Fit and finish matter. The new Nvidia Tegra Note 7 delivers impressive features for a £180 tablet, with its Tegra 4 processor, throaty speakers, and simulated pressure-sensitive stylus support. On the other hand, this slate’s build quality and camera are both pretty awful. I'm not going to say don't buy it – it has other merits – but you should know what you're getting into. For most people, the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 are better bets as small tablets.
The Tegra Note 7 is made by Nvidia and branded by Advent Vega in the UK, and graphics firm EVGA over in the US (the images in this review are of the US version, as you’ll see from the EVGA logo). The tablet is exactly the same either way, for good or bad – and it’s certainly bad when it comes to the build quality.
This slate is fashioned from cheap and mismatched-looking plastics, and it has a display which really isn’t very bright. If you hold the Note 7 next to Google’s Nexus 7, you can easily tell it's dimmer. It looks and feels like a cheap Chinese tablet, which is strongly underselling the power within.
Nvidia sent me two units. The first one had a defective touchscreen. The second had a confusing perfectly rectangular USB port, which led me to keep trying to jam the microUSB cable in upside down. Underscoring the cheap-parts feel, the included AC adapter doesn't have the usual holes in the prongs and also worried me concerning its quality and reliability.
At 120 x 9 x 200mm (WxDxH) and 320 grams, the Tegra Note 7 is noticeably heavier than the Nexus 7 which weighs 290 grams. It's certainly manageable in one hand. The screen is surrounded by a thick bezel and flanked by large speakers at the top and bottom. A bundled rubbery-tipped stylus fits into a slot on the side.
The tablet has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and its speeds compared decently with the Nexus 7. Bluetooth 4.0 LE and GPS are also on board. There's a 3.5mm headset jack and a front-facing microphone for video chat.
Battery life was quite good at 7 hours and 46 minutes of continuous video playback with the screen turned to maximum brightness. That's a few minutes more than the Nexus 7.
Performance and OS
The Tegra Note 7 is Nvidia's Nexus: It uses, or at least tries to use, all the features in Nvidia's Tegra 4 chipset that manufacturers have ignored. Most notably, there's DirectStylus – which is Nvidia's emulation of pressure-sensitive stylus support – along with always-on HDR photography, controller support, and virtual surround sound.
The Tegra 4 is a powerful processor, that's for sure. When paired with a low-res screen like this 1,280 x 800 panel, it can pump rich visual effects at high frame rates without a problem. The 1.9GHz chip scored 34,365 on the Antutu system benchmark, which is on a par with the latest 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 devices, and it pushed close to 60 frames per second both in the GFXBench and Epic Citadel gaming tests.
Gaming was further enhanced by the Tegra Note's two front-facing speakers and side-mounted special bass port. Game sounds were louder and sharper than on most other devices.
But the tablet's other flagship features aren't as impressive. The Tegra Note 7 runs a mostly unmolested version of Android 4.2.2. Pull out the chisel-tipped stylus, though, and you’ll see a small customisation: A window pops up letting you pick the Tegra Draw or Tegra Write stylus-friendly apps.
Nvidia's DirectStylus technology prioritises touch input and uses some GPU magic to let you draw on the screen with no lag. The stylus is very accurate, and much better than you'd expect. Palm rejection isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.
The company is working with drawing application providers to make their apps more compatible with the Tegra Note. I found that Tegra Draw and ArtFlow Studio worked; Drawing Pad and Sketchbook Pro didn't. Nvidia sent along a list of nine other apps supporting pressure, including Photoshop Touch, Zen Brush, and Infinite Painter, and the company said a fix would be pushed to make Drawing Pad work. Nvidia certainly seems concerned about getting this operating properly. All in all, the Tegra Note produces better results than Toshiba's Excite Write, but Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0 still has a head-start in terms of stylus support.
Cameras and multimedia
Always-on HDR isn't available yet; Nvidia says it'll come with a firmware update. However, the camera has more problems than this.
The Tegra Note 7 has a 5-megapixel rear camera and a VGA front camera, both of which are awful. You must use Smugmug's included Awesome Camera app, which crashed while taking HDR photos on both of our tablets. The main camera gives everything a pinkish cast, and anything bright is violently blown out. The supposed HDR mode doesn't help this one bit. The front camera takes blurry greenish images at low shutter speeds. I'd worry about using it for video chat – it's that bad.
The Tegra Note 7 does have three great multimedia features: A microSD card slot, the dual front-facing speakers, and a real microHDMI port. It played all of our music and video formats except WMA and WMV at up to 1080p resolution. The slot lets you boost the 12.56GB of available storage (out of 16GB) with a microSD card of up to 64GB capacity, and the HDMI port provides 1080p video output with no lag. That makes the Tegra Note a good little portable movie player, able to easily hook up to TVs when you’re out and about.
Nvidia's leading competitors are cheating a little. Google, Amazon, and even Barnes & Noble are selling break-even tablets and making their money elsewhere, while Advent Vega and Nvidia actually need to make a profit off the Tegra Note 7 hardware. So it's admirable that they've been able to build a fast, “kind of” pressure-sensitive tablet that sells for £120 less than Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0.
But "admirable" doesn't mean that you should buy it. If stylus support is your deal-breaker and you can't upgrade to the Galaxy Note with its superior set of S Pen-ready apps, the Tegra Note is an acceptable first step into the realm of drawing tablets. It's also, as you'd expect from Nvidia, an excellent gaming and media device, especially thanks to its microHDMI out and microSD card slot.
That said, we'd recommend the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and Apple iPad mini to more people. We don't have a lot of faith in this tablet's build quality, and Advent Vega is a complete unknown when it comes to tablet quality assurance. If you don't need the stylus support, those other tablets are a better bet.
Manufacturer and Model
Nvidia Tegra Note 7
1280 x 800 pixels
Google Android 4.2.2
120 x 9 x 200mm (WxDxH)
5MP rear, VGA front
Screen Pixels Per Inch
Video Camera Resolution