Advent Vega Tegra Note 7 £129.99
16th Jan 2014 | 14:50
The 7-inch tablet powered by plenty of Nvidia oomph and with a stylus to boot
In September 2013 Nvidia revealed it was launching its own tablet powered by the Tegra 4 quad-core processor - the same powerhouse that sits at the heart of its Shield gaming gadget.
Unusually for a budget tablet, the Tegra Note also launched with a stylus, something we've only otherwise seen on Samsung's Galaxy Note range. This isn't the first tablet that Nvidia has had a hand in, but previously it's limited itself to nothing much more than chip developer and software partner.
The first popular Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and Asus Transformer rocked Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor, which for the time was far ahead of rivals in terms of graphical capabilities, and with a cosy relationship with developers Nvidia managed to get a host of quality gaming titles on to the Tegra-based tablets as exclusive titles.
Advent's first Vega tablet was also powered by the Tegra 2 and due to a bargain price and rooting-friendly firmware, but after initial success its third generation Tegra processor missed the mark and failed to make it into many devices other than HTC's One X range – losing out to Qualcomm in the process.
Nvida is back though, and in the lengthly named Advent Vega Tegra Note 7 it is able to flaunt its latest processor to the world, the Tegra 4.
The Tegra Note 7 has just been updated to a near-vanilla Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, with the only tweaks being to accommodate extra functionality to the stylus and couple of other minor tweaks. There's Android 4.4 KitKat promised by Nvidia, but when this will materialise no one is yet sure.
The Advent Vega Tegra Note 7 comes in at a solid 320g, a whole 30g more than the latest Nexus 7, though 50g lighter than Tesco's Hudl.
It would be stupid to call it heavy, but it feels weighty enough to avoid feeling cheap. Dimensions clock at 120 x 190 x 9.4mm, making it less tall but thicker than both the Nexus or the iPad Mini 2.
Up front the Tegra Note 7 is a pretty standard tablet affair. There are no special design flares and it's a relatively unmistakable black slab in comparison to more premium affairs from Apple and Samsung.
One thing that Asus could take notice of for their next Nexus tablet, however, are the stereo front-facing speakers driven by Nvidia PureAudio. In landscape mode they're positioned either side of the screen in a configuration most similar to HTC's award-winning One smartphone.
They're not bad speakers either, and though they're not going to give you cinema-rivalling performance, they're clear enough to make watching YouTube clips far more enjoyable than the mono or rear-positioned speakers that so many other manufacturers seem comfortable with. To the left (in landscape) there's a front-facing camera with VGA resolution and an auto-brightness sensor.
The Tegra Note 7 takes design cues from the original Nexus 7 on the rear of the tablet, with the middle portion given a tactile feel thanks to dimpled finish. In the centre there's the embossed Tegra Note logo, while above and below this band of rubber you'll find the relatively understated Advent Vega branding.
Also on the rear you'll find a 5MP camera, that unfortunately omits any form of flash, and is positioned rather too close to the power button for my liking. This positioning means you'll often end up applying smudges to the camera when fumbling for the power button, which of course can inhibit camera performance.
Connectivity mostly resides on the left or top edge of the tablet, depending which way you hold it, with a micro-USB port for charging, a micro-HDMI port for HD video output and a 3.5mm jack for audio. Alongside these connections you'll find the power/wake button which is raised to just the right degree to make it easy to find.
The other side harbours a single-bar volume rocker that is a reasonable size, but suffers the same affliction as all single-button volume controls in that locating direction of the volume in the dark can sometimes be a little awkward.
Alongside the volume bar is the very welcome addition of a micro-SD memory card slot. It's worth mentioning at this point that when Nvidia updated the Tegra Note 7 to Android 4.3, it also furthered the flexibility of the micro-SD card support, by allowing apps to be installed to the SD.
Finally the right/bottom edge is where you'll find the stylus residing, but more on this later. There's also a grille that allows further sound output as well as being home to the Note's microphone.
Delve in to the internal specifications of the Note, and there's almost nothing to let down the side. The quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 processor is clocked at a respectable 1.8GHz, only a 100mhz drop from the chip found in the Shield.
The processor is coupled with 1GB of RAM and a 72-core graphics processor which Nvidia claims to be the most powerful tablet GPU on the market, and judging by its gaming and benchmark performance, there's little to oppose this other than perhaps the new iPad Air.
For storage, there's only one option available with 16GB built in, which is actually pretty respectable when you consider a lot of the budget Android tablets will hope you'll make do with only 4 or 8GB of storage, though we'd have welcomed more options.
The micro-SD card slot will afford you another 32GB, so you shouldn't be too pushed for space, even if you're loading up on games.
Everyone's been spoilt with the full-HD (and higher) screens that other new tablets have launched with, and while the Tegra Note 7's screen is far from awful, the 1280 x 800 LCD display makes pixels more noticeable than ever at 215ppi.
Most will likely be more than content with the quality of the screen, especially considering the current price of the Tegra Note 7, the excellent viewing angle and bright and punchy colours thanks to IPS technology.
There's a small gap between screen and the glass, so you don't quite get the painted-on effect that some other tablets have achieved, which could have made using the stylus an even better experience.
Battery capacity comes in at a respectable 4100mAh, that allows the Note to muster a reported 10-hour battery life that I'll confirm (or deny) later in the review.
Interface and performance
If the idea of an unaltered version of Android such as that found on the Nexus devices appeals to you, then the Note delivers a mostly pure version – apart from a few extra features that cater for the stylus, and these don't get in the way.
So you've got seven homescreens - up from the five that stock Android delivers. Of course, you can add anything to these screens in the form of widgets or icons, or indeed replace them with your own launcher of choice without any rooting or modifying required - such is the nature of Android.
Included widgets don't stray far from the stock selection, with the pre-installed addition of a TegraZone widget the only extra to be found. I loaded the primary home screen up with a selection of widgets including weather, music, bookmarks and of course a nice large clock.
Nearly all the widgets can be re-sized to suit a layout of your own tastes, and ultimately good use of them will save a little time here and there to get a wide gamut of information by glancing at just one page.
Apart from the TegraZone widget, Nvidia has also made room for the TegraZone icon in the application launcher at the foot of the screen.
TegraZone is the hub of content optimised for Nvidia's processors which now has a wide range of games under its belt. There's also relevant news and videos about supported content that makes you feel that little bit more special as the owner of a Tegra-based tablet.
As with any other recent Android device, the design is thoroughly modern and has quite rightly earned its place alongside iOS as the cream of the mobile crop. Everything is very intuitive, easy to navigate and doesn't come across as childish or garish in any way.
The two menu bars that can be pulled down from either side of the top of the screen. Pull from the left and you'll get access to any awaiting notifications such as email, social media or application updates.
They can be cleared individually with a straightforward swipe, or all cleared by the icon at the top of the bar.
Pull down from the right of the screen and you'll have access to a variety of quick-settings including brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a shortcut to the main settings page.
Nvidia has included extra toggles for 'Balance' which allow you to adjust the automatic screen brightness settings, and another to adjust wireless display resolution using an on-screen slider that gives you low, medium or high quality options.
The wireless display option is an extra Nvidia have incorporated to make use of Miracast-compatible wireless displays. There are options from Samsung, LG and Sony among others, and while some require an extra dongle to get the Wi-Fi streaming tech working, it's a great little extra for gamers or media junkies.
The next addition to mention is a power saving option that allows the Tegra 4 to stay in control of battery-saving features to help eke out as much battery life as possible. They've divided performance in to the three categories of 'save battery', 'balance' and 'maximise performance'
If you're planning on playing plenty of games or just want to get the most of your tablet, then you'll likely stick with the latter, but if you're more content browsing or accessing social media, then dropping things down a peg or two will definitely afford you some extra running time.
The last noticeable addition in the settings is a sub-menu for controller settings. If you're planning using a Bluetooth controller for gaming, it's a handy little extra to have onboard.
Android mainstays that have had no other adjustments include the very responsive keyboard, which as we're running Android 4.3 here has a gesture-based typing mode similar to that which Swype first pioneered. Of course, if you're not a fan, as with so many other aspects of Android, it's easy enough to get a new one from the Play Store.
A long press on the homescreen will allow you to choose from a selection of Wallpapers, which Nvidia has added to - and some nice ones at that. Alternatively you can choose live wallpapers which will impress Android virgins, but ultimately will kill the tablet's life a little quicker.
As far as performance goes, the Note seems to fly along at break-neck speed whatever it's tasked with. Swiping between homescreens or ducking in and out of the app drawer happens without a stutter or a flinch, and it copes with a host of applications running simultaneously without a hitch.
I tried to get it to suffer by opening 15 or more apps at a time, but the power of that Tegra 4 processor was still able to handle apps and games without a sweat – and didn't ever feel particularly warm either.
It's nothing short of an impressive feat for a tablet in this price range to feel so incredibly smooth in operation, putting it on level pegging with the Nexus devices and even iPads that are considerably more expensive.
Stylus and browser
With the Vega Tegra Note 7, Nvidia has unashamedly stolen the 'Note' branding from Samsung's range of stylus-happy devices, and like those the Tegra Note shares much of the same functionality – and in some aspects, does it better.
If you'd considered using a stylus on a tablet a few short years ago, the likelihood would have been that you'd just purchased a cheap tablet with a resistive screen that didn't handle touch input particularly well, or that your capacitive-screened tablet just wasn't very responsive to finger touches. Move on to 2013, and styluses are making a comeback, thanks entirely to the aforementioned range from Samsung.
Nvidia cannot be accused of chucking in a stylus just to imitate Samsung's success. It's implemented the stylus in a totally different way to the Korean giant that is called Nvidia DirectStylus, and claim that in the process it's made something more responsive.
The Stylus itself is relatively compact, but close enough to the thickness of a pencil to hold comfortably. At one end it has a chisel-shaped tip like that you'd find on a highlighting pen, which makes producing different-sized strokes a lot easier.
On the other end, you'll find a round stylus nub more similar to off-the-shelf styluses you can buy. When not in use, the stylus slips into a slot on the back of the tablet, and has a few ridges protruding to help make removing it easier.
Unlike Samsung, the Note's stylus is passive, in that it doesn't require any power itself; because of this you can use the stylus on any other capacitive touchscreen device. What you won't get on any other device, however, is such precise response, and you certainly won't be able to mimic the different touch sizes that the chiselled tip affords on the Note.
Nvidia has included a drawing and a handwriting app, but there's little else to highlight DirectStylus. Unlike other manufacturers, the inclusion of a stylus doesn't feel like a necessity to make the most of the tablet experience, but if you do decide to make use of it, you won't feel let down.
The included Tegra Draw app is a relatively capable drawing app that allows you to change the colour, thickness and intensity of stylus interactions, add different layers, erase aspects of your image and of course save it all when your masterpiece is complete.
Pull out the stylus and you are greeted with a popup that asks whether you'd like to jump to the drawing or writing apps, and two more buttons will appear alongside the home button at the foot of the screen. One is to enable 'stylus mode', which means that finger touches are almost entirely ignored.
The other icon brings up a set of tools that Samsung Galaxy Note users will find familiar. These tools allow you to write directly on the screen while in almost any application, select hand-drawn areas of the screen and save them for later or share them via the social media app of your choice. If you're the type of person to keep a scrap-book, then this feature will come in very handy indeed.
The DirectStylus settings allow for palm exclusion, and there's settings to adjust the pen-to-touch delay as well as showing an onscreen cursor, all of which helps the stylus feel like a full-blown feature rather than an afterthought.
With the recent 4.3 update, a couple of other extras were added to further improve stylus support, chief of which is an option for a left-handed mode, so any south-paws out there will get the best of the stylus support and palm recognition.
The update also brings with it a notification when you remove the stylus that will remind you that the stylus has been removed – just in case you put it down.
Google are desperately trying to get partners to ditch the stock Android browser in favour of Google Chrome, which does then beg the question of why the stock Android browser is even still required. The latest Nexus does away with the stock browser, and with it goes any future Adobe Flash support.
The Tegra Note 7 gives you the choice of stock browser or Chrome, which considering that the Note doesn't have any native Flash support either, seems a bit of an odd decision.
Both browsers can synchronise with your Google-saved bookmarks, handle multiple simultaneous tabbed pages, search from the address bar and are capable of displaying pages built upon HTML 5 – tipped to fully replace Flash in most instances.
Past this confusion of twin browsers, the Tegra Note 7 makes for a good web device – with the limitation in resolution compared to rivals the only thing to detract from the experience,especially in portrait mode.
Due to the speedy quad-core processor, loading webpages feels incredibly fast. As we like to routinely survey our handiwork on this site, I used the full desktop-view of the Techradar homepage to perform a speed-test of the browsers.
In the stock browser, the webpage was loaded and ready to use in under three seconds, with all the extra addons and adverts being loaded in under 10 seconds.
Chrome felt equally snappy, if not more so, and loaded everything nicely while keeping the content in proportion throughout loading.
If anything I felt my wireless was probably the weak link in the chain, as despite having a connection of 60mbit, the wireless Super-hub's Wi-Fi speeds are notoriously poor.
So, after settling in at a friend's abode and fluttering my eyelashes for a password, I tested the Tegra Note 7 out on a speedy BT fibre connection, and found that loading times were marginally snappier still, with every aspect of the TechRadar homepage being loaded in around eight seconds in both browsers.
When looking at pages zoomed out in the full page view, text is still very readable but a little soft, which will likely lead to you zooming in a little to click links or read text more comfortably.
It's purely down to the limitation of the screen's resolution, and were it not for full-HD screens on sub-5-inch smartphones, I likely wouldn't be quite as fussy. If you're coming from a phone with a 720p resolution or less, then it's likely to be less noticeable.
Tap-to-zoom works very quickly, and pages respond quickly to pinches and zooms, though pages don't always re-organise text to fit to the screen, meaning you might have to swipe around a site to read the entirety of a story.
Overall the browsing experience was very pleasant on the seven-inch screen of the Tegra Note, and despite the lower-resolution browsing compared to experiences you'll find on the new iPad Mini or Nexus 7, the speed of this contender helps it keep up admirably.
Movies, music, books and apps
As with any other tablet, you'll be consuming a whole lot more media than you will be creating, and for this the Tegra Note actually strikes a nice balance in weight and size, while the stereo front-facing speakers give a wide, if not deafening experience that was slightly louder than those on my HTC one, though not quite as good quality. If you've got the compatible technology, then making use of the Miracast wireless streaming can provide a cinematic alternative – giving it a leg-up on the Nexus 7.
HD movies look great on the screen, and thanks to the wide viewing angles of the IPS screen, even friends can comfortably share in watching videos on the tablet, and because of the tactile rubberised rear, the Note doesn't feel like it'd get tiring to hold for extended periods of time.
Movies and photos are viewable through the standard Android gallery app, which is straightforward to navigate, but a little on the boring side compared to some of updated galleries you'll find on HTC and Samsung devices. There's no built in music player as an alternative to Google Music – which is no bad thing, as Google Music itself is a fantastic app and plays music stored locally or in Google's cloud without issue.
Nvidia hasn't attempted to gain any share in profits from music, movies, TV, books and magazines with the Note, instead leaving those duties for Google Play to attend to - and with ease it does. There's now an impressive array of content available from Google, that can be purchased with great ease thanks to the way your Google ID is so well integrated in to Android.
I tried searching for some more unusual artists in Google Music, and was able to purchase some toe-tapping modern Bluegrass I didn't expect to find for £7.49. TV episodes for the big stuff like Game of Thrones will set you back £1.89 an episode, while movies can be had from as little as £0.99 for a rental, or £3.49 for a purchase; with more than you'll find on Amazon's 7" Kindle Fire HDX, and only a little less choice than on iTunes.
Music quality is excellent through headphones – I tried a variety of headphones including a set of Monster NCredible NTune on-ear headphones, a set of Pioneer in-ear headphones and a set of Sony Bluetooth headphones. I never heard any unwanted background noise or hissing through any music source, and while the sound is not quite as rich as that from my HTC One, it was better than other tablets I've tried.
As I mentioned earlier, the speakers are actually pretty impressive compared to most tablets, and surpasses any other seven-inch tablet with proper stereo speakers that can go pretty loud, and retain a decent amount of depth to the sound without sounding painfully tinny.
Where books and magazines are concerned, it's no Amazon, and again falls short a little to Apple's own Newsstand, but the variety caters for all the top sellers and major publications.
So with most of the major boxes ticked for media availability in one Googly package, It does make you wonder why some manufacturers insist on confusing things with their own (often mediocre) content portals. Thankfully, Nvidia is far more concerned with trying to get you gaming on your tablet without attempting any half-baked competitor to Google Play.
Apps and games
At your service once again, the Tegra Note's apps come exclusively from the Play Store. Even their own TegraZone will divert you back out to Google's store for Tegra-optimised titles. If nothing else, this is further testament that apps and games are no longer falling short of Apple's iOS App Store.
There's still quite an abundance of poorer quality apps, and tablet support is still not hugely uniform (a legacy of Google's lax approach to app quality control), but fortunately you should find all the apps you'd ever need. Of course if you choose, you can always sideload apps from alternative app stores, but there's rarely an app these days that isn't available, or widely catered for by a third-party alternative.
With Nvidia's gaming heritage, I was expecting top-notch gaming performance, as has already been proven by the Nvidia Shield. Without fault, the Tegra 4 processor does a class-leading job in delivering top graphics performance along with exclusive visual extras over non-Tegra devices with no notable slow-down or graphical glitches.
Apart from the stylus and TegraZone, the other most obvious adjustment to Android on this tablet comes in the form of a replacement camera app. The stock Android app can't claim to be among the best, despite serving its brief, so Nvidia made the canny decision to replace it with Camera Awesome from SmugMug, available to other Android users at a £1.87 premium.
Camera Awesome brings with it a slick, tablet-friendly interface that includes a variety of modes including burst, panorama and HDR. These are all accessed from a tab just above the shutter button, while ISO, white balance, grid options and a gyroscopic alignment tool are all available without having to dive in to a single menu.
Along with plenty of settings that any discerning, albeit slightly bizarre looking tablet photographer would ever require, Camera Awesome also caters for the Instagram army with an abundance of filters, frames and textures to apply to your photos.
So now you may be wondering how that 5MP sensor actually performs, and the results as far as a tablet goes are pretty mixed. In good lighting results are acceptable and manage to avoid being overly noisy, though zoom further in and you'll see plenty of image processing going on.
Even indoors, pictures come out pretty well without a huge amount of ISO noise, but unfortunately detail starts to deteriorate pretty quickly. Without any LED Flash, taking pictures in complete darkness is out of the question.
Colours come out a little cold, and motion quickly gets blurry, but for a quick tablet snapper, things could be a lot worse here.
Video tops out at 720p and again manages to verge on the side of acceptable. Motion was handled happily and colours come out vivid, despite the overall picture lacking in contrast.
For selfies, the front-facing camera is verging on embarrassing. It's as if it's been fished from the bin of smartphone parts from pre-2009, and its VGA resolution and over-processing from Camera Awesome make it pretty useless for anything other than Google Hangouts or Skype.
The 4.3 update brought an always-on HDR mode to the Note's rear camera, and it did appear to improve shots, particularly in lower light, and though not everyone will appreciate the vivid, somewhat unrealistic, colours HDR can bring, it's done real harm to the camera quality, and Nvidia claim it to be greatly improved.
Battery life and benchmarking
Battery life is still a big concern for many when they're considering buying any form of mobile device, and even with budget devices users still expect a reasonable amount of usage before reaching for the charger.
The Advent Vega Tegra Note 7 includes a sealed 4100mAh battery that is around the maximum size you'd expect to be crammed in to a 7-inch frame.
It's slightly larger than the latest Nexus 7, which appeared to be a very frugal device in our recent review, but considerably less than the larger iPad Mini 2 which comes with a whopping 6471mAh dual-cell battery.
Of course it's tricky to compare different devices, with different chipsets and even different operating systems, but in real-world use the Tegra Note 7 performed well, but not excellently when in maximum performance mode.
The Tegra 4 consists of 5 ARM Cortex A15 cores, four for full performance and an 'energy saver' core that kicks in when in low power or idling mode. The main four cores run at 1.8GHz, while the shadow core runs at just 696mHz so as to enable it to sip frugally at the Note 7's battery.
Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there's a very useful tool Nvidia has built in to Android's settings to adjust the tablet's performance which will no doubt help you get every drop out of the tablet, or run it at full-throttle speed to fly through the latest graphically intense games.
Using it as my main device for the day, I spent time checking social media, sending and receiving emails from two separate accounts, used Google Maps and enabled the inbuilt GPS on my commute to and from work, browsed the web for around half an hour and let all the background services synchronise freely.
By 6pm the battery had dropped to 58%, from where I then put the tablet through our 90 minute HD video test – played with the screen at full brightness. Once the video had finished, the Note was down to 35%, a loss of 23% comparing well to the LG G Pad 8.3 which lost 30%, and not far off the Tesco Hudl which dropped 21% during the same test.
I never felt that the Tegra Note 7 was ready to die on me at any point, even after running some intensive benchmarks there was still plenty of life to be had, leading me to believe the claimed 10-hour figure.
To best understand how this particular tablet stacks up I ran a series of benchmarks to get an idea of just how fast this Tegra 4 chip really is.
Antutu tests a range of tests designed to stress the processor, graphics, memory and other factors to tally up a score of 35250 that for the Tegra Note, puts it just ahead of the Galaxy Note 3, which is driven by a fast Snapdragon 800 from Qualcomm.
It also easily beat the Nexus 7, but don't let that fool you in to thinking the Google tablet isn't anything other incredibly responsive.
Next up, Geekbench came in with a score of 932 in the single-core CPU test and 2455 in the multi-core test, to peg it alongside similar scores achieved by the 2014 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
Overall the Tegra Note 7 performed remarkably well across all benchmarks for such an inexpensive tablet, easily matching scores of competitors that are up to three times pricier.
Hands on gallery
There's an awful lot to like about the Advent Vega Tegra Note 7, with no huge disappointments to be found. Nvidia has done well with its first tablet, and partner Advent should be very happy to have its branding emblazoned upon it.
It might not have an external finish quite up to the premium feel of an iPad, or the new Nexus 7, but that's not to say it isn't a real competitor to those two. With an Android experience almost as good as Google's own, an abundance of power to keep the experience smooth and the addition of the stylus, the Tegra Note 7 is pushing well above its weight.
The Tegra Note 7 is very good value for money. The stylus is implemented amazingly well and feels incredibly responsive for a tablet so much cheaper than any Samsung rivals. It'd be a great note taker and makes things all the more appealing to creative types, or those that just fancy the tactile feeling of a pen rather than finger-jabbing.
It's an incredibly fast tablet – I didn't find an app or benchmark that it didn't fly through. Gaming particularly shines on the Tegra 4 processor, with games optimised for Nvidia's processing being especially impressive.
The screen is vivid and bright with great viewing angles, and sound is better than any other 7-inch tablet I've seen so far thanks to the stereo speakers.
Despite not being the absolute latest version of Android, Nvidia has tinkered to just the right degree – adding some nice little extras to make sense of the stylus, allow for wireless video streaming and control tablet performance.
Don't let the price tag and array of features entirely blind you. There are tablets out there with a better design. Other than the hint of rubber on the rear, the Tegra Note 7 can only be described as solid and doesn't win any awards for design innovation.
The only let-down when coming from a world laden with 1080p smartphone screens, is that the screen feels a little low resolution at times. Yes, the 720p screen is miles away from being bad, but when compared to full-HD rivals such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini Retina, the soft text and jagged edges become more apparent.
It's a little bit of a shame not to find more options available with more built-in storage, or any models with LTE included, and is something I'd like to see in a second-generation Tegra Note.
If you thought Google had mastered everything in its own Nexus tablets then think again. Nvidia has pushed the design brief beyond a typical budget Android tablet and shown that power, flexibility and a great Android experience can be had for a price that makes it accessible to everyone.
Like the thought of the 8-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, but want better speakers, more power and a stylus to boot? This should without doubt be on your tablet short-list.
Still not convinced by Android? Then the latest iPad Mini is probably your best alternative, but alongside the much cheaper Tegra Note 7, it's really only the design that could possibly swing you.