Advent Vega £249.99
2nd Dec 2010 | 12:20
Can this budget Android 2.2 tablet compete with its more expensive competition?
Advent Vega: Overview
The Advent Vega is the latest Android-clad touchscreen tablet to take on the Apple iPad.
The calibre of most, if not all Android tablets we're seen so far has left much to be desired. So the Advent Vega, with it's surprisingly cheap asking price of £249.99 doesn't really have much to live up to.
It launches alongside the even more affordable 7-inch Advent Amico, which is on sale with a resistive touchscreen for just £129.99.
A quick glance at the hardware specs and the Vega is off to a strong start.
It sports a 10.1-inch capacitive 1024 x 600 touchscreen, and it's powered by Nvidia's 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor, so there's some significant grunt in this one. It's fairly thin, too, at 14mm and it's not too heavy either.
But the obvious problem the Advent Vega faces is that even though it comes loaded with up-to-date Android 2.2, it's far from being a fully featured Android device. Google has been open about the fact that 2.2 is simply not optimised for big-screen tablets the same way it is for smartphones.
What's more, Advent has hardly helped itself when designing this thing. There's no Home button to be found anywhere on the device, and there's no 3G connectivity either. Both of these things are required by Google before it will allow manufacturers to install Google services on a device.
The practical upshot of this is that the Advent Vega doesn't have access to the Android Market. Nor does it have access to Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and the main Email app.
Can the Vega recover from this fairly mediocre start and win us over?
Advent Vega: Features
As you might expect from a tablet that costs about £200 less than the iPad, the Advent Vega is not what we'd call jam-packed with features.
But let's start with the Vega's physical form.
The bezel is large – about in inch in all directions. But what you perhaps don't expect from an Android tablet is the complete lack of a Home button.
There are no buttons on the front of the device at all. The only physical buttons to be found are three tiny silver ones on the top side and a volume dial on the right.
The buttons on the top are totally infuriating. There's a Power button, which you can use to either turn the screen on and off, or to power down the device completely. There's also a Back button, and an ultra-fiddly orientation lock between them.
Words cannot describe how small, annoying and painful these buttons are to use. They're poorly designed, and the lack of a Home button goes a long way towards destroying the Android experience.
Most of the pre-loaded apps have an on-screen home icon built in tothe top left of the screen, so if you're just planning on surfing the web and reading your emails, it's not too much of a problem. That's not true of the media app though – if you're watching a video, there's no obvious way to quit back to the Home screen so you end up just mashing any button you can find until something works.
And as soon as you start installing additional apps, things get even more tricky. More on that in a bit.
Also on the right-hand side is a flap, under which sits a USB 2.0 port, a full-sized HDMI-out port and a microSD slot – the device comes with a 4GB card as standard.
The HDMI port will only output in the same resolution as the device's 1024 x 600 screen, so plugging into a big TV is slightly futile. Still, though, it works flawlessly and so if you find yourself in need of playing a video on a bigger screen, the option is there.
The screen is actually quite responsive. We were ready to recoil in horror when we first switched the device on, but actually it's not too bad at all.
The viewing angle is dreadful though, but as long as you're fairly square-on, the screen is bright. Colours are not as vibrant as the screen on the iPad or the Galaxy Tab, and we'd have enjoyed a higher resolution, but it's a decent effort for a product that costs half the price of those other options.
That said, there's no fingerprint-resistive coating on display here. It's only after you use a screen like this that you realise how effective the iPad's screen is at resisting finger grease. if you buy one of these, you're going to need to carry a cloth and some cleaning fluid.
There are two small speakers on the back of the Vega, and they're pretty good, too. For playing a game without headphones, they do a great job. Music playback is less impressive, but that's also true of speakers on every other tablet we've tested. The speakers on the Vega are probably the best we've seen on a device of this type.
As previously mentioned, there's no Android Market app on the Vega, so you'll find yourself significantly handicapped when it comes to installing apps.
The are, however, a selection of pre-installed apps that handle the basics pretty well. The standard Android internet browser is included, as well as Calculator, Camera, Clock, WHSmith eBook store, Email and Media for playing music, movies and viewing photos.
On the dock at the bottom of the Home screen, Advent has included hotlinks straight to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – presumably to paper over the fairly large cracks where you might otherwise want to install Tweetdeck or the official Facebook app.
It is possible, though, to install apps by bypassing the Android Market, and we'll cover that on the next page
The Camera is an extremely low-grade front-facing 1.3-megapixel affair. In truth, it's absolutely shocking and totally unworthy of inclusion. The quality is so low, it can actually be quite hard to recognise yourself in photos even if you took them yourself and know for a fact that the blurry form in the centre of the frame is indeed you.
But if you simply must take photos of your own face, or even record low-res videos of yourself, the option is there and it works.
Advent Vega: Performance
In practise, the Advent Vega is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to performance.
The screen is responsive, and the Wi-Fi connection is solid. Web pages loaded just as quickly as they do on any other touchscreen device, such as the iPad.
In fact, the web browsing experience might just be the Vega's saving grace. The screen could do with being sharper – a higher resolution would have been greatly received - but the fact that it's easy to navigate around web pages makes you forget, albeit very briefly, about the device's main failings.
And the main failing of the Advent Vega, is the absence of a Home button – did we mention that yet? It's just unforgiveable.
The Home button is absolutely central to the design of the Android operating system, and without it you're reduced to clunking your way around each app, trying to work out the best way to quit out of it.
We decided to install Angry Birds, which was not easy at all. First we attempted to install it via the official site using the Vega's browser, but that failed.
The only way we could make it work is by telling the Getjar.com website that we were using a Galaxy Tab, downloading the APK file and using the Android SDK to install it, which the majority of people will obviously not want to do.
Angry Birds did install though – and it works perfectly. It's smooth, the screen is accurate and it's quick and easy to load.
Quitting the app is a more complex affair. You have to navigate your way back to the main menu and then use the tiny silver 'back' button on the top of the device to quit. This just isn't the seamless, intuitive experience that tablets were conceived for. How hard would it have been to include a Home button on the front of the device?
The media apps on offer here are extremely basic, but they work well enough. We got some HD MP4 files from our recent Flip UltraHD review to work easily enough. Playback was smooth and painless – that'll be the Tegra 2 chip working like a trooper behind the scenes.
Music also worked well, although again it's a basic app. If you want a decent music app you'll need to try and install one from somewhere else but, as we've seen, that might not be as easy as it sounds.
The Email app is extremely simple, but it works well and emails load quickly. Setting up your account is as easy as entering in your username and password and from there you're away.
And finally the onscreen keyboard is the same as for most Android devices, and consequently it's comfortable to use. Because the device is quite responsive, we were able to tap away quite quickly on the Vega without any problems whatsoever.
Advent Vega: Verdict
There are some enormous drawbacks with the Vega, but it's nowhere near as bad as we thought it would be. In fact, if it weren't for a couple of the biggest flaws, we would actually really like it.
But those drawbacks aren't going anywhere, and so this is a tablet that only really works as a device for browsing the web and reading emails. Anything more and the Vega starts to creak at the seams.
The screen is responsive and the web browsing experience is pretty decent. Pinch to zoom works pretty well, and scrolling is also quite smooth.
Web browsing and email reading are both quick, easy and actually pleasant to use since the basics are done well. Again, we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a £250 tablet, not a £500 one.
The absence of a Home button is a deal-breaker. It makes it fiddly to use, and the little silver buttons are so small and tricky to get a handle on as to be totally exasperating.
The screen's viewing angle is also quite poor, but we'll forgive it that because of the price. Anyone who wants to spend £250 on a capacitive touchscreen tablet cannot expect a top-notch panel.
The absence of the Android Market is a real pain, and the difficulty in getting apps installed isn't worth the effort.
This is a fairly accomplished touchscreen internet device with additional features including checking your emails and, er, telling the time. As such, it's a decent effort at a very attractive price. But anyone looking for a fully fledged Android tablet should look elsewhere or risk disappointment.