HP hit a home run with its Stream 11 and Stream 13 laptops, so it’s no surprise that the PC maker is trying to extend this success with other product types. The HP Stream 7 is the firm’s entry-level tablet, and while it lacks the svelte form factor of competing mini-tablets, at less than $100, it’s also a solid and almost risk-free device.
The biggest issue, as always, is the Windows mobile ecosystem. Before you can even begin considering which Windows mini-tablet to get, you really need to figure out whether any such device can even meet your needs. As I’ve noted in the past, any tablet will provide reasonable options for enjoying music and video services. But once you get into apps and games, Windows doesn’t just come up short, it comes up lame.
Now, you may argue that the HP Stream 7’s price—just $99, normally, though it goes on sale for time to time, as it is now at Amazon.com for the low-low-low price of $80—renders such an argument moot. But it does not: while it’s true that the cheapest new iPad mini costs two and a half times as much as the Stream 7 at $250, there are in fact Android-based tablets that cost about the same as the Stream 7. HP, for example, makes a $99 HP 7 G2 tablet. And Amazon of course sells the Fire HD 7 Tablet for $114 and up. But if you look at Amazon.com’s tablet listings, you’ll see a wide range of 7-inch Android tablets at about $50 to $60 as well.
Yes, many of those devices are garbage. But this is the market in which the HP Stream 7 must do battle, much as the Stream 11 and Stream 13 are going head-to-head with the modern day netbooks some call Chromebooks. And my expectation for such a device is that it must provide a compelling advantage over the competition, and not just in price.
Sadly, the HP Stream 7 does not rise to those heady heights. It’s a perfectly serviceable device, and would likely be a good choice for kids thanks to its durable-feeling form factor and throwaway pricing. But it’s also chunky and heavy, and thick, and lacks the elegant grace of more expensive but nice-looking and thin Windows mini-tablets like the Dell Venue 8 Pro.
Put another way, where the Stream 11 and 13 differentiate themselves nicely from a form factor perspective, the Stream 7 does not. There’s no double-shot paint job or any fun colors. It’s just a plain and boring black slab, like a mini version of the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It is, however, pretty small compared other 7-inch Windows mini-tablets like the terrible Toshiba Encore Mini.
And that’s a good comparison, really, because the HP Stream 7 isn’t terrible. It just isn’t fun, or pretty, or unique in any pleasantly aesthetic way. It is … what it is.
Internally, the HP Stream 7 delivers exactly the specs you would imagine at this price point: a quad-core 1.8 GHz Intel Atom® Z3735G processor, 1 GB of RAM, 32 GB of eMMC storage, and a 7-inch IPS screen running at 1280 x 800. It comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, of course, but also provides microSD expansion, which I think is necessary, though it’s hard to remove the back cover to access the slot. There are low-quality but serviceable front and rear cameras, too.
The screen is surprisingly decent. It’s no Retina-class iPad-like display, of course. But text in MSN News looks sharp, and video streamed over both Xbox Video and Netflix looks acceptable, but not stunning, to my eyes. And despite the paltry selection of decent games available in the Windows Store, I was able to test a few, like Asphalt 8: Airborne” and “Halo: Spartan Assault,” and both worked just fine, thank you very much, with nary a slowdown or glitch. Oddly, the sound is loud and clear, even though the Stream 7 sports just a single mono speaker. Still, you’ll want to bring along some headphones, of course.
HP rates battery life at up to 8 hours, and the battery is non-removable despite the removable back cover (which is very hard to remove). But real-world battery life is sub 5-hours in my streaming video playback tests. Normally, I’d ding HP for that, but I feel that most buyers will simply use this device around the home and be near accessible power. If you’re a traveler, you’ll want something slimmer, and more powerful, and with better battery life.
What really makes the HP Stream 7 worth considering, of course, are the extras. It comes with a free year of Office 365 Personal, which is a $69.99 value. (And check out Tip: Convert Office 365 Personal to Office 365 Home for Just $9.99 if you already have an Office 365 Home subscription for an even better value.) It also comes with a $25 gift certificate, so you can purchase some apps or games from Windows Store, or buy or rent videos (from Xbox Video) or buy music (from Xbox Music). And if you get it at the Microsoft Store, it will come without HP’s standard package of crapware.
Recommending the HP Stream 7 is a bit difficult. Given the pricing, and the extras, it’s absolutely a great value, especially for kids. But if you’re looking to stick within the Windows ecosystem and really want a Windows mini-tablet for some reason, look to spend more than $99 and get a better device. Based on my experience with the Dell Venue 8 Pro, I’d recommend the newer Venue 8 Pro 3000 (which I’ve not tested), or perhaps the HP Stream 8, which I’ve only spent a bit of time with: that device has a bigger screen (albeit still at 1280 x 800) and a thinner form factor. Both cost about $200.
Ultimately, the HP Stream 7 is a solid but uninspiring entry-level device. It’s not terrible. But it’s also not particularly special.
Tagged with Tablets