Tesco Hudl and Microsoft Surface 2: tablets from new and old retailers

This week brings the Tesco Hudl, a supermarket-made newcomer, and the Surface 2, Microsoft's second attempt at a tablet. 

Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS
Microsoft's Surface 2 is seen during the launch of their Surface 2 tablets in New York September 23, 2013.

A shopping list for British supermarket chain Tesco now could look like this:


That’s because Tesco just rolled out an original tablet, designed for the lower end of tablet consumers looking for basic technology and a cheaper price. But that isn’t the extent of recent tablet news. Despite poor sales from its first tablet offering, Microsoft released the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 in hopes that fixing some key flaws in the original design will attract new tablet customers. But do either have a shot in the increasingly saturated tablet game?

Tesco’s tablet, called the Hudl, offers no tablet innovation, but its simple design, usability, and budget-friendly price could win over shoppers that are already fans of the supermarket’s low prices and accessibility. The 7-inch Hudl runs on the latest version of Android, has 16 GB of memory, a 3 megapixel camera, and nine hours of battery life. It will come preloaded with Google Chrome, YouTube, and BlinkBox, an online TV service Tesco recently acquired. The device comes in four colors (black, blue, purple, red). There will also be a small 'T' logo in the corner of the screen that customers can tap to access online shopping and other Tesco services, which Tesco hopes will make shoppers even more loyal to the brand.

Though the technology of this device is nothing outstanding, Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke says the Hudl is more about appealing to the majority, non-techie crowd.

“The digital revolution should be for the many, not the few,” he says in a statement.

The big selling point of the Hudl? The price. The device is $191 and Tesco customers can also use Clubcard discounts toward the device, bringing down the price to as low as $160. This makes the device competitive with lower-end tablets like Amazon’s Kindle Fire, priced at $124 in the UK and the Google Nexus 7 tablet, priced at $199.

Though the device will be available both online and at brick-and-mortar Tesco stores, the advantage of having Tesco features on a tablet may not translate outside of the UK. Tesco recently sold its chain of stores in the US, and more than 75 percent of British households do not have tablets. Will the Tesco tablet convince them to buy? We’ll find out.

On the other side of the tablet game, a software mainstay is looking to redeem itself after a failed offering last year. Microsoft launched the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 on Monday, with small tweaks and under-the-hood improvements that will hopefully bring back customers.

Last year, Microsoft released the first Surface and Surface Pro, boasting a physical keyboard, kickstand, and Microsoft software as its main features. However, it failed to take off. Microsoft reported only $835 million in tablet sales in the last year and a charge of more than $900 million in unused merchandise.

This time around, Microsoft is looking to capitalize on fine-tuning the details. The Surface 2 and Pro 2 are thinner and lighter, and have an improved 5 megapixel camera. The battery life is improved 75 percent from the last model and both will run on the new Windows 8.1, which will reintroduce the ‘Start’ button that was missing from Windows 8. The Pro 2 will also run on a full PC processor and offer a complete version of Microsoft Office.

Both will only be available in the 10.6-inch size. (The iPad is 9.7 inches, and many other popular tablets have settled on 7 inches.) However, Panos Panay, a Microsoft corporate vice president, says the focus is first on making a great tablet and then diversifying.

As many know, Microsoft’s main competition is Apple and the Surface 2 does undercut the iPad in price. The Surface 2 will start at $449, $50 cheaper than Apple’s full-size iPad. However, the Surface Pro 2 starts at $899, which is far higher than competitors. But it is cheaper than many laptops, perhaps appealing to those looking for a more portable but still powerful tablet-computer.

Speaking of iPads, what is likely next for Apple? Though no announcement has been made yet, many predict Apple will release a new iPad sometime before the end of the year. The iPad 4 came out last November, so Apple is due for a revamp. Whatever its next offering is, it is likely to give Tesco, Microsoft, and the other tablets in the game a run for their money. According to technology researcher International Data Corporation, iPads currently account for 32 percent of the tablet market.

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