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Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: A lacklustre rival to the Amazon Fire HD 8

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
70
inc VAT

This ultra-cheap tablet offers the absolute minimum in just about every respect

Pros 
Very cheap
Display is reasonably colour-accurate
Cons 
Poor build quality
Slow
Awful battery life
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Hong Kong-based Venturer may not be the biggest brand in tech, but it has made a name for itself in recent years producing tablets and 2-in-1 hybrids that fall at the cheaper end of the spectrum. We reviewed the BravoWin 10K hybrid laptop a few months ago, but this is the first straight tablet we’ve been able to get our mitts on here at Expert Reviews.

The Mars 8 is an 8in tablet, the first of its screen size that Venturer has released and what it lacks in power it makes up for in price, costing £70 from Amazon. You’re not getting much here: minimal memory and a five-year-old processor mean that it really is a barebones device. Of course, you wouldn’t expect much for this sort of money – what matters is whether it’s any better than the £80 Amazon Fire HD 8.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: What you need to know

Let’s expand upon those specifications a little. The only Mars 8 model available offers a MediaTek processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB storage as standard – specifications that aren’t generous but are par for the course when it comes to Venturer tablets. The Mars 8’s closest relative, the Mercury 7, offers 1GB of RAM and a choice of either 8GB or 16GB internal storage as standard.

This isn't a tablet that’s designed for high-intensity workloads such as intensive 3D gaming and multitasking, but you can use it to carry out lightweight tasks such as listening to music, watching Netflix and reading ebooks.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Price and competition

The key rival for the Mars 8, as mentioned above, is the Amazon Fire HD 8, an £80 tablet that matches the Mars 8 in every respect. Then there’s the Huawei MediaPad M3, which for £120 will give you more RAM (2GB) and 16GB internal storage. At £70, the Mars 8 is possibly the cheapest 8in tablet you can buy – until Amazon discounts the Fire HD 8.

If you can bear to part with an extra £50, however, the MediaPad T3 is a respectable tablet and its sibling the MediaPad M3 8 Lite (priced at £157 at the time of writing) even more so. If you’d rather not spend more, the Kindle Fire HD 8 offers a similar low-budget experience with far superior build quality.

READ NEXT: Huawei MediaPad M3 review

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Design and features

The low price is pretty evident in the design of the Mars 8. Open the packaging and you’ll be greeted by a device built mostly from low-quality black plastic. The screen is less offensive, with unassumingly large bezels punctuated by a solitary hole within which a front-facing camera is hidden. Three of the four sides of the Mars 8 are devoid of features: the volume and power buttons, charge port, and headphone jack are crowded a little counter-intuitively on the top edge of the tablet.

The biggest offender, however, is the outrageously prominent rear speaker that can be seen quite clearly through a circular mesh on the rear of the device. It contributes significantly to the feeling that the Mars 8 is stuck in the past. It looks like a device that would be more at home in the noughties than 2018.

On the positive side, the Mars 8 does have a microSD slot, so you can expand the 16GB storage with an external card up to 128GB in size. It also has two cameras – 1.9 megapixels at the rear and 0.3 megapixels at the front – although the quality of these is pretty poor.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Display

The headline act here is a run-of-the-mill 8in, 1,280 x 800 IPS display that isn't much better than the cameras. It struggles to attain a brightness suitable for anything other than indoor use, reaching a mere 183cd/m² with the brightness slider turned all the way up to maximum. In fact, it’s probably the lowest brightness we’ve seen in recent times from any mobile device and it’s a long way behind the Amazon Fire HD 8, which is more than twice as bright.

The tablet fares much better in terms of colour accuracy. Broadly speaking, colours are well represented, meaning you won’t notice overly-pink skin or fields of grass that look like they’re straight out of Teletubbyland. The display is a little on the dull side, which will no doubt be further exacerbated by the poor brightness but contrast is reasonably good, which means the image looks reasonably solid and punchy.

Sadly, it’s hard to look past that shoddy brightness. It’s a crucial consideration for the average user and, even though the results of our colour accuracy tests were reasonably good, if you’re struggling to even see the display that won’t matter one jot.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Performance and battery life

The Mars 8 isn’t exactly flush with top-notch technology on the inside, either. The CPU hiding within the casing is a quad-core MediaTek MT8127. It’s a little on the dated side and it wasn’t particularly powerful to begin with.

The MT8127 runs at a clock speed of up to 1.3GHz, which places it roughly on a par with the Kindle Fire HD 8. The more modern chip in the Amazon device means the tablet runs marginally more quickly, but, as I've mentioned already, you can't expect too much of these ultra-cheap devices.

Unsurprisingly, this poor performance extends into the graphics department as well. The Mars 8 was incapable of running our usual set of GFXBench tests, so we had to resort to the older T-Rex test, in which it performed dismally, returning 11fps at native resolution.

Gaming is almost certainly out of the question unless you’re sticking to casual games. Pac-Man, for example, runs acceptably well, but you’d be a fool to consider PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile (if it were even available). Hopefully, if you’re looking to play demanding games, you’re not even thinking about buying the Mars 8.

The Mars 8 lasted for 3hrs 44mins in our video-rundown battery test, which places it –  unsurprisingly enough – at the bottom end of the battery-life league table. In other words, it's pretty sub-standard: don’t expect to get more than one movie out of a single charge. In stark contrast, the battery in the Amazon Fire HD 8 lasted a whopping 11 hours when put through the same test.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Software

The Mars 8 runs Android 7 Nougat with a few minor differences. Touch volume controls are located on the bar hosting the back, home, and recent apps shortcuts along the bottom of the display. Plus, if you swipe from the top of the screen, a mobile-phone-sized quick access menu will drop from wherever you swiped.

Both of these small UI nuances feel like unnecessary attempts to be different. That navigational bar is unfamiliar and crowded, and I can’t help but wonder why the quick access menu isn’t just proportional to the size of the tablet’s screen. Fortunately, the OS is otherwise inoffensive, and if you're reluctant to use Amazon's shopping-heavy Fire OS, the Mars 8 has Android on its side. 

Venturer RCA Mars 8 review: Verdict

Overall, though, there’s not an awful lot to commend the Mars 8. Everywhere you look you’ll find a counter-intuitive design that occasionally borders on the downright ugly. The expandable storage is perhaps the tablet’s only redeeming feature, although accurate colours on the otherwise-unnoteworthy 8in screen deserve a small mention.

If you’re in the market for a sub-£100 tablet, however, I’d counsel you to look elsewhere – preferably at the Amazon Fire HD 8, which is faster, has a superior display and is generally better built, better made and more attractive.

Venturer RCA Mars 8 Specifications

ProcessorMediaTek MT8127 (quad-core 1.3Ghz)
RAM1GB
Screen size8in
Screen resolution1,280 x 800
Screen typeIPS
Front camera0.3MP
Rear camera1.9MP
FlashNo
Storage (free)16GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD (up to 128GB)
Wi-Fi802.11bgn single band
Bluetooth4
Operating systemAndroid 7 Nougat

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