Dixons Advent Vega
Geek's delight, consumer's fright
Review I had not had the Advent Vega out of the box for more than half an hour when I felt a very strong urge to fling the thing across the Reg Hardware office.
Dixons' Advent Vega: rather long and thin
I took receipt of the 10.1in tablet on the day Apple was due to announce the iPad 2. If the Vega is anything to go by, it needn't have bothered. The Advent tablet demonstrates the perils of brand owner Dixons' desire to keep the price low, and of jumping on the tablet bandwagon too soon.
The Vega was actually released way back in November 2010, but only recently has it gained the ability to play Adobe Flash content. I didn't want to review the Vega until Flash was ready to go. It is, as a trip to YouTube and a variety of other Flash-laden sites proved.
But there's still so much wrong with the Vega.
Let's start with the hardware. The Vega's netbook-like 1024 x 600 display is a widescreen job, and while 16:9 aspect ratios are all the rage in laptops, it feels entirely wrong on a tablet. Hold it in landscape mode and it's fine, but flip to portrait and it's just too darn narrow.
Dixons' developers must have spotted this early on, because the Vega is so clearly designed to be held in a landscape orientation. In that mode, the webcam is at the top of the screen, ditto the power key. The dock connector at the bottom of the tablet, and the HDMI, USB and Micro SD ports on the right-hand side.
Full size USB and HDMI ports built in
To stress the point, the Vega's auto-rotate system is automatically disabled when you're at the home screen. There's a key on top to disable auto-rotation, but the home screen won't shift no matter what. All the other apps do, except for the WHSmith ebook software, which forces you into portrait mode.
Another reason for forcing you to use the Vega in landscape mode: the then vertical viewing angle is poor, something you really notice when holding the gadget in portrait mode. And, as it's basic LCD panel, the colour reproduction isn't top notch.
The Vega is plastic backed so it's lighter than the iPad, though rather thicker and less well moulded. The display is also faced with plastic, so it's not as smooth as the iPad's glass front. Though the Vega's capacitive touchscreen itself is very responsive. it just doesn't feel as pleasant to use.
No easily swappable battery here - and the speaker grilles are right where you put your hands when holding the Vega in landscape mode
The screen also lacks the iPad's oil-repelling coating, which, while it may not be entirely fingerprint-proof, stops the screen getting anywhere near as grubby as the Vega's. Being plastic, the screen will need more care to avoid scratches
Both are signs of the spec squeezing Dixons has had to do to get the Vega's price down to an impressive £250. So too is the lack of on-board storage beyond a basic 512MB. Instead, the Vega uses Micro SD cards, a 4GB card being bundled in the box, along with a handy SD adaptor and a double-headed USB cable to connect the Vega, in mass-storage mode, to a computer.
It's a full-size USB port on the tablet, as is the HDMI port. The two speakers built into the back panel are not large, and don't deliver a particularly beefy sound, but most folk, I suspect, will use the 3.5mm earphone jack anyway.
There's no skimping on the processor: an Nvidia Tegra 2, which keeps the UI moving smoothly and has the oomph to take 1080p H.264 video playback in its stride. No worries there - all my test videos - H.264, AVI, MKV; SD, 720p and 1080p played just fine. Better than a netbook, for sure.
The plastic screen shield will require regular polishing to avoid a whole mess of fingerprints
Out of the box, the Vega's brightness was set to around 30 per cent. That left the glossy screen seem very reflective, and upping the brightness to the top certainly helps. Running Reg Hardware's netbook-centric video loop test, I got an impressive 6 hours 20 minutes out of the Vega - rather better than most netbooks, even those with bulbous external batteries.
But for 250 quid, I can forgive it that - and the other hardware shortcomings, such as 802.11g Wi-Fi not 802.11n, and the small-capacity SD card.
Rather than wait for the tablet-centric Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Dixons chose to equip the Vega with Android 2.2. Yes, it fills the tablet's larger display, and delivers the basics, but its smartphone origins soon make themselves felt in a sub-optimal user experience.
When you only have 600 pixels top to bottom, wasting a heap of them on a big, chunky status bar is just plain wrong. The icon dock at the bottom of the homescreen, used to present apps no matter what homescreen you've swiped to, is a neat, iPad-style touch, but it provides no feedback when you tap on an icon, not one of which can you change.
Video Playback Battery Life Test
Battery life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
Netbook-thrashing performance: the Advent Vega outclasses netbooks with twice the battery capacity it has. In each case, the screen brightness was set to maximum.
Or maybe you can, and there's a note to that effect in the manual. Said tome is provided as a download on Dixons' myadventvega.com website, but having retrieved it, you find there's no bundled app capable of reading PDFs.
And here's a major problem: there's no Android Market support, so no Adobe Reader or any other additional apps. The Vega comes with a decent set of media playback and personal information management tools, and both a browser and email, but that's it.
The MoDaCo custom firmware massively increases the number of useful on-board apps -
and adds Android Market support
So, no Skype to make use of that nice webcam, then. If you plan to put anything else on it, you're stuffed unless you're a hacker. Closing the tablet to app downloads is unforgiveable - hence my frustration and desire to chuck the Vega away in disgust.
Now, if you're happy with the basic array of apps, that's fine. Buy a Vega and you'll have a relatively cheap media playback and browsing device. Services like Twitter and Facebook, you can access through the web.
But so many opportunities to extend the abilities of the hardware will be denied you, at least until Dixons updates the software to support the Market - or you waive your warranty and install custom firmware. I briefly tried one from MoDaCo. Installation is straightforward on a Mac or Linux box, less so under Windows, and you get the Android Market and a lot more besides. It really brings this £250 tablet to life, making it the product it should have been from the start. Had it all that functionality out of the box, the Vega would have scored a lot more highly.
With better performance that your average netbook yet a lower price - and lower weight - the Advent Vega is an appealing tablet. Personally, I don't like the widescreen aspect ratio, but if you're happy to live in landscape orientation that won't worry you. The lack of storage capacity can easily be addressed with a cheap Micro SD card upgrade. Get one and the Vega becomes a decent big-screen PMP, but without access to fresh apps, it won't become a mobile companion. ®
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