Friday, August 16, 2013

A powerful tablet at a rock bottom price - my Hisense Sero 7 Pro review

I recently decided to buy my son a tablet for his birthday. Unfortunately, money has been fairly tight lately, so I needed to keep my tablet purchase under $200. I searched through dozens of tablets from various manufacturers to different sizes, specs, and price points. Finally, I chose the Hisense Sero 7 Pro and here's why:

A look at the hardware itself

First off, a look at the physical appearance itself. The closest competitor in more ways than one is the Nexus 7 (2012 model). The Sero 7 Pro (S7P for short) is just a little taller and wider, but about the same depth. The S7P eschews the soft touch backing of the Nexus 7 for a much cheaper textured plastic. Most stock pictures show the back as being silver, but the reality is it's more of a copper or grayish-brown color. It's weight is certainly heavier, but that's because it packing several different features (more on that shortly).

On the front you have your all black bezel and 7" 1280 x 800 resolution screen with a 2 MP front facing camera near the upper right. The right possesses the power button and volume rocker key. On top, you'll see the microphone, microSD, headphone jack, and mini HDMI port. Finally, the back has the stereo speakers (which are amazing loud and clear, by the way) and 5 MP camera with flash.

Overall, it doesn't quite hit the build quality of the Nexus 7, but it's passable. You can feel the inside is a little hollow, but the back cover doesn't have that much give to it. I could not find any information about whether the screen is using Gorilla Glass and I'm not inclined to damage my son's new toy so be wary. 

What's inside the tablet

Internally, it's specs are almost identical to the Nexus 7. It packs the same 1.3 GHz quad-core Tegra 3 with 1 GB of RAM. It has all of the normal things you would expect from a 2013 tablet which includes Bluetooth 3.0, Wifi in a/b/g/n styles (both 2.4/5 GHz compatibility), NFC, GPS, light sensor, etc. Where the S7P differs from the Nexus 7 is in the following: the S7P actually has vibration (something I mentioned on my Nexus 7 review) and 8 GB of storage compared to the 8/16/32 GB that the Nexus 7 had. 

The tablet comes with Android 4.2.1, and while it's a couple of updates behind, it's certainly not far out of touch like some products. Hisense has taken the minimalist path and there are very few modifications to the OS. There's a screenshot button on the navigation bar and a power saving mode toggle. That's about it. The tablet is bundled with a few pieces of bloatware, but surprisingly, most of them can be uninstalled. You're going to need it because out of the 8 GB of storage, only 5.2 is available to the user after formatting, installation of the OS, and whatever programs you can't uninstall.

Performance is very good for the tablet though. It performs on par with its counterpart, the Nexus 7. Reaction time is snappy and animations are smooth. For the most part anyway. The tablet still suffers the RAM bottlenecks that the Nexus 7 had. This is largely due to having only 1 GB of RAM and the slower clock speed on the RAM when compared to more modern chipsets like my Nexus 4.

One severe defect I noticed was for some reason, trying to use the "power saving" mode in the power saving menu caused soft reboots. Soft reboots are where the OS is still loaded and just basically restarts. They're quicker than a full reboot, but they're still indicative of a problem somewhere in the code. I've switched it to balanced and haven't suffered any more of them lately. 

The battery for the tablet is a 4,000 mAh Lithium Ion which comes in a bit smaller than the larger one in the Nexus 7. Still, during operation the battery holds up well and likely meets the claim made on the box of 10 hours. Standby time, however, falls short. Over the course of 12 hours, the tablet lost probably around 8 percent of its battery where my Nexus 7 only lost half that. Bear in mind, my Nexus 7 is running a custom ROM and kernel so this may impact its battery life. Still, depending on use, you'll likely charge it every other day unless you turn it off between uses. 

The camera bears mentioning since the original Nexus 7 only included a 1.3 MP front facing camera and the S7P includes both a 5 MP rear and 2 MP front. Unfortunately, camera quality is average to below quality depending on location. The rear camera activates with an audible click when starting up the app. Shots outdoors with the rear camera looked passable when scaled back, but zoomed in you can see jagged edges and grainy details everywhere. 

Camera performance

Shot taken of my car with rear facing camera in daylight.

However, the front facing camera suffered poorly, even more so than you would expect for a 2 MP camera. Images lack detail, suffer jagged edges, and have a cloudy, hazy effect to them.

My ugly mug testing out the front facing camera in daylight.

Indoors, the formerly passable quality really takes a hit on both cameras. The rear facing camera looks sufficient for basic images, but the noise on the photo is really turned up here. Also, in darker circumstances, the flash and focus sometimes get a little off leading to unusable pictures.

Taken in my son's bedroom, Bearry the bear seen posing. Using rear facing camera with no flash.
Front facing photos inside are completely worthless without sufficient light. A shot taken again in the same room with a florescent light and some natural lighting from behind looks cloudy, lacks detail, and has the same obvious noise that the rear camera had.

Myself, barely seen in this bad photo from the front facing camera.

If you're taking photos outdoors in the daytime, you should be fine with the results, but for anything else, you're better off grabbing your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera. Bear in mind, while this is 4.2.1 on the tablet, it lacks photosphere in either camera, if you're into that sort of thing.


On the whole, it's a very good tablet for its price of $129 exclusively at Wal-Mart stores. While the 5.2 GB of usable space might be a no go for some people. You can still supplement that with a microSD card. I've yet to test the mini HDMI port so I'll have to do an update on this in the future. Some of the features in the tablet, like haptic feedback, were pleasant surprises I didn't expect. Overall, if you're not trying to keep up with the Joneses then this tablet will suit you just fine. If you're looking for a more updated software experience then the Nexus 7 (2013 model) is a better choice for around $230-270. Hisense has stated they will update to 4.3 in the fall, but only time will tell. They have sent out a minor update which was basically just some bug fixes and under the hood type stuff. If you're looking for premium, well, you'll be going with the iPad Mini at $329+ depending on model. For comparison's sake, you could get 3 Sero 7 Pros for the cost of one 32 GB iPad Mini. Your mileage and opinions may vary on which is the better deal.

In closing, I think the Sero 7 Pro is a very good bargain for its price. It's not for the spec hounds or tech heads, but any regular joe will find considerable value out of this package. If you have any questions, post them in the comments section below.

Pros: High end specs for a cheap price, decent build quality, Android 4.2 installed, more features than the Nexus 7 (2012 model), good performance.

Cons: Inferior camera performance, minor reboots when using power saving mode, only about 5 and a half GB user space.

Final Grade: B+

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