Review: Advent Vega (2011)

Technology review of the Advent Vega for TechieFourEyes
Written on Jan 11, 2011 by Blake Neale

The original iPad was a game changer, there’s no denying that. It popularised tablet computers into the mainstream faster than the revived Battlestar cast could sign on to every tv guest spot going. Fast-forward a year and there’s been a multitude of cheaper, generic tablet alternatives flying off shelves trying to cash in on the trend. Yet none have come close to rivalling the technology (or experience) beheld when using the iPad, itself a device far from perfect.

Enter the Advent Vega, released seven months after the 1st generation iPad – and four months ahead of the upcoming iPad 2. Powered by Nvidia’s 1ghz Tegra 2 dual-core processor (double the poke of both iPad and iPad 2) and with 512mb of system memory (again double that of the iPad and matching the iPad 2), this bad boy packs a mighty punch.

The Vega boasts a 10.1-inch capacitive 1024×600 LED backlit touchscreen, perfect for widescreen film playback, gaming and web browsing alike. Viewing angles are the device’s biggest let down – but this is only really a concern if two people are sitting side-by-side viewing at the same time. Even then there’s full HDMI output for this very purpose but we’ll come to that later. Face on, in either landscape or portrait orientation, this is not an issue at all and colour reproduction remains sharp and vibrant.

Viewing angles aside, the screen on the iPad still wins – if only for the sharpness of text when browsing. Screen fonts on the Vega are perfectly smooth (no jaggies) with crisp definition; it’s just not as blisteringly sharp as vector text on the iPad. This is by no means make or break and is only apparent going back and forth between the two devices over prolonged periods of time.

The capacitive touchscreen is extremely responsive, impressively so given the horror of similarly priced tablets and their inferior resistive screens. Just be prepared for smudgy fingerprints all over the damn thing – something all touchscreen devices fall foul of – which becomes something of an eyesore in standby.

The accelerometer performs similarly on both devices, though interestingly the Vega is slightly quicker in settling where the iPad employs fancy animations to visually represent the screen rotating. Most applications work in both landscape and portrait and the Vega excellently employs a switch on the top that locks the current orientation. This is something that has pained us with the iPad – where applications needlessly rotate when standing up with the device (or when on your side in bed) and sees you flapping about trying to catch it out so it stays in the orientation you want it in.

The Vega’s plastic housing and wide bezel let it down on the looks front. It’s far from monstrous and actually looks quite slick; it just doesn’t look as polished in design as the iPad. Apple are all about looks so that’s no great surprise. The wider ratio of the Vega lends itself far better to reading large page documents (magazines, graphic novels etc) in portrait than the iPad does, and landscape feels a more natural fit for film playback and web browsing. The fractionally higher weight this makes the Vega over the iPad (20g difference) is negligible but entirely worth it for the increased screen ‘length’.

The Android 2.2 operating system that the Vega comes pre-installed with was never intended for use on screens larger than mobile phones and as such a lot of desktop space is wasted with overly large, clunky menus and status bars. Several custom ROMS exist online to rectify these issues, completely overhauling the interface, and all are distributed freely. While a bit fiddly at first, they only take about twenty minutes to install. It’s just a shame you have to do this to get the best of your shiny new tablet.

Off the shelf the Vega comes with standard fare in way of applications: a browser, email client, media player, maps, calculator – you know the drill. And with a big focus on social networking and communication, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube come as fixed shortcuts on the desktop. It’s odd that these are forced but with Android’s multiple desktop spaces it’s only a minor gripe.

Flashing the system using a custom ROM opens the Vega up to a world of possibility, and with the Android Marketplace but a click away it is easy to fill the device to the brim with all manner of goodies – including full Flash compatibility since February 2011. Something iPad users can only dream of.

The 4.5gb of storage the device comes bundled with is ample for the average user. But if you are looking to store a library of movie files, albums, games, digital comic book collections and suchlike you can upgrade with a microSD card up to 32gb. The beauty here being you aren’t stuck with the storage capacity you originally paid for (as you are with the iPad) thus can extend storage space long after buying the device. And with the price of microSDs tumbling it’s a very efficient way of media managing files: simply unmount your card and pop another in. It’s also really handy if you’re sharing the device with other users.

Media playback is a joy on the Vega and it has handled all formats of file we’ve thrown at it – wav, mp3, ogg, avi, wmv, divx, xvid, mpg, mp4, mov, mkv all using differing codecs. What’s more, it plays HD video content without the slightest of stutters or audio sync issues. Coupled with the fact this baby supports 1080p output via HDMI, you can hook this up to a television (or projector) and you’re good to go with a whole media centre quite literally at your fingertips in full high definition.

The iPad can be connected to a television but only in standard definition via an extortionately priced (£25+) Apple proprietary cable, as opposed to the HDMI cables anyone with a modern television will likely have kicking about the place already. And if not, we’re talking a fiver in most home-electronic shops to pick one up; you haven’t got to hunt down your nearest Apple store or order online and wait days. It’s just easier (not to mention nearly double the resolution) with the Vega.

As for adding content to your device, where all Apple media products (iPod/iPhone/iPad) are bound to one sole computer for syncing, the Vega works a charm from any computer with no faff registering or importing media through iTunes or an Advent equivalent. The Vega is also absent of lengthy obligatory updates before you can actually do anything with it. Simply drag and drop via USB or a microSD reader and there you have it. Apple’s devices just can’t compete with this level of ease.

Most users will likely listen to media through headphones but the sound quality out of the rear stereo speakers is surprisingly very good. In either case, be sure to use a software player with an equaliser for the best output – or toggle through the presets on your tv if you’re going through HDMI.

The 1.3mp camera is adequate for webcam-style conversations but is nothing to write home about for high-end photography. (Of course it’s not, what were you thinking?) Stills are flat and lifeless which we know to be a bad thing from all those adverts about hair products for women. It still trumps the iPad; an average camera is better than no camera at all.

Example photos (no manipulation or colour correction):

    

    

The iPad is celebrated for its battery life and rightly so. Claiming 10 hours of video playback – or 140 hours of audio – or a whole month in standby, the Vega doesn’t even come close: 6.5 hours of 1080p video playback – or 16 hours of audio – or 4 days in standby. Let’s face it, for everyday use this is hardly a deal breaker. But it might be the clincher if you’re looking to travel and want to check your email once a day for a fortnight – which isn’t asking for much.

For general, daily use the Vega soldiers on; we regularly use ours streaming videos, browsing the internet, listening to podcasts and reading magazines (with Wi-Fi turned on the whole time) over the course of a day and found we’re still chugging along nicely come time for slumber. Leave it to charge overnight and you’re good to go again come morning. And even then you could maximise battery life by turning screen brightness down and turning Wi-Fi off until you need it, as is the same of all devices.

Wi-Fi connection is steady and signal remains strong on the Vega – unlike the iPad which we found kept randomly dropping signal despite staying sat in the same place. Intermittent signal is incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re in the middle of an email in-browser and wind up having to type the whole damn thing over. And likewise when streaming videos all to wind up exiting, reloading the video and scrubbing along the timeline to find where you left off. No such issues with the Vega, though Wi-Fi does turn itself off when the screen goes into standby so remember to disable that if streaming radio is your thing.

At the current price of £199 (RRP £249.99) the Vega provides a lot of bang for your buck. If you can see past the poor viewing angles, don’t require anything longer than a day of battery life at a time – and are possibly open to spending half an hour tinkering with a custom ROM to get even more out of it – then this might just be the tablet for you.

 

Pros:
-large capacitive touchscreen
-expandable storage space (up to 32gb) via microSD slot
-plays most file formats off the shelf
-can be soft modded with a custom ROM to do so much more (including Flash support!)
-USB connectivity
-1080p output via HDMI
-battery life (better than average)

Cons:
-poor viewing angles
-plastic housing feels slightly cheap
-battery life (better than average but not as good as the iPad)
-needs to be soft modded to get the most out of it

 

Quick spec comparison – iPad vs Vega:
(Clear winners in green.)

Apple iPad Wi-Fi (1st gen) Advent Vega
Release date 3rd April 2010 14th November 2010
Price rrp £329, current price £329 rrp £249, current price £199
Operating system iOS (upgradable) Android 2.2 (upgradable)
Battery Video: 10 hours
Audio: 140 hours
Standby: 30 days
Video: 6.5 hours
Audio: 16 hours
Standby: 4 days
CPU 1ghz ARM Cortex-A8 (single core) 1ghz Nvidia Tegra (dual core) ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore
Storage capacity 16, 32 or 64gb fixed flash memory 512mb fixed flash memory + 4gb microSD (and expandable up to 32gb)
Memory 256mb 512mb
Display 1024×768 (4:3) 1024×600 (16:9)
Screen type Capacitive touchscreen Capacitive touchscreen
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB
TV out 576i (via Apple proprietary cable) 1080p (via HDMI cable)
Camera None 1.3mp AF
Weight 680g 700g

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