It used to be that if you were after a decent tablet at an affordable price point you were just straight outta luck. While there’s certainly still plenty of dross floating around, a few savvy companies, namely Google and Tesco, have put out subsidised tablet devices which are not only cohesive and viable options at lower price points, but also give you quite a bit of extra bang for your buck to boot.
Straight away I’m going to point out that there are some pretty obvious and substantial differences between these three in terms of spec, relative age of the device (ie: the Nexus 7 has been out a while now) and price point. The Nexus 7 2 is obviously leagues ahead of the other two in terms of raw spec, but it’s also a good deal more expensive and each device definitely has its own set of advantages and disadvantages here.
A good place to start seems like the original Nexus 7, as this really was the first truly viable affordable Android slate to hit the market and did set the bar more than a little bit.
A quick look at Google Play shows that it’s unfortunately no longer available directly from the Big G itself via the Google Play web store, it’s instead been usurped by the latest Google Nexus 7 2. However, you can still grab it for more-or-less the same price Google sold it for from a variety of high street and online retailers. Currys, for example, has the 16GB model for £149.97 with free delivery, a similar setup at Expansys costs £149.99, while Argos is a bit more expensive at £159.99 if you grab it in store, or £163.94 delivered. As always with these things, it pays to shop around a bit.
The Nexus 7 is still available in both 16GB and 32GB variants, though the 32GB model seems a little bit harder to source. Even more tricky to track down is the 3G-enabled variant, but it is out there with a few vendors including Argos and Very, expect to pay between £219 and £239.99 for a 3G-capable 32GB model, however.
With a 1280×800 pixel IPS LCD touch display at 216 pixels-per-inch (ppi) the Nexus 7’s picture quality is still noticeably better than a good proportion of the 7-inch slates on the market, affordable or otherwise. It’s still bright and colourful and highly usable for watching films on the train or bus.
Similarly, the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor (at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM and a GeForce GPU) might no longer be the cream of the crop but it’s still quite capable of running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean smoothly, handling some typical multitasking and tackling the vast majority of Google Play content whether that’s games, apps or film streaming.
Having mentioned Android 4.3 briefly, it’s worth elaborating here. Being a Google Nexus device you can be sure you’ll get future software updates for some time to come – no getting left behind.
As well as the usual set of Wi-Fi, microUSB and Bluetooth connectivity options, the Nexus 7 also has NFC, GPS and, in the case of the data-enabled variants, full 3G connectivity. If you’re after 4G you’re going to need a dongle anyway so you’d be better off going for a Wi-Fi only model and saving some cash.
Lastly, a quick world on build and design. The Nexus 7 is quite a utilitarian beast with its bobbled, matte finish and soft-touch back panel for extra grip. It’s a bit chunky and not the lightest slate on the market but reasonably manageable in the hand. Despite the business-like visuals, the build quality is great with zero flex and a solid feel. Measurements are 198.5mmx120mmx10.5mm and it weighs 430g
So moving on from the Nexus 7 we can either go up to the Nexus 7 2 or down to the Tesco Hudl in terms of price – and that should correlate to the spec too right? Well, not exactly.
The Tesco Hudl is much cheaper than the other two options here at about £120 full price and less than £100 if you buy one using Tesco Clubcard points. The spec is actually surprisingly good, however, with a 1.5GHz quad-core Rockchip RK3188 processor, 1GB of RAM and the venerable Mali-400MP quad-core GPU.
Performance seems reasonable, although with the occasional noticeable hiccup – probably because Rockchip isn’t exactly Qualcomm – but on the whole it’s quite good, and it’s Android 4.2.2 in a more-or-less stock setup which is always a plus. Android 4.2.2 might not be as up-to-date as version 4.3 (and with Tesco, it’s anybody’s guess how up-to-date it’ll be kept going forward, this being the first tablet from the supermarket giant) but all the key interface changes are there, so it’s still an enjoyable Android experience.
Overall it’s not exactly going to move mountains but for the price point it’s rewardingly usable and the occasional blip doesn’t detract too much.
The display is a similar trade-off, it has a higher resolution than the Nexus 7 at 1440×900 pixels at 242ppi, resulting in a sharper image, though not by much. Colour is decent but it’s lacking oomph when it comes to the brightness levels and this is probably because unlike the Nexus 7 it’s not using an IPS screen, just regular LCD.
Onboard storage is also pretty good, meeting the Nexus 7 and Nexus 7 2 lower-end variant at 16GB and even exceeding both with the addition of microSD support for cards up to 32GB – something each of Google’s slates is sorely lacking.
For connectivity you’re looking at full dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPA, microUSB and even a Micro HDMI TV output (the original Nexus 7 doesn’t have one of these), but no NFC and no 3G or 4G capability. Again, you’d be needing a dongle if you’re after mobile data.
It’s also worth pointing out that, unlike a lot of cheaper Android tablets, the Hudl is fully Google certified so you get full access to apps and content via Google Play.
The build and design is quite similar to the Nexus 7. It has the same soft-touch material on the back panel, though this time without the bobbles and, notably, this still doesn’t compromise on grip. There’s the tiniest bit of flex in the middle of the back panel, but it’s really no biggie and on the whole it’s a sturdy slate and one that’s relatively attractive to look at. What’s more, it comes in some jazzy colours, as well as the default black, including blue, red and purple. Fun stuff.
Onto the big daddy then. The Nexus 7 2 has the best display of the three, like its predecessor it’s an IPS LCD but this time the resolution is a much sharper 1920×1200 pixels at 323ppi, it’s incredibly clear, punchy and bright with robust colour saturation.
Similarly the processor and performance has been boosted with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chip. Again, it’s not the latest and greatest compared to the likes of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 and Snapdragon 800 dominating recent benchmarks, but it is a significant jump from the old Tegra 3. Qualcomm’s Krait cores offer a slicker and more optimised experience. The chip is clocked at 1.5GHz with an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM for a bit more grunt. Naturally we’re looking at Android 4.3 Jelly Bean so it’s bang up-to-date.
The external build has been refined quite significantly – it’s lighter, better balanced and thinner than either rival, with a narrower bezel along the display for a sleeker look. The back panel bobbles have gone but the matte, soft-touch material remains and it’s all the better for it. Unquestionably it’s the nicest to handle and the most attractive of the three.
Connectivity is more fully-fledged. It has a Micro HDMI port and support for wireless charging as well as optional 3G (HSPA+) and 4G LTE. There’s also GPS, microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and dual-band Wi-Fi.
The cheapest way to get hold of the Nexus 7 2 is still direct from Google Play. The Wi-Fi only version will cost £199 for the 16GB model and £239 for the 32GB model. If you want 3G/4G capability then only a 32GB variant is available at present for £299.
Yes, the Nexus 7 2 is the “best” device here in terms of raw specs (and indeed design). It’s a substantial boost over its predecessor, but likewise even the base cost has gone up in tandem. Where the original Nexus 7 was (and remains) priced at around £150 you’re looking at pretty much £200 for the equivalent 16GB Wi-Fi only Nexus 7 2. Unquestionably, you are still getting a very good deal here in terms of spec-to-price value for money. It easily keeps up with more expensive offerings from rival manufacturers.
But in terms of a viable Android experience? You’re still very much getting one of those on either of the other two and for a good deal less money. If you’re looking to save cash but still want something decent then these are well worth a look. The cheapest option, Tesco’s Hudl, punches well above its weight and has little perks like a microSD slot and Micro HDMI output. While I would expect to get more consistent performance from the older Nexus 7 it doesn’t represent as good value for money as either of the other two options in the current market (it’s still a great device if you’ve already got one, and you should hang onto it).
For me, this quickly becomes a two-horse race between the Tesco Hudl if you want to save and still get something good, or the Nexus 7 2 if you don’t mind spending a fair bit more for something which really excels despite still being cheaper than the competition.