As the festive season approaches (sorry, it's inevitable!) the thoughts of parents across the land will turn to a budget tablet for their little darlings. We've got our hands on the ~£100 Sero 8 Pro from HiSense, a 8", 'retina display', metal bodied tablet that looks to provide an option a little different to the more established players.
You may not have heard of HiSense, but they are a huge Chinese company with a vast range of goods. In Europe they are probably best known for their TVs and white goods, but they are on a concerted drive to increase brand awareness as they bring more products to Western markets (look for their sponsorship on RedBull Racing's F1 cars).
Where to buy
The specifications are pretty normal for a Chinese tablet, including:
- Rockchip RK3288 quad-core CPU, Cortex-A17,1.8GHz
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB ROM with microSD expansion
- Android 4.4.4 KitKat
- 7.85 inch Retina (2048x1536) IPS screen, 300nit+ brightness
- 5 point multi-touch
- Stereo speakers
- 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 8 Megapixel rear, 2 Megapixel front camera
- Vibrate motor
- 4400mAh battery
- 200.3 x 135.6 x 6.35 mm
- 326 g
There are a few standout things here. First up, i'm a big fan of 4:3 screens at this size, rare as they are on Android. Secondly, 6.35mm is seriously thin. Thirdly - a vibrate motor! Every tablet should have one for keyboard feedback! Finally... Android 4.4.4 - which is disappointing. But more on that later!
The device we have here in the office is the blue model and let's cut to the chase - it looks stunning (and I suspect the red is even better). The rear of the device, with it's matte blue metal finish and silver Hisense logo, looks fanastic. There are black plastic sections top and bottom behind which sit the antennas for WiFi etc., but with the metal edge the device still manages to look great. If feels great too, as you'd expect there's no flex at all in the chassis and the coolness of the metal feels good in the hand.
As you survey the edges of the device with the power button (silver with a blue accent), microSD slot, microUSB charging port and 3.5mm headphone port all together on the top, you'll notice something missing - volumes buttons. There are none! This is because device volume is managed using buttons on the on screen navigation bar. I have to say, not my favourite thing ever, not least because if you ever need to boot the device into recovery from off, you don't have the physical keys to do so. It does give the device very clean lines on the sides however. Dual stereo speakers with silver grilles can be found on the bottom.
The black front of the device is free from any branding and is dominated by the 7.85" IPS screen, above which sits the front facing camera. Note that there is no light sensor on this device (which means no automatic brightness).
Let's start by talking about the two elephants in the room first of all. The Sero 8 Pro runs Android 4.4.4, which isn't ideal - I would hope that all devices being sold today are at least either on Lollipop or have a clear upgrade path - neither unfortunately is true here. How important that is is for you to decide for yourself! Secondly the device runs on a relatively ageing and not widely adopted RK3288 chipset - this will hinder third party updates, there's not likely to be updates from the community for this device.
After powering on and booting the device, you are presented with a pretty stock Android install, which is good. A lot of random apps and games are installed out of the box, but it's not an issue as they can all be uninstalled, leaving just the core apps remaining. 11.37GB of the 16GB is available for apps and of course microSD expansion is an option. The device also supports USB host. The full Google suite including the Play Store is available, together with a few additional apps from HiSense such as an electronic user manual, a video player (with support for 4K content with hardware H265 decoding), Vevo UK (a little bit random) and 'Viewster', which is a movies on demand app.
I see the Sero 8 Pro being used primarily as a device for consuming content and as such I was keen to try one of my favourite apps on it - the 'Readly' magazine reader. The tablet's high resolution, OGS / IPS screen is excellent for this sort of purpose. It's very bright and sharp. The lack of auto brightness is annoying, although an app such as Lux or Velis would perhaps let you use the front facing camera as a workaround. The screen is not the most responsive i've ever used, but it is good enough. It is susceptible to fingerprint marks and doesn't appear to have any sort of scratch protection such as gorilla glass - a screen protector would probably be a wise investment.
Out of the box I found the overall responsiveness of the tablet a little disappointing, but as is often the case, things improved considerably when I ditched the standard launcher and replaced it with the Google Now launcher, free from the Play Store. While the Sero 8 Pro won't make a great gaming device, it is quick enough to be perfectly usable for web browsing, email, video, music and all those kind of 'regular' uses. It's not a power users tablet.
On the subject of target markets, at this price range there will be lots of parents considering the device for their children. There is no multiple account support or parental controls, something that the Tesco Hudl 2 offers at a slightly cheaper price point.
I was pretty surprised to see a GPS included in the tablet, so I dutifully loaded up Here Maps, which offers onboard mapping (no data connection required) and as such is ideal for use on a tablet. It worked great! I'm not sure what an 8" screened dedicated sat nav would otherwise cost you, but it's definitely one possible use for the Sero 8 Pro. It would look great in a metallic blue (or red) car too.
The Sero 8 Pro has 2 cameras packing 8 Megapixels at the rear and 2 Megapixels at the front. The rear camera is slow to focus and the pictures are pretty average, so I wouldn't recommend going out for the day and using it as your main snapper. Hey, you don't want to be that guy anyway do you? I'm actually more impressed with the front facing camera, which is fine for social media selfies and performs well in video calls via apps such as Skype, which is more likely to be it's primary use anyway.
Finally, the stereo speakers on the Sero 8 Pro are worthy of a mention. They crank up pretty loud and clear. It's a ~6mm thick tablet so don't expect a lot of bass, but they're not bad at all (and are apparently Dolby certified complete with a Dolby companion app).
Pros and Cons
- Impressively thin, with great build quality. Good looking!
- Bright, crisp screen, good size and 4:3 ratio
- 2GB RAM
We don't like...
- Performance is just 'OK'
- Screen is susceptible to fingerprints
- No auto-brightness
It's relatively slim pickings at this price point in the market, which is largely dominated by the Hudl 2. While the Tesco option is definitely extremely good value and very appealing, the iPad-mini-alike 4:3 form factor on the Sero 8 Pro works better for many uses, such as reading books or particularly magazines.
With a Lollipop upgrade the tablet would certainly be more compelling, but if you are swayed by the gorgeous metal body of the Sero 8 Pro, I won't blame you!
Edited by PaulOBrien