablet for video calling than you are to shoot landscape stills.
The Hudl2′s camera app is extremely basic. You’ve only got still, video, panorama, photo sphere and lens blur modes, the latter of which can be used to inject bokeh into macro shots. The only things you can do from within the viewfinder are add a framing grid and set a countdown timer, but even in the deeper settings menu, you can only adjust the resolution and quality of images each lens spits out. Head to the “advanced” section of this menu, and you’ll find an option to add a manual exposure setting to the viewfinder — everything else is taken care of automatically. I don’t consider this a negative, though, because who really wants to faff around with white balance and scene-selection settings when you’re simply trying to grab an opportunistic shot on your tablet?
Camera performance on the first Hudl was thoroughly disappointing, but the Hudl2 demonstrates some notable improvements. Firstly, image quality is better by default thanks to the higher resolution. Beyond that, though, colours are way more vibrant and realistic in scenarios where natural light is on your side. Shutter speed and response times are pretty good, too. Some photos still come out a little overexposed and washed out, and the auto-white balance setting isn’t always accurate (especially when shooting landscapes), but more often than not, you’ll be happy with the output. The main camera doesn’t fare so well with artificial lighting. Images tend to be either extremely washed out, or take on the general hue of whatever bulb’s illuminating the scene. In twilight, the camera simply jacks the exposure setting up to its maximum, resulting in horribly pale images. In much darker situations, however, you get a more realistic image even if it is on the grainy side. At this light level, though, the shutter speed has dropped so low you need to hold the tablet steady for well over a second to achieve anything but a blurry mess.
I don’t have a great deal of positive things to say about the Hudl2′s 1.2MP front-facing camera. On a bright, sunny day, it’ll take a perfectly good selfie, but stray from those ideal conditions and image noise starts to become a real issue. This is particularly true in low-light situations, where banding noise turns photos into streaky mosaics. The front-facing shooter is capable of recording 720p video, while the main camera can capture clips at 1080p. Don’t let the resolutions fool you, though, as they’re not particularly handy in this department. The front-facer has the same problems with video as it does with stills, and the primary camera doesn’t do a markedly better job. While the frame rate of video is fine, noticeable pixelation and fidgety autofocus/exposure settings mean you won’t want to use the Hudl2 to capture any meaningful moments. The quality of recorded audio is quite simply terrible, with ill-defined sound all but hidden under the loud hiss of static.
Performance and Battery Life
A more sophisticated design and a bigger, better display aren’t the only enhancements Tesco’s bestowed upon its second-generation tablet. The Hudl2 also has a faster quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor (with turbo boost up to 1.83GHz), this time paired with 2GB of RAM, double the amount of memory its predecessor offered. It also has the same 16GB of internal storage as the first Hudl, with a microSD card slot allowing you to add more. Tesco says the slate is compatible with cards as large as 32GB, but then again, it said the same about the original Hudl, yet that handled a 64GB card without issue. Sadly, I don’t have anything of that size on hand to test whether the Hudl2 is capable of the same overachievement.
The Hudl2 has all the processing power it needs to deal with typical tablet use cases effortlessly. I’m talking about cycling through the app drawer, jumping into Gmail, browsing YouTube — that sort of thing. It’s generally a slick and responsive affair, though I did notice a few infrequent hiccups. Occasionally, the on-screen keyboard would take a split second longer to appear than normal, for example, or the tablet would hang briefly when switching from the lockscreen to the home screen. These minor indiscretions have practically no impact on the general user experience, though. On a related note, the transition from the normal home screen to the immovable “My Tesco” pane isn’t a particularly smooth one. It stutters across to fill the screen, but I’m certain this is down to poor optimisation on Tesco’s part, rather than any fault of the hardware.
Browsing the web on the Hudl2 is a great experience, making it a perfect couch-surfing companion. Sites load quickly on the device (using the Chrome browser), and I haven’t noticed any scroll lag, tiling or other performance issues of that nature. I wasn’t sure the Intel Atom chip would deal with processor-intensive tasks as well, but my reservations were unfounded. The 3D games Real Racing 3 and Shadowgun: Deadzone run fantastically, and Asphalt 8: Airborne only starts dropping frames when pushed to the highest graphics setting (it’s fine on the recommended medium setting). When running power-hungry apps, the tablet does have a tendency to heat up around the primary camera lens, so prepare for your left palm to get sweaty during extended gaming sessions. Aside from this observation, I’d be lying if I said I expected Tesco’s £129 tablet to perform as well as it does in all areas.
The Hudl2′s connectivity options aren’t exhaustive, but it’s got everything a regular punter will need: dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS/GLONASS (it’s a WiFi-only tablet, remember, so it isn’t exactly an ideal satnav replacement). The tablet also has a HDMI Micro-out port, so you can mirror its screen on your living room TV with the right cable.
For whatever reason, Tesco doesn’t specify the actual capacity of the batteries in either of its tablets. The Hudl2 is said to be good for up to eight hours of use, but in the standard Engadget video-looping test, it only managed six and a half before giving up the ghost. The original Hudl (which Tesco claimed had a nine-hour battery life) didn’t do too much better, clocking in a time of just over seven hours. (Neither result is particularly impressive, but several, admittedly older, Android tablets have put in comparable performances.) Under normal usage conditions at medium screen brightness, you can expect to get roughly six hours of Hudl2 time before needing to recharge. Run a lot of processor-intensive apps and games, however, and you’re looking at more like four hours. The Hudl2′s battery life is definitely one of its weakest points, and you wouldn’t want the tablet as your sole source of entertainment on a long-haul flight. That being said, if it’s going to spend most of its life on the living room coffee table, I doubt you’ll find plugging it in every other evening a huge inconvenience.
Tesco’s in a rather unique position — it’s a brand trusted for providing millions of Brits with the everyday essentials, meaning it has a huge captive audience to sell the Hudl2 and its digital services to. The supermarket’s been clever to make its second-gen slate as technophobe-friendly as its first, while also improving child-safety measures to appeal to families that plan to share a single device. With both of these selling points, and a target market that may not be au fait with all the other tablet options out there, Tesco isn’t under the same level of pressure to compete in the spec wars as other manufacturers are. And yet, it’s crafted a product that’s not only attractive to regular consumers looking for an affordable tablet, but also to the type of person, like me, who’s interested in pixel density and processor speeds.
The truth is, you get a hell of a lot for your money. A gorgeous 8.3-inch display makes the Hudl2 a fantastic tablet to consume media on, complemented by superb audio quality when you’ve got headphones plugged in. The tablet might be made from relatively cheap materials, but it’s well-designed with robust build quality. It’s no slouch under the hood either, with all the processing power it needs to handle casual browsing and 3D gaming alike. Yes, Tesco bloatware is hiding in every nook and cranny, but you can simply ignore anything you don’t want to use and enjoy the full stock Android experience. Now, the Hudl2′s battery life is nothing to write home about, and its stereo speakers could be better. But, all things considered, the Hudl2 is hands-down the best value tablet you can buy in the UK right now.