Advent Vega review Advent Vega review

ratingratingratingratingrating
We love
Price, snappy web browsing
We hate
Rough around the edges, screen ratio better suited for video than reading
Verdict
Startlingly good value, but with Android minus Google support, you really need to know what you're letting yourself in for
Launch Price
£249.99

Advent Vega review

Update: Advent has been in touch to tell us issues outputting sound through HDMI is down to our Sony TV. Apparently, it’s a well-known issue, with discussions all over the web. We can’t test it at the moment, since we only have Sony TVs to hand, but have you replicated it at home? Give us a shout in the comments section.


Oh, Advent Vega. It’s been a torrid love affair. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab snubbed us with its high asking price, here you were, promising scarily similar performance and specs, at less than half the cost. You’ve been playing hard to get on online stores, and come out of nowhere, winding up as one of the most anticipated gadgets of 2010 in the UK.

Now though, we’ve had a chance to test the slate out thoroughly, and cut through all the hype. Has it been worth the wait? Read our full Advent Vega review to find out.

Let’s get this clear from the start. The Advent Vega is leagues above all the other Android tablets knocking around between the £99 and £300 mark. In fact, for a small company to have put together such impressive hardware for £249 is staggering. It is however, no iPad rival, and nor does it give you the full Android experience. Are you prepared for that?

Build

As ever, the Advent Vega is far less attractive looking in real life than the press images make out. We could complain about the ever so slightly creaking build quality of the Advent Vega, but to be honest, it comes with the territory when you’re charging this little. On the plus side, the Advent Vega is still light, reasonably thin at 13.6mm and the four pads on the back should stop it from getting scuffed when placed down on a hard surface, as is always the risk with an iPad sans case.

What’s more irritating are the poorly defined physical buttons. The screen orientation lock (of which more on in a moment) really needs a nail to push and pull across, while the screen unlock button takes a whole two seconds to light up the display when pushed. Finally, there’s a physical back button, which is admittedly a nice option to have since it can sometimes vanish from offscreen.

It's not too thick, but you can feel it slightly ever so slightly depress when you grip the back

On the side, there’s a 3.5mm audio port, volume rocker, and a flap hiding slots for microSD (There’s very little internal storage so you’ll need this), a USB port and full size HDMI, all of which are relatively inoffensive. The USB port is a bit of a headscratcher, as it’s full size, but for attaching to a computer, not the other way round, so USB keyboards can’t be plugged in. In other words, you need the USB to USB cable that comes with it for sideloading media, and if you lose it, you probably won’t have a spare to hand. It’s not a big deal, but the lack of micro USB is a puzzler, especially since there’s a separate socket for charging the thing.

The real issue you’re going to have to deal with though is not so much whether you like how it feels (Cheap), but whether you like the size. Yes, the 10.1-inch screen has roughly the same diagonal width as the iPad. But it’s a different ratio, 16:9, and as a result, the Advent Vega is nearly a foot long. This has divided the Electricpig team: on the on hand, it’s great for video, but on the other, it makes webpages either very narrow, or the tablet very wide to hold and uncomfortable to type with. What do you plan on doing more of?

What’s the screen like?

Well, the good news is that the 1024×600 inch touchscreen is capacitive, which is a rarity at such a low price. It’s finger friendly, but as you probably guessed, compromises have had to be made. Viewing angles are poor, and it picks up smudges like some sort of handsome smudge womaniser.

Viewing angles aren't great, and the big dollop of glass reflection doesn't help

But if it’s just you watching a video, these issues will soon fade away, and it’s comfortable enough for reading long features on websites, though a tad too grainy to cope with for War & Peace.

A quick note about the HDMI port at this point. The good news is that it outputs the screen, not just videos from the Gallery app (We mean you, Dell Streak), and it’s full size, so you don’t need an adapter or mini HDMI cable. It’s great for playing high def videos on your TV, and while they don’t look stellar, the broad format support (See below) should make up for this. Websites, at 1024×600, look poor stretched out on a HDTV. Oddly, our Advent Vega didn’t output audio through HDMI, although this appears to be an issue with our Sony TV’s handling of HDMI sound, rather than the Advent Vega itself.

HDMI is a welcome addition

And the camera?

Look! It's me, but low resolution

Did you really expect the Advent Vega to have a useful camera, when Apple couldn’t afford to put one in the iPad? Yeah it doesn’t. The 1.3MP frontfacing web camera on the Advent Vega is absolutely awful, taking flat, soft as lard photos in natural light, and video with more stutter than a Joe song. On the plus side, it is still infinity percent more camera than the iPad has, so we can’t complain about having the option. Fring for Android is readily downloadable from the Voip’s company’s own website, and works just fine for video chats using the Advent Vega.

But it’s Android 2.2, that’s good right?

Well, on paper, yes. Android 2.2 is the latest version of Google’s mobile OS, but because the Advent Vega is a large tablet, rather than a sort-of-phone like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, there are some serious limitations.

Android 2.2 just wasn't designed for this resolution, and it shows

You see, Google hasn’t released a version of Android meant for tablets with higher screen resolutions rather than phones yet (One is coming), and so although Android’s core is open and free to use, Google hasn’t allowed Advent to install its proprietary apps like Gmail, Google Maps and the Android Market – which some might say are just as integral to Android as the underlying tech.

Some being us: while the included email app does a very good job of mimicking Gmail (and even throwing in a combined inbox for good measure) with a different colour scheme, the lack of Android Market access means that downloading apps is a hit and miss affair. You’ll have to hope an Android app is available through the developer’s website (Not always the case), or hunt out semi-legit install files from forums. Either way, that requires know how not everyone snapping up a super cheap tablet will have.

And even then it’s pot luck. Angry Birds just wouldn’t work for us, which is a good example of another issue manufacturers face when trying to shoehorn something Google really doesn’t want you to into a tablet. Samsung managed to paper over the cracks fairly well, but Advent has not.

The Advent Vega feels really rough around the edges: Android 2.2 isn’t meant to run at 1024×600, something that becomes startlingly clear when you pull down the notification bar. The tray takes up the whole screen, but the notifications only take up as much as they would on your phone. It looks nasty, and the issues continue in the apps you use. Advent’s software skin and fixed task bar at the top for the Advent Vega appears to shunt the bottom of some apps off the screen. We found Spotify in particular suffered, as the Now Playing tray is almost invisible.

The keyboard is well spaced and repsonsive, bar a strange bug

The Advent Vega also froze completely twice during our testing, requiring a hard reset (which you can do by holding down the power button), and the screen orientation lock switch sometimes decided to simply not work, and go ahead and tilt the screen anyway, which was most peculiar.

Speaking of the software skin, we’re not especially taken with Advent’s design choices for the homescreen either. Putting the home, menu and back buttons at the top of the screen is a wise move compared to opting for physical buttons on something so big, but the dock at the bottom is not. You can’t change it, so you’re stuck with web shortcuts (Not apps) for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all day. On the plus side though, Advent hasn’t bogged the Vega down with bloatware (One WH Smith ebook download app, and that’s it).

Can I go off piste though?

In a word, yes. The Advent Vega has been rooted and hacked wide open, so if you know the forums to hit up and understand how Android really works, it’s possible to sideload Android Market, and as a result, all the other core Google apps, on it.

But, this isn’t something that’ll sit well with the warranty, and more to the point, not something that everyone who just wants a cheap tablet for web browsing will be able to do – let’s face it, some people will want one because they don’t understand computers. As such, we have to mark the Advent Vega down for lacking Google support – hopefully Google’s tablet-optimized Android 3.0 (or Honeycomb) will bring an end to the big G’s tablet dashing restrictions.

What’s it good at out of the box?

We’ve been breaking this down Bisto style for you, and saving the best until last. Core Android 2.2 still keeps most of the improvements you’ve seen on Froyo phones, like speed improvements, a PIN screen unlock instead of stupid shape keys, and Flash video.

Flash video playback works incredibly smoothly

The browsing experience on the Advent Vega, for the price, is excellent. Pinch to zoom gestures don’t look smooth but do work, and the browser loads pages terrifically fast. In fact, the Advent Vega consistently loaded the Electricpig.co.uk homepage quicker than an iPad by several seconds, we found.

The screen length might still bug people who prefer to read in portrait (it’s very narrow as a result), but that 16:9 ratio is a big boon for Flash video. The Advent Vega comes preloaded with the Flash 10.1 plugin, and it works very smoothly indeed. BBC iPlayer ran without a glimpse of a stutter, and desktop YouTube does too (up to 480p resolution – 720, not so much), so you can watch TV shows easily.

The stock Android touchscreen keyboard meanwhile does not have a good reputation, but stretched to 10-inches, it generally works just fine, and you can type as quickly on it as on an iPad. We weren’t alone in noticing a strange glitch that caused a letter to be repeated (Ttthannkss), but this only kicked in rarely, and we’d hope Advent will be fairly quick ironing this one out.

Video too

720p MP4 clips play flawlessly on the Advent Vega

The Advent Vega turned out to be a superb media player too. Sound quality from the speaker is no worse than the iPad’s, and its video format support is much stronger. It’ll play DivX files, standard definition MKVs and best of all, high def MP4 files, without a stutter, so you won’t have to resort to RockPlayer to open your videos (we tried the same files through it, and it didn’t work very well on the Advent Vega). We’ve been waiting for Tegra 2 tablets for a long time, but now they’re here, it appears the performance has been worth the wait.

Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Tab Android tablet could last a day on full pelt, which is nothing compared to the staggering stamina of the iPad’s battery. What’s becoming increasingly clear though is that the size difference (7 to 10-inches diagonally) allows for a much more capacious battery: the Advent Vega runs like the clappers.

We used it for a whole day with WiFi on, watching videos (local and Flash), surfing the web and streaming music from Spotify, and only got the charge down to fifty percent. Admittedly, we’d say it’s not quite as powersipping as an iPad on standby – it dropped another ten percent overnight where an iPad might drop one or two – but in day to day use running low on power will rarely be an issue.

Verdict

This is an internet tablet first and foremost

It should be clear by now that the Advent Vega is more of an internet tablet than it is an Android tablet. The truth is that unless you know how to root an Android phone, and that an APK isn’t a finishing move in wrestling, trying to get Android apps running on it is simply pot luck, and until Google lifts its limitations, will remain so. If you’re all about the apps though, you should seriously consider the upsell: £180 more will get you an iPad. That’s a lot, but the iPad is worth every penny.

But what an internet tablet the Advent Vega is. The Advent Vega is fast, efficient, and incredibly well specced for the price. So long as you’re clear about this, you’ll love this device.

  • http://twitter.com/midnightz Eman Zaman

    “the iPad is worth every penny”… LOL It's funny how people will grumble about £10 extra on their grocery bill but are happy to fork out £400-500 for an iPad that doesn't even run a tiny percentage of the software that a notebook at that price could run.

  • Ludakr1sh

    apple fan boy

  • Wesley

    Advent Vega + Google apps (that are easy to put on) = 5 stars.

    Only £180 more for the iPad…give me a break…only. LOL

    • bensillis

      Hi Wesley – while it's easy to do if you know where to look, the fact is it's not what the Vega offers out of the box. This is what we have to base our review on, since so many people who will end up buying the device will never have heard of modaco or xda-developers. Note also that I didn't write “only” £180, but instead said it was a “lot”, but still worth it for those who are looking for a great tablet experience without any computer knowledge required.

      But hey, if you know how to put the official Google Android apps on there, crak on, you'll get a lot more from the Vega.

      Cheers!
      Ben

  • misc2050

    Hmmm, I wonder if Honeycomb will allow a higher resolution on this device?? Hopefully there's no hardware limitation. I think this is an awesome machine for the price though – a tad limited out of the box, but so were many android smartphones and look what enthusiastic developers and Google did for those. The Google G1 is a great example – Froyo is now available, with most of the bells and whistles for that! Well done Advent (or whoever the original manufacturer is), you've created a genuinely compelling device.

    • bensillis

      I think the Vega's screen resolutions is maxed out already unfortunately.

  • Julian

    strange – angry birds works fine for me, and the other one we have here in the office. downloaded straight off the market as it was the first thing i did once rooted.

  • smartroad

    Think I will wait until I can play with it myself at a store. However; and this seems to be a problem with all Android Tablets; that Froyo isn't suitable for tablets and I will most likely wait now until it is ready and Google are happy to have it on tabs.

  • Dirtbag_88

    Here on my vega… whoop! Admittedly, I was sceptical with what I bought initially. The lack of an application store altogether was somewhat worrying. But, with the official updates, in conjunction with the modaco tweaks Paul made…. the advent becomes a different animal altogether. The main limitations with the device are software related, so anyone who is brave enough to attempt a root with a brand new device I would highly recommend it. I could go on about the niggling issues with this device, however it is still important to consider that it is early days….. things can only get better!!!
    To put things in perspective, my brother is an apple fanboy and loves his ipad more than anything…. he wanted to trade with me once held got his hands on the vega. Nuff said!!
    Out of the box -*** with updates and miracle help- *****…
    just can't put it down!!!!!

  • Warriorscot

    I love mine. There are a few niggles but nothing that has been insurmountable and mostly its androids limitations which advent have said they are going to fix with updates. Really a big chunk of the faults go down to google being a bit stubborn on its tablet support on android. I get how they want to make a big fuss of android tablet release but there is nothing to stop them rolling out some basic updates to keep things running smooth in the interim.

    I've been considering rooting mine but I will wait and see how brave I am.

    One thing I really disagree with in the review is the build quality is pretty good in my opinion it feels pretty solid. I don't get this obsession with everything made of pressed metal. Plastic is lighter and wears well. It feels very robust to me when handling.

    And I have to laugh at the only a £180 more remark . In this economy that's a huge difference for a lot of people and conveniently not mention 3g contracts that go with it. And for something that isn't actually a laptop or netbook functionality wise its way too steep. And tablets are going to get wear and tear being carried around and loosing or breaking a vega is only half the disaster of doing it to an ipad.

  • guest

    as an apple fanboy, i cannot wait to get hold of my vega! if it ever comes to pcworld!! my main question would be what happens when i plug it into my mac? is it a drag and drop situation or what?
    i do agree that the only £180 comment is poor, i would not touch an ipad at those prices and you can't increase the storage – pathetic – and as i said, i have owned several macs before.

    • Zoe

      See above post. In Derby PC World. No good to me but could be to you. As of 4,15pm today

  • zoe

    Just been into our small PC World and they tell me the only store that has it in stock is in Derby. Not sure if that is any hellp to anyone, but thought i would post it just in case. This was at 4.15pm today when the told me this.

  • coolbeans

    I would go for an ipad if it supported Flash but it does not and has too many restrictions with apps. I lot of websites use Flash and if you want a tablet computer for web surfing and to replace a laptop or desktop the ipad is not an option (not for me anyway). For example, the ipad does not support iplayer or other media streaming services like Napster music, and many news sites include Flash video. I own an ipod touch hand it's great for games. If you want a games tablet then the ipad wins hands down. If you want more than a games tablet then Android will always win in my opinion.

  • Steveu

    I've got one, and have all the apps I need (I'm no expert but found it easy to get them) – Angry Birds, Google Maps, Google StreetMap etc, you don't need any shortcuts as all websites can be bookmarked like youtube, twitter etc. iplayer works brilliantly, and so does the music player, video player and photo slideshow options. All in all worth every penny!

    • Zas2809

      Ohhh you are so lucky! PC world took my order last Saturday but cant say when it will be delivered :-( I have been looking at apps in ready for when i receive it and from what i can see I can get all i want.

    • Zo

      Hiya Steve. I got mine today. Can you give me a bit more info in where you found the games and apps. Which site did you use. things. Thanks

      • Andy

        I picked up on last week from PC World in Bristol (I went in to buy an Archos 10.1). First thing I did was download and installed the MoDoCo thing, then from the standard Android Marketplace I installed Go Launcher EX (which fixes the orientation lock on the homescreen and allows you to alter the dock contents at the bottom) and the standard apps I have on my Android phone (Pulse, Evernote, Google Apps, etc).
        I've not tried out HDMI yet, but so far the device is great. Looking forward to getting Dock next and a decent small keyboard.

  • Steve Gianolio-Jones

    Bought two of these from PCWorld for my kids for Christmas.  out of the box they were impressed enough with them, but then they worked out how to put VegaComb on (version of Honeycomb) and its brilliant.  Far more responsive screen and colours.  Runs all games well, including the new FLCommando.  FIlms, music and Android Market added on Vegacomb too.  Excellent value for money.  Would certainly recommend, but upgrade to Vegacomb is a must!

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