Review: TCL’s XESS Tablet With Alexa Baked in Is an Acquired Taste

Gadgets Products Reviews Technology
This is MUCH nicer than my actual kitchen.
Source: TCL.

My relationship with the TCL XESS predates the review unit showing up at my house. I first saw the 17.3″ Android tablet at a press event and I was impressed by the clean lines. The idea of an internet appliance for your household, a sort of home hub, is not in any way a new one. However, TCL did things a little differently, creating something that looked less like a 3M Audrey (Don’t ask, kids), and more like something you’d show off. I particularly liked the back design.

Cute kid not included.

The two rings make it easy to carry, and to tilt. My son loves using the XESS as a drawing pad, tilted back like a drafting table, as seen in the below adorable video. TCL included a pretty great pen for just this use. It’s no WACOM, but it does the job and does it well. They also threw in a secondary camera (there’s a built-in front-facing one) that I have not found a use for just yet, but is a nice bonus. The charger is non-standard, but battery life is pretty good.

With a 1080 display, it’s also great for watching videos, and the JBL speakers pop. The volume controls on the back are nice and big, so easy to control. 3GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage means you can use most apps without any kind of stalling. The built-in Android 5.1 works great, and I like the skin.

Yes, that’s right. I, Mordechai, hater of Android skins, am very happy with what TCL did to Android here. One main reason is because you can easily toggle from XESS mode to standard Android mode. The XESS mode is simplified and perfect for a home hub or kitchen computer. The focus on the kitchen is big here, and there are some great built-in cooking apps. Everything works great in that mode, and when I want to get my power-user nature on, I just toggle to Android mode.

As a home hub, the XESS can control everything that has an Android app or an Alexa skill, which is great, as that includes stuff like iDevices products, which would otherwise only work on an iOS device.

Let’s expand on Alexa a minute, though. I don’t have any Alexa-compatible smart devices right now. For some reason, after a week, the integration of Alexa and Amazon Music broke, which is a shame. I loved saying “Alexa, play some Weezer” while cutting vegetables. My son did not love Alexa (although I did laugh when he asked me to tell me her name again), due to her inability to discuss Pokémon with him (and not just because it apparently could not understand him). Google Now, on the other hand, can easily tell him who evolves into what. Just not on the XESS – Google Now doesn’t have microphone access there. With that said, what I could test showed me that this is just a perfect device for someone vested in Alexa.

Not that he cared. He was too busy drawing.

With a current price of $499, you may wonder why someone can’t just use their existing tablet. The answer is simple – this is a device made for open access. You don’t want to (for example) run your emails on this machine, where anyone in the family can see them. Nor do you want to keep your personal tablet where your kids can use it. The goal of the XESS is to be an all-in-one, family computer that everyone has access to. The seemingly high price tag is very fair for a TV, Computer, and Personal Assistant, all rolled into one. My only caveat (hence the acquired taste in the headline), is that I would rather be using Google Now than Alexa. But I’m in the minority here. Then again, I also like cilantro.

Note: TCL sent me the XESS to review some time ago. It took a while to get my son to let me use it.

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