The update cycle on most Android tablets has been around 12 to 18 months—it’s not often that one of these products gets refreshed in just six or seven. But that’s what happened with Dell’s original Venue 7 tablet, as well as its sibling, the Venue 8, both released in late 2013. Dell showed the first versions of these Venue tablets to the door rather quickly after they debuted.
The strongest impression we had of these 2013 Venues is that they were commonplace, with very little inside and out to differentiate them from most other compact Android slates. Especially so the 7-incher: Like most recent budget tablets, nearly everything about it was adequate but unexciting. It was the kind of tablet that would do in a pinch, but it didn’t inspire much in the way of enthusiasm or enmity.
The good news is that their replacements are thinner and lighter tablets with faster, more efficient Intel Atom processors. Our review of the $199.99-MSRP Venue 8 3000 Series revealed that, aside from a few minor flaws (a one-speaker sound system; shorter-than-average battery life), it was a much better tablet. A new full-HD display and a peppy 64-bit Atom CPU saw to that.
The Venue 7 3000 Series isn’t quite the same success story. Dell didn’t equip this smaller, $159.99-MSRP 7-inch model with a higher-resolution screen, nor, as you’ll see in the Performance section later on in this review, does it come with quite the same CPU as its 8-inch sibling (though it’s close). That doesn’t make the Venue 7 3000 Series a bad tablet, by any means. But the differences are significant enough that we found the Venue 8 an all-around better value, and a better tablet period, price regardless.
Still, this second Venue 7 is a decent slate in its own right. This one is a little thinner and lighter than last year’s, and, as mentioned, the different processor inside makes it a little faster. Dell’s problem here, as we see it, is that the Venue 7 3000 Series isn’t any more attractive, feature-wise, than several competing models, including Asus’ recent $149.99-list MeMO Pad 7. Plus, the popularity of smaller 7-inch slates appears to be waning in favor of 8-inch screens. An 8-inch display is larger by about 30 percent, making 8-inch tablets easier to use. And all else being equal, the price difference between 7- and 8-inchers is narrowing. Good budget 7-inchers hover around $150; budget 8-inchers start around $180 to $200.
Yet another reason the Venue 8 3000 Series is more attractive is that to get the same super-high resolution (1,920×1,200 pixels) on a 7-inch screen, you must step up (or down, depending on your perspective) to Google’s Nexus 7, the patriarch of high-res 7-inch tablets. Now, the Nexus 7 may be nearing the end of its long run (Google had just removed it from the Google Play Store when we wrote this, though it was still available from resellers), but it’s around the same price as the Venue 8 3000 Series. And the Nexus 7 doesn’t come with a way to expand the onboard storage, which, as we’ll discuss on the next page, both the Venue 7 and the Venue 8 do. And, of course, the screen is an inch smaller than the Venue 8’s.
Our bottom line? If you can afford it, spend the extra $40 or so for the larger, higher-resolution Venue 8 3000 Series. You’ll be glad you did. If your budget limits you strictly to $150 or so, though, the Venue 7 3000 Series is a good tablet, but then so is Asus’ $149.99-MSRP MeMO Pad 7, as well as a few others—and some of those cost even less.
As we wrote this, Dell was offering a $10 “instant savings” incentive on its Web site, thereby lowering the price on the Venue 7 3000 Series to $149.99, the same as the Asus tab. But assuming the prices stay parallel, we’d still opt for the Asus 7-incher.
Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.
We predicted early in 2013 that entry-level Android tablets with list prices under $100 were imminent—and soon. Sure enough, budget-friendly models such as Hisense’s $99-list Sero 7 LT began to show up at Wal-mart, Sears, and Amazon. But then, everybody knows that “list” prices (a.k.a. manufacturer-suggested retail prices, or MSRPs) are merely guidelines that give you the perception of a bargain when you pay less. Most outlets sell their wares for less than the MSRP, often undercutting each other in attempts to entice you to buy from them. The result, of course, is that the actual sale price (the “street price”) turns out to be significantly less.
Take the subject of this review, ValueChain’s $99-list ValuePad VP112. As we wrote this in late March 2014, we found the VP112 online for as little as $69.99. That makes us wonder whether under-$50-list compact slates are coming in 2014, but we’ll hold off on predicting that for now. Still, even if that doesn’t happen, it won’t be long before almost everybody will be able to afford a new Android tablet of some kind.
But are these super-cheap slates any good? The answer depends on your response to these two questions: (a) Compared to what? And (b) what do you want to use your tablet for? By today’s standards, these extreme-entry-level tabs come with the bare minimums in terms of CPU, display resolution, battery life, and storage space. Both this ValuePad and the Sero 7 LT, for instance, run on dual-core processors, compared to the much snappier quad-core CPUs found in higher-end mainstream models, such as Google’s $229-list 2013 version of its Nexus 7 and LG’s more recent $349-list G Pad 8.3 and G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition.
These higher-end slates also come with much nicer, higher-resolution display panels. The Nexus 7 and the two G Pads, for example, sport gorgeous full-HD 1,920×1,200-pixel screens, compared to the meager 1,024×600 screen on our ValuePad test unit. (The Sero 7 LT’s screen has the same resolution.) With HD, you get nearly four times the overall number of pixels in much the same screen area, making a huge difference in overall display clarity, detail, and vibrancy. (We’ll look at screen quality and several other issues, such as battery life and storage space, later in this review. And we’ll address overall performance and capabilities in the Performance section near the end.)
Now, we expect under-$100 tablets to skimp somewhat on hardware and processing muscle, and this ValuePad does demand some trade-offs in that regard. But it has what we consider a bigger problem—it runs Android, but it’s not a Google-certified slate. While that entails many things, the primary drawback for end users is that you can’t access the Google Play store, the world’s largest repository of Android apps. Instead, you’re relegated to relying on one of the third-party app stores, such as the Amazon Appstore or 1Mobile Market. These aren’t as restricting as they used to be, but Google Play provides by far the largest selection.
That said, given its price, this ValuePad is a good buy for children and first-time tablet buyers. Granted, there’s no magic going on here: You’re getting less for less money, notably a small dollop of storage space (just 8GB) and short battery life (under 4 hours). But if you shop around, you can pick up the VP112 for under $70. At that price, as long as it’s built reasonably well and runs stably, it’s hard to go wrong if you need a basic, near-disposable tablet.
Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.
In the closing months of 2013, we’ve seen tremendous growth—at least in terms of the sheer number of products—in the market for compact Android tablets (that is, models with 7-to-9-inch displays). It’s to the point, it seems, that we’re reviewing a new one every week or two. Some, such as the 2013 refresh of the Google Nexus 7, are fast and aspire to elegance. Others, such as HiSense’s Sero 7 LT and HP’s Slate 7, are no-pretenses budget models.
That second group—budget-priced compact tablets—is where the model we’re looking at here, Dell’s $149.99-list Venue 7, fits in. Like several like-priced, no-frills budget slates we’ve looked at lately (notably Asus’ $149.99-list MeMO Pad HD 7 and HiSense’s $149.99-list Sero 7 Pro), the Venue 7 is light, thin, and attractive, and it performed reasonably well on our benchmark tests given its price. It’s fast enough to perform most tasks comfortably, though not an ideal pick for the most resource-intensive Android games.
In addition, the Venue 7 turned in one of the shortest unplugged runtimes in our battery-rundown test we’ve seen in some time—as much as three to eight hours behind some other compact models. We’ll talk more about this tablet’s battery life in the Battery Life & Conclusion section later on.
Our review package contained the Venue 7 alone, equipped with 16GB of internal storage, for $149.99 list. However, Dell offers some interesting bundles on its Web site. You can, for example, choose the Venue 7 with a Targus stylus for $159.99, or a “Venue 7 + Essentials Bundle” for $199.99, which includes the Targus stylus and a 32GB SanDisk MicroSD card, which boosts the onboard storage capacity from 16GB to 48GB.
In addition to the Venue 7, Dell also offers the Venue 8, an 8-inch-screened version of the tablet. It sells in a set of bundles parallel to its smaller sibling’s: a stand-alone Venue 8 version for $179.99; with a stylus for $189.99; and a $229.99 Essentials 8 Bundle with a stylus and a 32GB memory card.
We should also point out that the Venue 8 has a slightly faster (2GHz) Atom processor than the Venue 7’s (1.6GHz), which should, theoretically anyway, make for a slightly faster slate. Also, don’t confuse the Venue 8 with the Venue 8 Pro, which is a full-on Windows 8 tablet. (Hit the link for our review of that one.) In any case, nothing about either Android version, the 7- or 8-inch, is particularly ground-breaking. In fact, the Venue 7 is, for the most part, just another entry-level compact Android tablet. It brings little new to the conversation. At $150, it’s one of the cheaper compact tablets we know of, but certainly not the cheapest. And that’s our main quibble with this tablet: We couldn’t find a compelling reason to recommend it over the other 7-inch Androids out there in its price class.
That said, given the price, we couldn’t find any reason not to recommend it, either, for first-time buyers, as a second slate for the family, or perhaps as an inexpensive tablet for a child. Given its comparably priced competitors, though, we’d like the Venue 7 a lot more at $129, or perhaps even a bit less.
See entire review at Computer Shopper.
We’ve seen so many twists in the convertible tablet market lately—literally and figuratively speaking, thanks to machines that bend, twist, and fold in every direction—that we find it a little refreshing when something a bit more straightforward and conventional, such as Samsung’s ATIV Tab 7, comes along. Then again, who would have believed just a couple of years ago that we’d be calling the ability to snap a laptop-grade tablet onto a keyboard docking station, essentially converting it to a fully functional laptop, “conventional?”
By “conventional,” we mean that this slate/keyboard hybrid device doesn’t break-dance, do screen backflips, or turn itself into a pretzel, like the Lenovo Yoga 11 or Dell XPS 12. Instead, when attached, its two parts mimic a laptop, and, when separated, you can use the screen portion as a tablet. The ATIV Tab 7 we tested is Samsung’s $1,199-list challenger to Microsoft’s comparably priced and closely configured Windows 8 tablet, the Surface Pro. (The screen on the Surface Pro is an inch smaller on the diagonal, at 10.6 inches.) Almost identical on the outside to its 11.6-inch, Atom-powered Samsung sibling (the $799-list ATIV Smart PC that the Korean electronics giant released earlier this year), this new ATIV tablet is quite different inside and is priced as a premium slate. Like its Atom brother, though, it just doesn’t look all that premium on the outside. It’s a bit too plasticky-feeling for our liking. But once we got past that, we discovered a lot more to this slate than initially meets the eye.
On the internal-component side of things, the ATIV Tab 7 runs on the same Intel Core i5 processor found not only in the Surface Pro but in several other competing hybrids, such as Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga and Toshiba’s Satellite U925T-S2120. Because of that, it performed nearly identically to the Surface Pro and many of its competitors.
In addition, also like on the Surface Pro, Samsung has thrown in a stylus—but not just any stylus. The ATIV Tab 7 takes advantage of the company’s highly successful Galaxy Note Android devices’ S Pen technology, which, as you’ll see in the next section, provides several helpful ways to increase productivity. S Pen just may be the best stylus technology available for tablets; we find it well surpasses the implementation of the pen on the Surface Pro.
Despite its somewhat ho-hum appearance, we liked this slate once we got it under the tips of our fingers and stylus. Though the high-resolution (1,920×1,080) screen, at 11.6 inches, was somewhat tight for manipulating some aspects of Windows with our fingers, the S Pen picked up the slack there. And the screen displayed our test videos and photographs gorgeously, while a pair of great-sounding front-facing speakers played our music and movie soundtracks better than most other tablets or even laptops. We’ll take all-around performance over sexy-looking any day.
Read entire review at Computer Shopper.
Ever since the webOS-based HP TouchPad debacle back in July 2011, many a pundit has pundit-ized about what role HP might end up playing in the non-Windows tablet scene. With the introduction of HP’s first Android tablet, it looks like that role will be…a supporting actor.
Instead of coming back with a confidenttour-de-force, rolling out something new and ground-breaking, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based giant has quietly sidled into the Android slate market with an entry-level compact slate, the HP Slate 7, that’s more run-of-the-mill than run-of-table.
In a marketplace awash with mini tablets, our first question about the Slate 7, as we took it out of the box and looked it over, was whether this was a serious contender, or just one more me-too tab. The first impression tended toward the latter. And at this stage in the Android-tablet game, HP needed a home run to get a slice of this very competitive pie. How else to make yet another 7-inch slate attractive enough to gain a foothold against the market-dominating Google Nexus 7 and Apple iPad Mini, not to mention the price-chopped Barnes & Noble Nook HD and cheap mass-market tabs from the likes of Hisense and many others?
HP told us that its strategy for the Slate 7 is two-fold: first, to focus on functionality and features where the market leaders have fallen short; and second, to offer a quality-built, well-performing product at a competitive price. For example, the Google Nexus 7 has only one camera and doesn’t provide a means for expanding storage. The Slate 7, on the other hand, comes with both front- and rear-facing shooters, and you can expand its storage capacity via a MicroSD card. In addition, HP has included Beats Audio enhancement and improved printing capabilities.
We’d say HP has succeeded partially in its aims. While the Slate 7 performs well, and it does feel thoughtfully put-together, it remains a budget tablet at heart. And alas, the compromises of budget-friendly products always shine through somehow. What you give up on the Slate 7 is a gyroscope and GPS, which are standard features on most Android slates. In addition, this tablet has a lower-resolution screen than on most other 7-inch slates that aren’t cut-rate models. And just as much a concern, this tablet didn’t last nearly as long on our battery-rundown test as a bunch of others we’ve tested. That includes several low-cost 7-inchers—notably, the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD (7”)$199.00 at Amazon.
The question with any low-cost tablet is, of course, whether these trade-offs make sense versus competing models—a question we’ll try to answer over the course of this review. As for the price, you can buy the Slate 7 with either 8GB or 16GB of onboard storage; HP pegs these models with list prices of $169.99 and $199.99, respectively. However, as we were writing this in early July 2013, HP announced an instant rebate of $30 for both versions, dropping them to $139.99 and $169.99.
HP told us that this pricing would last “for a while,” which we took to mean at least for the foreseeable future. In any case, considering current tablet trends and other new players on the scene, such as Hisense and its two under-$150 slates (the $149-list Sero 7 Pro and the $99Sero 7 LT, both exclusive to Walmart), the pressure on HP and others to maintain these low prices—or perhaps drop them even further—is immense.
Overall, the Slate 7 is well-built and attractive, and it performed well on our suite of benchmark tests. Still, given its screen resolution and somewhat diminished feature list, we’d have trouble recommending either model—but especially the 16GB version—at the list price. With the instant savings, it’s a better buy. The problem is, like so many other compact tablets we’ve seen lately, it doesn’t much stand out from its mass of competitors.
Indeed, HP has chosen quite a tough time to enter this free-for-all. We like the Slate 7 as an entry-level slate for first-time buyers, or perhaps as a second tablet for a family with children. But at its list price, you might as well opt for one of our Editors’ Choice compact-tablet winners, such as the $199, 16GB version of the Google Nexus 7, without a second thought. With the rebate, on the other hand, it’s a safe pick if you’re budget-strapped enough that the extra $30 would be a hardship. But know that the 8GB version of the Slate 7 will likely have you scrambling for a $20 MicroSD card before long, dashing much of the discount.
See the full review at Computer Shopper.
Ever since the Google Nexus 7 by Asus set the 7-inch tablet market afire back in mid-2012, we haven’t seen much heat from other small-screen slates, barring the late-2012 debut of the Apple iPad Mini and the separate-but-parallel path taken by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and “bookseller-centric” slates. Unfortunately for most tablet makers, the conflagration was mostly confined to those three families—the Google slate because it set the bar so high, the iPad Mini because of its lineage, and Amazon because of its massive content clout. They have become the target products to beat and dethrone, in order for other tablet makers to gain a foothold in the compact-tablet market.
Hence, when evaluating competing models, one of the primary questions we set out to answer is: Does this slate bring anything new beyond the models already out there? In other words, why would a potential buyer choose this model over one of those? When a new tablet offers a nearly identical feature set for the same price, our job becomes a little more difficult. When most things—performance, display quality, connectivity options, and so on—are equal or close, we find ourselves looking for smaller, less-significant features to give our readers reasons for buying one device over the other.
That’s the case with Kobo’s Arc, the Canadian e-reader maker and e-content provider’s latest contribution to the market for 7-inch tablets. On the surface, our Kobo Arc review unit looked and behaved much like the Nexus 7, but when we dug a little deeper, we found some notable differences. Partly, it’s because the Arc has a bent toward e-reading, though it’s also a full-fledged Android tablet; it’s part of Kobo’s e-reader line (populated by monochrome models such as the Kobo Mini and Kobo Glo), and a portion of its custom interface is dedicated to new-reading discovery. Most of the differences, though—notably, the Arc’s somewhat slower dual-core processor, versus the Nexus 7’s more powerful and efficient quad-core, as well as the Kobo slate’s lack of GPS and Bluetooth radios—make the case for the Google slate.
Still, we found quite a few reasons to like the Kobo Arc as a tablet, and we also see it as a viable color e-reader alternate if you don’t want to commit to the Amazon empire and its proprietary e-reading format. (Kobo’s content ecosystem is no slouch, either; for more on it, see our reviews, linked above, of the Kobo Mini and Glo.) On the hardware side, despite the Arc’s slower CPU, it has a souped-up graphics processing unit (GPU) that processes high-end 3D graphics faster than the quad-core Nexus 7 does. (We’ll discuss graphics processing and overall performance in the Performance section a little later on.) In addition, the bundled Kobo e-reader app provides some interesting features, and Kobo has made some significant modifications to the Android user interface (UI) that some users may find preferable to stock Android, notably in a feature called “Tapestries.” We’ll discuss the e-reader and the UI in the Features & Apps section of this review.
You can buy the Kobo Arc in either black or white, and it comes in three different storage capacities: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. Here, we looked at the 16GB model, which lists for $199.99—the same price as the 16GB versions of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. The 32GB Kobo Arc rings up for the same $249.99 as the 32GB models of those two slates. One place where the Arc trumps them both is in its $299.99 64GB version; you can’t buy a 64GB Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD.
Now granted, no tablet—even a recipient of our Editors’ Choice award, such as the Nexus 7—is perfect. Interestingly, we have some of the same primary complaints about the Kobo Arc that we had about the Google slate last year. Neither slate, for instance, provides a way to expand storage capacity; nor does either have an HDMI-out port for connecting to an HD monitor or an HDTV.
Overall, though, from a user-experience perspective, these two tablets are quite similar. On paper, with its quad-core processor, a more recent version of Android, and a few other specs, the Nexus 7 looks like a superior general-purpose tablet. But we think that after reading our review, some would-be buyers will find a reason or two to choose the Kobo Arc instead.
And as an alternative to the e-reader elephant in the room, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, the Kobo is a bit more flexible and less locked down, especially as it supports full access to Google Play—Android’s official app and content repository—versus Amazon’s more limited subset. It’s also more of a general-purpose slate apart from its e-reading functions, which is why we see the Arc’s competition more as the Nexus 7 than the Kindle Fires.
See full review at Computer Shopper.
We knew it was coming—and soon. We just didn’t know exactly when, and which tablet manufacturer would make the first move. But the advent of the under-$250 quad-core, Tegra 3-based tablet was inevitable, and now, with the debut of Asus’ Google Nexus 7, it’s here. After only about six months since the powerful and power-efficient Nvidia Tegra 3 made its first appearance (in the $499.99 Transformer Prime TF201), that slate’s maker, Asus, teamed up with Google to once again break new ground. Not only is the Nexus 7 a groundbreaking quad-core slate on price, but it’s also the first to run the latest version of Android (4.1, a.k.a. “Jelly Bean”).
Now wait a minute, you’re probably saying: Aren’t there already a few $200 or close-to-$200 tablets—notably, Amazon’s $199.99 Kindle Fire and Samsung’s $249.99 Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)—available already? Well, yes, but the Kindle Fire is basically an e-reader with somewhat limited capabilities, and both of these models, as well as several other low-cost slates, run on somewhat outdated dual-core processors. Dual-core slates are not as fast as or as capable as tablets built around quad-core processors, nor do they provide anywhere near the same battery longevity. Overall, tablets running on quad-core CPUs are all-around better devices today, and they’ll remain viable for a longer time, too.
We should stop here a second time and note that Asus also offers a $199.99 version of the Nexus 7, too, making it, technically, the first under-$200 quad-core slate—never mind $250. However, the $199 version comes with only 8GB of onboard storage and, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a memory-card slot for expanding the storage capacity. With so little storage, after you subtract the bits taken up by the operating system and preinstalled apps, you wind up with just over 5GB of storage space—far too little for most users. The 16GB version we review here makes much more sense.
And that brings us back to the $249 Google Nexus 7. As you’d expect, manufacturing so inexpensive a slate entails making compromises, and, even though this model is light, attractive, well-built, and comfortable to use, it does demand its share of trade-offs. First, like the 8GB model, the 16GB Google Nexus 7 lacks storage expansion, which we cover in more detail on the next page. In addition, this slate has no HDMI-out port, making it more cumbersome to connect to HDTVs and other monitors. (We discuss this limitation, too, in the Design section.)
These shortcomings aside, the Google Nexus 7 is an impressive little tablet. Its 1,200×800-resolution screen—high for a 7-inch slate—displays text, images, and videos superbly. It turned in exceptional scores on our suite of benchmark tests, besting every other 7-inch tablet we’ve tested to date, as well as several full-size 10.1-inch models. The Google Nexus 7, like other impressive Asus models we saw earlier this year (such as the $399.99 10.1-inch Transformer Pad TF300 and the higher-end $499.99 Transformer Prime TF201), is a superb performer and an overall exceptional value.
Read full review in Computer Shopper.
Just over a year ago, Samsung’s first Android tablet, the original 7-inch-screened Galaxy Tab, was hailed as the first true competitor to Apple’s iPad. A noble excursion into the tablet market, that Galaxy Tab was, for its time, an impressive machine. It had a great screen, two cameras, expandable storage, and several other features that were missing on the first iPad (and that remain missing on the iPad 2).
After a full year, though, the Android 2.2 operating system (a.k.a. Froyo) on the Galaxy Tab had begun showing its age. Also, the tablet’s design was starting to look dated—at least as dated as any year-old piece of tech can. For both reasons, in early 2012, Samsung replaced this model with the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus.
Like Samsung’s other Android-based tablets—the Galaxy Tab 10.1and the Galaxy Tab 8.9—the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is a good-looking, well-built slate. However, a couple of Samsung’s design decisions, such as leaving out dedicated HDMI and USB ports (instead, relying on optional adapters), coupled with the promise of the company’s soon-to-be-released Galaxy Tab 7.7, gave us a few reservations about this tablet.
See the review at Computer Shopper.
Full-size tablets with 9- or 10-inch screens are great for using around your home or office, but when it comes to walking around with a slate, nothing beats a 7-incher. These small, light tablets are easy to transport, comfortable to type on when held in wide (landscape) orientation, and better for one-handed gripping for long periods.
Only a few manufacturers, such as Samsung and Acer, offer 7-inch versions of their larger tablets, and we’ve seen a few recent 7-inch hybrid e-readers/tablets, notably from Amazon (the Kindle Fire) and Barnes & Noble (the Nook Tablet). Unlike the abundance of full-size slates available, the selection of these handy littler ones is still quite limited. Hence, we’re always delighted to see a well-built, full-featured contender.
Enter Toshiba’s newest little powerhouse, the $379 Thrive. In many ways—primarily appearance and design—the 7-inch-screened Thrive mimics its larger, 10-inch-screen sibling. However, unlike that $479.99 version of the Thrive, this one doesn’t have a removable battery (a rare feature, which the larger Thrive has), nor does it offer full-size USB and HDMI ports.
If money is no object (and is it ever truly not one?), a tablet running the most recent version of Google’s Android operating system is what you want if you’re looking for an alternative to an Apple iPad. For lots of folks, though, $500 is simply too much for a device geared mostly toward mobile entertainment. Hence, we’re always intrigued by entry-level gadgets that can do a bit less, but for far less cash Take Pandigital’s 7-inch-screened Star tablet, for example. It sells for $159.99, a fraction of the price of an iPad or top-shelf Android tablet…. Read more at Computer Shopper.