The first Tesco Hudl tablet may have come as a surprise, not least because it was more than a half-decent Android tablet for a rock-bottom price and sold 750,000 units, but that it was a success despite bearing a supermarket chain's branding. It left us wondering what else Tesco would have in store for the sequel, the Hudl 2.
There's increased expectation the second time around. After the bold statement of launching an own-brand tablet in the first instance Tesco had the tricky task of trying to update the original in every possible way, yet also keep the cost down. And in both tasks it has performed admirably. Very admirably indeed.
For the specs have been boosted, the design is a jump forward and yet the price is only a tenner more than the original: it's an affordable £129. For the money is the Hudl 2 the best budget tablet we've ever seen?
Price: Where quality costs less
The Tesco Hudl 2 is not only a very worthy successor to the original, it's undeniably the most attractive budget tablet on the market and, we feel, even blows the current Nexus 7 (2013) out of the water. That's no small feat.
Of course, that particular Google device is expected to get an upgrade of its own, so direct comparisons are perhaps moot. But we'd put money on the new Nexus device being more expensive than the Hudl 2. Indeed, at £129 the Tesco tablet is more in the Amazon Fire HD 7 bracket, yet oozes mid- to high-end specifications.
Not forgetting the fact you can buy it for even less if you use your Clubcard points through the online Clubcard Boost scheme. If you've got the points the Hudl 2 can cost as little as £65 which is a clear steal. But even at the full price it's a miracle Tesco has managed to make the Hudl 2 for that price. Perhaps it hasn't, it may well just be selling for that price - but what do we care, it's good news all round. That's why techies don't go to Iceland.
Screen: More of what matters
Starting with the screen, Tesco has increased the display in both size and resolution terms this time out. The Hudl 2 has an 8.3-inch IPS LCD touchscreen with a 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution (delivering a 273ppi density). It's bright, bold in colour saturation and, perhaps most importantly, very crisp and sharp. It walks all over the original model's 1440 x 900 resolution 7-inch panel.
At this end of the market, screens are more often 720p at 7- or 8-inches in size, so the Tesco Hudl 2 stands head and shoulders above many rivals when it comes to the display. Of course more expensive competitors, including the aforementioned Nexus 7, deliver equal or higher resolutions but you need to pay the extra.
At the Hudl 2 launch event - a week ago, which is when we started using the tablet - we were impressed, but extra use has left us even more impressed.
Pictures looks superb on it and 1080p video is beautifully presented. The size of 8.3-inches is ample for watching TV shows and movies, especially as the screen is a 16:9 ratio - something the Hudl 2 definitely has to its advantage over an iPad mini.
Power: Every little helps
The processor under the hood is, perhaps surprisingly, Intel made. It's a 1.83GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735D rather than something made by Qualcomm or Nvidia, but then as this is a Wi-Fi only device - so no SIM packages on Tesco Mobile as we thought may have been a possibility - it doesn't need the mobile communication nous of the former chip manufacturer or the gaming graphics abilities of the latter.
As it stands, the Intel chip runs plenty fast enough for everything we wanted to do in our test, including playing games, and it's supported capably by 2GB of RAM. Simple actions such as swiping between homescreens and opening apps were smooth and quick, more so than on some higher-end tablets we've tested lately. It's really very, very good.
We also played FIFA 15 Ultimate Team on the tablet with no slow-down or dropped frames whatsoever, and that's a graphically intensive experience. And apps such as Cbeebies Storytime loaded quickly and were easy and smooth to navigate through. There was a slight juddering during the Cbeebies opening video as the app loaded, but only noticeable when you're really looking for it.
Cameras: Tesco Finest*
Tesco has also improved the front and rear cameras for this year's model. The rear is now a 5-megapixel snapper that is capable of recording video in 1080p. To be honest, it's not going to set the world alight with its performance, but for a budget tablet it's a standout performance. It's certainly better than the 3.2-megapixel camera on the original Hudl, in both resolution and the amount of light it can read.
The front-facing camera is better too, and while it's only 1.2-megapixel, it took a reasonable selfie in a lightened room. It's also mounted on the left-hand side when in landscape, rather than on the top as before, which suggests Tesco realises a lot of people will be using the tablet in the vertical portrait orientation.
Colours: Fresh choice for you
It must also be added, when speaking about aspects that impressed us, that the feel of the tablet belies its price point too. Last year's model was a budget device and did feel a bit like that, all chunky and plastic. But this year the matte plastic finish feels more premium and is comfortable in the hand. It's still solid and substantial, while maintaining lightweight appeal at just over the 400g and measuring 9mm thick.
Tesco also had a lot of fun with the original Hudl's bright colour schemes, so has expanded the range in the Hudl 2 to include extra ones. We tested it in blue - just like last year - but it's also available in orange, black, red, turquoise, white, purple and pink.
The same colours are utilised for accessories too, with cases offered (sold separately) to mix and match and customise your device. It adds a sense of fun to the proceedings and further cements its position as a tablet for the whole family.
Good tech made easy
On-board software does that too. As well as the entire gamut of Google services and access to the Google Play app store, the Hudl 2 has a number of platform-specific applications and widgets. Specific to a family set-up, there is a Child Safety feature. You set up a PIN, password or even facial recognition and you can then create profiles for your children. It even simplifies the process by asking you to enter each child's age and the tablet will suggest what content to lock.
Web browsing and app safety will be age appropriate automatically whenever the child is signed into the tablet. In addition you can alter the time they can use the Hudl 2 for. It's great peace of mind for a parent and can be adjusted as you feel more confident that additional content is suitable.
Tesco also makes other functions simple with custom software on the premise that the Hudl 2 might be a family's first tablet device. For example, a top apps hub highlights a curated selection of games and utilities in a clearer, more basic manner to help new users get to grips with downloading applications before plunging straight into Google Play's deeper source.
For those with more experience, top apps can always be deleted from the homepage. As can the folders for Tesco's own services, such as hotlinks to its grocery delivery app and other sales locations. Blinkbox - Tesco's media streaming service - also has a folder for Blinkbox Movies, Music and Books. It's rumoured that Tesco is set to sell this service but it still appears regardless.
As we pointed out in our original Hudl review, it's not a device that screams "Tesco" out loud - and we think many will consider that a positive. The Hudl 2 can act as a hub into Tesco's various services, including shopping, but it's not hell-bent on forcing you into such use at every turn, merely an option in the same way an Amazon device might point you to Amazon store for purchases.
The more overtly Tesco branded zones are left and right of the main homepage. Swipe left and you get a Google Now-style experience of cards based on Tesco services and information. Recipes, Clubcard points reminders and other suggested things to buy and do that are Tesco related are offered in a scrolling and constantly updated list.
You can completely turn these sections off if you fancy reverting the tablet to an almost stock Android operating system affair, so no harm done. We're not so fussed by the Tesco suggestions, adverts and other service information as it serves a reminder as to why the Hudl 2 is even possible for such a price. Plus many are genuinely useful.
Live well for less
The overall experience the Tesco Hudl 2 offers, coupled with very good specifications and the versatility of a speedy, unrestricted Android tablet and you simply can't believe how it can be made, marketed and sold for less than £130. We're surprised it's not at least £50 more than that.
It does come with some caveats - the sound through the rear stereo speakers is reasonable but not spectacular, even with Dolby Audio on board, and battery life is shorter that some tablets out there, such as the iPad family - but they are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things.
And sure, the internal storage is the same as last time out, 16GB, but you do get a microSD card slot again so expansion by up to a further 32GB is possible. We're really splitting hairs here for the pure sake of it as our moans are few and far between.
On this evidence the Tesco Hudl 2 will have even tech rivals worried and wondering how they can compete with such versatile tablet. And we even include Google in that, as the next Nexus has its work cut out - who'd have thought the prime competition would come from a supermarket chain?
Tesco itself might be looking at different areas of its business at present, considering which to alter or ditch in an effort to make the chain more profitable, but we doubt the Hudl 2 tablet department is being seen with anything other than admiring eyes. It has produced a wonderful device that we have no doubt will sell as many as or even more units than its older sibling - especially if you're a regular Tesco shopper and have Clubcard points to cut the already affordable cost down.
The Tesco Hudl 2 is, quite simply, the best tablet in its price bracket we've ever seen or used. Not only is it powerful enough to cope with all the games and applications you're likely to want to play, it remembers its target audience with a confidence normally associated with the Apples and Amazons of this world.