The Hudl 2: Tips and Tweaks (and Gaming!)

[Edit, 09/10/2015: The Hudl 2 has been updated to Lollipop! Please see my new guide for further information…]

I’ve been messing about with my Hudl 2 for a few weeks now, and despite one annoying bug which causes some native x86 apps to run in ARM binary translation mode (blame Intel – the bug affects most Intel-based devices running KitKat) I think it’s a worthwhile tablet. If you’re looking for a review, I’d highlight the following:

Pros:

Cons:

On balance, I reckon it’s a good purchase – and a highly capable budget gaming device. There are, of course, better tablets (who wouldn’t prefer something like an Nvidia Shield?)… but then again: if you have enough Clubcard vouchers, you can get a Hudl 2 for free. Nothing can compete with that.

Anyway, I imagine that many people will be buying one, and it troubles me to think of all those CPU cycles that will be wasted on the bloat that it comes pre-installed with. So I decided to write a simple sort of guide-thing for trimming the fat, along with some tips for gaming and suchlike…

Initial Configuration

Straight out of the box (after the obligatory ‘Welcome’ procedure), there are few things that I like to do with every Android device. The Hudl 2 is no exception. So first things first: open the ‘Settings’ app, and configure the following entries:

» Sounds «

» Display «

» Location «

» Language & input «

Press the configuration button to the right of ‘Google Keyboard’ to enter the sub-menu, then select:

» Google «


Okay, that was easy. Now close the ‘Settings’ app, and open the ‘Play Store’ app:


Finally, before we can do any spring cleaning, we need to lose the Tesco Launcher. It’s not bad per se, but it contains a host of (useless) widgets which cannot be removed (and since we’re going to disable the underlying app for these wigets, leaving the Tesco Launcher running will most likely lead to conflicts).

As a replacement, I recommend that you install Nova Launcher. When first run, it will dump some junk on your homescreen, but this is easily removed. It has a great many settings to fiddle with; do what you like with them, but I would suggest:

If needed, these tips are quite handy: Guide to Nova Launcher

I would also suggest not putting any widgets on your homescreen (I find them a waste of resources/a source of lag, but it’s up to you of course).

Bloat Removal

The Hudl 2 comes pre-installed with a fair amount of junk. It is mostly innocuous (I guess there may even be some people who find it useful…), but any unnecessary thing that runs permanently in the background is a big NO as far as I’m concerned. Fortunately, it is easy to disable unwanted system apps – just do the following:

I’ve made two lists of apps that can be safely disabled – i.e. without any risk of system instability. The first contains just Tesco apps, which should probably be removed by everyone. The second is a listing of all the default Android stuff (and accessories) which are superfluous and waste resources, but which some people might want to keep (so you’ll have to make your own decisions; I personally disable them all).

[Edit, 21/01/2015: The latest firmware update has again fiddled about with the default system apps, changing names and adding some new ones. I have amended the ‘bloat’ lists accordingly…]

[Edit, 27/08/2015: There was another firmware release a couple of months ago, and I have just got around to installing it (I guess I should have done it sooner, but why fix what isn’t broke?). Anyway, the update seems to do nothing other than replace some Tesco branded bloatware (all the ‘blinkbox’ stuff) with equivalent non-Tesco bloatware. I have added these items to the list…]

» Tesco Bloat «

» Misc. Android Bloat «

Useful Apps

We’ve finished removing stuff. Now it’s time to add. Here are a handful of apps from the Play Store that I think are worth considering:

» Greenify «

Pre-installed bloatware is only half the problem. Many apps that you actively choose to install also sit there in the background, gobbling up RAM and CPU cycles. Greenify lets you put these apps to sleep when you are not using them, so they can no longer make your tablet laggy or drain your battery.

Greenify works best if your device is rooted. There is a method for rooting the Hudl 2, and doing so will open up all kinds of possibilities… but I don’t think I’d recommend it quite yet. The device is very new, and likely to receive at least a few more bug-fix firmware updates (hopefully one for the Intel bug). Rooting tends to break the whole updating process, and can thus induce headaches. When the Hudl 2 is more mature I’d say go for it, but for now I’d leave well alone…

But never mind all that; Greenify has had non-root support for a while now, so we’re good to go. Just install and launch it, then press the ‘+’ button to add apps to its ‘hibernation list’. I tend to just add everything…

You can leave Greenify to hibernate apps on the list by itself but only if you have an unsecured (no password) lockscreen, which some people might not want. I prefer to leave the ‘Automated hibernation’ option unchecked, and hibernate manually via a homescreen shortcut (it only takes a second). To make such a shortcut, just:

(The first time you press the ‘Hibernate Now’ shortcut, it will ask you to enable an accessibility service. Just do what it tells you!)

» Firefox «

I can’t browse the internet without an ad blocker. If we had root access we could just install AdAway and have done with it. But we don’t. So that rules out Chrome (which I dislike anyway) and Dolphin (which is normally rather good, but not on the Hudl 2 for some reason – its ‘jetpack’ feature makes it hang, and it’s generally crash-happy).

Fortunately, the latest version of Firefox for Android isn’t bad at all, and it runs very smoothly on the Hudl 2 (I think the 2GB of RAM really helps – I could never get Firefox to run stable on my older, low spec devices). Once you’ve installed the browser, just make sure to open the menu and configure the following:

» ES File Explorer «

The Hudl 2 doesn’t come with a file manager! This is something of an oversight.

I always used to think that ES File Explorer was a bit bloated, but if you use Greenify to stop it from skulking in the background all of the time then it becomes quite a friendly and useful tool. It is also one the few apps that has write access to the Hudl 2’s Micro SD card, making it almost essential.

» SD Maid «

Overzealous cleaning of junk files under Android is probably best avoided, but not entirely unwarranted given the Hudl 2’s small internal storage. SD Maid is my favourite cleaner due to its ease of use and total lack of bloat (but note that you’ll need the pro version for cache cleaning – I think it’s worth it). Again, the app works best with root access but does plenty without. The fact that it can find leftovers from uninstalled apps is a huge bonus; this feature has already freed up more than 500MB of wasted space on my Hudl 2.

» BSPlayer «

With its splendid screen, the Hudl 2 makes a nice little video player. I imagine many people will want to use it as a streaming device. I’ve been through a shedload of media players, and the best I could find is BSPlayer. It can access files on network shares by default, and it has the smoothest, most consistent playback. It uses hardware acceleration for pretty much everything, and handles 1080p video quite well (although I noticed micro stuttering on a few high bitrate files – it depends on the codec). There is a free version with ads if you want to give it a test run.

Gaming Performance

Given its price, the Hudl 2 is surprisingly capable at slinging polygons. This is what I got on my last run of 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme:

Hudl 2: Ice Storm Extreme

A score of 7723 – easily up there with last year’s high end tablets. And note that my Hudl 2 performs better than average. Removing bloat and Greenify-ing apps really does help!

I haven’t tried many native Android games, but all thus far have played without issue. For example: Riptide GP2 (which has x86 support) runs flawlessly with settings maxed out. Ravensword: Shadowlands (which runs via ARM binary translation) looks great, and only exhibits significant slowdown at scene transitions. I believe that The Room and The Room Two also run via ARM binary translation, yet they look fantastic and only seem to drop (temporarily) below 60 FPS when zooming out to the full scene view (they both also run smoother on the Hudl 2 than in any of the walkthrough videos on YouTube).

But if you’re serious about gaming, you’ll need a physical controller… so let’s move on to:

Using a Gamepad

The Hudl 2 should work with any bluetooth gamepad, or you could hook up an Xbox 360/PS3 controller via an OTG cable… but for a proper hand-held console experience there is only one option: the IPEGA PG–9023 (okay, there’s also the Game Grip STG-ONE, but I’ve not yet heard anything good about it, nor can you buy it in the UK).

I got one from this Amazon link (they’re back in stock! It’s £21.99, and supplied by ‘Emgreat’, who are really nice people). The edition with red buttons seems to be a second revision with improved deadzones (at least, I’ve encountered no issues). It feels to be of high quality, almost console-level, and it works perfectly with the Hudl 2 – to pair it, just enable bluetooth, then press and hold ‘X’ followed by ‘HOME’ on the controller (note that connecting the gamepad disables the Android on-screen keyboard, but I’ve never found this a problem).

A useful feature worthy of comment is the little cluster of bonus ‘multimedia’ buttons set apart from the main controls: they look like utter junk, until you realise that (apart from volume +/-) they can be mapped to additional functions in emulators – fast forward, show menu, save state, etc. (thus avoiding unnecessary thumb stretching to reach the screen).

Indeed, the IPEGA PG–9023 is perfect…

IPEGA PG-9023: Sans Tablet

Except… consider for a moment how it works. The central horizontal bar extends to the required width, then the tablet slots into the grooves on the inner edges of the controller ‘handles’. Consequently, both the left and right hand sides of the tablet are entirely covered. This would be fine, were it not the for the fact that Tesco went crazy when arranging the ports on the Hudl 2, putting the headphone socket (almost) slap in the middle of the left side, and the USB charging socket (almost) slap in the middle of the right.

When the Hudl 2 is inserted in the IPEGA PG–9023, you can use neither headphones nor charger/battery pack (or anything else that connects to the USB port). I mean… no headphones? A portable games console without headphones? What use is that?!

But never fear! I came up with a convenient workaround:

All you need to do is get an official hudl2 Leather Case. Okay, it looks expensive… but when you buy a Hudl 2, you can get 1/3 off the price of accessories (and if you already have a Hudl 2, there is a glitch that gives you the same discount)… and if you double-up on Clubcard points, you can get the case for just over £8 in vouchers. So I think it’s quite reasonable.

Even if you don’t have an IPEGA PG–9023, the hudl2 Leather Case is well worth the purchase. It looks very tidy, offers good protection, and includes a built-in stand (which, despite some of the review comments, is absolutely rock solid stable). You need some kind of case for your tablet, so this might as well be it…

Anyway, once you’ve popped your Hudl 2 into the case’s rubberised plastic interior, fold back the front flap:

Hudl 2: Leather Cover (Folded Back)

The wad of leather behind the tablet now fits snugly and safely into the IPEGA PG–9023 (without causing any harm to the case):

IPEGA PG-9023: Case Grip (1) IPEGA PG-9023: Case Grip (2)

IPEGA PG-9023 + Hudl 2: Perfect Fit

I’ve marked the position of the headphone socket on the left with a blue dot; it can be used without obscuring access to the left stick or D-pad. The charging socket on the right is marked with a yellow dot; connecting a cable to this port can restrict access to the right control stick, but only slightly (besides, most emulators never even use the right stick).

Conclusion: If you want a gamepad for your Hudl 2, you can’t go wrong with the IPEGA PG–9023.

Emulators

Ah, so now we come to the best use for a Hudl 2: running classic games. I haven’t tried all the available emulators, but I recommend the following:

» Snes9x EX+ «

I initially borked my config and had trouble with this… Thinking it was the app, I went though the Play Store and tried every alternative SNES emulator… I can now say with conviction that Snes9x EX+ is the best (at least on the Hudl 2). It runs more smoothly than the others and has better sound. In addition, its compatibility is impeccable and games look great with the inbuilt hq2x filter.

One word of advice: in the settings, leave ‘Frame Skip’ on ‘Auto’. If you don’t, the sound will pop and crackle continuously (and you’ll rip your hair out toggling every other setting, trying to work out what’s wrong). It looks like a screen refresh rate issue (some tablets don’t run at 60Hz, which can upset emulators) but since Snes9x EX+ is the only app that behaves like this, I guess it’s probably not. Regardless, ‘Frame Skip = Auto’ produces no visible skipping; everything is quite silky.

[Edit: Snes9x EX+, like all of Robert Broglia’s excellent emulators, now supports manual setting of the screen refresh rate, via: Options → Video → Frame Rate. The correct value for the Hudl 2 seems to be 60.29Hz. This makes everything run even more smoothly!]

» ePSXe «

ePSXe is the best PlayStation emulator. I would even go as far as to say that it’s the best app on Android.

I thought it ran smoothly on my old ARCHOS GamePad. I was wrong. On the Hudl 2 it’s incredible.

You can turn on and turn up every setting, and the Hudl 2 never bats an eyelid. 99% of games run flawlessly with hardware acceleration. About half that many also run flawlessly in full HD using the OpenGL plugin. I have encountered no skips, hiccups, sound glitches or drops in frame rate whatsoever.

(Well, okay, I encountered a few glitches while messing about with the ‘experimental’ features, but given that they’re clearly marked as such, it’s no one’s fault but my own…)

The developers of ePSXe are first-rate fellows, providing instant support and friendly assistance. They even implemented a workaround for the Intel bug, specifically for the Hudl 2. (You can thank them by purchasing the app!)

The Hudl 2 makes a perfect hand-held PlayStation. What more can I say?

Hmm… Perhaps I can add a few more tips:

» PPSSPP «

The one and only PSP emulator is an interesting beast. It is quite new and under active development, so compatibility is sketchy… but when games run, they look fantastic (better than most native Android games). RPGs seem to work best for some reason (several that I tried ran at full speed at maximum resolution), but many other titles are playable with sufficient tweaking. Some games seem to play as well under PPSSPP on the Hudl 2 as they do under the Windows version of the emulator running on a mid-spec gaming PC (quite impressive).

The main downside is the fact that almost every game I tested requires a different configuration for smooth performance. Since all settings are global, this involves a great deal of messing about…

Despite its rough edges, I think it’s one to watch. There’s a free version available, so there’s no excuse not to try it. For help with the individual settings, you can consult the ‘official’ PPSSPP optimisation guide.

» ScummVM «

Okay, it’s not strictly an emulator (it’s an interpreter), but it definitely warrants a mention.

ScummVM runs perfectly on the Hudl 2, despite utilising ARM binary translation. But this is hardly surprising: ScummVM can run on a potato. What is a surprise is how good all the classic graphic adventures look on the Hudl 2’s screen. It’s almost as though they were designed for that specific size and aspect ratio. It is a joy to play the likes of Monkey Island on the Hudl 2.

Something that’s not immediately obvious, though, is how to choose a control method. By default, ScummVM uses the touchscreen like a laptop trackpad (effective but a little slow). You can change to ‘direct input’ (mouse pointer follows finger) by entering the settings and ticking ‘Mixed AdLib/MIDI mode’ under the ‘MIDI’ tab (a curious hack!). ‘Direct input’ is generally preferable, but it works best with a stylus.

Many of the games compatible with ScummVM can be obtained from GOG.com, which is always nice. (But extracting the files needed by ScummVM from the GOG.com installers can be tricky; judicious use of innoextract and Google is required)


Oh, and one last note regarding all emulators on the Hudl 2: none of them can write to the Micro SD card, so make sure you configure them to keep saves and save states on the internal storage (this is normally set by default).


And that’s the end of the guide! Happy hudl-ing!