Tesco is already a part of the fabric of life in the UK. We'd wager that everyone reading this has been to a Tesco store in the last couple of weeks, even if "just by accident". And now it's set to be even more part of life with the introduction of Hudl, the company's new tablet device. That's right: a Tesco tablet. We know, we know, it's enough to strike fear into the heart.
But before we turn our noses up at the Hudl in the same way me might a can of value beans, let's not get ahead of ourselves. For Tesco has done something rather clever here. It's delivered a device that joins the dots for all of its services - shopping, mobile, wine, home, Blinkbox movie and TV rental and so forth - and then wrapped all that up into a 7-inch Android tablet that's easy to use for all.
It might have its work cut out to deliver the kind of kudos and cool that the Google Nexus 7 offers, but Hudl does arrive at a rather attractive price point. Either pick one up off the shelf for £119 or utilise just £60 worth of Tesco Clubcard points - that accrue for every pound spent shopping at Tesco - by doubling their worth via the online Boost scheme. That's almost like giving it away if you happen to shop a whole lot in store and spend your accumulated points at the end of the year - although half glass empty types might see that as somewhere around the £6,000 mark spent.
We see what you're doing here, Tesco. And, you know what, we think we rather like it. We've been living with the Hudl for a week, and here's what we have to make of it.
The Hudl's design doesn't really scream "Tesco" out loud - and we think many will consider that a positive. Other than the logo on the back of the device that's as much as you'll see on the exterior. We're not saying Tesco branding is a no-no, because it isn't. Think about how Skoda used to be viewed in the eyes of many and how that's shifted around; the Hudl is one of many steps Tesco has invested in to be seen as a major contender in businesses far beyond just supermarkets.
Once switched on, however, the Hudl works as a kind of Tesco "hub". Maybe it should have called it the Hubl or something. Not that it's a telescope. Anyway, none of these sign-ins are compulsory and, as we've come to find out, we actually like having all our Clubcard points, values and online delivery due dates displayed in front of us. It's useful. Even if we don't get excited about Clubcard, as such, this tie-in to the rewards system is a good visual system.
Much the same can be said about the company's other services on offer. To the bottom left corner of the Hudl's screen - and in addition to the usual Android "back", "home" and "windows" soft keys - there is a simple "T" that, once pressed, opens up additional Tesco service goodies. From groceries, to home products, recipes, fashion, wine, through to music and movies from Blinkbox - the company's own streaming service - plus Tesco banking and mobile. It's all here.
While this obviously embeds Tesco services into your life, again, that's a useful thing really. And not all of them are just about buying stuff that you need to wait for, much of the Hudl is focused on home entertainment.
Blinkbox is decent service to stream movies for a few quid, and if you have a Tesco mobile account - whether your own or a pay as you go one for the kids - then here's your access point. It's everything kept neatly in its right place.
And none of these Tesco-based shenanigans are forced upon you. Make no mistake, the Hudl is an Android tablet, through and through, and it delivers the usual gaggle of Google goodies via the Google Play store.
If the very word "Android" leaves you scratching your skull and staring cluelessly at the wall, however, then let us explain: it's Google's operating system for mobile and tablet devices. It makes light work of internet browsing and running programmes, known as apps, much like you would on a computer. Apps can vary in their forms - whether games; communications tools such as Skype; those for making notes such as Google Drive; for sharing business and personal files via Dropbox; or there are access points to various companies' literature, music and movie portals such as Netflix. It's pretty endless.
If you want an Android tablet then the Tesco brand does little to truly interfere with that. Indeed there's little operational difference between the Tesco Hudl and the Google Nexus 7. Ah, there we have it, we've hit the inevitable comparison point.
Inevitable Nexus 7 comparison
When it comes to 7-inch tablets there's a king in among the crowd, and that's the Google Nexus 7. Namely the 2013 model which comes complete with a greater-than Full HD screen, slim build and relatively affordable price point.
Let's cut to the chase here: the Nexus 7 is a considerably better device than the Hudl, but then it's proportionally more expensive too.
READ: Nexus 7 (2013) review
The Hudl's 1440 x 900 pixel screen might not match up to the 1920 x 1200 resolution of the Nexus, but it's still bright enough and delivers a decent viewing angle to be of consistent use. Look at it in a different way and the Hudl delivers greater-than 720p HD resolution from its touchscreen panel, and at this scale that is more than good enough for most. If you're not tech savvy you might not even notice or, frankly, care much - because stuff looks good on screen.
If, however, you're a sucker for the details then the differences are clear. The Tesco Hudl is a more value offering: its got a more tar-coloured, yellowy colour balance that makes it look like a bit of a smokers' tablet, while the colour palette is less neutral than the Nexus 7 and, inevitably, it's less sharp to the eyes. We also found it to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, so keep a microfibre cloth to hand as you'll want to clean it up regularly we suspect.
Different external colours options are also available: choose from black, blue, purple, or red, which is more than the all-black Nexus 7 can offer. Thing is the choice of hues is a little on the dull side, we'd have hoped a designer would have picked out something with more Pantone pop, particularly given how "current" the neon colour schemes are right now. Just think Nokia Lumia.
Then there's physical size and weight. Sleeker, more trim and attractive are all plus points that go the way of the Nexus. That's not to say the Hudl looks bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just leaves us thinking "meh" in our heads by comparison. The bezel to the top and bottom in landscape also feels a little unnecessary and means the device is overall larger and heavier, but still well within the confines of manageable. It's 370g and almost 1cm thick, nothing to cry about.
We don't eat out at restaurants every day, right? The Hudl is that sort-of "Finest" moment from Tesco. It's a pretty good alternative.
Power-wise the Hudl has enough under the hood to deliver for most eventualities. There's often an overbearing association between gigahertz this and multi-cores that. The Hudl has a 1.5Ghz quad-core processor and that sets it in good stead.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so they say (not that we tried to chow down on this hunk of plastic) and, put simply, there was nothing we couldn't do with the Hudl. Heck, it even opened up Real Racing 3 and responded well enough to play through with no problems. It might not have delivered a gaming-spec PC graphics or frame-rate, but it worked - and if you've got kids that'll go a long way we're sure.
Elsewhere performance is reasonable, with the odd hiccup. Google Chrome, the web browser, takes a little longer to load tabs than a more advanced tablet might for example. But you won't be clock-watching unless you're used to a swifter tablet - and the liklihood is that the Hudl will be a first time investment, so it's pitched right.
We also found occasional issues with lag to typing or a lack of sensitivity - once or twice a letter would need to be re-entered with a repeat press to the under-responsive area of the screen.
But that's fairly small fry stuff and it's more than liveable. There's plenty of other good to be had too: if the 16GB of internal storage isn't enough then you can expand that by up to 64GB by buying a microSD card to store all your additional movies, games, documents and whatever else. Something like the Apple iPad mini is a closed device - you buy the storage size you want and that's it, no chance of expansion, and definite chance of expense.
Which leads us to the Hudl's best feature, if it can be considered that: the price. At £119 there's a lot of tablet here. And as we alluded to in the opening of this review, if you shop at Tesco a lot then the chances are you can get it for even less by using Clubcard vouchers. The process is simple enough: head to the Boost section of Tesco's site where it's possible to double up the value of your Clubcard vouchers to apply to a Hudl purchase. If you take £60 that doubles up to £120 and the Hudl is as good as free. If you have £30 then you can double that up to £60 and pay out the remaining £59 in cash, and so on. The point is, for the right shoppers at least, the Hudl is a bargain.
But the budget does come at a cost. Small details, such as the stereo speakers on the rear, lack the kind of impact they should have. They're quiet and tinny - not good for gaming, none too good for video calls either.
And while video calls are the best use for the the on-board cameras, if you're wanting to use the rear one for taking still photos then prepare to be disappointed. The 3-megapixel rear camera doesn't cut it against the current spate of high-performance smartphones. Passable, yes, but nothing more.
Lastly there's a point of detail rather than a criticism: in addition to Bluetooth connectivity the Hudl is Wi-Fi only. You can't put a SIM card into it and use it on the go like some tablet devices. That means streaming, emails, browsing and the like are limited to Wi-Fi connections and that, ultimately, means it's largely a device to keep in the home. We have no problem with that, as such, but some have queried whether it's a 3G/4G capable tablet and the answer is no, it's not.
We've got a lot of love for the Hudl. Considering this is a supermarket-produced product that doesn't involve fruit and veg it does a damn fine job of pretty much anything you'd care to throw at it. Just not tomatoes, don't throw those.
We like the optional Tesco services tie-ins, and we like that the Hudl is also a straightforward Android tablet at its core. There's all kinds of goodness that comes with that: games, movies, Skype and beyond - it's all available here.
But the Hudl's key sell is its price point. At £119 it's already good value, you might even walk out of a Tesco and smack your own conveniently-arse-placed back pocket just to hear the jangling change, something Asda was hoping would happen with its ill-fated sub-£100 tablet failure back in 2011. But it's via Tesco's Boost scheme that the Hudl comes in at best value: it could cost as little as £60 in Clubcard vouchers. That's almost like giving it away. Hudl for free? - that's five star sort of stuff right there.
And yet the Hudl just isn't a five star product. We live tech day in day out, and after a week with the Hudl it just doesn't quite compete against some of its near competitors. Got the cash, then get the Nexus 7 or beyond. If not then while the Hudl isn't a product that's going to set the tech world ablaze with excitement, it will more or less carry itself off the shelves at that price. That's what makes it great for entry users of any age or ability and whatever their tastes and preferences. The tech savvy will turn their noses up at it like a can of value beans though.
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