Advent Vega

The Advent Vega is a 10.1-inch Android tablet that seems to be causing quite a stir. On paper this is justified: you get a 10.1-inch Android 2.2 tablet, with a capacitive display, it is slim and looks good, and features a powerful Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. All this is yours for just £249. 

But it isn’t quite that simple and much of the demand for the Advent Vega comes from the potential the Vega offers, rather than the out-of-the-box experience. In fact on opening the box you might be a little disappointed, unless your plans for the Vega involve getting involved in modding.

So what do you get? Open the box and you are presented with a 10.1-inch device. The edge-to-edge capacitive display looks fantastic with a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, although the viewing angles are strictly limited. There are no buttons on the front of the Vega except a webcam set in the bezel. Measuring 275 x 177 x 14mm, it is a smart looking device from the front. 

But the immediate concern is control. The controls are set into the edges of the Vega along with all the connections. The top right-hand corner offers up a mic, power/standby, a screen rotation lock, and a back button. The right-hand edge sees a volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and a flap covering the slot for the microSD card, USB and HDMI ports, along with a DC connection. The bottom features a docking connector. Internally it features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The Vega makes use of on-screen home, menu and back buttons added to the toolbar. In some applications this causes no problems, but as soon as you enter something that is full screen, you lose those controls. The back button on the top does a rudimentary job, but we’d rather have these buttons all catered for externally, so you can still navigate with ease, and navigate consistently across applications. The on-screen stock Android keyboard is responsive, although you could potentially get more from the space on offer.

Flip the 750g device over and you’ll find the rear offers two speakers set behind the bottom edge. It’s great to have a tablet device with respectable speaker performance – ok, it is instantly bettered by adding headphones, but for watching a bit of TV online they will serve you well enough. We did find ourselves occasionally smothering the speakers when it was resting on a duvet and sadly the video player won’t flip, so you can’t just turn the device upside down.

Power the Vega on and you are presented with a stripped out version of Android 2.2. Without Google onboard, you’ll find that it covers the bare bones only – this isn’t the full Google experience you’d get from a smartphone or from the much more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab. In fact the only features really offered out of the box are the browser and media player functions.

For your average consumer, looking for a large device to surf the Internet and watch some movies, the price of £249 might just work. But the Android hook perhaps leads you to think you are going to get a lot more for your money. So there is no Android Market and none of the normal Google apps you might be expecting. Advent haven’t even provided an alternative app store for you to expand the Vega’s offering. 

But that’s not such a problem. You can take the same steps as Archos and easily download AppsLib, or the SlideMe market like the Disco tablet. Both are available to download for free and run without issue. You’ll then be able to get access to some content (AppsLib is the better of the two) but the vast majority of applications still lie behind closed doors. Yes, you can search and find apk files that will directly download and install, or you can collect them from websites like GetJar (for your Angry Birds fix download the GetJar app which will take you through to their Android mobile site for quick downloads), but things do start to get labour intensive.

We'd have expected, at the very least, the inclusion of apps to take care of common things like social networks. Instead you are offers browser shortcuts to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube via a shortcut bar on the homescreen. The homescreen will swipe from side-to-side, offering space to drop widgets and application shortcuts, but until you actually get some content, much of this customisable space won't get used.

Pitching the Advent Vega as an iPad rival isn’t really fair. The iPad is super consumer friendly and getting content is a breeze. In the case of the Advent Vega, you have a tablet that has an operating system not natively designed for such a large device (as the quality of the icon rendering testifies) and you’ll find that the drop down menu from the top doesn’t even fill the screen width. As a result, if you are looking for a cheap alternative to the iPad, you might find yourself disappointed.

On of the biggest problems we encountered was stability overall. The Vega crashed, the screen locking and becoming unresponsive for no discernable reason. This happened both when loaded with content (which may have caused some instability) but also happened when restored to its native state. Often we’d have to restart the Vega to get it going again.

Of course the real answer is to take things a little further and this is the point that some might decide the Vega is not for them – despite the attractive screen and affordable price. Those who are a little more familiar with Android, or fancy their hand at modding, will find that there are already plenty tinkering with the Vega and restoring some of that Google goodness to the tablet, and perhaps you could glance over at MoDaCo forums to get you started, if that’s the way you want to roll.

It feels like Advent have released an Android tablet just so advanced users can go crazy. There is plenty on offer too, accepting that it is going to make you work for it. The Advent Vega is hugely powerful, with the dual-core Tegra 2 processor offering up the likes of Full HD video support. The speed with which is handles browsing is impressive too - pages load in a flash.

Out of the box, much of the potential remains untapped. The default video player leaves a lot to be desired. It had a go at some of our HD content, but the frame rate wasn’t nearly high enough to be watchable. The format support is basic too. We did have it playing some SD AVI, MPEG4 and DivX files without any problems, but as a device that only really offers video playback out of the box, we’d have expected something a little more comprehensive from the off, to mop up the variety of HD codecs in these containers.

The browser though does throw in the nicety of offering Flash video support, so you’ll be able to roam around the Internet and consume media as you go. The provision of Flash does make the Vega a little more useful – you can head on to BBC iPlayer and watch without a problem – just as you can with most other video sites. We also found it to be pretty stable when it came to playing Flash videos through the browser. This is certainly one of the plus points that the Vega has in its favour. 

The addition of the HDMI means you can easily output your content and the microSD card slot makes it easy to expand the memory. There is only 512MB of internal memory but there is a 4GB card bundled in the box. It is rated at 6.5 hours of video playback or 16 hours of music. We found the general browsing gave us most of the day without needing charging.

Verdict

The Advent Vega is an interested piece of kit. It will probably appeal to those who either know a lot about Android, or nothing at all. The former group will take it and change it, the latter group will accept it as a simple browser and media player. The middle group, however, will probably never be happy with the limited range of functions available on the Vega as it is.

We’re impressed with the screen – it is vibrant and responsive to the touch - even if the viewing angles are a little tight. We found it to be great for watching (compatible) movies, with just enough sound gusto to cope with watching TV without having to use headphones. We also enjoyed the freedom of browsing the internet with Flash video support, meaning video sites could be enjoyed from the stock browser.

But overall the Advent Vega is an odd device. It lacks the full-on Google sweetness of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and it doesn’t seem to have a skill it is really pushing, other than Flash video. We’re left with a device that offers great potential as a powerful toy for those who want to mod it, but should otherwise be approached with some degree of caution.