UK supermarket Tesco has made a surprise entry into the crowded tablet market with the Hudl, an impressive low-end Android model which shows that services could be key to tablet monetization. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)
What does a supermarket chain know about tablets? In the case of the UK's Tesco, enough to be more than competitive. And while Apple hardly needs to start worrying about competing with Safeway anytime soon, the debut of the Tesco's Hudl could well give U.S. consumers a taste of what domestic retailers might bring to the market.
Shortly after the tablet’s launch in London in late September, TabTimes got the chance to review the Hudl and was generally impressed with what is a well-specced device that is aggressively priced and easy to use.
In the way of specs, the Hudl has a sharp 7-inch 1440 x 900 resolution display (that’s 242 pixels per inch, comfortably better than 162 on the first-gen iPad mini), a quad-core 1.5Ghz A9 processor, 16GB of memory (expandable via micro SD), dual-facing cameras and two 1W stereo speakers.
The tablet runs Android 4.2.2, is available in colors of black, red, purple and blue, and sports connections for micro USB and micro HDMI.
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First impressions: Smart tablet with bright display
This is a surprisingly good-looking device, considering its lowly £119 price tag (about $193 in U.S. dollars).
There is a smooth blue matte rear with an embossed Hudl logo and the curved edges give it a distinctive style. The tablet fits easily in one hand, is relatively light to hold at 370g, and features a micro USB button on the bottom, micro HDMI and the top, and power and volume buttons on the side.
The screen is bright, colorful and crisp and was generally pretty responsive to touch input. The black bezel surrounding the display is pretty big but is unobtrusive and allows you to comfortably hold the tablet without fear of accidentally interacting with the screen.
Google apps & Tesco content
As group CEO Philip Clarke spelled out at the launch party, the Hudl is geared up for family and first-time users and this is fairly evident in everything from the packaging to the device itself.
The tablet comes with a plastic screen overlay detailing fairly basic controls, while the Android 4.2.2 home screen – which is plastered with Tesco services – features widgets with instructions on how to use the camera and listen to music among other things.
For the main part though, this is a conventional Android experience. You can slide outwards from the home screen dial to unlock the tablet (note: you can’t slide into applications like other tablets) and there is the traditional home, back and tab buttons.There is also a menu on the right for storing your favorite apps, while a toolbar on the opposing side shows apps for Google Search and Google Voice.
The app menu sits on the right toolbar and offers pre-loaded apps for Tesco services – like Clubcard TV, Blinkbox, Blinkbox Music – as well as Google Drive, Google Currents, Google Keep, Chrome, Google+, YouTube, Play Store and Play Games.
Along with the widgets adorning the home screen, there is one other unconventional icon and that is the ‘T’ button in the left-hand side, which offers quick access to Tesco services like groceries and clubcard vouchers.
Summary: Good budget tablet that's not quite the Kindle Fire
I was impressed with the Hudl’s performance; the quad-core A9 processor punched through most tasks, browsing was a breeze and first-time users will appreciate the chance to customize their lock and home screen experience with widgets and favored apps.
The battery life was pretty exceptional compared to rival devices, lasting for over two days of on-off use (Tesco says the battery can last for nine hours when watching video), and I was surprised by the sound quality which was both loud and crisp. The tablet’s cameras are nothing special however.
In summary, the Tesco Hudl is an Android tablet that punches above its weight. The performance and designs exceeds the price, a sign perhaps it can compete with the new low-end Kindle Fire. That said, Tesco's philosophy seems different to Amazon's. Yes, the world's second largest supermarket is plugging its services, but the Hudl doesn't run have a skinned version of Android or force users into its own app store.
The Hudl starts from £119 (approximately $193) in the UK and optional accessories include cases, covers, earphones and in-car chargers. Tesco says it plans to make the tablet available overseas at some as yet undetermined point in the future.
("Choosing your next tablet, the operational advantage", will be one of the key sessions at the TabletBiz conference & expo in New York on November 13, 2013)