Tesco Hudl £119
26th Nov 2013 | 14:23
The Hudl is a bit of a revelation, but only the price will wow you
Introduction and features
It took a while for Android tablets to really take off, but the combination of a solid OS and capable-yet-cheap hardware has led to success for the Google Nexus 7, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and others.
Now this Tesco tablet, the Hudl, has arrived with its very own budget Android 4.2.2 OS, and it's threatening to undermine them all.
At a cost of just £119, the Tesco Hudl is a good £80 cheaper than the second generation Nexus 7. What's more, with a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, a 7-inch HD display and near-as-damnit stock Android Jelly Bean, it would appear to be a close match for Google's pace-setting compact tablet.
The Hudl is a pretty solid device in the hand, too. Despite its 'Tesco Value range' pricing, its build quality feels very much in the same class as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, with a similar chunky plastic front and rubberised back design.
That's not to say it's particularly stylish, with its slightly bulging sides and shiny plastic edging ensuring that it won't be taking on the new Nexus 7 in the desirability stakes, let alone the iPad mini.
It also feels rather heavy in the hands. At 370g the Hudl sits squarely in between the aforementioned Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD, but its slightly cheaper looks and bargain price made us expect something a little lighter. It's not particularly a criticism - just an observation.
Interestingly, Tesco has designed the Hudl to be used primarily in landscape view, which is fairly uncommon for a 7-inch tablet. We can understand it though - web browsing, watching movies and playing games are all predominantly landscape activities.
The Hudl's landscape bias can be seen in the positioning of the front camera smack bang in the middle of the bezel along one of its longer sides, as well as in the location of its main hardware buttons.
These are rather unusually situated along one of the device's shorter edges - the top right, when it's aligned in landscape according to the front-camera and the embedded plastic Hudl insignia on the back.
This little design feature is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it does prove easy to wake the device and adjust the volume whilst using it in landscape view.
However, use the Hudl in portrait view, which you'll still do an awful lot when picking it up for a quick email or web check, and it proves very tricky to locate these keys. It requires a complete rewiring of your tablet-brain.
Of course, this should prove much easier to adjust to for the first-time tablet owners at which the Tesco Hudl is aimed. The keys themselves are plastic but solid and pleasantly clicky.
That's it for hardware buttons. Tesco has followed the lead of its aforementioned rivals in omitting a physical home button in favour of utilising Android's built-in context-sensitive software controls.
At most stages of the interface, you'll be able to backup, go back to the home screen, or bring up the multi-tasking menu with these three controls.
It lacks the go-to immediacy of, say, the iPad mini's Home button, but it's unobtrusive and simple enough to use once you're accustomed to it.
Other hardware features include a microUSB charger along the Hudl's intended bottom edge and a welcome microSD card slot along the right hand side, below the volume button.
Added to the standard 16GB of internal storage (we would have expected 8GB in such a cheap tablet), the potential for up to 32GB of memory expansion bodes well for the Hudl as a long-serving multimedia servant.
As does the welcome addition of a Micro-HDMI port on the top edge. This means that you can easily hook up the Hudl to your TV - a feature that Tesco clearly included in order to push its Blinkbox service into your living room. More on that later.
It's a shame, then, that there's no Micro-HDMI cable included in the Hudl box, but this is a fairly easy and inexpensive addition to make. Besides, watching such video content directly on the Hudl isn't the chore you might be expecting.
The Hudl's is far from the best 7-inch display we've ever seen, and it doesn't hold a candle to the latest Nexus 7's 1920 x 1200 screen. But it still comes in at a respectable 1440 x 900 resolution, which is a good bit sharper than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, and is even ahead of last year's Google Nexus 7.
The Hudl produces a solid 242ppi, which isn't far short of the full-sized iPad 4 in terms of pure pixel density. Of course, colour reproduction isn't nearly as good as Apple's standard-setting tablet range, nor is it up to the latest Nexus 7 or the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
Images just don't quite pop as they do on more premium equivalents, and the white balance is truly awful at times. Compare a website to a top-end tablet or smartphone and you'll see a distinctly yellowish tinge to the Hudl's efforts at rendering whites.
Interface and performance
With Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean powering it, the Tesco Hudl can't claim to be on the very latest version of Google's ubiquitous mobile OS, but it's still pretty current.
Besides its lack of fundamental improvements, we're not inclined to complain at the lack of Android 4.3 here for one very good reason. The Hudl is one of very few non-Nexus tablets to run on (almost) stock Android.
But for one incredibly minor interface tweak and some additional Tesco themed widgets (which can be removed), this is Android as Google envisaged it, which instantly gives it a usability advantage over rival offerings from Samsung, Acer, and Amazon.
We've discussed the Android OS in depth on numerous occasions, including our Nexus 7 review, so let's provide a brief recap. Android in 2013 is a thoroughly modern mobile operating system that deserves its place alongside iOS at the very top of the market.
It's slick, intuitive, reliable, stylish without being garish (hello, iOS 7) and eminently customisable. The latter is especially evident in Android's deployment of widgets.
These expanded (and resizable) app icons contain real time information related to their apps, so you can skim your latest emails, appointments or notes (to name but three of Google's own examples) directly from any of the five homescreens.
If you've only ever used pure Android on a smartphone before then you'll find that there are now two menu bars you can pull down from the top of the screen. Start from the top left and you'll get your usual notification tray, which populates with emails, app update notifications, Google Now card information and more in real time. These can be dismissed with a simple swipe.
Pull down from the top right, however, and you'll get a settings shortcut menu containing toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen brightness and the like. On smartphones this requires an additional press from the notification menu, so it's a welcome use of the extra screen space here.
The only minor way in which Tesco has tinkered with the fabric of this Android 4.2.2 interface, as hinted at above, is by adding a dedicated Tesco button at the bottom left of the screen, adjacent to the virtual back-up button.
This simply opens up an light app containing shortcuts to a number of Tesco services. From here you can shop for groceries, search for recipes, check your Clubcard status, jump to your Blinkbox movie or music account, access your Tesco Bank account and more.
There are also a couple of widgets spread across the homescreens that grant even more direct access to your Blinkbox Movies and Blinkbox Music accounts, both of which we'll discuss later.
There are also dedicated widgets for your Clubcard account, Tesco's online shopping facility and the Tesco direct catalogue service - which smartly pushes Hudl accessories to the fore.
In truth, none of this is anything you couldn't easily do on any other tablet you care to mention through Tesco's assorted apps and mobile-optimised web pages. It's certainly not as extensive as Amazon's complete remoulding of the Android experience with the Kindle Fire HD, that's for sure.
But then, Tesco's digital ecosystem isn't quite as extensive or as central to its business as Amazon's, and the Hudl is far nicer to use as a general tablet. Ultimately, if you are someone who uses Tesco extensively, then the Hudl will be a more convenient - if not essential - tablet to use than its rivals.
Of more note is Tesco's 123 Getting started app, which is a brilliantly laid out tutorial app. Here more than anywhere else, Tesco demonstrates its intention with the Hudl to reach the three quarters of the UK who don't have a tablet.
Covering such topics as 'Hudl basics,' 'Child safety,' and 'Essential apps' in a commendably straight-forward and informative manner, this is a great way to instruct first time users in the occasionally opaque ways of the Android OS.
Despite Tesco's admirably restrained decision to stay hands-off with the Android OS, that's not to say that this is a wholly smooth experience. Though it runs on an impressive-sounding 1.5GHz quad-core processor backed by an adequate 1GB of RAM, this isn't the smoothest Android experience we've had.
General navigation and web browsing is reasonable enough, but there are frequent moments when navigating through the homescreen menus or in between apps feels less smooth than it should - especially when there are other processes going on in the background.
Elsewhere you get the dependable default Google keyboard with which to type in all your messages, passwords and Google searches.
It works beautifully, with an uncluttered layout and genuinely useful features like predictive word suggestions and a Swype-like system that lets you scrawl out messages without removing your finger from the screen.
You can, of course, download Swype itself, as well as a number of alternatives, from the Google Play Store, but we didn't find it necessary during our time with the Hudl.
Stock Android OS means Google Chrome for any web browsing needs. Whilst other cheap Android devices persist with including both Chrome and, confusingly, the old pre-Chrome Google internet browser, the Hudl keeps things simple and trims away the fat.
Google Chrome remains one of the best web browsers around. It was one of the first mobile web browsers to simply get out of your way, stripping away most extraneous screen elements and pushing the content to the fore.
Its unified address and search field has been much copied, but it remains a thing of beautiful simplicity.
Just type in what you want, whether it be a search term or a full web address, and Chrome will come up with the appropriate goods.
The tab system, meanwhile, is clear and concise, and allows you to open multiple tabs simultaneously on the Tesco tablet .
It's also relatively easy to keep track of all these open tabs, even on the Hudl's relatively compact screen. Chrome includes a tiny icon for each website on its tab, and you can stack-up or move these tabs by simply swiping or holding and swiping across them respectively.
Once you start scrolling down into the web content itself, the tab bar and search field slide out of view, only returning when you scroll up again. Navigating individual websites is also easy on the Hudl, with the ability to pan and pinch-to-zoom, as well as a nicely executed double-tap to optimise a passage of text for the screen.
Not that you'll need a great deal of zooming, as even small text looks nice and sharp on that HD display.
Web performance on the Hudl isn't the snappiest we've encountered on an Android tablet, but it's comfortably adequate.
Loading up the content-rich TechRadar website took us around 10 to 12 seconds from cold, though we could see most of the homepage content in less than five.
Then of course you get Chrome's cross-platform synching, which means that you get access to all of the bookmarks and search history from your web browsing sessions on other devices, whether that's your computer, iPad or smartphone.
Naturally you don't quite get an optimal web browsing experience on a 7-inch tablet - you'll need a 10-incher for that - but that's no fault of the Hudl's. It's a great little casual web browsing tool.
Movies, music and books
The Tesco Hudl is a fine multimedia all-rounder, benefiting from both the default Google Android ecosystem and Tesco's own recent forays into movies and music.
If you're after a cheap, compact media player, simply being able to access the various Google Play hubs is arguably enough of a reason to consider splashing out £100 or so on a Hudl. Like its operating system and internet browser, Google's media stores are crisp, intuitive, fast-loading and easy on the eye.
The Google Play Store is well stocked with the latest movies and TV shows for purchase or rental at competitive prices. If you already have a Google account through a previous Android device, you probably won't even have to sign up or register a new credit card - just jump in and get watching.
As mentioned already, Tesco is really pushing its Blinkbox movie rental service through its Hudl tablet. The included app is a very appealing image-led affair with chunky buttons and simple drop-down category menus.
Through it you can purchase, rent, and watch films and TV shows, and the selection is pretty strong. There's a lot of overlap with Google's own service, of course, but Blinkbox is worth keeping an eye on for its exclusive content (including Game of Thrones) and Monday 99p deals. You also get Clubcard points when you purchase films.
Speaking of Clubcards, there's also a Clubcard TV app offering here that promises free (though less-than-premium) movies for Clubcard customers. Unfortunately we were unable to test this, as there appeared to be a bug that prevented the app from recognising our Blinkbox account, but we'll be updating the review as it comes back into view.
Playback quality was uniformly strong during our time with the Hudl, whether watching our own DivX files or streaming content over Netflix or Blinkbox. Once again, that sharp screen may not be the most vibrant, but its higher-than-average resolution is a huge plus, with the white balance problem not really rearing its head.
We should take this opportunity to mention the Hudl's twin speaker set-up. Stereo they may be, but they're extremely tinny and lacking in base. If you plan to watch movies on your Hudl you'll need to invest in a decent set of earphones
You'll probably have less of a reason to use the Hudl for music given its odd dimensions, but Google Play Music is there if you need it.
This service covers all of the musical bases, with a reasonably well stocked MP3 music store, the ability to stream your music collection from the cloud to your Hudl (you can upload up to 20,000 tracks for free from your computer), and now a Spotify-like music subscription service called All Access.
It renders Tesco's own Blinkbox Music rather pointless, in truth. Still, at least it's free, giving you themed 'stations' - effectively playlists - based on popular artists or topics. So, for example, there's one titled Australian BBQ containing tracks from Men At Work, Kylie and Pnau.
It's very similar to Nokia's Mix Radio in concept and execution, but with less interesting music selections. There's not a great deal here for fans of less mainstream music, but it'll doubtless go down well with casual listeners.
General music playback quality is just peachy, but a decent set of earphones is even more vital to enjoying music on a Hudl than it is for movies. Those puny speakers don't do any favours to your favourite tracks.
The Hudl may be more of a video player and a web browsing device than an ebook reader, but it's still more than capable of filling that role.
Its Kindle Fire HD-like dimensions make it easy to wield in one hand (though not as easy as the new Nexus 7), and its sharp screen is just perfect for small text.
Once again, the Google Play Store is well stocked with books at competitive prices, which is especially handy as there's no Tesco equivalent here.
We'd also recommend downloading the Kindle app as a matter of priority in order to radically expand your potential library.
As a final note, it was through this Kindle app that we used the Hudl as a comic book reader - a task for which it was very well suited to, and a real budget option to do so.
Apps and games
From pretty humble beginnings, the Google Play Store is now a thriving app store containing more applications than any other. True, the ratio of quality-to-tat isn't as high as Apple's iOS App Store, but that's the price Google has had to pay for being so hands-off with app submissions.
Regardless, most of the major apps are here and waiting to be downloaded onto the Hudl, including Evernote, Pinterest, Netflix, Instagram and Flipboard. All work pretty much flawlessly on Tesco's affordable tablet, too.
Then there are Google's own hugely impressive apps, which either come preinstalled or are free to download. Google Maps, of course, is a peerless navigation app, while Google Keep is a superb note-taking tool.
On the email front you get both the peerless Gmail app and Android's generic email app for non-Google email accounts. Both work identically here to the way they work on virtually every other Android tablet of recent times.
Meanwhile, Google's social network Google+ still feels a little too fiddly and undersubscribed to truly take on Facebook.
However, its tight integration with other Google services should ensure its relevance for a little while yet. It's also got an excellent automatic photo-upload feature that actively enhances your images and magically stitches together potential panoramic shots, though the Hudl really doesn't have the camera hardware to make the most of this.
When it comes to games, the Hudl will run pretty much anything you can throw at it - but it won't necessarily run it well. Our usual test duo of Rayman Jungle Run and Real Racing 3 revealed the good and bad in the device.
The former ran like a dream, with its Disney film-like sprites and animation rendered beautifully on that sharp display. Real Racing 3, on the other hand, looked decent but ran really poorly.
All of the effects were in place, including those advanced mirror-reflection effects, but the frame right was patchy to say the least.
Of course, most Android games don't place such stringent demands on your hardware, so the Hudl is fine for general gaming. Don't expect it to keep pace with the high-end games of 2014 and beyond, though.
Camera and battery life
Undoubtedly the weakest part of the Hudl's hardware is its rear camera. Let's not beat around the bush here - it's awful.
We're not the sorts to place much stock in megapixel count, especially when it comes to mobile and tablet camera. But when we say that the Hudl has a 3.2MP camera, we think you'll understand the kind of level we're talking about here.
Images look washed out and grainy, and any range in lighting conditions within a single scene seems to cause the camera all kinds of problems.
A simple snap of a mushroom growing on a fallen tree in a sun-dappled wood resulted in the mushroom glowing like some kind of luminous jellyfish, while we found that even ideal lighting conditions couldn't rescue images from their flat, lifeless fate.
Of course, we tend to pay less heed to tablet cameras than we do to smartphone cameras, because we still can't quite bring ourselves to accept that people want to use them as their primary snappers.
Sadly, mounting anecdotal evidence culled from numerous public events seems to indicate otherwise. So know this - the Hudl is a fine media player, a decent web surfer, and the perfect shopping companion for all you Tesco-heads. It is NOT a good camera.
The camera interface is sparse and unobtrusive, with a central radial menu accounting for some threadbare settings such as white balance and exposure. There's a grand total of two scene modes - the default Auto and Night.
Video is a similarly drab story. It can be shot at either 480p or 720p, but the result remains the same - blurry, unfocused footage via optics that can't compensate sufficiently for moderate motion or changes in light.
During our test period, a straight-forward leisurely walk along a park path with the sun periodically breaking through the trees was rendered a lurching, nauseating mess interspersed by frequent flashes of light.
The Hudl's battery life is pretty much par for the course for a modern 7-inch Android tablet.
Tesco has claimed nine hours of video battery life, and that seems to be pretty much on the money.
In our standard video stress test, which involves playing a 90 minute-long 720p video with the screen brightness set to full, the Hudl averaged a pretty standard 79 percent battery remaining.
In more practical terms, we were able to get the Hudl through two solid days of moderate use, which included a little web browsing, some light gaming, a number of photos, the downloading of several apps (including two hefty games) and an assortment of brief video tests across Netflix and Blinkbox - all with the screen brightness set to full.
When we did come to charge the device, we found that it took around 40 to 50 minutes to charge 20 percent.
Sample Images and video
The Tesco Hudl matches up nicely against its more expensive brethren in a number of ways - we're talking the new Google Nexus 7 and Android Kindle Fire HDX.
All three of these tablets are affordable for many, and all three are running a version of Android - some more heavily skinned than others.
So which should you plump for?
There's a common theme here: no metal in sight. The Hudl's rubberised rear is impressive given the price as it all feels very well packaged. However, it's the heaviest of the three, coming in at 370g compared to the Nexus' 290g and the Fire's 303g.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX is more angular, and more importantly, lighter, meaning a nicer experience in the hand as well as being easier to take around with you.
However, it's the Google Nexus 7 here that takes the accolade, as it brings excellent size into a strong rubber casing. It's light, the most attractive to use and definitely our pick in terms of portability.
The Tesco Hudl joins the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX with a 7-inch screen, although doesn't quite match up in the resolution stakes.
It only comes with a 1440 x 900 resolution, where Google's offering 1920 x 1200 and Amazon has followed suit. This means smartphone levels of crispness on the Nexus and Fire, while Tesco has gone for only 242 PPI, which is around a third less than its rivals.
It also performs poorly in comparison when it comes to colour rendering, as both Google and Amazon have tooled up their tablets to offer iPad-beating levels of hue rendition.
That said, the Hudl isn't bad - just the screen quality on the competitors is noticeably higher..
Power and storage
The Tesco Hudl comes with a quad-core CPU and 1GB of RAM - this is pretty good for a tablet at this price point, although it feels a little redundant. Quad core processing is only really needed for heavier photo editing or skipping merrily through videos, and while it does pack a multi-core heart, the Hudl doesn't really have the necessary grunt to keep up.
Google and Amazon have gone for higher-power offerings, with the Fire catching the eye particularly thanks to its cutting-edge Snapdragon 800 chipset. Both of these tablets have 2GB of RAM and while the Fire is the more potent of the two, we're much happier running higher-power apps on them both.
However, these Amazon and Google options are both limited by their internal storage - you can get them in 16GB variants for the lowest price, but there's no expansion slot should you want more space.
The Hudl comes with a slot for a memory card to supplement the 16GB onboard, so if you want to have all your movies and music on a separate place, allowing you to fill up the tablet with high-res apps, you can do just that.
Price and verdict
The Tesco Hudl is the clear winner on price, coming in at £119 (and possibly cheaper if you're a Clubcard warrior) compared to the £199 entry price of its competition.
That said, there are trade offs being made: the tablet is a fair bit heavier outside of the case, the screen quality is lower and the Android experience is a little tainted by Tesco's apps.
The Kindle Fire HDX has a similar Android issue, in that the parent company has skinned it to within an inch of its life - however, this is so deep that it's designed for ease of use for the new tablet buyer, which Tesco's option isn't as adept at.
The Nexus 7 is our pick though: sure, it's £199, but for the brilliant screen alone it's pretty much worth it. It has the widest access to apps, the sleekest design and you know that it will be first in line for software updates - although that may not matter to some looking to pick up the Hudl.
The Kindle Fire HDX is an excellent choice if you're looking to buy for a more technophobic user, or someone who doesn't care about new software or the latest apps. It will stay chugging along impressively throughout its lifetime, and the great screen makes us go weak at the knees when viewing some pics.
If you're agnostic on tablet, go for the Nexus 7. However, if you're on something of a budget and want to buy a tablet for someone to use idly on the sofa, browsing the web fairly swiftly and watching the odd video or YouTube clip, then the Hudl manages to succeed in so many ways - and at the price point, it's excellent.
Hands on photos
When stacked up spec-for-spec against the new Google Nexus 7, the Tesco Hudl loses out in almost every respect. But really, that's not a fair comparison.
With a £120 price tag Tesco is competing in a category that's typically populated by cheap and not-so-cheerful knock-offs and massively compromised also-rans. When viewed in that light, the Hudl is a bit of a revelation, with solid build quality and respectable performance across the board.
What's more, with stock Android 4.2.2 included alongside ample storage potential and a surprisingly sharp 1440 x 900 7-inch display, we'd argue that the Hudl is a more compelling package than the more-expensive Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
If you can stretch to £200, we'd still recommend the Google Nexus 7 as the best pound-for-pound tablet on the market. If you're looking at spending closer to half that, though, we can't see any compact tablet out there that tops the Hudl.
The Tesco Hudl is well specced given its low price point, with a solid construction and a decent 7-inch display.
Stock Android is still rare enough that it's worthy of mention here as a stand-out feature, with Tesco wisely keeping its tinkering to a minimum.
This is a well connected device too, with microSD and Micro-HDMI slots adding expansion and connectivity options that you don't always get in compact tablets.
The Hudl may have an ostensibly fast quad-core CPU, but it doesn't always show in general performance. Intensive apps and games, too, can make it chug a little.
In addition, the Hudl's 3.2MP camera is so poor it almost wasn't worth including, and the tablet's defining Tesco modifications aren't sufficient to differentiate it from rival devices.
Despite being a decent tablet, we have to come back to the fact that £80 more buys you a far superior tablet in the Nexus 7 - things like white balance, resolution and design still matter to a lot of people if they're going to be using the tablet regularly.
If you're looking to jump aboard the tablet bandwagon but have been put off by the prohibitive cost of trusted brands at one end and the questionable pedigree at the other, the Hudl is the perfect device for you.
At £120 it's a fair bit cheaper than the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, yet we think it's a more complete tablet overall thanks largely to the presence of stock Android.
You'll get some surprisingly accomplished components for your money, including a decent HD display and decent storage, while even some occasionally underwhelming performance and an atrocious camera can't erode its bargain status.
A great tablet from Tesco for the price - and that's what it is: a tablet that doesn't wow until you see the ridiculously low price tag. We can see this being under many a tree this Christmas, and we doubt there will be many disappointed faces.