By now, Tesco’s little tablet seems on-course to be one of the surprise tech success stories of the year. 35,000 were sold within a few days of launch – not exactly iPad figures, but not bad for a supermarket own brand – and it’s still short on supply in many stores.
This partly comes down to pricing, with the Hudl only £120 and even cheaper if you cash in some Tesco Clubcard vouchers, but it also comes down to the fact that the Hudl offers a surprisingly decent tablet for the money. It’s not perfect, and not even necessarily the best budget option, but it is good value and – as the slogan goes – every little helps.
The Hudl gets off to a good start by being reasonably stylish and solidly built. The curved edges bulk out the frame a little, and at 9.85mm thick and 370 grams its over 1mm thicker and 80 grams heavier than the new Google Nexus 7, but it feels well-balanced and comfortable to hold with one hand or – particularly – with two. The plastics feel robust, the scratch-resistant glass feels tough, and the back has a nice rubberised finish. There’s not much creaking or flexing when you try to twist the corners, and it should cope with life in the home or on the move.
Connectivity is another plus point. The Hudl charges using microUSB, and there’s a microHDMI port and a headphone jack at the top. On the right-hand side there’s a microSD card slot, so you can easily expand the 16GB of on-board flash RAM to 48GB. It has a dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi radio and Bluetooth 4.0, and even a GPS transceiver. This isn’t what you expect from a supermarket bargain slate.
Screen and sound
Here comes the second big shock. At the moment, we’re still seeing some sub-£120 tablets with 1024 x 600 resolution screens, while 1280 x 800 is the new norm for a 7in HD screen. The Hudl goes one better with a 1440 x 900 resolution IPS panel, which at 242 ppi might not hit the 323 ppi pixel density of the new Nexus 7, but in everyday use it isn’t far behind.
Let’s not go bonkers here, though. The panel is bright and text and images look beautifully crisp and clean, but the colours on our sample looked ever so slightly yellow without the brightness whacked up to maximum. Still, when looking at photos, running apps, watching films or playing games it’s much, much better than, say, the Lenovo IdeaTab A3000.
Sound isn’t bad. The stereo speakers kick out a fair bit of volume, and while the sound is a bit mid-range heavy and congested, you won’t immediately rush to put on some headphones. The Hudl is comprehensively outgunned here by Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and Fire HD 8.9, but it’s still better than the bargain basement norm.
Amazingly, Tesco has got its approach to software right as well. The Hudl runs Android 4.2.2 with only a light selection of widgets and enhancements on top, and these are aimed squarely at first-time tablet users and Tesco customers – exactly the people who are most likely to buy a Hudl.
Expert users might find the initial setup tutorials and Getting Started tips annoying, but a lot of people using a tablet for the first time will find them helpful. The Tesco widgets might be a bit in your face, pushing you to launch Blinkbox music and movies, or to check your groceries and view your Clubcard points, but nobody is forcing you to keep them on the home screen.
Meanwhile, a discrete “T” logo in the bottom right-hand corner takes you through a vertical carousel of Tesco services, including Blinkbox movies and music, Tesco groceries, Tesco bank and Tesco Direct online shopping and the free Clubcard TV service. It’s clear that Tesco hopes Hudl will work in a similar way to Amazon’s Kindle Fire – as a gateway and player for its physical and digital stores. The difference is that where the Kindle Fire locks you in an Amazon-centric world, the Hudl gives you access to anything you can get on the standard Google Play store. In many ways it’s a more likeable approach, and at the moment you even get a few money-off vouchers shoved in the retail box.
Performance is the area where the Hudl shows its flaws, sadly. The tablet runs a quad-core Rockchip processor with four ARM A9 cores and an ARM Mali 400 GPU, which speeds along at 1.61GHz. In Geekbench 3 it’s actually quite fast, with a single-core result of 491 and a multi-core result of 1385, which would put it ahead of Tegra 3 tablets like the old Nexus 7.
However, in practice it doesn’t feel quite as slick. There are small but noticeable pauses when switching from app to app, while some graphical effects like the covers carousel on the Amazon Kindle app jerk slightly. I also noticed that the touchscreen isn’t always perfectly responsive, very occasionally needing a good prod rather than a light tap for an app to spring into action or a scrollbar to move.
If you like to game while commuting or out on a trip, then the Hudl isn’t for you. It’s going to cope fine with 2D games like Plants vs Zombies, but more demanding 3D games like Asphalt 8: Airborne run in odd fits and stutters. In GFXBench Tesco’s tablet still competes with the old Nexus 7, putting out 4.6 frames per second (fps) in the onscreen T-Rex HD test and 16 fps in Egypt HD, but again the benchmarks don’t reflect the everyday reality. It runs smoothly, then jerks, runs smoothly, then jerks – and so on.
Performance won’t be a deal breaker for the Hudl’s intended audience. It doesn’t struggle to run HD video and you’ll only notice the odd pause if you’re used to working with something faster. If speed matters to you, however, then you need to look to the new Nexus 7 or wait for the next wave of high performance tablets to arrive.
The Hudl has a 2 megapixel front-facing camera and a 3 megapixel rear snapper. The first produces grainy images in all but the best lighting, while the latter tends to over-expose outdoors and under-expose indoors, with fuzzy image quality and excess noise to boot. The average smartphone will do a much better job.
Battery life is okay. I managed to get around nine hours of web browsing and video streaming over a Wi-Fi connection with some emailing, some eBook reading and the odd game, which is better than you’ll get from most other tablets at this price point. The only caveat is that the battery seems to drain while the tablet is idle, so you can easily leave it alone for a day or so and come back to find that the device is on its very last legs.
The Hudl isn’t quite our new favourite cheapie tablet: That prize still goes to the Asus MeMO Pad HD7. It is, however, a real contender for cash-strapped Brits, giving you a good screen, solid build quality and perfectly adequate performance and battery life without the restrictions that come with Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD.
If you’re looking for a second tablet for the family it’s a bargain, particularly if you can use some Tesco clubcard points, and it’s discrete enough that – with the right case – you wouldn’t mind it on your daily commute either.
Manufacturer and Model
1.61GHz Rockchip 30Board
7in, 1440 x 900 resolution IPS
MicroUSB, headphone, microHDMI
Size and weight
129 x 192 x 9.9mm, 370g