The XOLO Play Tab 7.0 was a bit of a disappointment since not only was it just a poorly-built Nexus 7, it cost quite a bit more as well. Today marks the launch of the Play Tegra Note, XOLO’s latest 7-inch tablet based on the new Nvidia Tegra Note platform. This is a big deal as it’s the first Tegra 4-based tablet to launch in India and more importantly, we finally have a real contender that can measure up to the new Nexus 7. The XOLO Play is not just about brute force though as it has a productive side to it as well in the form of Nvidia’s Direct Stylus, a slightly different take on Samsung’s S Pen. With a promised update to Android 4.4, can the XOLO Play Tegra Note be the first non-Nexus tablet to offer the best Android experience? Let’s find out.

Design and Build
The first bit of good news is that the build quality is much better as compared to XOLO’s Tegra 3 offering, the Play Tab 7.0. There’s quite a bit of bezel all around the 7-inch HD IPS display but that just makes it better to hold in any direction. The dual-sided stereo speakers feature Nvidia’s PureAudio technology and it offers really good audio quality for games and movies. We even have a 0.3MP front facing camera in the front for video calls. At 320g, the tablet is a bit heavier than the new Nexus 7 or even the iPad mini but still very manageable for single-handed use.

A good looker
A good looker

The ports on the XOLO Play include a micro-USB, micro-HDMI, microSD card slot along with the usual headphone jack and buttons. The back isn’t completely made of the textured, rubberised material and the parts that aren’t, are very prone to scratches and oil deposits left by your fingers. This can be really tricky to keep clean. The stylus sits flush with the tablet and has dual-sided tips – one for writing while the wider end can be used for broader strokes when sketching or colouring, or as an eraser. It’s a smart idea and we wonder how Samsung never thought of something like this for the Note 3. The package contains the tablet, stylus, charger and the data cable. We also have a bunch of accessories like the Slide Cover, Direct Stylus Pro and a controller for the tablet. Last but not the least, there’s a 5MP primary shooter in the back.

Overall, XOLO has done a good job with the Tegra Note and the build quality is a marked improvement over their first attempt. Having said that, there isn’t any scratch protection for the display and during the course of our usage, we noticed a couple of hairline scratches develop around the edges. Also, the plastic bits at the back that aren’t rubberised get scuffed very easily, making the tablet look shabby within days.

Some of the tweaks laid down by Nvidia
Some of the tweaks laid down by Nvidia

Features
The party piece of the XOLO Play is the punchy Tegra 4 SoC under the hood. Announced at CES 2013, the new chipset follows the same design principles of Tegra 3 with a 4+1 core design. However, we get a significant bump in processing speed thanks to the four Cortex-A15 CPUs running at 1.8GHz and the 72 core GPU (compared to 12 on the Tegra 3). Add to that, the almost stock Jelly Bean 4.2.2 and we’re looking at blazing fast performance. The 1GB of RAM doesn’t seem to limit the performance as heavy games like GTA III and Dead Trigger 2 load very quickly and the frame rate is solid.

Besides extra apps like XOLO Care, Nvidia has also done some optimisations of their own to the OS. Let’s start with the stylus. Removing it from the holster opens up a contextual menu that lets you to dive into stylus-friendly apps. ‘Write’ and ‘Tegra Draw’ come bundled but the cool part is that you can add additional downloaded apps to this menu. Write is a note taking app and works well while Tegra Draw lets you sketch. The stylus works well with the hyper-sensitive screen, although only the Tegra Draw app lets you take advantage of the pressure sensitive tip and that’s a shame since it’s not as comprehensive as some other free apps like Sketchbook. You also get two additional options beside the navigation buttons when the stylus is removed. The first one restricts input to just the stylus which prevents accidental presses by your hand when drawing. The other, lets you capture portions of the screen as a screen shot to share via email.

The dual-sided stylus
The dual-sided stylus

The rest of the additions from Nvidia can be found in settings. The XOLO Play supports Miracast for cloning your display on a compatible TV. There’s also an options for easily pairing a Bluetooth controller. The HDMI setting lets you choose between native or sRGB profiles. In the Power Saving sub-menu, you can toggle Tegra PRISM Dynamic Backlight, which automatically adjust the backlight depending on what’s being displayed. You can even manually choose between three different operating modes (Max Performance, Balance and Save Battery) although we wish it would change automatically depending on what app is running and the state of the battery. The Battery Saver mode shuts down two cores, caps the max frequency of the cores to 1.8GHz and limits the frame rate in apps to 30fps. We had the slider on balanced most of the time, except when benchmarking.

Speaking of benchmarks, the XOLO Play ripped through everything we threw at it and posted some really impressive numbers. It easily beats the new Nexus 7 as well. This is quite easily one of the most powerful tablets out there.

The tablet posts some pretty impressive numbers
The tablet posts some pretty impressive numbers

The Play Tegra Note sticks to the stock music and video player so there aren’t any surprises here. Audio quality through the stereo speakers is simply amazing and is as good as BoomSound on the HTC One series. You’ll only need to crank the volume half way for a pleasant experience for music or movies. However, if you’re entertaining a bunch of friends as well then you still have plenty of headroom left. Audio quality through the headphone jack is also good. There’s 16GB of internal memory, of which, 12.5GB is available to the user. The best part is that you can expand it via the micro-SD card slot.

Media playback is what you'd expect from the stock apps
Media playback is what you’d expect from the stock apps

Full HD videos play without breaking a sweat and the picture quality is pretty good. The IPS panel also lends it good viewing angles but sadly isn’t very good at displaying blacks. The screen gets smudged really quickly, hampering the viewing experience.

Connectivity
The XOLO Play doesn’t have a 3G variant so you’re left with Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0, USB 2.0 and micro-HDMI for connectivity. NFC is also missing. The tablet does have TegraZone bundled which gives you a one-stop shop for Tegra optimised games. The advantage of having an Nvidia chipset for gaming is that some of the popular ones like Dead Trigger and Riptide GP gives you added eye-candy like advanced particle effects, motion blur, etc. The tablet is also very quick at rendering web pages with barely any lag while zooming in and out.

The Tegra Draw app works well but could use a better UI
The Tegra Draw app works well but could use a better UI

Camera
The stock camera UI is replaced by an app called Camera Awesome. This is specially designed for Nvidia Tegra chipsets by the online photo sharing site, SmugMug. The app is quick to open and gives you a host of options to tinker around with. Strangely, there’s no way to change the resolution of the photos or videos though. One neat feature is object tracking or tap-to-track. This lets you lock the focus on your subject so you can capture the image when you’re good and ready. This doesn’t work terribly well if your subject moves around though or if you move too much as you end up with a blurry shot. The 5MP shooter is what you would typically expect from a tablet – strictly average picture quality for indoors and outdoors. There are plenty of modes to play around with like HDR, Panorama, burst, etc. There’s even a slow motion video recording at 720p resolution. The camera app also lets you add plenty of post-processing effects to the image once you’ve captured it.

Plenty of camera options to tweak
Plenty of camera options to tweak
Photos are strictly average for indoor settings
Photos are strictly average for indoor settings

Battery Life
The 15.1Wh battery along with the optimisations from Nvidia, delivers around 8-hours of battery life on video playback. With gaming and web browsing, expect this to vary a bit. The tablet has amazing standby time however as the battery barely dips overnight when not in use. Overall, if you don’t game too much, you can easily go a couple of days without having to charge the battery.

Price in India and Verdict
The XOLO Play Tegra Note is available online for Rs 17,999 and we feel that’s a pretty good price for what’s on offer. While it might be inferior to the new Nexus 7 in terms of build and display quality, it makes up for that with a lower price, a useful stylus, expandable storage and great gaming performance. The XOLO Play and the new Nexus 7 are the only two tablets you should be looking at in this price range. If you want Samsung’s S Pen-like features along with good gaming performance, then the XOLO Play will suit you just fine. However, if you do a lot of reading or web browsing, then you should be looking at the higher resolution display on the Nexus 7. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

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