5 October 2014

Tesco Hudl 2 - first impressions review

Key Features: 8.3-inch 1920 x 1,200 Full HD display; Dolby speakers; 1.83 GHz Intel quad-core processor; Android 4.4.2 KitKat; 5-megapixel main camera; 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera; 8 hour battery life; 16GB storage; micro SD card support

Manufacturer: Tesco

Tesco Hudl 2: Second gen tablet is better in every way

Tesco Hudl 2

The Tesco Hudl was undoubtedly one of the surprise stories of 2013. Nobody really expected the supermarket giant's tablet was actually going to be any good. As an affordable, family-friendly alternative to the Nexus 7 and maybe to a lesser extent the iPad Mini Retina, it ticked the most important boxes for first time tablet users. It was easy to use, offered decent specs for the money and it just didn't look cheap as nasty as some sub-£130 Android tablets.

Now that Tesco has shelved plans for a Hudl smartphone, it's focusing on getting the Hudl 2 tablet into shopping baskets leading up to that busy Christmas period. Priced the same as the original and available for just £65 for Tesco Clubcard customers, the second generation Tesco tablet makes significant improvements in almost every area and has all the right ingredients to be a big seller again.

The first thing you'll notice about the Hudl 2 is the change in size and weight. Compared to the first Hudl, the new tablet is longer and slightly heavier, especially in one hand. It might not be a problem for an adult but it could be more of an issue for a child to hold it comfortably in portrait mode.

Tesco is still sticking with the same first generation Kindle Fire tablet-inspired matt plastic back that's soft to touch and it's going to be available in eight different colours. The 'jazzy blue' I had a play with is not as garish as the photos perhaps suggest and while it's not as sleek or stylish as the iPad Mini or the Nexus 7, this is still a good-looking tablet.

There's no 3G or 4G option but you do get dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth and a micro HDMI port so you can hook it up to a HD TV to play content or look back at photos. There's also a micro SD card support so you can bump up the 16GB onboard storage to 48GB

To improve its video-watching credentials, there's now a set of Dolby-powered speakers around the back. I didn't get precise details about the setup but a quick listen through headphones and out loud and it's a big improvement for clarity and is very similar to the Dolby-powered speakers on Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX tablets.

The change in size is also down to the move from a 7-inch to a larger 8.3-inch screen, giving it similar screen estate to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.4 our current portable Android tablet favourite. The change from a 1,400 x 900 resolution screen to a 1,920 x 1,200 display really shows. That's the same set up as the Nexus 7 and similarly the Hudl 2 is so much sharper than the first Hudl. A quick watch of a video trailer shows how much of an improvement it is. Viewing angles look strong and colour accuracy looks impressive as well. For an £130 tablet, this really is a standout feature.

There's more changes in the software and power department. The Hudl 2 now runs on Android 4.4 KitKat with Google's suite of apps pre-installed, giving you access to the Google Play store. It now packs a 1.83Ghz Intel quad-core processor and the difference is instantly noticeable. You can swipe through homescreens and launch the app drawer with no sign of the lag I experienced using the first Hudl. A quick play of Ashpalt: Airborne shows it's better equipped for gaming as well. There's no details on the capacity of the battery but Tesco claims you can get around the same eight hours. With a more demanding screen, however, I'd be sceptical whether it can deliver similar levels of battery life.

Tesco, much like Amazon, is a retailer and is in the business of selling things so it does have some presence in the interface, but it doesn't feel overbearing. There's still the Tesco 'T' in the top left hand corner, which opens up to reveal other services like Tesco shopping, Blinkbox, your Clubcard account and now even recommends recipes to try out. The recently ditched ClubCard TV is not there anymore but it won't be a great miss.

One area Tesco really thought about is making this a tablet the entire family can use. While you could set up multiple user profiles in the first Hudl, there was very little in the way of specific software from Tesco to protect younger users, instead suggesting third party apps that would make it a safer slate to use. Now it's taking things more seriously with its clearly Kindle Freetime-inspired Child Safety mode where you can set up multiple profiles and adjust the time kids can use the tablet or day or even the time of the day they can use it. When they reach the cut-off, features will be inactive. When web browsing in these child profiles, unsuitable sites are blocked and can only be accessed by a verified adult user.

The cameras on the Tesco Hudl were pretty terrible and while the Hudl 2 now has a 5-megapixel main camera and a lower resolution 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera my initial tests suggest things aren't much better. The camera app certainly has more modes like Panorama photos, the 360-degree Photo Sphere and Lens Blur but after some quick shooting it's still a pretty noisy, grainy place. You still wouldn't want to swap a cheap Android phone camera for them.

Early verdict

The first Tesco Hudl was great value for money, but the Hudl 2 is better in so many ways and it costs the same. If you can live with shoddy cameras on a tablet, and most people surely can, this is a cheap Android tablet that combines great hardware features and really thinks about how to make it easy to use out of the box. It looks like Tesco is on to another winner here.

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