Remember the shame of being sent to sports day wearing “Two Stripe” knock-off Adidas tracksuit bottoms? You’d be forgiven for thinking that, in a world of iPads, any tablet from Tesco would have a similar stigma attached. You’d also be wrong. Just like the original Hudl, this year’s successor, the Hudl 2, is an absolute bargain, one that’s been built with particular care to keep younger users safe and has been subsidised without forcing Tesco offers down your throat.
What Is It?
A £129, 8.3-inch Android tablet from supermarket giants Tesco, which has surprisingly little in the way of branding (or branded apps) from its maker, and is cheap and powerful enough to be worth considering by all.
Who's It For?
Anyone? Everyone? It’s about as affordable as a tablet gets without being a cheap-feeling knock-off. If I had to be specific, I’d say it’s for those that want a second tablet that they could leave with their kids unattended, or those that want a tablet they can toss in a bag with little care, safe in the knowledge it didn’t cost all that much should something happen to it.
It’s pretty astonishing what £129 can bag you in that tablet market these days. However Tesco is subsidising it, the Hudl 2 feels and looks as though it should cost considerably more. Available in eight colours (blue, orange, black, red, turquoise, white, purple and pink), the Hudl 2 trims down the sizable bezel of its predecessor, leading to a build that’s notably narrower than last year’s device. With a little more room around the screen to the left and right when held in portrait orientation, that’s apparently the way Tesco see most people using the Hudl 2.
At 410g, the bigger screen has made for a heavier tablet overall than the 7-inch original, and holding it in landscape seems the most comfortable distribution of this extra weight. At 9mm thick, it’s a very slight tablet, though, and should slide into most smaller bags without too much effort.
Aside from one noteworthy annoyance (which I’ll get to in the “This is Weird” section of this review), the screen impresses. The 1920 x 1200 full HD display is an improvement over the first Hudl and is bright and colourful with viewing angles wide enough for a couple of people to gather around.
Flip the device over and you’ll notice that Tesco has kept its branding relatively subtle. A silver Hudl logo sits in the centre, and looks quite tasteful on the black casing of my review sample. That casing has a slightly rubberised finish that gives the elongated tablet some grip – handy if you’re planning on using it one-handed. The matte finish on the rear does start to look grubby pretty quickly, though. Also on the rear you’ll find some reasonably large speaker grilles and a camera in the top left corner.
When held upright in a portrait orientation, you’ll find a volume rocker sitting above a power button on the right hand edge, a mini HDMI and exposed microSD slot on the left-hand edge, a headphone jack up top and a microUSB charging port down the bottom. It’s still quite rare to see a HDMI-out port on a tablet (perhaps a dying feature considering the popularity of devices like the Chromecast), but it’s a welcome addition seeing the ease with which it allows a user to display the Hudl 2’s content on a larger screen.
Overall, from the outside you’d never be able to suspect the Hudl 2 is as affordable as it is. It feels solid and well constructed. For the price, I’d half expected it to come with Tesco’s blue and white striped “value” branding all over it.
The Hudl 2 runs close to stock Android 4.4.2 and, with the exception of the My Tesco Launcher, comes out of the box pretty much free of bloatware. Firing up with three customisable home screens (five if you drag apps and widgets to the edge of the display), it’s populated initially with folders for Tesco apps, Blinkbox movie and music services and Google’s suite, plus apps for a “Get Started” guide, a “Top Apps’ launcher curated by Tesco and Child Safety, which gives you control over what the little ’uns can do on the slate. These can all be removed or shifted around as you see fit.
The one exception that can’t be moved around is a “T” button in the top left corner that launches the “My Tesco” area. It’s also accessible by swiping right across the main home screen. Here you’ll find links to recipe ideas from Tesco, purchase options for Hudl accessories, Clubcard deals and more. There’s also a shortcut to Tesco’s own “app drawer”, which houses things like its grocery delivery services and things like Tesco banking and Mobile. Where available, these shortcuts will fire up an app; if not, you’ll get redirected to the relevant web portal. If you’re a regular user of Tesco’s many varied services, you’ve all the tools to manage every aspect of your life here. If not, that little “T” is discrete enough to be ignored entirely, though the immovable aspects of Tesco’s UI mean that only 9.12GB of the 16GB built in storage allowance is available to you out of the box.
Unlike, say, the Amazon Fire tablets, this is a pretty clean Android build, giving you wide access to the full range of apps available from Google’s Play store. If it’s on Android, it can be on your Tesco Hudl 2, and the processor has enough chops to keep all but the most demanding of 3D applications ticking over at a respectable pace.
Though Intel still trails behind Qualcomm and Nvidia when it comes to mobile processor uptake, the 1.83GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor in use here does it credit. 3D gaming applications like Asphalt 8 ran reasonably smoothly, though put the tablet under a heavy load and it can get quite toasty.
Media playback is good, with the screen colourful and attractive, and the stereo speakers on the rear loud and reasonably detailed. Their positioning is a little frustrating, though, as they sit exactly where your fingers fall when held in landscape mode, which can muffle the sound a little – you may want to prop it up somewhere if you’re settling down for a marathon viewing.
Any marathon viewing, however, will be tempered by only average battery life. While you’ll see past a day with light web browsing use, streaming video or gaming heavily will see its battery deplete very quickly. Tesco quotes an eight-hour battery life, but streaming a 90-minute Netflix film with the tablet’s screen set to full brightness saw me knock nearly a third off it’s supply of juice in a single sitting.
You could buy two Hudl tablets for the cost of one Retina iPad Mini and have enough cash left over for a night on the tiles. That’s before you consider the Clubcard point offer Tesco is running with the Hudl 2: for every £5 of Clubcard vouchers you have, you can knock £10 off the Hudl 2 until it costs just £65.
Yet to use it is to feel like you’re getting a premium Android experience. It hasn’t got flashy features like the Nvidia Shield has, or crazy transforming skillz like the best that Asus has to offer. But where it counts, the Hudl 2 can hold its own with the best of them.
OK, the camera is rubbish. It was bad enough on the first Hudl, but a year on and this feels like barely an improvement has been made. Sure, last year's images were 3MP in size, and the Hudl 2 is now capable of 5MP shots, but they come out just as grainy and lacking in detail as ever. Yes, we’re always telling you that you must be some sort of sociopath to be using a tablet as a camera, but we do recognise that sometimes, in a pinch, it may be all you have to capture a special moment. The Hudl 2 will make those special moments look like they’ve been taken on a decade-old disposable.
This Is Weird
When held at certain angles, and when the screen is displaying something with a light background, it’s possible to see the little black dotted grid of touchscreen contact points on the Hudl 2. Hoping it’d be a one-off issue, I called Tesco and asked to check another sample, but it too suffered from the same problem. It’s not enough to stop me from recommending the tablet – it’s so good in almost every other department that it feels like picking faults at this point, and at certain angles you’d hardly even notice the issue – but it’s there, and is one of those “cannot be unseen” issues once you do spot it. So maybe don't look for it, eh?
-- As if it wasn’t already a good enough deal, Tesco throws a “Box of Treats” in the box with the tablet. These “treats”, admitedlly, are limited to Tesco’s own shops and services, but aren’t to be sniffed at either way. They include £25 worth of Blinkbox credit, £10 off Tesco’s own-brand F&F fashion range (when you spend £50), £10 off Tesco Direct (when you spend £50), £15 off Tesco.com orders when you spend £60 and 10 free 4 x 6” photos when you buy 50 at Tesco Photo. It’s all intended to keep your pound coins flowing in Tesco’s direction, but if you’re already using Tesco’s services,
that’s Asda price every little helps.
-- The power button, sat on the right-hand side of the tablet, is a sticky old thing. You have to long-press it in a precise fashion and hold it in order to power off the tablet, and there were a few occasions where I couldn’t get it to work. I presumed the tablet had somehow ran out of battery, only to realise it was still juiced when the display fired up instantly when plugged in. It’s a bit annoying, especially if you’re trying to put the tablet away in a hurry.
-- Tesco says that the Hudl 2 only supports microSD cards up to 32GB in size, but I popped a 64GB card in and used it without any problems.
-- Of Tesco’s own services pre-loaded on to the app, Blinkbox and Blinkbox Music are probably the most enticing, the first offering movie rentals from £3.49 (TV shows from £1.79) as well as downloads to keep, the second being a radio service not unlike Last.fm. Blinkbox Music can be accessed for free, but it’s a shuffle service that adapts its playlist to your “likes” rather than giving you unfettered access to its 12 million tracks. If the ad-supported model doesn’t suit you, you can pay a quid a week, drop the adds and build 100-song playlists of your choosing.
-- The Child Safety features are actually really good. Each Hudl 2 can have a number of individual profiles set up and activated for your children. These are configured automatically by age, but you can go in and tweak banned websites, apps and exceptions lists manually as you see fit. You can also use the feature to set time limits on how long your children can use it; Little Timmy will have no homework distractions if the Hudl 2 is your family tablet.
There are a few points that keep the Hudl 2 from being budget tablet perfection, but it’s still an absolute steal for the price. It’s fast, not too cluttered with filler apps and, were it not for the weirdly, intermittently visible touch points, has a bright and colourful screen in a form factor that’s comfortable to hold. It’s rather easy to recommend as a result.
Tesco Hudl 2 Specs
• Operating System: Android KitKat 4.4.2
• Screen: 8.3-inches, 1920 x 1200
• Processor: 1.83 GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor
• Memory: 2GB RAM
• Storage: 16GB with microSD expansion supported
• Camera: 5MP rear, 2MP front
• Dimensions: 224 x 128 x 9 mm
• Weight: 410g
• Battery Life: Around 8 hours, depending on usage
• Connectivity: Dual band Wi-Fi
• Price: £129.99 (as cheap as £65 with Clubcard Boost)